Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Digges, 11 June 1779

From Thomas Digges

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

London 11 June 1779.

Dr. Sir

I receivd Your favour of the 30th ulo. & find by it only one of my letters have miscarryd. By mentioning the dates of my letters I did not mean to draw you into answering any of them but meerly to assertain their safety; I well know how much better Your time is employd than by answering letters of little import, never mind me, but when you have any thing to do which you may think proper to require of me to transact. I have never yet found any letters have miscarryd under Your last direction, but this will not do for such Towns as have french Prisoners in the neighbourhood, because there is a rule to open them in order to find out if the letters are not for prisoners; In London it will do well, but as I am going to Bristol for a few weeks having some goods to Ship on Spanish bottoms expected & now there I should be glad to receive any commands of Yours under direction Mr. William Singleton Church Post Office Bristol.

I have made every application in my power about W Peters, & shall continue my endeavours to find him out & do what you require; I have wrote to Mrs. Roberts at Liverpoole, the house he lodgd in, to find out from her when he left that place, where gone &ca, but as yet I have no ansr.

I wrote to you by Mr Panchaud who went by the packet of the 1st Int. and as you had mentiond to me You would pay the bill on Brehon when it again appeard, I took the liberty to draw one for 20£ to Mr Panchaud, wch on Rect. He was to remit it to his friend here. As You mention in Yr. last you had paid Brehons Bill this will of course be cancelld & returnd to me.

I shewd DH7 that part of Yr. letter which relates to the Cartel of Prisoners & the mention of the Port of Morlaix in preference to Nantes &ca. He spoke to Mr Stephens abt it before me, who did not seem at all averse to letting the whole remaining prisoners go in the next voyage, but abt this, Lord Sandwich was to be consulted: They are, both at the Admy & board of Sick & hurt, very much surprisd that there is as yet no accots whatever from the transport which carried over the first hundred, & say She must be either lost or detaind for want a like number of British Sailors to return for those who were sent. Much surprisd also to hear that there are prisoners in Spain.

The Books You order to be forwarded to Messrs. Horneca Grand & Co. of Amsterdam are now in the packing up, & will be sent in a Ship to sail in about ten days calld the Anna Maria Christiaan Roeloffs Master they will be put in as small a deal box As possible and markd BF directed also on a card to Horneca & Grand, so that you may give the necessary orders to Amsterdam about them. I have got some friends trying to collect annecdotes & matter to help Dr. Gordon in his work. General Washington two years ago wrote to me to forward him some books, & give what assistance I could.8 I was with Dr Price to day & mentiond such a work to him as well as our valuable Bishop In whose family, thanks to you, I have been more than once very happy they all went into Hampshire on tuesdy & I believe Yours was the last name mentiond in the town House by Miss Georgiana.9 Wilkes also promisd Me some annecdotes, and Mrs. MaCaulay to use her pen, but the former is so busied in rectifying the errors of Christianity & putting all Religions upon the level of the haram, that I have little hopes from him; and I guess Madam is too much engagd as yet in the joys of new wedded Love and envelopd in the embraces of Her Young highlander to take up her pen.1

I gave You from time to time, as often as any new occurrence arose, the progress of the business I have lately been upon, & which I had most seriously at heart, and as I was well convincd it was taken up seriously & properly by the parties most interested in it I gave it all my attention & constantly held it in view. I wish I knew all the actors as thoroughly as You know them, but I have attended long enough to their moves to discover they are very expert in little dirty parliamentary craft, but have none of that true wisdom which comprehends the extensive and great Interests of their Country. I am sorry our friend got so little by his laudable endeavours to serve both Countries. There was a decision negative to the first & leading proposition of a ten years truce, because it was in fact giving Independence. This is the sum total & I dare say I need not enter into particulars. The plan of Ministry is to try another years work in Ama. The idle scheme of Govr. F which I mentiond in my last to You, however ridiculous & absurd it may appear, is to be adopted;2 much expectation is formd from it, from dissentions & cabal in Congress, disunion & distress among the people &ca. &ca. Whatever Negotiations the ministry at present have in view are certainly intended to be offerd thro Sr. H Clinton who will probably be armd with a new Commission & fuller powers.— Something similar to this & very great offers for the Georgians are gone over to Prevost.3

There will be some conversation to day in the house on a motion of Sir W. Merediths for ministry to declare what they intend to do; Our friend will hold forth on this occasion, & probably tomorrow will open some new lights.4

The Evidence of the Torey Worthies who are calld in by Lord G.G to overweigh the evidence of Lord Cornwallis Genl Grey &c &c. has not yet extended further than to Genl Robertson, who has been three intire days at the bar giving as dull a narrative as was ever heard in that house. It is thought Galloways will come next, and so on down to the worthy little Jebas.5 Many are of opinion parliament will rise on thursday & cut short this enquiry, & deprive these Gentn. of an oppertunity to clinch the nail of their ruin in America; for I cannot help thinking if they controvert the evidence of Cornwallis Grey &ca. and aim at establishing an opinion of the practicability of carrying on the war and subjugating america they will innevitably fix their ruin in both Countries. Genl Robinsons evidence was generally much ridiculd & laughd at; It tended to exculpate Lord G.G of any inattention to the necessary supplies of Men Ships &ca. &ca., to the crimination of Genl Howe, and to prove to all the world (except those who are already well informd of the state of facts) that Washington with twelve or fifteen thousand men (never more) has baffled every effort of the British and mercenary armies of upwards of 40,000 men commanded by Sr. W Howe and aided by a fleet of 80 to 90 Sail of Men of War; But his Evidence more than all clearly serves to prove that this wise & good ministry have projected and carryd on the war by the advise & recommendation of Fools, and they now bring these very fools to prove it.

