Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Timothy Matlack, 21 April 1780

From Timothy Matlack2

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Philadelphia April 21. 1780


To you as President of the American Philosophical society, I beg leave to enclose an oration delivered last month before that respectable society.3 The revd. Dr Ewing had long ago been appointed to perform this annual duty; but he being chosen Provost of the University, and that seminary having greatly suffered during the war, his whole time and attention were required to reestablish its reputation—4 he therefore declined the oration. The short time which could be allowed to compose it, deterred those who were anxious to establish, or preserve, a literary character from the undertaking; but, as I had no wish to appear any thing more than I am, the task was very easy to me, and an apology for so crude a performance is only necessary on account of the society, not on my account.

I have the greater pleasure in enclosing this piece to you, as it affords me an opportunity of recommending to your notice a very worthy young Gentleman, Doctor John Foulke, son of Judah Foulke late of this city.5 His abilities and application to his studies have gained him great respect here, and will recommend him abroad. He has undergone a regular examination before the Trustees of the late College; but by the change in that institution he is prevented from obtaining a diploma, the proper officers not being yet appointed. I know that your benevolent disposition renders it unnecessary to ask your favour toward so valuable a young man; otherwise I should have warmly solicited your interest in his behalf.

The indians have made an attack on our Frontiers, which will distress the inhabitants of Northampton and Northumberland exceedingly.6 The settlements in those counties being so widely spread, occasions very great difficulties and leaves nothing to be done for their defence, but by invading the indian country, which must be attempted if possible.

I am with the greatest respect Your Excellencys most obedient and very humble servant

T Matlack

His Excellency Benjamin Franklin Esqr. Minister Plenipotentiary of the United states of America at the Court of France

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Matlack (d. 1829), from whom BF at one time had held or rented property, was secretary of the Supreme Executive Council. In 1779 he became an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees of the College of Philadelphia. He was elected to the APS in 1780 and became an active member of the Society. See II, 351; XXII, 514–15; DAB; Douglas M. Arnold, A Republican Revolution: Ideology and Politics in Pennsylvania, 1776–1790 (New York, 1989), pp. 310–11; Jefferson Papers, IV, 545n; Early Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society … (Philadelphia, 1884), passim. As far as we know, this is the only piece of extant correspondence between Matlack and BF.

3Matlack was appointed on Feb. 17 to deliver the annual oration to the Society. His address extolled the benefits of agriculture and the republican virtues of industry and economy: Timothy Matlack, An Oration Delivered March 16, 1780 … (Philadelphia, 1780); Early Proceedings …, p. 106. The copy he enclosed is missing.

4Life at the College of Philadelphia was severely disrupted during the Revolution. American troops were quartered there, and during the occupation of the city it was used as a British military hospital. Efforts of college officials to restore it were complicated by the reorganization that the Constitutionalist Party imposed upon it in 1779. The Pa. Assembly replaced the old board of trustees, renamed the institution the University of the State of Pennsylvania, and prescribed new oaths of loyalty to the state government. Dr. John Ewing, a Presbyterian clergyman and natural philosopher (XI, 526n; XVII, 11–13, 176–7, 211–12), was appointed to succeed William Smith as provost. See Edward P. Cheyney, History of the University of Pennsylvania 1740–1940 (Philadelphia, 1940), pp. 116–32; Robert L. Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania 1776–1790 (New York, 1971), pp. 77–9; Arnold, A Republican Revolution, pp. 187–8.

5Several prominent Philadelphians wrote on behalf of John Foulke (1757–1796), son of the Philadelphia Quakers Mary and Judah Foulke. He went to Europe to continue his medical training, studying at Paris, Leipzig, and, after the conclusion of hostilities, London: Foulke to BF, Oct. 12, 1781, and to WTF, April 12, 1783. APS. Upon his return to Philadelphia he became an active member of the APS, served on the staff of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and was a fellow of the College of Physicians. He delivered popular lectures on pneumatics and anatomy. See Horace M. Lippincott, “Dr. John Foulke, 1780, A Pioneer in Aeronautics,” Gen. Mag. and Hist. Chron., XXXIV (1931–32), 525–33; Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “Philadelphia Medical Students in Europe, 1750–1800,” PMHB, LXVII (1943), 3, 8, 20, 22, 23, 29; Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush (2 vols., Princeton, 1951), I, 250–2. Foulke and WTF became friends and corresponded throughout Foulke’s European stay; their letters are at the APS.

6In the several months following Gen. John Sullivan’s savage expedition against the Iroquois (May-November, 1779) small war parties went out to attack white settlements in New York and Pennsylvania, including the Wyoming Valley of the Susquehanna River in Northumberland County: Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution (Syracuse, N.Y., 1972), p. 229.

Index Entries