Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from ——— de Franck and Other Offerers of Goods and Schemes, 18 May 1783

From ——— de Franck2 and Other Offerers of Goods and Schemes

ALS: American Philosophical Society

With the general armistice in effect and peace virtually assured, merchants continue to come forward with offers of goods or requests for advice on how to establish commercial ventures. M. de Franck of Strasbourg, having heard that the new nation will be commissioning cannons in France, hastens to tell Franklin on May 18 that he will supply the best terms. His letter is printed below.3

G. Anquetil Brutiere,4 writing from Saint-Malo on May 31, informs Franklin that he is expecting two of his cargo ships to arrive from La Rochelle any day now. He has no immediate plans for them, and would entertain advantageous proposals from either Franklin or his friends in America.

Frédéric-Robert Meuricoffre, Swiss by birth, has lived for the past 16 years in Naples, where more than 30 years ago he established a successful mercantile house. Writing from Paris on June 5, he offers the services of Meuricoffre-Scherb & Cie.5 Asserting that Naples is perhaps the most important city in Europe for American trade, he encloses an annotated list of products that might be profitably exchanged. Naples would welcome American salt cod, tobacco, and sugar (but has no need for wood, wheat, or rice), and would export various oils, fabrics, wines, salt, licorice, and an infinity of other items that one could easily imagine.6

M. Urvoy, descended from an ancient Breton family, writes on June 6 telling Franklin to address his reply simply to the town of Saint-Brieuc, where he is known. He and a friend both love liberty and want to set up a commercial house for trade with America. He is 33 and retired from the military, but his friend, age 26, still serves. Once the friend has learned English and business management, he will establish himself in the United States; Urvoy will operate from one of the ports in his province. Between them, they have about 900,000 l.t. to invest, and while it may seem that they have little to offer, they share a love of work, goodwill, and the greatest probity. They request Franklin’s advice, support, and a letter of recommendation for the younger partner to carry with him to America.

Writing from Paris on June 23, Walton & Stott of Ostend send a brief note requesting an interview. The merchants wish to discuss importing goods into America.

On July 7 the Liègeois arms manufacturer Jacques-Lambert Ransier writes about his hopes to go to America and sell arms of all kinds; a pistol of his manufacture is accurate at 300 paces. He is also thinking about establishing a factory there, for arms or perhaps even soap or perfume, or a distillery. He will be traveling with business associates who know these processes. The group will carry with them a selection of merchandise including cloth, silk, jewelry, and hardware. Franklin’s answer should be sent care of Genefve & Cie. at Augsburg, where he is currently staying. Ransier writes again on August 12 from Fürth, near Nuremberg. He will be leaving for America in about five weeks with firearms and other merchandise, and asks for letters of recommendation and advice. He is staying with the merchant Pierre Lenoble.

John Gottfried Braumüller of Berlin writes in German on August 2. He has connections to manufacturers of silk, wool, linen, and other fabrics, and for a commission of 1½ percent will establish contacts with these firms on behalf of the United States. His trading partners include the house of Braunsberg Streckeisen & Cie. in Amsterdam, the silk merchant Doucet de Surini in Paris, Franz Sauvage in Dieppe, Boisselier Vogel & Cie. in Marseille, Smith Wienholt & Co. in London,7 Paul Maistre & Cie. in Genoa, and Johann Michael Wagner in Venice. Braumüller’s own trade is dry salting, and he asks for recommendations to American drysalters in Philadelphia and other respectable cities.

Two men offer to send to America products that they assume are needed. M. Delongueville, writing from Nancy on July 1, proposes to send grapevines, red and white potatoes, and large turnips that increase milk production in cows. Writing from Villentrode in Champagne on July 17, M. de Breuze has heard that America is setting up glass factories. They will need clay, and his is among the best available. Located 40 leagues from Paris, it could be shipped most conveniently from Rouen or Le Havre.

