Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from José de Arriaga Brum da Silveyra and Other Consulship Seekers, 24 June 1783

From José de Arriaga Brum da Silveyra4 and Other Consulship Seekers

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Throughout the summer, Franklin continued to receive applications for American consulships from Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany. Their number is smaller than in the spring, when news of the preliminary peace had raised expectations of an immediate burst of commercial activity between Europe and the United States.5 The current applicants use the familiar strategies of highlighting their ideological affinity to the new republic, their port’s strategic importance to American commerce, or their previous service to the United States. Several also approach Franklin under the auspices of prominent figures in Paris.

As an expression of his deep admiration for the American republic, José de Arriaga Brum da Silveyra, whose letter is printed below, offers the services of his son as American consul general in the Azores. Arriaga’s letter is forwarded by the Paris banker Jean Dupont père.

Several applications arrive from the Mediterranean. Brothers Roch and François de Manescau recommend themselves as American consuls in Málaga on July 1. Málaga, being the premier port in the Mediterranean, is an ideal place for Americans to gather intelligence about the markets. As partners in the firm Joseph Manescau, Maury & Cie., they have already done business with American merchants since the return of peace; they now wish to become even more useful to the new republic. Though French, one of them speaks English fairly well, having spent several years in England. For more information, Franklin may consult either the French consul in Málaga, Monsieur Humbourg,6 or the Spanish ambassador to France, the conde de Aranda.7

On an unspecified day in July, the Loge du Patriotisme forwards an extract of a memoir by French merchant and fellow mason John Guy Gautier in Barcelona, who has asked them to forward it along with their recommendation. Gautier wishes to become the American consul in Barcelona.8 Monsieur Le Guay has promised to support his application to Congress, but Gautier believes that Franklin’s approval is necessary and hopes that this channel will be effective. The Loge assures Franklin that it has no other motive than the masonic injunction to do good. In a postscript, Nogaret (who wrote the letter) adds that if Franklin wants to respond, he can send his reply to Nogaret’s address, which he knows well.9

Tournachon, signing himself “Député de Lyon au conseil Royal de commerce,”1 writes from Paris on August 25 on behalf of Aimé Bonnaffons, a Lyon merchant residing in Genoa, where he is partner in the firm of Regny père & fils. Anticipating that the United States will soon appoint consuls in Mediterranean ports, Bonnaffons seeks the consulship in Genoa. Tournachon regrets that illness prevents him from discussing the matter with Franklin in person. He assures the American minister, however, that Bonnaffons is industrious, honest, very intelligent, and associated with an old firm that has always enjoyed the highest reputation. Since neither he nor Bonnaffons has the honor of being acquainted with Franklin, Tournachon puts his trust in Franklin’s reputation for fairness.

From Naples on August 30 comes another application for the much-coveted prospective consulship there. Jean Vieusseux is a partner in the Neopolitan firm of Vieusseux, Reymond & Cie., renowned for its wealth and connections to the French ministry as well as the House of Bourbon. He has just received a long-awaited letter from the Paris banker Louis Julien,2 reassuring him that Franklin spoke encouragingly when the banker recommended Vieusseux as a consul a few months ago. Vieusseux now writes directly, presenting a catalog of potential objects of trade. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies can offer silk, oil, wool, hemp, wood, wine, dried fruits, manna, tartar, and soda ash, which it would trade for American indigo, leather, and especially salt provisions. Once commercial relations are established, the United States will want to appoint a consul. Born in Geneva, Vieusseux was raised on republican principles and would be honored to serve a state that fought so gloriously and successfully for its liberty.3

A man whose name was known to Franklin, John Diot, writes from Morlaix on July 18. He summarizes his services to the American republic over the previous four years, ranging from outfitting privateers to helping destitute seamen upon their return from British prisons.4 These efforts, made at his own expense, now embolden him to request the position of vice-consul at Morlaix. He speaks and writes English fluently, having lived in Ireland, whereas the person currently serving as commercial agent5 does not speak English and is merely the representative of a man who fled town three years ago because of bankruptcy. Since the office of vice-consul is “plus honorifique que lucrative,” Diot hopes that it is obvious that he is not pursuing his own financial interests but only seeking new opportunities to be useful to America.

