Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners to Vergennes, 3 February 1778

The American Commissioners to Vergennes1

ALS: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères; copy: National Archives

Passi, Feby. 3d. 1778.


We have just receivd information that Mr. Thomas Morris, at Nantes, one of the commercial Agents of Congress, is at the point of death; and that his Papers, on that event, will be taken possession of by the Officers of the Crown.

As some of these Papers may very materially concern the public business, we beg an Order may be given immediately for the delivery of them into the hands of Mr. William Lee, who was joind with Mr. Morris in that department. We have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servants

B Franklin
Silas Deane
Arthur Lee

To His excellency Count Vergennes

Notations: 1778. Février 3. / [In Gérard’s hand:] Les ordres ont été expediés le 5.

1Gérard requested this letter on the 2nd, when he saw the Lee brothers at Versailles and they asked him, according to Arthur, for an order to cover only Morris’ public papers. The next day Arthur drew up the letter (the first two paragraphs are in his hand), and BF supplied the complimentary close. On the 4th William Lee presented the request to Gérard, who promised to expedite the matter (Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, I, 392); his notation indicates that he did so. The original distinction between public and private papers was abandoned; the officers at Nantes could not have been expected to make it. The upshot, however, was that William Lee gained access to the private correspondence with Willing, Morris & Co., to which he had no claim; the result was trouble.

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