M. Sanherr, “Stättmeistre” of Colmar in Alsace,8 asks Franklin’s protection on August 3 for his plan of selling in the United States an exquisite vin de paille from his family vineyards. He encloses a printed price list. He would also be open to exchanging his wine for American products; once he receives a note detailing their cost when delivered to a French port, he will choose the ones best suited to his province.

Many writers seek Franklin’s help in establishing commercial enterprises in America. The sieurs Duchesac and Clairval hope to establish a theater company in Philadelphia. Their first letter, unsigned and undated, was evidently written by Duchesac. He writes on behalf of himself and “Fauché de Clerval,” who is the director of the “spectacle des Isles du Vent sous la domination du Roi.” The second letter, signed “Clairval,” is written from Paris on May 19. He has just learned that several American officials have arrived in Europe and will convene at Franklin’s house. Because Franklin has approved the applicants’ plan and afforded his protection, might he now be willing to grant Clairval a special audience? Lafayette, whom the actor saw a few days since, supports the project. He hopes Franklin will speak to the other Americans about it, and raise a subscription that would subsidize the troupe’s passage.9

Charles Paleske, writing in English on May 27 from Hamburg, reminds Franklin of his previous letter of March 7, in which he had inquired about the incentives offered in America to new settlers.1 Now he has decided to become himself “a partaker of American liberty & happiness.” He is on his way to Amsterdam and London, from whence he and a clerk will embark in August to Philadelphia and there establish a merchant house under his own name. Having both money and connections in Europe, Paleske seeks only some recommendations from Franklin to his friends in Holland, England, and America. Paleske will await Franklin’s answer at the Amsterdam firm Muilman & Sons,2 which can also provide references for him.

From Karlsruhe on July 6 comes a letter from Michel Macklot, bookseller and printer to the Margrave of Baden, who hopes to establish one of his sons as a bookseller and printer in Philadelphia.3 At the same time, he requests a privilège to send German language books to America. These would include the best German poets, works of the best foreign scholars, translations of the best Greek and Roman authors, moral tales and fables, and the finest plays. He has just printed Baron O’Cahill’s work on new strategies for forming armies; the book is very interesting and might be used by American troops.4 He begs to be allowed to send Franklin a copy.

François Truton de Sibery, a former navy recruiting officer, sends a note from Nantes on July 31 asking Franklin to consider the enclosed memorandum, which details his scheme: he hopes to establish a manufactory in New England to print designs in gold, silver, and other colors on all kinds of cloth. The fabric could be used for women’s apparel, theatrical productions, funerals, interior decoration, and other applications too numerous to mention. This kind of printing has hitherto been reserved for court entertainments and the decoration of great halls. Truton and his uncle, who arranges the king’s revels, are the only ones who know the secret formula. He hopes that Franklin will arrange free passage to Boston, Philadelphia, New York, or any other suitable place for his family and the two other people essential to the scheme.

François Giordana, writing from Turin on September 3, has all the skills necessary to establish a silk industry in the United States. He can teach the construction of large mills as well as small ones; both are simple and inexpensive, and the latter can be used in the home by women, children, and those with weak constitutions. The relationship of a small mill to a large one is like that of a harpsichord to an organ: mastering the former is excellent training for the latter.

Several correspondents want to shape the American system of government. Duboys de Lamoligniere, “Conseiller au Conseil Supérieur,” writes from Port-au-Prince on July 27 enclosing a printed discourse on legislation (now missing) which is the product of seven years’ work. He has sent copies to Washington, Hancock, and Charles Thomson.5 The only other person who has received a copy is the head of his own family, Duboys de La Bernarde, a brigadier in the French army.6

