Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Viny and Family, 21 May 1783

From John Viny and Family4

ALS:5 American Philosophical Society

Wheel Manufactory Black Friars Road
May the 21st. 1783

Dr Sir

I hope you will forgive my trespassing on your most valuable moments, but I could not forego the Oppertunity by favor of Mosr Du Chateau, to express my great pleasure in hearing of your Health &c. O Sir, how happy shou’d I be, once more to take you by the hand, but from a Line I read of yours at Cheam6 I have but little hopes as I am confind, but happy beyond Expression, having such Friends that have hitherto supported me in the fulest degree possible, against the unnatural reverse Conduct of the Jacobs.7 Mrs V. and my dear Girls in No 3 are well, and most sincerely rejoice in your felicity. With the most hearty Affection permit us to subscribe ourselves most sincerely yours

Jno. Viny
R W Viny.
R. J. Viny
E Viny
R J Viny FOR PIN Basket Mary

PS I have furnish’d Mr Du Chateau with a Set of Wheels I much wish you Cou’d see as I think you will say I have not forgot how to do the Buisness well8

Will my Friend honor me with a Sheet of Paper tho his Name alone should be thereon.

Addressed: His Excellency Dr. B. Franklin / By favor of Monsr. Du Chateau

Notation: Viny 21 May 1783

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Although the wheelwright John Viny and his family had known BF for decades, this is their first extant letter to him. John was first identified in XVII, 72n, and his wife, “R. W.,” in XIX, 39n. Since then we have identified her as Rebecca Wilkinson Jacob, the sister of Viny’s former business partner (for whom see below); she and Viny were married in 1760. “R. J.,” Rebecca Jacob, was the eldest daughter born in 1763, and Elizabeth (“E.”), known as Bess or, as BF once called her, “my little Patient Bessum,” was born the following year. Mary, the “pin Basket,” was born in 1778: XXVIII, 366, 422; XXIX, 137–8; London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754–1921 for John Viny, Joseph Jacob; England & Wales Christening Records, 1530–1906 for Rebecca and Elizabeth Viny (both databases accessed at

Evidence of BF’s friendship with the couple may date to 1768, earlier than we supposed, if (as we now think likely) the “Mr. Viney” mentioned in XV, 237–8, was John Viny, who lived in London, rather than his brother Thomas, who lived in Kent.

5According to a note on the enclosed list (see below), both it and this letter were written by Viny’s “Eldes Daughtr R. J. V.”

6BF had just written to Mary Hewson that he would probably not visit Cheam before returning to Philadelphia: XXXIX, 503.

7Following Viny’s bankruptcy in 1778, BF pressed Mrs. Stevenson and her daughter for details on the “break” between Viny and his partner Joseph Jacob, and the nature of the wheel patent fueling their dispute. He had a strong personal interest in the matter, as the invention was based on his idea, which he had developed with Viny after Jacob rejected it: XX, 157–8; XXVIII, 165, 366, 422. The subsequent lawsuit had been settled in Viny’s favor by the end of 1782, when Viny issued a public announcement claiming that he, “the original and sole Inventor of the Wheel, commonly called the Patent Wheel,” had finally been “restored to the Merit of his Invention, and to the Right of reaping the Fruits of his laborious and expensive Experiments.” Viny now advertised his wheel “in its highest Perfection of Beauty and Durability” and also offered his skills in carriage painting and repairs. He placed the announcement, dated “December, 1782,” in various London papers in late January (e.g., Parker’s Gen. Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer, Jan. 29, 1783) and had it issued separately as a broadside, where the date reads, “December, 1783” (surely a typographical error). BF’s copy of that broadside is at the APS; it may have been sent with the present letter.

The announcement also thanked the generous patrons who had supported Viny “in the Days of his Oppression” and who, he hoped, would continue to assist him. Indeed, Viny’s survival in the business had depended on the system of subscription that had been initiated at the time of his bankruptcy (see Viny to BF, [after Nov. 28, 1783], APS). Along with the current letter, Viny enclosed a separate sheet entitled “Subscribers for Seven Years” containing a list of some 17 men—including four dukes and a bishop—who had contributed a total of £1,800. At the bottom of the sheet he asserted: “In this Manner I have the happness to be Supported.” APS.

8BF would have seen them if Du Chateau, who carried the letter to Paris (see the address sheet), delivered it in person. Jacob & Viny had been soliciting French business since 1776, when the firm issued a three-page French-language brochure that advertised their services and listed various coaches, diligences, and private carriages in England whose patent wheels had provided superior performance over time. The firm invited potential customers to talk directly with the owners, whose locations were specified. A copy of the brochure, entitled “Manufacture de Roues de Voitures, D’une nouvelle Construction, Etablie sur le Chemin de Black-Fryars, près du Pont-Neuf de Londres,” is among BF’s papers at the APS.

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