Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from the Baron de Borde Duchatelet, with Franklin’s Note for a Reply, and Other Applicants for Emigration, 24 June 1783

From the Baron de Borde Duchatelet,2 with Franklin’s Note for a Reply, and Other Applicants for Emigration

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The cessation of hostilities and Franklin’s reputation as a philanthropist continue to inspire the hopes of prospective emigrants. During the five months covered by this volume, letters come from France, Italy, the Austrian Netherlands, Germany, and England. Petitioners appeal either to American national interest by detailing the essential skills they will bring to the new republic or to Franklin’s sentiments through heartrending tales of misfortune and thwarted ambition. The baron de Borde Duchatelet, whose letter is printed as a sample, does both.3

Paillet, a 24-year-old from Versailles, lists three reasons for writing to Franklin on May 17: the gratitude he feels toward his parents who have made sacrifices for his education, continue to support him, and wish to see him placed in a good position; his desire for travel, which was the path to wisdom for Lycurgus, Solon, Thales, and Plato; and the difficulty of securing a post at Versailles. It would be to Franklin’s glory if he were to provide Paillet with the means of fulfilling his obligation toward his parents and to secure him a job, presumably in America.4

Louis Terrier,5 having practiced surgery for six years in Guadeloupe, is now a professor at the collège de chirurgie of Marseille. Although he is unknown to Franklin, as he writes on May 21, he is nonetheless confident that the American minister will help him establish himself in America as a surgeon. He details his own training and explains the importance of his art. By contrast, Pietro Maggi of Milan, who writes in Italian on May 26, covers himself in humility, addressing his letter to the immortal Franklin, whose name is the glory of the century and who will be the object of admiration throughout the ages. The young man (he is not yet 24) explains that he received his law degree from the University of Pavia three years earlier, but his family’s poverty and an unspecified cabal have prevented him from finding work. He asks only for the privilege of serving Franklin and his country on any terms Franklin may decide.

Another story of persecution and injustice comes from Germany. Herr Greyer explains in German on May 28 that he is a former court secretary and cashier from Minden an der Weser in Westphalia. He has been embroiled in a legal battle with his former superior, Hofmeister Albrecht, who accused him of embezzling money from the court treasury. Greyer fears that he will not be vindicated because Albrecht has friends more powerful than his own. Prevented from working in his homeland, he asks Franklin to help him make a new start in America. He has worked as a court secretary since he was 13 years old, in the provinces as well as Berlin, and is willing to bring this experience to bear at the American “Hof” (court). In particular, the American government might consider revising its court constitution along Prussian lines. If required, Greyer can provide references, but he is convinced that Franklin’s well-known altruism will cause the American minister to come to his aid.

L. J. Lahaÿe, an arms manufacturer writing on May 31 from Nessonvaux Sous Olne, also seeks to escape local constraints on his ambition. He has been anxiously waiting for the United States to gain its independence so that he can settle there with his family and work in a firearms factory. His long, confused letter is full of bitter complaints about the low pay and lack of support for his trade in the Liège province. His skill (as we understand it) is in forging iron for gun barrels, and he hopes to bring with him to America the machine required for this work. He requests a large loan from Franklin and the other American commissioners, an investment that will be repaid many times over. He closes with a request for a meeting to discuss his ideas more fully.

In a letter from Paris dated June 4, Mme Fournier la jeune introduces an unnamed relative who ardently wishes to go to Boston. The 26-year-old has apprenticed with a notary and has received an excellent education. As he comes from a large family, he must provide for himself, and he has asked for his father’s permission to go to the United States. Once there, he would try to distinguish himself in whatever field Franklin deemed suitable. His father consented on condition that Franklin look favorably on the plan. Mme Fournier and her entire family would be infinitely obliged if Franklin took an interest in this virtuous and commendable young man. In a postscript she sends the compliments of her husband.6

God willing, writes Owen Owen in English on June 11, he intends to go to America at the end of this summer or the beginning of the next. Does he need to apply to Congress for permission to settle there? A clergyman in the Church of England, and currently a curate in Stoke near Coventry in Warwickshire, he has no hope of advancement in the church as he cannot buy a benefice and refuses to flatter the powerful. His brother Edward, from North Wales, lived in Virginia and was in France about five years ago; if he is still alive, he should contact Owen or their brother Richard, a vicar in Carnarvonshire, to “hear of something to his advantage.”

