Benjamin Franklin Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Shaffer, John" AND Recipient="Franklin, Benjamin" AND Period="Confederation Period" AND Period="Confederation Period" AND Correspondent="Franklin, Benjamin"
sorted by: author

To Benjamin Franklin from John Shaffer, 12 September 1783

From John Shaffer7

LS: American Philosophical Society

De lhotel de la force ce 12 7bre. 1783

Monsieur

Je pris hier la liberté de vous écrire pour reclamer l’honneur de Votre protection, quoique je Sente bien que je ne l’a mérite plus. Je vous ai instruit Sur le Sujet de ma Détention,8 c’est une circonstance malheureuse qui m’a entrainé dans l’etat triste et déplorable ou je me trouve réduit, circonstance d’autant Malheureuse qu’on m’a depouillé de mon portefeuille dans lequel Se trouve un effet accepté par vous Monsieur, et plusieurs autres Sur les meilleures Maisons de Paris; et cela pour être Soupconné Seulement d’etre de la compagnie du Sr. St. iver: j’ai deja prouvé au ministere que je n’etois réellement pas Son associé, et une Seule parole de vous Monsieur, Suffit pour me rendre ma liberté. Si jeusse Suivi vos conseils, je ne Serois point aujourd’hui dans la triste situation ou je Suis reduit. Je me jette â vos genoux et vous Suplie en grace de vouloir bien vous intéresser à moi qui Suis plus malheureux que coupable, Si je ne mérite pas cette grace de vous Monsieur, aumoins que ma famille que vous connoissez (Surtout Mr. Mulinberg mon frere membre du congrès9) vous interesse.

Vous pouvez croire qu’aussitôt mon élargissement je me rendrai dans le Sein de ma famille pour y goutter la douce Satisfaction qu’elle est capable de me procurer.

Que votre cœur compatissant pour l’humanité Se laisse encore une fois flechir à la vue des peines qui m’environnent de toutes parts, une Seule parole de Vous Monsieur Suffit pour me rendre ma liberté Si chere à tous les hommes. J’ose encore esperer tout indigne que je Suis de vos bontés que vous vous intéresserez à moi, ma reconnoissance en Sera éternelle et rien ne pourra jamais effacer de mon cœur le doux Souvenir de tenir ma liberté d’un protecteur aussi bienfaisant.

Je Suis très respectueusement Monsieur Votre très humble Et très obt. Serviteur

J. Schaffer

Daignez Monsieur mhonorer d’une reponce

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7The unscrupulous, dull-witted Philadelphian who had first seen the inside of a French jail two years earlier, when he imposed on BF for assistance. For his failed attempts to make a dishonest living see, in particular, XXXIV, 364n; XXXV, 440–2. As of 1783, he spells his name Schaffer; we continue to use his original spelling for consistency.

BF had no intention of forgiving the loan Shaffer received in 1781: XXXV, 620; XXXVI, 375–6. WTF tried to collect payment in the spring and summer of 1783, but the bills Shaffer gave him were all rejected: Shaffer to WTF, [before March 13] and March 13, 1783; comte Charles de Polignac to [WTF?], July 19, 1783; APS. In March (to judge by the letters just cited), Shaffer had taken refuge in the Temple, a privileged enclosure providing immunity from the police and sanctuary to insolvent debtors (Hillairet, Rues de Paris, II, 547).

8He did indeed, and at great length. The undated letter was written, as this is, by a Frenchman; in a postscript of his own, Shaffer explains that he is too “indisposed with the feaver” to write himself. The story he tells is as follows: the king exonerated him on July 30 and gave him a sauf conduit, whereupon he returned to his lodging at No. 5 rue des fossés Saint-Marcel, staying for about six weeks. During that time a certain “St. Iver”—a complete stranger—sought to rent a neighboring apartment, and Shaffer offered him a room in his own. On Aug. 25 a police inspector came to arrest Saint Iver and, to Shaffer’s astonishment, arrested him as well. Saint Iver, it seems, had “borrowed” his name in connection with shady commercial dealings of which he was ignorant. Desperate to prove his innocence, he pleads for BF to intervene with the authorities. In his postscript, Shaffer promises that as soon as he is released from prison, “I will go to my Country you may depend upon it.” Shaffer to BF, [Sept. 11, 1783], APS.

As the case unfolded over the next several months, it would come to light that since 1782 Shaffer had been listed in the Almanach royal as the principal of a fictitious banking firm claiming an official link to the United States of America. (Shaffer denied knowledge of this.) Menier de Saint Yver, who tried to protect Shaffer while declaring his own innocence, told BF that he had known Shaffer since June, thereby contradicting the story Shaffer tells here: Menier de Saint Yver to BF, Nov. 28, 1783 (APS); BF to Vergennes, Jan. 17, 1784 (AAE).

9Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg (1750–1801), an ordained Lutheran minister married to Shaffer’s sister Catharine, entered politics partly owing to Shaffer’s influence. He was elected in March, 1779, to serve out the term of Edward Biddle in the Continental Congress and was reelected in November of that year: ANB; Paul A. W. Wallace, The Muhlenbergs of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1950), pp. 176–8.

Index Entries