Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Michel-Guillaume St. John de Crèvecœur, [after 2 April 1783]

To Michel-Guillaume St. John de Crèvecœur

AL (draft): Library of Congress

[after April 2, 1783]6


I have perused the foregoing Memoir, and having formerly had some Share in the Management of the Pacquet Boats between England and America,7 I am enabled to furnish you with some small Remarks.—

The Project is good, & if carried into Execution will certainly be very useful to Merchants immediately, and profitable to the Revenue of the Post Office at least after some time; because not only Commerce increases Correspondence, but Facility of Correspondence increases Commerce, & they go on mutually augmenting each other.

Four Packet Boats were at first thought sufficient between Falmouth and New York, so as dispatch one regularly the first Wednesday in every Month. But by Experience it was found that a fifth was necessary; as without it, the Regularity was sometimes broken by Accidents of Wind & Weather, & the Merchants disappointed & their Affairs deranged, a Matter of great Consequence in Commerce.— A fifth Packet was accordingly added.8

It is probable, as you observe, that the English will keep up their Packets. In which Case I should think it adviseable to order the Dispatch of the French Packets in the intermediate times, that is on the third Wednesdays. This would give the Merchants of Europe & America Opportunities of Writing every Fortnight. And the English who had miss’d Writing by their own Packet of the first Wednesday, or have new Matter to write which they wish to send before the next Month, will forward their Letters by the Post to France to go by the French Packet, & vice versa, which will encrease the Inland Postage of both Nations.—

As these Vessels are not to be laden with Goods, their Holds may, without Inconvenience, be divided into separate Apartments after the Chinese Manner, and each of those Apartments caulked tight so as to keep out Water. In which Case if a Leak should happen in one Apartment, that only would be affected by it, & the others would be free; so that the Ship would not be so subject as others to founder & sink at Sea. This being known would be a great Encouragement to Passengers.9

I send you a Copy of a Chart of the Gulph Stream which is little known by European Navigators, and yet of great Consequence; since in going to America they often get into that Stream and unknowingly stem it, whereby the Ship is much retarded & the Voyage lengthened enormously.— The directions being imperfectly translated and expressed in French, I have put them more correctly in English.1

I have the honour to be &c
M. St. Jean de Crevecoeur

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Dated on the basis of the comtesse d’Houdetot’s letter of that date, which we believe elicited this one. Our annotation there provides background on Crèvecœur’s proposal for a packet boat service, the subject of this response.

7Service between New York and Falmouth began in 1756 and was administered by the British Post Office: Julia P. Mitchell, St. Jean de Crèvecoeur (New York, 1916), p. 178n; Kenneth Ellis, The Post Office in the Eighteenth Century: a Study in Administrative History (London, New York, and Toronto, 1958), pp. 34–7. BF, who was appointed joint deputy postmaster general of North America in 1753, was involved with the service during the time when he was residing in America (1756–57 and 1762–64).

8The French service began with six ships: Robert de Crèvecœur, Saint John de Crèvecoeur, sa vie et ses ouvrages (1735–1813) (Paris, 1883), p. 312.

9BF would later discuss this “well-known practice of the Chinese” in his “Maritime Observations”: Smyth, Writings, IX, 381.

1See the illustration on the facing page. This chart is Le Rouge’s copy of the Gulf Stream chart that BF had caused to be engraved in London c. 1769, for use by the British postal service. (We published the Le Rouge chart in XXXIII, facing p. 298, and discussed it there.) The sailing directions BF here crossed out were translated from the directions engraved on the original, written by Capt. Timothy Folger (XV, 246–8). BF’s revisions do not so much correct Le Rouge’s French as improve upon the original directions, making them comprehensible to any navigator sailing into New England for the first time and unfamiliar with the Gulf Stream and the dangerous shoals south of Georges Bank and Nantucket. BF’s “Remarks” were written in the left and bottom margin by L’Air de Lamotte, who also signed BF’s name. In the right margin, BF himself added a “Note” about how long it takes experienced Nantucket captains to make the eastward and westward voyages, and how a “Stranger” can tell if he is in the Gulf Stream by feeling the warmth of the water. BF had these marginalia copied on several of the Le Rouge charts, one of which he presented to the APS for publication along with his “Maritime Observations.” For the text of his marginalia see Smyth, Writings, IX, 405–6. For a full discussion of this chart and its significance see Ellen R. Cohn, “Benjamin Franklin, Georges-Louis Le Rouge and the Franklin/Folger Chart of the Gulf Stream,” Imago Mundi, LII (2000), 124–5, 128–42.

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