Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from ——— Mercier, [before 10 February 1779]

From ——— Mercier

D: University of Pennsylvania Library

In the spring of 1777, the commissioners had contracted with Mercier to repair the arms which they had purchased from Montieu. By the summer of 1778, Jonathan Williams, Jr. had become so suspicious of Mercier’s bills that he ordered the work stopped and refused further payments.3 Mercier, unable to justify his accounts to Williams, then turned to the commissioners.

This letter was part of Mercier’s efforts to convince the commissioners of the validity of his claims; but it was not his first. In an undated letter which we now conclude must have been written in early August, 1778 (shortly after Williams had halted the repair operation4), Mercier represented to the commissioners his view of the situation: his contract, with Deane and Williams, had been to engage forty workers to repair 80,000 arms and personally to supervise the work at Nantes. Although he had been absent from Nantes on account of business he had received from the Minister, nonetheless, he had procured the specified number of workers (in fact, more than was specified). He had submitted to Williams his accounts, with receipts, when they had met in Nantes; these were verified by the American’s secretary, and it was agreed that Mercier was owed approximately 300 l.t.5 Subsequent expenses amounted to an additional 200 l.t. He had been seeking payment for more than a year, and engaged a procureur in Nantes. Why did Williams refuse to pay him his due?

The American agent was in Passy when Mercier’s letter arrived, and he composed a response in French, also undated but written, according to the letter, just before his departure for Nantes (August 10):6 the contract had been made not with Deane and himself, but with the commissioners; moreover, Mercier had not lived up to the promises made at their meeting in Nantes. He did not refuse to pay Mercier; Mercier was simply not due anything. Williams had promised the procureur that he would forward all the accounts and receipts to Franklin, who would pay Mercier whatever he was owed. These documents would be sent as soon as Williams returned to Nantes.

[before February 10, 1779]7 Rue et hotel des Juifs
chez M. le Cte. Desmazis



Le Sr. Mercier controlleur du Dépot des armes à Lyon, à lhonneur de vous representer, que le 23 Juin 1777, il a été fait une Convention dont cy joint est Copie, entre les honorables Députés du Congrés des Etats unis de Lamerique Septentrionale, et luy, par laquelle il s’engage d’envoyer a Nantes un nombre suffisant d’ouvriers armuriers pour réparation d’armes; Le dit Mercier ayant remplis Ses Engagemens Suivant la Convention cy devant citée au Sujet des ouvriers auxquels il a fait des avances pour la Somme de Cinq Cens trente Cinq Livres, comme vous le verrés, Monsieur, par la Copie cy jointe des comptes quil a rendu a M. Williams et de l’extrait d’une de Ses lettres audt Sr. Mercier en date du 5. fevrier 1778.8 Il vous Suplie, Monsieur, de lhonorer de vos bontés, et de vouloir bien lui faire rembourser cette Somme qui lui est legitimement due. Sa reconnaissance Egallera Son respect infiny.

A Monsieur Francklin Ministre Plenipotentiaire de la Republique des Provinces unies de l’amerique Septentrionale

Endorsed: Papers about Mercier N. 4 / Grafion

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3The contract with Mercier was drafted on May 30, 1777: see XXIV, 100–1. Silas Deane had signed for the commissioners a copy dated June 23; the following October, Deane complained that Mercier was a “trifler” and not to be trusted: Deane Papers, II, 204, 212. For the deteriorating relationship between the contracting parties see XXVI, 206–7, 283; XXVII, 35, 63n.

4See XXVII, 35.

5The reason for JW’s secretary having to verify the accounts, Mercier said, was that JW was sick. This would indicate that the meeting took place in April or May: see XXVI, 260; XXVII, 117n. A copy of Mercier’s account with JW, dated Oct. 21, 1777, records expenditures of 6,316 l.t., payments from JW amounting to 6,000 l.t., and a balance due of 316 l.t. (University of Pa. Library).

6Both Mercier’s letter described above and this one, which exists only in a draft, are at the University of Pa. Library. For JW’s return to Nantes see XXVII, 117n, 307.

7The date on which BF sent JW a series of questions about Mercier and his accounts, which were clearly based on this letter. BF’s Feb. 10 letter is missing, but JW answered it on Feb. 23, below.

8The enclosed copy of the account with JW begins with the sum due as of Oct. 21, 1777 (see above), and records travel expenses, through Aug. 10, 1778, for dismissed workers. The final balance due was 535 l.t. The other enclosure, an extract of JW to Mercier, Feb. 5, 1778, reads, “Je ne crois pas vous rien devoir audessus denviron 300 l.t. dont vous m’avés fourni la Note.” Both documents are at the University of Pa. Library.

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