Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Isaac Norris, 30 May 1757

To Isaac Norris

Draft: American Philosophical Society

New York, May 30. 1757.


After waiting here above Seven Weeks for the Sailing of the Pacquet, the Time of her Departure is no more ascertain’d now than it was the Day of our Arrival.

The Pacquets it is now said are all three to sail with the Fleet; the two first to be dismiss’d soon after the Fleet is at Sea; the third to go with the Fleet to the Place of Rendezvous, and not to be discharg’d till the Arrival and Junction of the Fleet from England.

But this is not certain: Resolutions change as Advices are receiv’d or Occurrences arise.4 And it is doubted whether the Fleet will sail from hence till there is certain News of the Arrival of that from [Englan]d. Since there is Intelligence that Beaufremont’s Squadron is gone from the W. Indies to the Northward.5

I have had the Honour of several Conferences with my Lord on the Subject of the Servants.6 His Lordship objects first that it appears by the List, which I laid before him that many of the Servants were inlisted in General Braddock and Gen. Shirley’s time; with those he has nothing to do. 2dly. That many were inlisted before the Act of Parliament appointed Satisfaction to be made to the Masters; and as all the Lawyers agree, that the Right to take them without Pay was clearly in the King before the Act, no Satisfaction should be made or expected for those. 3d. That the particular Proofs of the Loss of each Servant, and of his being inlisted in the K’s Service do not appear. 4th. That the Affair is now so intricate and perplex’d, that it would take more time to examine and settle it than he can possibly spare. 5th. That if his Officers had done wrong in not paying for the Servants as they took them, the Fault was our own; it was owing to some principal People among our selves, whom he could name, who had always assur’d the Officers the Assembly intended to pay for the Servants; and by that Means led them into the Error. His Lordship made several other Observations and Objections, all which I answered and endeavoured to remove as well as I could;7 but there is, I believe, one at Bottom, which it is not in my Power to remove, and that is the Want of Money. The Expences of an American War necessarily run very high;8 and are complain’d of by some in England; and his [Lordship is un]willing to discourage the Ministry at home by large [demands?]. He will therefore mix none of those of his Predecessors with his own, makes the most frugal Agreements, and avoids all Payments that he can avoid with Honour. For Instance, there is a Ballance not very large, due to me on my Account of Waggons and Forage Supply’d to General Braddock. I presented the Account to his Lordship, who had it examin’d and compar’d with the Vouchers, and on Report made to him that it was right, order’d a Warrant to be drawn for the Payment. But before he sign’d it, he sent for me, told me that as the Money became due before his time he had rather not mix it in his Accounts; it would be the same thing to me to receive it in England; he believ’d it a fair and just Account and as such would represent it home, so that I should meet with no Difficulty in getting it paid there. I agreed to his Lordship’s Proposal, and the Warrant was laid aside.9

I once propos’d to his Lordship that if he would appoint1 or desire Gov. Denny to appoint some Persons of Credit in Pensilvania to examine the Claims of the Masters, and report to his Lordship at the End of the Campaign, it might for the present make the Minds of the Sufferers more easy, and he could then order Payment for such Part as he should find right for him to pay, and we might endeavour to procure Satisfaction elsewhere for the rest. His Lordship declin’d this, saying that he knew not who to appoint, being unacquainted with the People; that he did not care to trouble Govr. Denny with it; of whom he must ask it as a Favour; and besides, Auditors in the Plantations, of Accounts against the Crown, had in many Instances been so shamefully partial and corrupt, that they had lost all Credit. If he appointed Auditors, they must be some of the Officers [of] the Army, who were acquainted and understood the Affair, and at present they were engag’d in other Duty.

I will not trouble you with a Detail of all I said to his Lordship on this Affair tho’ I omitted nothing material that occurr’d to me. But I find he is for keeping the Matter in Suspense, without either promising Payment or refusing to pay; perhaps till he receives Direction about it from home. He does not seem to like however that I should make any Application there relating to it; and chuses to keep the List in his Hands, till his Return from the Campaign.