Johannes Van der Hey writes voluminously to Franklin, Laurens, and Adams, beginning with a 14-page letter in English dated July 30 “Near Brussels.” A 57-year-old member of the Reformed Church, born in Holland and fluent in most European languages, he was trained in commerce and is a specialist in financial administration, particularly the collection and distribution of tax revenue. He gives details about his writings on politics and finance and his service in various courts, and explains at length his recent misfortunes in trying to reclaim family property. He now wishes to emigrate to America with his unhappy family if he can secure employment there. He requests the permission of the American commissioners to send them a part of his work on finance, the first chapter of which outlines a plan whereby an integrated system of national and provincial taxes could be established by January 1, 1785. Under his scheme, five million dollars could be collected annually without placing an undue burden on manufacturers. This plan is based on the tax structure of Holland, the most reasonable and equitable one in Europe. As soon as he receives an answer, he will forward the first chapter of his work, written in French, to the desired address in Paris. He lists many Dutch officials as references. At the end of the letter, having just heard that John Adams is in Holland, he resolves to send this letter to him at The Hague. In a postscript, he adds that he will send another copy to Franklin.7

That copy must be the memorandum which Van der Hey sent to the commissioners at Passy on August 1 under cover of a brief note. Nine dense pages in length, it repeats his account of his misfortunes and ends by offering to send the Americans copies of all relevant correspondence.8 On August 5, this time writing in French, he alludes to the “Epitre” and memorandum previously sent, and encloses the first part of his work on finance, including a handwritten title page crammed with information. Another copy, including the first chapter, was sent on August 29,9 along with copies in English and French of a two-page, fifteen-point “Outhlin’d Scheme of a Plan for a Nationnal Constitution and Permanent Gouvernement for the Thirteen United Provinces in North America.”1

From Nantes, Coulougnac, who now adds “de Coste Belle” after his name and says he is of Franco-American origin, submits ten pages of detailed and wide-ranging reflections on how the United States should structure a strong federal government, judicial system, and military. His letter is dated September 10. He proposes a system of taxation that will support the public credit since at present all confidence is suspended not only in the government’s ability to satisfy its liabilities but also in individual debtors. A representative federal assembly should pass bills on issues including term limits (he proposes no more than two ten-year terms), national academies, liberty of the press, arsenals and hospitals, and the settlement of Loyalist property disputes. If Coulougnac’s reflections are of interest, he would be pleased to present an expanded version to Franklin. He closes by confiding that he plans to relocate to Philadelphia within the next year, whence he will establish trade with France and the colonies. He ardently hopes to become a citizen, and asks if he can be so designated before he leaves.2

Four correspondents offer goods or schemes of a miscellaneous nature. M. Capion, a septuagenarian from Lyon, is a former army chaplain and doctor who traveled in French America between 1729 and 1731. He sends rambling thoughts studded with Latin quotations on July 19, praising Franklin and Washington and suggesting an allegorical design for a mural that should be placed in Congress’ assembly hall. Capion ends by expressing disapproval of the immigration of Germans and Hessians, and especially the Irish, to America.

M. Gautier, from the rue Saintonge in the Marais, asks permission to dedicate to Franklin an onyx stone he has just engraved, set in a ring, which pays homage to the American’s virtues. The bas-relief shows Liberty resting on a plinth, where she treads on a yoke. Her left hand indicates several ships, alluding to freedom of the seas and the abundance produced by peace. A device may be inscribed on the plinth. This letter, signed by Gautier, is in a secretarial hand. In a brief follow-up note, penned by Gautier himself, the sculptor and engraver wonders whether the stone pleased Franklin; he respectfully awaits the American’s orders. Both letters are undated, but we place them after the signing of the definitive peace treaty on September 3.

