Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas: Two Letters, 2 March 1780

From Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas: Two Letters

(I) ALS: American Philosophical Society; AL (draft): Algemeen Rijksarchief; (II) AL: American Philosophical Society; AL (draft): Algemeen Rijksarchief


the Hague March 2d. 1780.

Honoured & dear Sir,

The Letter I send you a Copy herewith3 I have just received. The Autor of it having always professed himself a friend to the American cause, though not a more powerfull one than many others, deserves to be managed; & therefore I shall write to him very politely, & offer him, If he has some good ouvertures to make for the credit of America, to convey them, by my correspondence, to you, Sir, & to Congress. His circumstances are now very good, having not long ago got a considerable succession from a relation of his.

Be pleased, dear Sir, after having read my Letter, here inclosed, for Capt. Jones, to close it with a piece of wafer, & send or give it him when you will see or know of him.4

I think him too much exasperated against 784 & 166, & not enough aware of the fair promises 64 has made him. I am sure the latter is but an indifferent friend to the two former, to 338 & to 65.5

I am ever with a most respectfull attachment Honoured & dear Sir yr. Very humble & obedient servant


Passy, his Exc. B. Franklin

Addressed: His Excellency / B. Franklin, Esqr. Minr. / Plenipe. of the United States / &c. / Passy ./.

Notation: Dumas, la haie March 2d. 80


The Hague March 2d. 1780 in the Evening.

This moment our friend6 tells me in great confidence, that 873. 307 has at last made one principal Step they expected from him, by 705, 26. 884. 873. 783. 64. to sound 394. 274. about an 61. MPGPPX. 880. & 873. 598 PBX. CDLDPC. 322. 795, 26. 873. 183. 610. 578, 28.8

388. 236, 27. 935. 388. 385. 884. 787. 884. 873. 783. 64. as a 960 man 601. 581. used to 842. 537. But 833. 388. 236, 27. 470. and 873. 783. 64. has 802. 880. very 214. an 304. 884. 665. 618. 880. PBBLO.9

Our friend has this from 873. 783. 64.1 himself; And 62. 341. 873. 362. 657LBI.2 They are sure that 867. & OPXWLBN. 942. 39. 884. 873. 541.3 And a negociation is set on foot for a body of 600. 531, 28. which 878. 262. 601. 878. 942. 606. 322. 874. 560.4

This Letter cannot go till to morrow. If there is some other news, I shall add it on the other side of this sheet.5

Notation: Dumas la haie March 2d. 80

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3It was a Feb. 25 letter (APS) from the Dutch aristocrat and well-known American sympathizer Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol, which advised Dumas and BF to take better security precautions when writing him.

4Dumas to Jones, March 2: Bradford, Jones Papers, reel 5, no. 999.

5The numerical code used here by Dumas had been composed by John Paul Jones: XXXI, 345–7. BF interlined the decoded words above the numbers: “784 & 166” were Sartine (who had provided the funds to outfit the Bonhomme Richard squadron) and Chaumont; “64” was the Ambassador (i.e., the duc de La Vauguyon, French ambassador to the Netherlands, with whom Jones had been in frequent contact during his November, 1779—January, 1780, Dutch stay); “338” was Franklin and “65” was America.

6Pensionary of Amsterdam Engelbert-François van Berckel. In addition to number codes Dumas used particular expressions and code names to designate important political figures (e.g., “Le grand facteur” for La Vauguyon); a list of these is given in XXIX, 6n.

7“The Stadholder” (William V of Orange).

8“ … proposing to the Russian Ambassador [Prince Dmitrii Golitsyn] to sound his Empress [Catherine II] about an alliance between this & the northern states for securing the commerce of neutrals.”

9“He delivered what he had to say to the Russian ambassador as a young man not much used to such matter. But still he delivered it and the Russian ambassador has sent this very day an express to Petersburg on this errand.” William V was born in 1748.

1“ … the Russian ambassador.”

2“ … also from the Grand Pensionary [Pieter van Bleiswijk].”

3“ … Sweden & Denmark will accede to the measure.”

4“ … Norway marines which they doubt not they will obtain for their money.”

BF decoded Dumas’ letter through “61. MPGPPX, (Alliance between)” and thereafter decoded only scattered numbers and letters. Its subject, that of obtaining Russian help in protecting neutral shipping rights, was of considerable interest to the Netherlands, given the recent seizure of Dutch merchant ships by the British. Meanwhile, the Russian Empress on March 10 issued to the courts of Britain, France, and Spain a declaration of neutral shipping rights. She wrote separately to Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, and the Netherlands, the leading neutral maritime states of Europe, inviting them to cooperate in protecting such rights. This was the genesis of the League of Armed Neutrality: Sir Francis Piggott and G.W.T. Omond, eds., Documentary History of the Armed Neutralities 1780 and 1800 (London, 1919), pp. 198–9; Isabel de Madariaga, Britain, Russia and the Armed Neutrality of 1780: Sir James Harris’s Mission to St. Petersburg during the American Revolution (New Haven, 1962), pp. 140–84.

5Also filed with the present letters at the APS is a two-page “Extrait d’une Lettre que je viens de recevoir” in Dumas’ hand. This extract blames a Robert Tuite and a Macquefoy [McEvoy] for the Danish government’s returning to the British the prizes from the Bonhomme Richard squadron’s cruise. Robert Tuite (d. 1813) was the son of the West Indian planter Nicholas Tuite (1702–1772), for whom see the Dansk Biografisk Leksikon (16 vols., Copenhagen, 1979–84). Dumas’ extract also inquires about a Mr. “Guillon,” actually Alexander Gillon of South Carolina who was currently in Amsterdam trying to buy frigates for his adoptive state’s navy (XXVII, 47n; XXX, 36–7; XXXI, 183–5, 450–1). An undated document in Chaumont’s hand, “Nottes pour M. franklin,” addresses the former subject. One of the guilty is a certain Jameson, but Robert Tuitten deserves most of the blame. Both men are currently in London. University of Pa. Library.

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