The List is indeed so very imperfect, that I could not promise my self much from laying it before him. Of many Servants it is not noted by what Officers, or in what Company or even in what Regiment they were inlisted; of others the Time they were bound for, or had served, or had still to serve, is omitted: Of others, no Notice is taken of the Price they cost. Nor is there any Distinction of Apprentices. Tho’ perhaps the Account is the best that could be obtained the Time and other Circumstances considered.2 Upon the whole, as the Enquiry, if it is ever made by my Lord’s Order, will be by Officers of the Army, they being in his Lordship’s Opinion the fittest Persons and most impartial; as all Inlistments before the Commencement of his Command, will be rejected, and also all before the Act of Parliament; As very clear Proofs of every Circumstance, when the Servant was inlisted, by what Officer, of what Regiment, &c. &c. will be insisted on, and the Recruit[ing] Officers at the Time took such effectual Care to prevent in many Instances, the Masters knowing any thing of those Circumstances;3 I am enclin’d to think very little Benefit will be produc’d by such Enquiry; and that our Application home for some Allowance on that Account will be better founded on what the Assembly after their own Enquiry have thought themselves oblig’d to pay, than on such an imperfect List as has been sent me. This however I submit. And if it should be still thought proper to apply in England on the Footing of that List another Copy must be sent by some future Opportunity.

His Lordship has on all Occasions treated me with the greatest Goodness,4 but I find frequently that strong Prejudices are infus’d into his Mind against our Province. We have too many Enemies among our selves; I hope in time Things will wear a better Face.

Please to present my humble Respects to the House, and believe me, with great Esteem, Sir &c.

P.S.5 Sunday morning June 5. At length we are going on board: All the Pacquets as I wrote above fall down together; and tis said the Fleet will certainly sail to morrow—But how little those Notices are to be depended you will see by the enclos’d wrote and sent to me at Woodbridge two Weeks ago by Capt. Conyngham, one of my Lord’s Aid de Camps6 by my Lord’s Order.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4BF first included here in the draft, and then struck out, two uncompleted passages which together indicated that, when he “went from hence to Woodbridge, where I retir’d for about three Weeks, the better to settle some more of my own Affairs,” he asked Loudoun to send him a “timely Hint” as to when the packet was to sail. Later he had received word that it was to depart on May 23; “But she is still here.” See the postscript below.

5The three packets, the General Wall (on which BF sailed), the Earl of Leicester, and the Harriott, did proceed according to BF’s report. Rumors that Vice Admiral Chevalier de Bauffremont’s fleet lay off New York persisted, but in fact it had arrived off Cape Breton Island on May 28, and three days later was anchored in Louisbourg harbor. When Loudoun finally sailed, June 20, he still did not know exactly where either the French or English fleet was. Pargellis, Lord Loudoun, pp. 237–8; Gipson, British Empire, VII, 101–4; Loudoun Notebooks, Huntington Lib.

6See above, VI, 396–400, 474–5, for earlier difficulties over enlistment of indentured servants. At his last meeting with BF in Philadelphia, March 26, Loudoun had recorded that “Having been assured by Lt. Col. Bouquet that the Assembly were to pay all the Indentured Servants listed in the Province of Pennsylvania[,] as he had been [often informed?] by the Principal Men of Philadelphia [illegible] I asked Mr. Frankland about it.

“Mr. Frankland says he knows of no Intention they have of paying any thing for Indented servants[.]

“I asked what was the Meaning of the £10,000 he wrote to Mr. Pownal the Assembly had Raised for the King’s Use [see above, VI, 503].

“He sade the Governor would not pas that Bill but [he was at the?] time [being] in Conjunction with the other Provinces but as none of the others came into that publick fund, they had no thoughts of it.

“That the [Reason for desiering?] a Receipt from the Officer that Enlisted an Indented Servant was that the Committee of [Grievances?] might be able to make a list of them that they might applie Home for Redress.

“I sade in [if?] that affair of Recruiting was immediately under me in the first Instance I thought it extraordinary they should applie home before they First tried whether I would settel it with them and desiered to See the List they had made up.

“He told me it was not finished but I should have a Coppy as soon as it was made out.” Loudoun Notebooks.

On March 28, the Assembly ordered that a list of sums due masters for enlisted servants be prepared “with all convenient Dispatch.” Votes, 1756–57, p. 105. BF received the list in New York by April 25, and that day conferred with Loudoun about it, (see above, p. 198, and see note 7 below for an explanation of the list). Places where the account of the conversations in Loudoun’s Notebook adds to BF’s summary are noted below. Though Loudoun recorded meetings with BF on April 9, 15, 25, 26, and 30, he set down remarks about indentured servants only on the 25th, at a conference also attended by Maj. Gen. James Abercromby.

