Benjamin Franklin Papers

Reuben Harvey to the American Peace Commissioners, 10 February 1783

Reuben Harvey7 to the American Peace Commissioners

LS: National Archives8

Cork 10th Febr. 1783

Respected Friends John Adams, Benjamin Franklin John Jay & Henry Laurens, Esquires.

Although my Name may be unknown to you, it is not so to many of your Countrymen whom the chance of War threw into Captivity at Kinsale & here during the late War, so unnaturally waged, & persisted in by a weak, wicked Ministry— In the early part of it some few warm Friends to America assisted me in collecting a handsome Sum to buy Cloaths & other Necessaries for 33 American Prisoners who had been taken near Montreal in 1775 & sent to England from Quebec— These poor Men were brought here on board the Solebay (one of Sir Peter Parker’s Fleet) in Decr. 1775 & had comfortable Supplies of every thing suitable provided for their Winter Passage—9 From July till Octr. 1781 there were several Hundred Americans captured in those Seas & confined in Kinsale Prison: their Treatment was not good, & I applied to Government for their relief, but under the Administration of Lord North little or no attention was paid to any Distress of this kind, however, I availed myself of the change that happened in April 1782 & on the Duke of Portland’s Arrival at Dublin as Lord Lieutenant I wrote him concerning the hard Treatment (in many respects) endured by the poor Americans at Kinsale;1 & a Correspondence on that Subject continued some Months between his Secretary Col. Fitzpatrick & me, as you will perceive by two of his letters to me now enclosed—2 A great many of the Prisoners escaped from Kinsale to this place & were maintaind by me & a few other Friends to America for Months, until I could get them Passages to different parts of France & the Continent.

I have been severely reflected upon during the American War for my open & avowed Attachment to your just cause: I have been threatened with the vengeance of Ministry & was once obliged to appear before the Mayor of this City to answer a charge brought against me by Robert Gordon Esqr. Commissary: no less a charge than that of assisting the American Rebels, which however had no effect, for I told both Gordon & the Mayor; that I abhorred the American War; that I must ever wish Success to a People who bravely opposed “the tyrannick Attempts of a vile Ministry, & that if the Americans were reduced to their last Province, I would still adhere to their Cause, believing it to be a just one & them an oppressed People.”

Though my Fortune is but moderate & I have 10 Children, my Feelings for the poor ill-clothed Prisoners from New England, Pennsylvania & other parts of America (whose Fate cast them amongst us) were so prevalent that I have expended large Sums of my own Property, besides the Subscriptions & Collections that I made, in maintaining, cloathing, & paying Passage Money for those Prisoners, the Truth of which you’ll have confirmed by living Witnesses, when you shall happily return to your Native Country— I was a principal Person in effecting a Remonstrance & Petition against the American War so early as 1776 which was signed by about 600 respectable Inhabitants of Cork & delivered to the King by Lord Middleton3 the 10th of May following. At that time an Address for carrying on the War & ending the Rebellion (so called) in America was set on foot here by Commissary Gordon, Paul Benson a Contractor & others who were immediate Gainers by this War, but it was only signed by Men of that Stamp, Revenue & other Crown Officers, together with the Mayor & Corporation, in the whole 150.4

I don’t expect by thus acquainting you with the little Services which I have done for the Cause & People of America to receive any Emolument, but I hope for your Friendship in recommending me to the Congress, should they think proper to appoint any Person here or in other Ports of Ireland as a Consul, for managing Matters of Commerce: Sufficient Security should be given, & my Character will bear the test of Enquiry.

Your Consequence, Gentlemen, in different parts of America must give great weight to your Recommendation of me as a Merchant and I flatter myself that you will be so kind as to mention my Name to your Friends at Boston, Philadelphia, New York Charlestown, Maryland, Virginia &c &c that I may be favoured with some Business from a Country, for whose Welfare & Independence no Person has been a more strenuous & steady Advocate than—Your very sincere Friend

Reuben Harvey

P.S. Should any of you visit London, Col. Barré5 will readily tell you his opinion & Knowledge of my Principles & Conduct during the American War—


[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Harvey (1734–1808) was a Quaker merchant who had been involved in trading ventures with North America: Sheldon S. Cohen, “Reuben Harvey: Irish Friend to American Freedom,” Quaker History, LXXXVIII (1999), 22–39; Reuben Harvey to George Washington, Feb. 12, 1783 (National Archives).

8This copy was enclosed in Harvey’s letter to Washington, cited above.

9The most famous of these prisoners was Col. Ethan Allen, whose treatment at the hands of the British had enraged BF: XXII, 393; J. Kevin Graffagnino, ed., Ethan and Ira Allen: Collected Works (3 vols., Benson, Vt., 1992), II, 18–21; John J. Duffy et al., eds., Ethan Allen and His Kin: Correspondence, 1772–1819 (2 vols., Hanover, N.H., and London, 1998), I, 54–5.

1For the community’s response to the prisoners’ distress see XXXVI, 606–7.

2The Hon. Richard Fitzpatrick (1748–1813) was the Earl of Shelburne’s brother-in-law. He had served in the British army in North America in 1777–78, and as a member of Parliament he opposed the American War: Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, II, 433–5. In Harvey’s letter to Washington of Feb. 12 (cited above) he enclosed at least three of Fitzpatrick’s letters written in May, 1782, and his own replies; these copies are at the National Archives.

3George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton (1754–1836), an Irish peer who opposed the North ministry, wrote in August, 1775, “we are all Americans here.” The 1776 petition was the result of the embargo on provisions; with Cork’s American trade prohibited and its West Indies commerce in ruins, the signers called on the king to dismiss his ministers and stop the war: R. B. McDowell, Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760–1801 (Oxford, 1979), pp. 241–2; Burke’s Peerage, p. 1733.

4The March, 1776, address by the mayor, sheriffs, merchants, traders, and inhabitants of Cork expressed the signers’ abhorrence of the “American Rebellion” and their support of the king. It was sent to the city’s parliamentary representatives for forwarding to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland: Richard Caulfield, ed., The Council Book of the Corporation of the City of Cork, from 1609 to 1643, and from 1690 to 1800 (Guildford, Eng., 1876), p. 906.

5Col. Isaac Barré: XVI, 69–70n.

Index Entries