Benjamin Franklin Papers
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To Benjamin Franklin from the Baron de Tott, [after 6 March 1780]

From the Baron de Tott2

ALS: American Philosophical Society

[after March 6, 1780]3

Monsieur

M. De Lafayette en partant pour L’amerique m’a Confié La Surveillance dune gravure qui represente Le general Washington,4 et Je crois ne pouvoir mieux repondre a Ses Vües qu’en madressant a vous pour Le choix et le titre des Bils qui presentent La partie historique, faites moy la grace de m’indiquer le moment ou je pouray aller Vous Consulter a cet egard Sans vous etre incomode.5

M. De Lafayette devoit aussi, Monsieur, avant Son depart, m’aboucher avec vous pour un petit cathéchisme americain, dont il vous a Sans doute parle et Si vous persistés dans ce projet nous en causerons egalement.6 Je Seray fort aise que cette Occasion me procure celle de vous offrir L’homage de mon admiration et celuy des Sentimens du tres parfait attachement avec Lesquels jay L’honneur detre Monsieur Votre tres humble et tres Obeissant Serviteur

Le B. De Tott

aux petittes ecuries de La reine rue de Varennes./

Notation: Rott le Baron de.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2The son of a Hungarian refugee who was at the head of a regiment bearing his name, François, baron de Tott (1733–1793) served as Vergennes’ secretary in Constantinople. After a consulship in the Crimea (1767–1769) he organized Turkish defenses against Russia, came back to Paris in 1776, and was sent on an inspection trip to the French consulates around the Mediterranean. He returned to France around 1779. He was then appointed commander of Douai, fled to Switzerland in 1790, and spent the end of his life in Hungary. In addition to his military and diplomatic career, the baron was a painter and an amateur musician. Larousse; Jefferson Papers, X, 159n; E. Bénézit, ed., Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs … (10 vols., Paris, 1976).

3When Lafayette left Paris: Lafayette Papers, II, 373n.

4Sometime in late 1779 Lafayette had commissioned Jean-Baptiste Le Paon to paint a full-length portrait of Washington which he would then have engraved. He must have contracted with the engraver, Noël Le Mire, shortly before leaving for America. Le Mire’s commission was reported on March 19 in Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, and on March 29 Le Mire, soliciting subscriptions, placed an announcement of the project in the Jour. de Paris. The engraving would be ready on November 1, it said, and portrayed Washington “tenant des papiers relatifs à l’Histoire de l’Amérique.” It would appear from the present letter that Lafayette left Paris before specifying to the engraver which papers should be depicted.

5The meeting has left no trace, but the well-known engraving shows fourteen papers (treaties, bills, maps, and notes), each one numbered and labelled in English. A French key, or translation of the titles, numbered one to fourteen, was printed on a separate sheet. For a full-page reproduction of the engraving see Wendy C. Wick, George Washington, An American Icon (Washington, D.C., 1982), p. 30. The key, a copy of which is at the Cabinet des Estampes at the Bibliothèque Nationale, is reprinted, and the engraving is described, in Jules Hédou, Noël Le Mire et son oeuvre (Paris, 1875), pp. 80–81. See also Charles Henry Hart, Catalog of the Engraved Portraits of Washington (New York, 1904), number 31 (p. 18). Le Paon’s portrait has not been found.

6This is undoubtedly a reference to the schoolbook containing prints of British war atrocities that Lafayette and BF had been planning: XXIX, 590–3. We know that BF had at least one of those engravings made during the spring of 1780, and sent some copies to Samuel Cooper: Cooper to BF, Sept. 8, 1780, APS. A reference in Account XXVI (Editorial Note on Accounts, above) may be related to this print: on April 9, Chaumont paid 63 l.t. on account of Congress for an engraving of “un sujet Americain.” “600 exemplaires” of the print were struck, but none has yet been identified.

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