Benjamin Franklin Papers

John Philip Merckle to the American Commissioners, 26 March 1778

John Philip Merckle to the American Commissioners

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Amsterdam 26th: March 1778:


I still Labour under the Disagreeable Necessity of once more making my Addresses to You; relative to the Arms I have purchased, Conformable to your list. The Person from Whom I engaged them insists very hard on my taking the same. I applyed to Messrs: Hornica fils & Co: to Comply with your direction, Who has refused with very unbecoming threats, respecting a disclosure to Sir J: York (Genteel Proceedings indeed). From a Natural Veneration and Sincere Attachment to the Cause,3 I have in Conjunction With my friends formed a Considerable Expedition and almost ready to Sail, and am threatened to be Stopped by the holder of the Arms, Which are ready to be delivered and are already proved.4 I shall be under the disagreeable Necessity of Commencing a Law suit against that House, Which dont seem to incline to fulfill your orders. My Incumbrance arrises from not being able to place such an Article in the cargo, or should have endeavoured to facilitate, on your Accounts, but as its out of my power at present, I pray you would order the Steps to be taken to prevent pernicious reflection and fatal Consequences. In expectation of your usual Judicious regularity I have the honour to be, with much esteem Gentlemen Your Humble Servant

Joh. Ph. Merckle

P.S. This moment I am informed that an Arrest is Issued Against me for the payment of Arms, and also to oblige me to receive the same.5

Addressed: The Honble: Messr: Franklin & Deane / á / Passy

Notation: Merckle 26th. March 78 Reced. open from Dr Franklin to answer Apl. 6th. AL.6

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3His attachment is, to put it mildly, open to doubt. He had been in touch with Sir Joseph Yorke since at least the beginning of the month and probably longer. Whitehall had warned its envoy that Merckle was shipping arms, but Yorke disagreed: the man was going to America with a venture of his own, entirely pacific, and wanted a British passport in case of capture; give it to him, Sir Joseph urged Eden on March 3, because he intends to see Washington, with whom he has influence, and prepare the ground for negotiations. Ten days later the Ambassador reported that he was keeping watch on the cargo, and there was nothing warlike in it. Stevens, Facsimiles, IV, nos. 388, 401, p. 2. By the 17th Yorke had arranged to give Merckle, in lieu of a passport, a letter to Eden, who was about to leave for America with the Carlisle commission, and to provide each man with a matching half of a message on a slip of paper. For further identification Sir Joseph described the man: “His Person is slender, about 5. Feet 4. inches or 5. Wears his own hair which is very fair, as are his Eyebrows and Eyelashes; he has rather a grave or cross look, speaks English and French with a German accent, wants some of his upper teeth.” Ibid., no. 403, p. 1.

4But not approved. Some had been, Deane wrote Merckle on Feb. 25, and the commissioners had already paid for them; the present consignment. had been disapproved, and they would have nothing to do with it. Deane Papers, II, 382–3.

5Merckle tried to explain the affair to John Adams in a letter of April 27. The Horneca firm had declared the muskets unfit for use, and would not permit their being forwarded to France. Merckle could not pay for them, was arrested, and had to borrow at high interest. He now intended to ship the weapons to America on his own account. Taylor, Adams Papers, VI, 59–60.

6Lee’s draft of his answer is included in the annotation of the commissioners to Merckle below, April 13.

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