Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Peter Templeman, 12 August 1763

To Peter Templeman7

ALS: Royal Society of Arts

Boston, Augt. 12. 1763


In my Journey from Philadelphia hither, I have had the Pleasure of meeting with sundry Persons in different Places, who are attempting the Produce of Silk from the Encouragement offered by the Society: And am persuaded that in time you will see very considerable Effects of that Encouragement.8

The Produce of Potash, cheap enough to be exported with Profit to Britain, which had almost been despaired of here, and the Attempt nearly laid aside, is now revived by Mr. Willard of this Country, who, animated by the Society’s Offers, has persever’d in prosecuting the Design, and at length has found a more easy, certain, and much less expensive Process than what was heretofore known and used here, and which is said to produce a more perfect Commodity.9 He sends home by this Ship 23 Tons, hoping that the Society have continued their Premiums on that Article for the Year 1763. He is very frank and candid in communicating his Method, and willing it should be made public for the general Good. I would therefore recommend to the Society a particular Examination of the Qualities of this Potash; and if it is found excellent, as I am told it is, that Mr. Willard may receive some Mark of the Society’s Favour, tho’ the Premiums offer’d for 1762, should happen not to be continued.

With sincerest Wishes of Prosperity to the Society, and Success to their most laudable Endeavours for the Publick Prosperity, I am, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

Dr. Templeman

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7For Peter Templeman, secretary of the Society of Arts, see above, IX, 322 n.

8In 1755 and 1756 the Society of Arts offered premiums for the cultivation of mulberry trees in Georgia and the Carolinas, but in the two following years it changed its premiums to awards for silk produced, not only in Georgia and the Carolinas, but in Conn. and Pa. as well. In 1759 the Society added a premium for each pound of raw silk imported into England, and although this offer lapsed after three years, the Society’s premiums for silk produced in America continued until 1767. All told, the Society paid £1,370 in silk premiums, most of which went to Georgia. One of the “sundry” silk producers whom BF undoubtedly met on his trip to Boston was Ezra Stiles, who had about 3000 worms which were beginning to cocoon in July just when BF visited the future president of Yale at Newport. Robert Dossie, Memoirs of Agriculture and other Oeconomical Arts, I (London, 1768), 24–6, 233–9; Brooke Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America 1735–1789 (Chapel Hill, 1956), pp. 200–204; Edmund S. Morgan, The Gentle Puritan A Life of Ezra Stiles 1727–1795 (New Haven, 1962), pp. 147–51.

9The production of potash in the colonies had first been encouraged by Parliament, which in 1755 granted £3,000 to one Thomas Stephens, who had invented a method of economical production, on the condition that he go to America and supervise the erection of potash works there. The Board of Trade showed great interest in his survey and reports from the colonies. In 1758, when it became apparent that Stephens had failed, the Society of Arts offered premiums for potash imported from America into Great Britain and continued these premiums, although frequently changing their amounts and the conditions under which they were awarded, for several years afterwards. Dossie, Memoirs of Agriculture, I, 247–60; Hindle, The Pursuit of Science, p. 208; Board of Trade Journal, 1754–58, pp. 3–5, 2–14, 18–20, 109, 271, 297, 306, 313, 319. Mr. Willard, the successful potash producer, was possibly Samuel Willard of Conn. who had been granted a potash monopoly by the colony’s General Assembly in 1741. Conn. Col. Recs., VIII, 395–6.

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