Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Cumming, 7 October 1763

From Thomas Cumming6

ALS: American Philosophical Society

London 7th. Oct. 1763.

Dear and much esteemed Friend

It was a happy Opportunity I had, in Capt. Stout’s return to Philadelphia;7 as, unless it had been for that, I should not have been so fully convinced, of thy Readiness, to pay Regard to my Recommendations. I acknowledge myself thy Debtor; but alas, I must rely on thy Goodness, to accept of that Acknowledgment, instead of Value received! Even that Request encreases my Debt; not only so, but from thy Benevolence, which is inseparably connected with thy very Name; every where, I am emboldened, to contract a fresh Debt, which, in itself, will amount, almost, to as much as all my former put together! In short,

I was lately applied to, by a very particular Acquaintance of mine, Griffith Jones Printer in Fleet Street8 (who served an Apprenticeship to—Boyer whom thou knowst, I think) for my Advice, how and where abroad, to send his Son to? The Letter my Friend sends herewith, and the Indentures, &c. save me the Trouble, and thee, of adding more on that Head.

Neither thou nor any one else, who know us both, and that I have the Happiness of knowing thee, will be surprized, that thou shouldst be the first that should occur to me, and that in an Instant, on such an Occasion; even, had the Lad been mine own and only Child.

The great Distance betwixt us, will plead my Excuse, for thus precipipately throwing a Load on thy Shoulders. The Exigence of the Case required it.

It will, I make no Doubt, appear to thee, that, at least, his (the Boy’s Passage) should have been paid by his Father, here. The Father expected no other; but I frankly own, I advised the Step taken. My Reasons for doing so were these: First, it would lessen the Expence of Grief and Cash to the Parents, at parting with their beloved Son: And in Truth, it would be Cruelty not to do it, by any just Means. Secondly, I know, that a Lad of his Capacity, Qualifications and Experience in his Business, is well worth so much Money to any Master, who will take him for the Term of Years he has to serve. Thirdly, and above all, because it would convince the Boy, that he was more obliged to be obedient, diligent, &c. as a bought, than as merely, a bound, Apprentice.9 I therefore hope, for these Reasons, thou wilt, at least, think I meant justly and well, with Respect to all Parties. But if thou should’st be of a different Opinion, I must request, that thou wilt advance the Money, and send an Order upon me for it, and it shall be duely honoured.

Although the Boy is assigned over to thee, yet I well know, that thou wilt be no more over him, than thou art over thy other Boys at the College, and every Inhabitant of the City, who may be all looked upon as thy Children: My worthy Friend and Countryman David Hall, I hope will be immediately over him.1 Better, I have assured his Brother Jones, he could not wish his Son, than under him. Be that as it may, the Boy is thrown by my Means under thy sole Care, and disposal. I cannot but hope, through thee, he may turn out an useful Citizen of Philadelphia, a Credit to thee, an Honour and Blessing to his Parents, and above all (and which must follow) that his Life will redound to his own Interest and Happiness here and hereafter. If he makes as good, as ingenious and as amiable a Man as his Father, I could wish for no better from a Son, had I one of mine own.

I did not forget thy Commission, concerning my 2d. best Friend, the Earl of Shelburne.2 I shewed him thy Letter.3 But his Brother has been all this Summer in Paris, and is not yet returned.4 There to my Eye-Sight, at least, last June, he out shines all that Showy City, in Splendid Equipages, &c. &c. &c. Lord Shelburne was very glad (as every body is) to hear of thy Welfare, and more so in being remembered by thee.5 He told me, he had intended, on his being appointed first Lord of Trade, to have wrote to thee, for any Information, relating to the publick Good of thy Province, or the British Interest in general in America; and as he was then exceedingly busy with the Duties of his Office desired I would write to thee what his Request was, and that he should be greatly obliged to thee to favour him from Time to Time with thy Hints and Advice. But, the Turbulence, of an unreasonable, all-aspiring, routted Faction, occasioned, amongst other Changes, that of his chusing to resign!6 In short, he had a principal Hand in the K’s sending for that Man, who, when he came, wanted, proposed, no less, than to be K. himself de facto!7 But, my Situation is such, that they may write News of that Sort, for me, who please.

Notwithstanding L.S. has resigned, as he has been at a Board, as he still is as much the King’s Favourite as ever, as he may, soon too, again be replaced, or accept of some other high Employment, as he always must have great Interest every where, and as he desired thee to write to him, I think it would not be amiss, that thou shouldst, without taking Notice of my not writing till after his Resignation. He does not know, but that I wrote before; and therefore must expect thou wilt. Pray don’t slight him, because out. (for he was not outted.)