J. Gaupin is one of a group of three men in Brussels who desire to emigrate; he writes on their behalf on June 17. Two of them are capable of establishing a factory that could print wallpaper, playing cards, and calico: one, an expert woodblock engraver, manages one of the foremost wallpaper factories in Brussels, and the other is skilled in color printing as well as constructing wind- and watermills. The third man, son of an artillery officer, is a good engineer and mathematician, has worked as a land surveyor and builder, and speaks German, French, Latin, and Flemish. Before their departure, the first two each want an advance of a hundred louis and Franklin’s promise that Congress will sponsor their factory. The third demands the same advance and Franklin’s assurance that he will immediately obtain a job suitable to his talents.

On June 26 Graf von Graevenitz writes in German from Vienna. As the youngest of 18 children of a large aristocratic family, he has little hope of inheriting more than his name.7 After a career as privy councilor, Graevenitz’ health has deteriorated, and he dreams of retiring in the United States. He would prefer to rent or own a small estate in either Georgia, the Carolinas, or Virginia, not too far from other settlements. If money should be required, his only source of wealth is a small collection of paintings, which he would be willing to sell. A new country needs experienced and accomplished men like him, so Graevenitz is hopeful that Franklin, who has bestowed contentment, quiet, and peace on an entire country, will do the same for a single individual.

Two days later, Delisle-Pierrugues sends a desperate plea from Draguignan in Provence. Although he inherited a considerable fortune, the events of the war have ruined him just as he was about to be made a judge at the cour des comptes. His education is all he has left. He was born in American climes and wants to return there to bury his bad luck. He will forget his downfall if he can obtain some employment in the service of the United States, be it in the army or somewhere else. He offers to provide letters of recommendation from prominent residents of Aix.

Johann Philipp Breidenstein of Giessen writes on July 15 in Latin, disappointed that he has received no response to his letter of February 1.8 Franklin’s silence has not diminished his desire to emigrate and serve the American people, especially German immigrants, with useful knowledge. He begs Franklin to answer a fellow scholar.

Another petition in Latin, dated July 19, comes from Jacob Augustus Hoppe in Bochnia, Galicia.9 He too is a scholar versed in many subjects and several languages, but in America he would be happy just tilling the fields. Hoppe asks Franklin for a recommendation and the assurance of a position. Moreover, before sailing, he needs a place to stay in Paris while he works on improving his English; he would gladly share the food of Franklin’s servants.

To whom can the most unfortunate patriot turn for help but the most illustrious patriot of the universe? asks the sieur Tonon from Paris on July 25. He has been the victim of persecution but will not tire Franklin with the details of his ordeal. His chief passion and talent is agriculture, which he wants to pursue in America; his treatise, Détail des usages, indication des abus, et idées de réforme pour l’agriculture, was based on ten years’ observation.1 In the four years since he has been forced to abandon his profession, he has traveled through many countries and observed the lackluster state of European agriculture. America would benefit from someone who combines theoretical principles with practical knowledge, and with Franklin’s approval Tonon will raise the rural economy to a hitherto unknown degree of perfection. If he can be useful to another country after his own has rejected him, he will have suffered for a reason. He asks for a meeting with Franklin during which he will provide more details. Tonon signs himself as deputy of the Société Patriotique de Béarn.2

Granier de Pollier in Paris writes on July 26 on behalf of a friend, a man of quality living in the provinces, whose company of royal grenadiers has been disbanded, leaving him penniless and unemployed. He hopes to settle with his wife in Franklin’s republic and would like to know whether former French officers can find employment and at what salary, if Congress is offering land grants and assistance with cultivation, and whether he would be free to settle wherever he wants.

Two young mathematicians, J. Chrétien Remmel and Jean Houba, who are well instructed in geometry and algebra, ask Franklin on August 9 for recommendations and free passage to America, where they hope to be usefully employed. They write from the château d’Issum.