On September 9, wanting to add his voice to the outpouring of congratulations on independence, M. de Bays, a lawyer from Nuits in Burgundy, sends a pannier of his best aged wine. He understands from Cabanis that Franklin has tasted it at Mme Helvétius’ in Auteuil. He sends the same gift for Washington, and asks Franklin to forward it along with the cover letter. When the minister has a few minutes of leisure, de Bays would appreciate his reading a plan for the installation of lightning rods on the buildings of one of his country estates. The property includes a vineyard, which he also dreams of protecting from hail. He has sent this plan already to Abbé Bertholon3 at Béziers, but above all he wants Franklin’s advice. In a postscript he says he is attaching a printed slip that will give a more legible version of his address. It reads, “Avocat en Parlement & ancien Subdélégué de l’Intendance de Bourgogne.”

The baron de Juilly Thomassin,4 who describes himself as an ancien sous lieutenant des gardes du corps du roi and a superannuated student of the arts, dares to offer Franklin his admiration in a letter dated June 24 from Arc-en-Barois. He sends an eight-page homage to Louis XVI, the brave Americans, and Franco-American unity entitled “Le Cri d’un Cœur francois, aux Américains; sur Le Monument de leur indépendance, qu’ils consacrent au Roy.” He knows that zeal is a poor substitute for talent but hopes that Franklin will not judge it harshly.

Strasbourg Le 18 May 1783


J’ignore si vous vous rapéllerez de moi, j’ai eû L’honneur de vous voir à differéntes reprises à Paris; et de passée dés journées dans votre societé; je desire ne pas être échapé de votre mémoire: mais si je l’etois M. de Reyneval, & M. Grand; ou bién M. de Beaumarchais, & même Mgr le Cte. de Vergennes pourroient vous donnér dés renseignements satisfaisants sur mon compte; & la demande que je vais vous addréssér ne vous donnéra point de suspision. Le bruit s’est répandû ici que Lés Etats unis, êtoient dans l’intention de faire faire en france une grande quantité de Cannons de fonde on dit que le nombre est de 1500. Plusieurs Marchands & Négotiants d’ici en ont parlé à notre chéf de La fonderie je crois, Monsieur, pouvoir vous assurér que rién ne pourra Se traittér mieux que par mon canal j’ai lés moyéns de vous arrangér le traitté si tot que vous voudrez en mains, mais j’ai l’honneur de vous prévenir que Si més offres peuvent vous être agréables, je n’entens traitter qu’avéc vous, Monsieur, et non avéc dés Negotiants d’Amsterdam, tel qu’il parroit que l’affaire S’entame actuéllement.

Pour la remise dés fonds Mrs. Grand d’Amsterdam, ou de Paris, qui sont l’un & l’autre més bons amis me conviéndront parfaitement.

Il me sera trés agréable, Monsieur, de trouvér occasion pour faire une affaire qui intérrésse lés Etats, & avoir L’occasion d’entretenir une corréspondance avéc vous.

J’ai L’honneur d’être avéc lés sentiments lés plus distingués Monsieur Votre tres humble & tres Obeissant Serviteur

De Franck

Notation: De Franck, 18 May 1783

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Undoubtedly one of the principals of the Strasbourg firm Franck frères; see XXIX, 343n.

3Unless otherwise noted, the letters summarized in this headnote are in French, are at the APS, and elicited no known response.

4The last extant communication between BF and Brutiere was in early 1779: XXVI, 597–8; XXVIII, 351–2, 583.

5Meuricoffre (1740–1816) founded the Banque Meuricoffre & Cie. in Naples in 1760: Dictionnaire historique de la Suisse.

6The only other letter from Meuricoffre is an undated request to be appointed consul general for the Kingdom of Naples. He names Girardot, Haller and Rilliet & Cie. as references (APS). This was evidently written around June, 1783, when Meuricoffre reportedly met with BF and made the request in person. BF told him that a treaty had to be negotiated before consuls could be appointed: Lefevbre de Revel père to Isidore Lefevbre de Revel, Aug. 28, 1783 (Hist. Soc. of Pa.).

7Doucet de Surini and Smith Wienholt & Co. are in the Almanach des marchands, pp. 290, 376.