An Express armd Vessel is arrivd from N York the 4th. May. The accots. nearest the truth & which are believd at Loyds are as follows. A Detatchd Army of 7 Regts. Under Erskine abot: 2,500 men was on the point of sailing to the So.ward on some expedition, said in N York to be sent as a Reenforcement to Prevost, but more probably from Mrs. Tryons accot. to be bound to Chesepeak Bay, either to support some discontents on the Eastern Shore or to act on the Virga. side as a divertion in favor of the Georgia Army which if report speaks truth, has receivd two checks from Lincoln & was obligd to retire nearer to their head quarters at Savannah.6

Seven Sail of Victualling transports under convoy of the Jason frigate bound from N York to Georgia with supplys for the Army in the South, were taken convoy & all by three American Cruisers on the Coasts of Carolina.7

The Revenge Capt Cunningham after taking in all about forty sail of prizes, was himself taken by an English frigate near Bermudas & carried into New York.8

No appearances of any active exertions of the British army from New York, but there was a current talk that Govr F with a body of Amn Loyalists & a few troops were going into the Jerseys from which quarter there was strong desertions & every confirmation of the disunion & distress of the People.9

Since I wrote to You about my Bror. a Cozn. of mine Dr Stewarts Son of Annapolis has been with me; he saild in the same vessel with my Brother the doctor & was taken & carryd into N York.1 I have a full detail of the state of things in that quarter of Ama. Their greatest evil is the failure for now two years of the Crop of Wheat. Mr Stewart being a Scotsmans Son got interest to come to Europe gratis, but my Brothers politics being well known & his having been much about the person of Genr Washington for the last two or three years, he could not obtain permission to die at Sea & was left a prisoner in N York very near wore down in a Consumption.

If any thing new transpires to day I will give you a line by common post to night. This is intended for the Spanish bag. I am with great truth & the highest esteem Dr. Sir Yr very obligd & Obt Servt.


Notation: June 11. 79

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7David Hartley, also referred to later in the letter as “our friend.”

8William Gordon was at work on The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America (London, 1788); see BF to Digges, May 30[–31], above. The Digges and Washington families were friends of long standing: Elias and Finch, Digges Letters, p. 428.

9Georgiana Shipley. The bishop is her father, Jonathan Shipley, Bishop of St. Asaph.

1John Wilkes, in a debate on granting further relief to Protestant Dissenters, inveighed against bigotry and argued for toleration of all religions and sects: Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XX, 309–20. The marriage on Dec. 17, 1778, of the historian Catherine Macaulay (see XXVII, 204n, 474n) to William Graham, a surgeon’s mate twenty-six years her junior, subjected her to ridicule and the loss of many friendships. DNB.

2Actually it was his letter of the 25th which reported WF’s activities.

3Eden was urging that Henry Clinton be encouraged to use any means of persuasion, including bribery and threats, to bring over Americans to their side. The commission he proposed to aid Clinton was not formed until the following year. Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (New York, 1941), pp. 233–4. Maj. Gen. Augustine Prevost, headquartered in Savannah, had been left in charge of establishing civil government in Georgia. For details of that operation see Paul H. Smith, Loyalists and Redcoats: a Study in British Revolutionary Policy (Chapel Hill, 1964), pp. 104–6.

4Sir William Meredith’s “motion for preparing peace with America” was seconded by Hartley; the house did not act on the measure: Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XX, 836–8; Frank O’Gorman, The Rise of Party in England: the Rockingham Whigs 1760–82 (London, 1975), p. 389. For Meredith see Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, III, 130–3.

5Maj. Gen. James Robertson (whom later in the paragraph Digges calls “Robinson”) was examined at length from June 8–10, and again on the 14th. Of all the loyalists summoned, only Joseph Galloway actually testified before Parliament. For the hearings see The Parliamentary Register, XIII, 273–349, 370–97, 422–42, 448–71. The committee was dissolved after Howe did not appear for the examination of evidence ordered on June 29: ibid., 537.

6Maj. Gen. Sir William Erskine was not involved in this expedition; he returned to London later that summer. Mark M. Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (New York, 1966), p. 349. Maj. Gen. Edward Mathew led this army into the Chesapeake to intercept Washington’s reinforcements and destroy enemy supplies. Mackesy, War for America, pp. 269–70; Richard K. Showman, ed., The Papers of General Nathanael Greene (5 vols. to date, Chapel Hill, 1976–), IV, 49–50n.

7For the capture of the Jason convoy see our annotation of William Gordon to BF, May 5, above.

8Conyngham, aboard the Revenge, which recently had been fitted as a privateer, was captured by the British ship Galatea on April 27, shortly after reaching his cruising ground out of New York (DAB). His severe treatment in Pendennis Castle and Mill Prison will become an object of concern to BF in future volumes.

9These plans were abandoned because of Clinton’s lack of support: Van Doren, Secret History, p. 224.

1His brother was Joseph; his cousin was David Stewart, third son of Dr. George Stewart, who had emigrated from Scotland in 1721, and held various offices in the colonies before returning in 1775 to claim estates inherited from his brother. David had been register of the Land Office in Annapolis from 1774 until 1777, when he refused to cooperate with the rebels. He had made two previous attempts to sail from New York. Elias and Finch, Digges Letters, p. 62n.

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