The chevalier de La Combe, writing from Tulle on August 20, has heard that Congress gives land grants to those who wish to come to America. He would like to know more about what kind of reception he might expect. Although well born, he currently serves as cadet lieutenant of the colonial troops in the Limousin region and does not have any money. He will not hesitate to emigrate if it gives him an opportunity to make his fortune in far-off lands.

In Tournay, Joseph Maroteau, who addresses Franklin on August 22, is the head of a family that has fallen on hard times and would like to settle in the United States provided they receive support and protection from the American government. They are Roman Catholics but ardent supporters of civil and social order as well as religious tolerance. The family unites an astonishing array of talents: its members are experienced in commerce, accounting, agriculture, and mathematics, can write in French and English, and know how to make a great variety of fabrics. The father has invented a new kind of mill. Despite their gifts, they have had an undeserved and unforeseeable string of bad luck in all their endeavors. If Franklin knows of a business in the United States that could use their abilities, would he please extend his protection to an honest family?

Misfortune has also befallen a relative of Mme Briant, a young man not yet 40 years old. She appeals to Franklin on his behalf on September 2 from Aix-la-Chapelle. In the past three years he has lost all his money and a great part of his family, and he has been abandoned by his best friends. He is honest and industrious, if perhaps too sensitive and delicate for this evil world. He and his wife want Franklin’s help and protection to settle in America. They have asked Mme Briant to approach Franklin, but she hesitates to arrive without an appointment. As she does not live in Paris at the moment, Franklin should respond to M. Debernieres, administrateur des hôpitaux, whose address she provides.3

A sieur Briaud, who writes from Caen on September 4, has been assured that Franklin helps workers to emigrate to America, where liberty favors all men of talent. He knows carpentry and turning and makes netting of all kinds, fly-whisks, and English-style fishhooks. A friend of his who also wants to emigrate has a grasp of experimental physics and chemistry and knows how to dye, starch, make gunpowder, and construct pendulum clocks. They will submit to both practical and theoretical examinations.

From Göttingen comes a more specific business proposal in German, dated September 8. Johann Christoph Bauer is a glass and brick manufacturer who read in the Dantziger Zeitung that conditions for glassblowers are favorable in the United States. He offers a detailed account of how he would establish an American factory producing Flemish and mirror glass. Of course, this would require a substantial advance from Congress, which Bauer offers to repay in yearly installments.

paris à L’hotel de Bresse cul de sac des quatre
vents ce 24e. juin. 1783.


M’etant rendu a passy pour avoir L’honneur de vous y faire ma Cour, et vous entretenir d’objets qui m’interessent, permettè que je vous detaille par lettre mes motifs, ayant etè icommodè depuis lors jusqu’a ce jour par une varietè de chaud et de froid qui me saisit a mon arrivèe.

Les malheurs excessifs que j’ay eprouvès, bien plus sensibles que ceux dont belisaire se plaignoit,4 m’ont determinè à quitter dècidement une ingrate patrie ne desirant d’autre vengeur que les reproches que mes ennemis auront à se faire eternellement. La providence m’ayant dèpartis des Connoissances dans L’agriculture; ainsi que vous en pourrés juger Monsieur, par le double du diplôme dont le feu Roy m’avoit honnoré, et que vous trouverès ci inclus;5 Comme je n’ignore pas que L’homme est fait pour se voüer au travail pendant sa vie, je desirerois m’occuper utilement le peu qui me reste à vivre a des deffrichés qui en faisant mon bonheur put faire par suite celui de mes successeurs dans la patrie que j’adopterai. Comme les moeurs pures et tranquiles sont celles que j’adopte, je pense avec raison que je ne puis arriver a ce but qu’en me transplantant dans un pays oû la corruption n’a pas pris encore heureusement racine, celui de votre patrie me semble le plus propre à remplir mes vües, et Comme je regarde tous les hommes de bien, egaux entre eux, ma naissance ne doit point faire un obstacle à ce qu’on me regarde avec cet oeuil de fraternité doû nait la concorde generale; je vous prie donc Monsieur, d’apres la sinceritè de mon avoeu de me mander si je puis esperer une reponse favorable de votre part, ou si vous preferè de m’indiquer un jour pour conferer avec vous sur les moyens que vous voudrè bien me procurer, et ma reconnoissance sera aussi etendue que les sentimens sinceres et respectueux avec lesquels j’ay L’honneur d’etre Monsieur Votre tres humble et tres obeissant serviteur