8Undoubtedly Jean-Mathias Sanherr (b. 1740), a merchant in Colmar, who held the post of stettmestre from 1777 to 1790 and was the eldest of three brothers: Jean-Pierre Kintz, ed., Nouveau dictionnaire de biographie alsacienne (40 vols. to date, Strasbourg, 1982– ); Claude Muller, Colmar au XVIIIe siècle (Strasbourg, 2000), p. 147.

9This is very likely the Parisian actor Fouchez, who performed under the name Clairval in a traveling theater troupe. During the French Revolution he became a lieutenant in the armée révolutionnaire, defected into Belgium, where he resumed acting, and was later court-martialed: Paul Friedland, Political Actors: Representative Bodies and Theatricality in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 2002), pp. 171–2. Though Clairval claims here that BF encouraged them, BF himself indicated the opposite when responding to a musician who wanted to join the theater company, saying that he doubted the project would be successful: Charles Stamitz to BF, with BF’s Note for a Reply, Oct. 2, 1783 (APS).

1See XXXIX, 50, where this Danzig merchant is identified.

2XXXI, 136n.

3Johann Michael Macklot (1728–1794) was the principality’s foremost printer and bookseller. This is his only letter, and there is no indication that any of his three sons settled in America. The eldest two, Karl Friedrich (b. 1760) and Philipp (b. 1771), inherited the business after their mother’s death in 1808: Neue Deutsche Biographie (23 vols. to date, Berlin, 1953– ).

4Tacktischer Versuch über die Bildung einer guten Armee (Karlsruhe, 1783).

5No copy of this work on legislation has been located. Washington acknowledged its receipt on Oct. 1, 1783: Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, XXVII, 173.

6Jean-Elie Dubois-Labernarde (1716–1802): DBF. A duplicate of this ALS is also at the APS.

7Mass. Hist. Soc. This copy is endorsed by JA.

8The note and memorandum, both in English, are at the Hist. Soc. of Pa. BF endorsed the latter “Van der Hey Propositions.”

9Laurens endorsed this, calling it Van der Hey’s “project for Governing the U S of America.” He noted that it was received on Sept. 10 and cost 4/8 in postage.

1All of these documents are at the Hist. Soc. of Pa. Early in 1784 Van der Hey had two financial treatises published in London: Observations politiques, morales & experimentees, sur les vrais principes de la finance … and Traité sur la finance: ouvrage utiles aux Anglais, Français, Autrichiens, Hollandais, aux Politiques, Négociants, & à tous autres Citoyens. On the title page of the former, he is designated as Conseiller Privé du Commerce of the Prussian court.

2Hist. Soc. of Pa. Coulougnac was the principal in the firm of Coulougnac & Cie., which had long been supplying cloth to the American government and Virginia. In October, 1782, when Mercier, one of the firm’s agents, was in Virginia sorting out difficulties with a tobacco contract and soliciting trade, BF wrote at Coulougnac’s request to the governor: XXXI, 268, 289n; XXXII, 31–2; XXXVIII, 456n; ——— to George Mason, Sept. 30, 1782 (APS). Coulougnac did emigrate to America in 1784 and established John James Coulougnac & Co. (We therefore assume that his name was Jean-Jacques.) He died in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 2, 1786: Abraham P. Nasatir and Gary E. Monell, French Consuls in the United States … (Washington, D.C., 1967), pp. 89, 125, 308–10; Pa. Packet, June 24, 1784; Daily Advertiser, March 7, 1787.

3A scientist who shared BF’s interest in electricity; he had sent his own work on lightning protection to BF in 1778: XXV, 668–9.

4Bernard-Joseph, baron de Juilly de Thomassin (1723–1798), a former mestre de camp who was subsequently named governor of Nogent-le-roi. In retirement he devoted himself to the study of the military arts and history and wrote poetry. He was a member of the academies of Angers, Dijon, and Montauban: Biographie universelle. This letter is at the Hist. Soc. of Pa.

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