Dominque-François Belletti sends his sixth and final entreaty for the American consulship in Trieste on September 15.6 He begins by announcing that Monsieur Bertrand, the French consul in Trieste,7 has promised to remind Franklin about him. Belletti also knows that Franklin promised Monsieur Le Roi that he would respond. He once again points to the substantial commerce with America that could flourish in Trieste and reiterates that he would gladly serve without pay. A duplicate of this letter, marked “Copie,” is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where there is also an undated and unsigned letter of recommendation from Bertrand. He attests that Belletti, who wrote to Franklin three months ago, is one of the bestrespected merchants in Trieste: honest, intelligent, and experienced in all aspects of commerce.

On September 2 Jean-Baptiste-Artur de Vermonnet, a French officer who had served for three years in the Continental Army, writes a letter in excellent English from Saint-Domingue, where he has been stranded with his wife and children ever since the ship carrying them back to France was forced into that port. He asks Franklin to intercede with Castries in support of his application for the position of French vice-consul in the United States, a country in which he “ardently desires to live.” He also encloses a letter that he had hoped to be able to deliver in person.8

Finally, from Germany comes a letter recommending an unnamed person as a commercial agent or chargé d’affaires. Colonel Charle de Qureille writes in German from Giessen in Hesse-Darmstadt on July 30. Inspired by the victorious American struggle on behalf of all mankind, he wants to help the new republic to increase its standing in Germany. Since Americans are unfamiliar with the principal commercial towns on the Rhine and Main rivers, which could supply the United States with products like linen, sailcloth, and yarn, Qureille’s friend could be of great assistance. He has served for 17 years as a local government official and has knowledge of politics, history, geography, mathematics, astronomy, and physics. Moreover, he has long been a fervent admirer of the American cause.9

a Lisbonne Le 24 de Juin de 1783

Monsieur Franklin

Le desir de pouvoir contribuer á lavantage d’une Republique, que par tant de faits eclatants á merite l’admiration de l’Univers m’a fait prendre la resulution de vouloir aussi temoigner ma singulièr’estime, en lui offrant mon fils Jose de Arriaga habitant dans lIsle de Fayal pour lui servir de Consul General dans les Assores, et pour l’aider a renouveller par cette voie l’ancien commerce, q’il y avai entre ces Isles et lAmerique.

L’accuillement, que le Sieur Dupont a merité ches vous raport a celá,1 me rend tres sensiblement obligé, et encore que je suis icy occupé au Parlement de la Justice je fairai tous les oforts possibles pour que le dit mon fils se puisse acquitter de son devoir avec le zele, et efficace correspondants a l’honeur que lui plaira lui accorder, et en vous assurant l’haute consideration que j’ai pour vous je vous prie de me croire avec le plus profond respect Monsieur Votre tres Humble e tres Obeissant Serviteur

Jose DE Arriaga Brum DA Silveyra

Addressed: a Monsieur / Monsieur Dr. Franklin / Charge des affaires des Etats unis de / lAmerique a / Paris

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4The Arriagas were an important aristocratic family in the Azores: Joel Serrão, ed., Dicionário de história de Portugal (9 vols., Porto, [1992?]–2000), I, 207.

5See XXXIX, 76–87. Unless otherwise noted, all letters cited in this headnote are in French, are at the APS, and elicited no known response.

6Antoine-François-Armand Humbourg de Fillières was named consul at Málaga in 1767: Anne Mézin, Les Consuls de France au siècle des lumières (1715–1792) ([Paris, 1998]), pp. 351–2. François Manescau’s association with Juan Bautista Maury in transatlantic trade is mentioned in Aurora Gamez Amian, Málaga y el comercio colonial con América (1765–1820) (Málaga, 1994), p. 130.