7Loudoun seems to have been firmly convinced that Pennsylvania had at one time agreed to reimburse masters, since he again asked about the £10,000 granted him in the rejected £60,000 bill of September 1756, and said that recruiting officers did not give certificates to masters since they were not asked for in view of the general assumption that the province would take care of any just claims. An advertisement in Pa. Gaz., Nov. 18, 1756, may have encouraged this assumption; it asked masters “who have in any manner suffered by the late Enlisting of Servants and Apprentices” to report particulars to local assemblymen or the Committee of Grievances for the “Consideration” of the Assembly. Loudoun also objected again to the application for redress in England without first making a proper complaint to him, and he upbraided BF for the failure of Pennsylvania to carry out the terms of the new act of Parliament regulating recruitment (see above, VI, 400 n). Loudoun further pointed out that he had asked for the list of claimants in Philadelphia, and now, a month later, he was given an improper and incomplete list. To BF’s suggestion that Denny appoint persons to investigate claims, Loudoun replied that the recruiting officers would have to be heard as well as the claimants, and since the officers were off on summer campaigns, nothing could be done at present. Loudoun Notebooks. If Loudoun conveyed the same impressions to BF that he recorded in his diary, the latter could scarcely have avoided the conclusion that Loudoun thought Pennsylvania had defaulted on a promise to pay the injured masters and had deceitfully thrown together a hasty list of claims it hoped to impose upon the King’s commander. Loudoun may very well have implied that BF acted a bad part in presenting such fraudulent claims. If so, this might explain why BF spoke so contemptuously of Loudoun in the autobiography (Par. Text edit., pp. 400–2), after having been much in his confidence and spoken so well of him during their months of association in New York and Philadelphia.

8At this point BF first wrote and then crossed out “and the expected Cash is not yet arrived, and the long Embargo has slacken’d the Sale of Bills.”

9Loudoun recorded in his notebook, April 26, that BF’s unsettled account of £17 12s. 6d. should have been presented to Commissary General Robert Leake along with the other wagon charges. Four days later Loudoun said he “again” told “Mr. Frankline” he would not settle the wagon accounts, not only because he insisted on separating his affairs from those of Braddock and Shirley, but also because the charge was excessive for the service performed. This conversation is probably the source of BF’s later comment that Loudoun had accused him of having profiteered in the wagon affair (Par. Text edit., pp. 402–4), though it is surprising that BF should here report to Norris that the account had been approved.

1BF wrote the first part of this sentence “I intimated to his Lordship that if he would appoint Parsons as,” but then changed it to the form here printed. Apparently BF did suggest his old friend William Parsons as a fit person to review the claims, but then decided not to tell Norris about it.

2The list sent to BF and put into Loudoun’s hands survives among the general’s papers at the Huntington Lib. Entitled “List of Servants, Belonging to the Inhabitants of Pensilvania, and taken into His Majesty’s Service, For whom Satisfaction has not been made by the officers according to Act of Parliament,” and endorsed “Philada April 21st 1757 This List is not yet compleat, the Claims continuing to come in daily,” the list records claims for 612 servants amounting to £3652 0s. ½d. Pennsylvania currency, or £2272 7s. 1d. sterling. For complete entries, the list records the name of the master and the servant for whom a claim is entered, the total time of the servant’s indenture, the time served, the time of service due, the total amount paid for the servant, and, calculated from these figures, the amount due the masters for service lost. The list also records the regiment or company in which the servant enlisted, though in over 200 of the 612 entries that information is missing, and some of the entries are incomplete in other particulars. In no case is the date or place of enlistment or the name of the recruiting officer noted.

3BF here wrote and then crossed out “for fear of Arrest.”

4BF here wrote and then crossed out “and given me frequent [opportunity?] of justifying our Pro[ceedings?].” In addition to the conferences with BF, mentioned above, Loudoun recorded conversations with him on April 15 and 30 about postal service to Albany. Loudoun Notebooks.

5On a separate sheet. Though not certainly a postscript to this letter to Norris, it is included here since its second sentence repeats information BF had written and then crossed out on the first sheet of this letter.

6Capt. James Cunningham of the 45th Regiment. Pargellis, Lord Loudoun, p. 167.

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