Benjamin Franklin Papers

Accounts with Isaac Norris, 15 September 1758

Accounts with Isaac Norris

MS account: American Philosophical Society; MS account book: Library Company of Philadelphia

During Franklin’s first English residence he carried out numerous financial transactions for Isaac Norris. At his friend’s request he bought and sent to Philadelphia a telescope,8 several books and pamphlets, medicines, and a surprising number of decanters and other forms of glassware; he advanced money to other people on Norris’ orders; and, above all, he invested substantial sums in England for the speaker’s account. For all these services Norris sent to England a series of bills of exchange and also received credit for interest on the investments.

Among the papers of the two men are records of these transactions. A document in Franklin’s hand in the American Philosophical Society Library is headed “Isaac Norris Esqr in Account with B. Franklin,” in which he recorded in debtor and creditor columns his expenditures and receipts from Jan. 3, 1759, to Feb. 16, 1762. Norris’ manuscript account book, 1735–65, in the Library Company of Philadelphia, contains on facing pages an identical series of entries, but terminating July 5, 1761. On another page are entered records of three shipments of goods Franklin sent to Norris. The last two record, though in fuller detail, transactions included in the general account; the first, dated Sept. 15, 1758, shows the shipment of a 24-foot refracting telescope, which cost with its packing case £17 7s. 6d. With three possible exceptions, every transaction recorded in the documents here described is also entered, sometimes with considerably more detail, in Franklin’s “Account of Expences”; see above, VII, 164–5.9

Nine of the entries relate to investments Franklin made for Norris in stocks and annuities, either purchased from others or transferred from his own holdings.1 Their total face value was £5350, but there were discounts for advance payment of installments on the subscriptions and others resulting from market fluctuations, so he paid only £4324 14s.d., including broker’s commissions. Interest at 3 percent totaled £345 7s. 6d. during the period of these accounts.

These accounts are not printed in full here, but as transactions are mentioned in later correspondence, reference will be made to this summary.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8See above, VII, 284, and below, pp. 158, 226.

9Also in Lib. Co. Phila. is Norris’ “Journal Beginning 1747,” in which he recorded as they occurred various transactions with BF, the earliest on May 16, 1748, many of them duplicating entries in these accounts.

1In British financial parlance the word “stock” applies, not only to holdings of capital shares of business corporations, but especially to money loaned to the government on a funded debt. By the 1750s most such “stocks” took the form of “annuities,” that is, of loans for which the government promised “to pay a fixed rate of interest for the money advanced till repayment of the principal, but without stipulating to make such re-payment at any particular time, or even any express agreement to ever re-pay it, and, sometimes, on condition that the money should not be re-paid till after a certain period.” J. J. Grellier, The Terms of All the Loans Which Have Been Raised for the Public Service during the Last Fifty Years … (London, 1799), pp. 1–2. Many of these annuities also included a lottery feature as an added inducement to investors. For example, BF’s first investment for Norris recorded in these accounts was for £525 face value of the Annuity of 1759, purchased from another investor, May 30, 1759. It allowed “for every £100 advanced a capital of £105, bearing interest at 3 per cent. per ann. commencing from January 5, 1759, and a lottery ticket, entitling to a farther capital of £10, bearing the same interest, but commencing from January 5, 1760.” Ibid., p. 16. Discounts allowed by the seller, and by the Bank of England for advance payment of installments of the subscription not yet due, reduced the net cost to £414 14s. 10d. “Account of Expences,” p. 28; PMHB, LV (1931), 118–19. Some of BF’s other transactions in government stock will appear in later volumes.

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