7Their letter is at the Hist. Soc. of Pa.

8This was Gautier’s second approach to BF. Five years earlier, he applied for the position of consul general for Catalonia: XXVI, 210–11. In 1782 he asked John Jay for help in obtaining the consulship in Barcelona, and Jay forwarded his petition to Congress: JCC, XXIII, 468n.

9For the Loge du Patriotisme, which had recently invited BF to a meeting, see XXXIX, 577–8. This letter was signed by twelve frères, six of whom had signed the earlier invitation: Vauchelle, the vénérable, Nogaret, now serving as second surveillant, Terrasse, Simon, Louis, and Cuillié. The other six, all listed in Le Bihan, Francs-maçons parisiens, are: Jacques-Nicolas Mottet, a commis principal de la guerre; Etienne-Marie Desnois, a commis de la guerre, then commis principal des finances; sieur Beccard, greffier en chef du Port Dauphin in Saint-Domingue; sieur Pelloux, chef du gobelet de la comtesse d’Artois; and Antoine-Jean Georgette-Dubuisson, sieur de La Boullaye, huissier de la chambre du Roi et gouverneur des pages de la chambre du Roi. The first surveillant, “Dutillet de Villars,” is either Jean-Joseph du Tillet de Villars père, ancien valet de chambre du Roi et ancien gouverneur des pages de la chambre du Roi, or Léonard-Antoine du Tillet de Villars, valet de chambre du Roi et commis de la marine, officier des ordres du Roi, and subdélégué de l’Intendant de Paris.

1Tournachon is listed in the Almanach royal for 1783, p. 270; he is identified as François Tournachon in Louis Trénard, Lyon: de l’Encyclopédie au préromantisme (2. vols., Paris, 1958), I, 21. He probably was a partner in the firm of Tournachon, Zenon & Cie., cloth merchants in Lyon: Almanach des marchands for 1779, p. 309.

2Identified in XXV, 394n.

3The letter is at the Hist. Soc. of Pa.

4Diot’s first services to the United States were in 1779; see XXX, 155n.

5Pitot Duhellés, who in fact applied for the position of consul or viceconsul on Jan. 28: XXXIX, 76, 86–7.

6His five previous applications, written between February and April, are summarized in XXXIX, 82–3.

7Abbé Antoine-Madeleine Bertrand, a former professor of mathematics at the Ecole militaire, was named consul in Trieste in 1781: Mézin, Consuls de France, pp. 143–4.

8That letter, from Elizabeth Partridge, was written from Boston in December, 1781, and recommends Vermonnet, the bearer, to BF. We published it in its chronological place, explaining the delay in its delivery and identifying Vermonnet in annotation: XXXVI, 202–4. His memoir to Castries, in French and in a secretarial hand, was also enclosed with the present letter and remains filed with it at the APS.

Two more letters from Vermonnet survive. He writes again from Saint-Domingue on Dec. 10, 1783, providing further details about his family and mentioning his intention to return to Boston in May. On March 15, 1785, he writes from Saint-Germain, outside Paris. Reminding BF of his previous correspondence, he now asks for an audience. Both letters, in French, are at the APS.

9Qureille enclosed a small sheet on which he wrote his address and identified himself as a knight of the Order of the Brandenburg Red Eagle and a judge in Itzbach and Bünau. A French translation of his letter, in a hand we do not recognize, is also at the APS.

1Jean Dupont père, “Banquier à Paris,” forwarded this letter to BF on July 13, reminding him that they had spoken about this applicant some two months earlier. If BF wants to respond directly, Dupont will be glad to forward the letter; otherwise, BF should inform Dupont of his decision and he will pass it along (Hist. Soc. of Pa.). BF knew of the Paris banking firm Dupont & fils as early as 1777 (XXV, 255), and we presume that the writer of this letter was its principal. The man we believe to be his son, born in Lisbon and also named Jean, formed his own banking firm in 1780 and made a considerable fortune: DBF.

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