LE Bon. DE Borde Duchatelet

Endorsed: That America is open to all the French, who have Permission of their Government to go there. That Strangers of good Character are receiv’d there with open Arms. That if he desires to confer with me on the Subject, he will find me at home every Morning except Tuesdays & ready to give him every Information he may desire.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Possibly Jean-Pierre-Louis de Bordes du Chatelet, baron du Châtelet (1752–1796), or one of his brothers. They were members of an old family from the Bresse region: Henri de Jouvencel, L’Assemblée de la noblesse de la Sénéchaussée de Lyon en 1789: étude historique et généalogique (2 vols., Lyon, 1907; reprint, 1999), I, 228; Dictionnaire de la noblesse, III, 558–9.

3Unless otherwise noted, all letters described in this headnote are in French, are at the APS, and produced no known response.

4He may be the François-Hippolyte Paillet who became librarian of the city of Versailles and a professor at the lycée there, who published a study of Virgil’s Aeneid: J. Hippolyte Daniel, Biographie des hommes remarquables de Seine-et-Oise … (Paris, 1837), pp. 91–2, 229.

5He signs with only his first initial but is identified in Augustin Fabre, Histoire des hôpitaux et des institutions de bienfaisance de Marseille (2 vols., Marseille, 1854), I, 369–70.

6Typefounder Simon-Pierre Fournier le jeune (XXX, 346).

7The Graevenitz family was an old noble family from the Altmark region in northern Germany: Neue Deutsche Biographie (24 vols. to date, Berlin, 1953–).

8The letter is described and its author identified in XXXIX, 27–8.

9Hoppe served as principal of the district school in Bochnia and later wrote Ältere und neuere Geschichte der Königreiche Gallizien und Ludomerien (Vienna, 1792): George Christoph Hamberger and Johann Georg Meusel, Das gelehrte Teutschland, oder Lexikon der jetzt lebenden teutschen Schrifftsteller (5th ed., Lemgo, 1801); Peter Geils and Willi Gorzny, eds., Gesamtverzeichnis des deutschsprachigen Schrifttums, 1700–1910 (160 vols. and sup., Munich, New York, and London, 1979–87), LXIV, 220.

1Tonon left off the last two words of the title: “en Béarn.” It was published in Pau in 1778: Christian Desplat, Pau et le Béarn au XVIIIe siècle (2 vols., [Pau], 1992), II, 1360.

2A lawyer and viticulturist of Saint-Faust in the province of Béarn, Tonon founded the Compagnie (Société) Patriotique pour le commerce des vins du Béarn in 1779 and was named director the following year. The war with Britain, tensions with the company’s chief trading partner, and his idiosyncratic leadership were said to be the causes of the company’s failure at the end of 1782. The shareholders revoked his powers and liquidated the company in January, 1783: Pierre Dejean, “L’Exportation des vins béarnais dans le pays du nord au XVIIIe siècle: La ‘Compagnie Patriotique pour le commerce des vins du Béarn,’” Revue d’histoire moderne, new ser., XI (1936), 225–34; Christian Desplat, “La Politique viticole des états de Béarn au XVIIIe siècle,” in Fédération Historique du Sud-Ouest, Vignes, vins et vignerons de Saint-Emilion et d’ailleurs (Talence, 2000), pp. 159–66.

3N. de Bernières, an engineer, author, and inventor, had been serving as contrôleur général of the ponts et chaussées since 1751. He won a prize in 1779 for designing the most effective machine to draw water from the well at Bicêtre, which he improved in 1782: Almanach royal for 1783, p. 116; Nouvelle biographie; Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, XX, 270.

4Flavius Belisarius (c. 505–565), a celebrated general of the Byzantine Empire. His supposed travails as a blind beggar after he was condemned by Emperor Justinian were the subject of Jean-François Marmontel’s novel Bélisaire (Paris, 1767).

5Not found.

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