I can see the tender Father in every Thing thou dos’t and say’st, of the King’s Representative in the N. Jerseys. Thence, thy Wish and mine not according in Respect to his Translation.8 As a Friend to extensive Utility in general, and as a Well-wisher to him and his immediate Family in particular, I continue still of the same Opinion. To him, when thou first see’st, or writest I must beg, after thy best (and most deservedly best) and welbeloved Bedfellow (if she has not forgot having seen me) to be most affectionately remembered. Pray how does thy only (and once, amiable Child of a) Daughter do? I dare say she is marriageable. Is she tied? If so, and with all Consents, she must be happy. Art thou Grand Papa?

Having almost finished, and fully tired myself, it is Time I should thank thee for thy kind mentioning my Name to my Virginia Friends (many of whom I love most dearly) and for thy Intententions [sic] of shewing Civilities to honest, meritorious Capt. Stout. Had he had Friends here, equal to his Desert, he must have been now high in the List of Post Captains! Pray is my very old Acquaintance David James Dove yet living?9 If he be, and in your Province, I shall be obliged to thee, if thou wilt remember me to him also. I was the happy or unhappy (he knows best) Means, of his ever crossing over the Atlantick. I could almost ask after my quondam Friend Israel Pemberton but, I fancy he would not thank me if he knew it.1

Last Week I told my Friends Smith and Wright, Bankers, that I intended writing to thee soon.2 They present their Respects, and expected to have heard from thee. They are a Couple of sensible, expert, careful young Men, are encreasing their Business daily, and promise, I think, of being soon among the first of their Profession. I am, my invaluable Friend, Thine, in all Sincerity, and Affection.

Thomas Cumming.

P.S. Lord Shelburne sends his Compliments to thee.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Thomas Cumming (d. 1774), a “sensible Quaker” merchant of London, of whose apparently checkered career only occasional parts can be put together from scattered sources. He appears to have been of Scottish birth (see his mention of David Hall in this letter), was once a printer in Cork, Ireland, and about 1750–51 was a merchant in N.Y. Pa. Gaz. June 6, 1765; Johnson Papers, I, 289. It was probably during this American stay that he visited Philadelphia, meeting BF and his family, Israel Pemberton, and others, and traveled to Va., where he made friends and acquired later business associates. By 1754, established in London, he made a trading voyage to the east coast of Africa, secured an agreement for trade from a native ruler, and after his return to England proposed to Pitt an expedition which led to the capture of the French Fort Louis at Senegal, 1758, and the establishment of a British colony there. Cumming accompanied the expedition. John Almon, A Review of Mr. Pitt’s Administration (3d edit., 1763), pp. 83–5; Kate Hotblack, Chatham’s Colonial Policy (London, 1917), pp. 32–35; Gipson, British Empire, VIII, 174–7. Although promised a monopoly of trade with the Gum Coast, he never received it, but was awarded instead a pension of £500 annually for thirty-one years. He seems to have spent the rest of his life in London, where he had already formed an acquaintance with Dr. Samuel Johnson and where he established a useful connection with Lord Shelburne. During 1763–67 the Mississippi Co. of Va. employed Cumming as their London agent to press their petition for lands on the Ohio. Clarence E. Carter, “Documents relating to the Mississippi Land Company,” Amer. Hist. Rev., XVI (1910–11), 311–17.

7Probably Joseph Stout (d. 1773), a merchant-ship captain of Philadelphia who also served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. PMHB, V (1881), 88.

8For Griffith Jones, his son Lewis, and the subject matter of the first half of this letter, see the document immediately above.

9A colonial master who paid the ship’s captain for young Jones’s transportation, as was the regular procedure with an indentured servant arriving in America, would theoretically have an even stronger claim on the lad’s loyalty and obedience than the mere assignment of his apprenticeship papers would give. Whether BF relished the advantages of this somewhat expensive arrangement may be questioned.

1Whether Cumming had known Hall before the latter came to America in 1744 or had met him in Philadelphia at the same time he met the Franklins is uncertain. The mention of Griffith Jones as Hall’s “Brother” in the next sentence indicates merely that they were fellow printers. As stated in the note on Lewis Jones to the document immediately above, BF assigned his apprenticeship not to Hall but to James Parker.

2William (Fitzmaurice) Petty, 2d Earl of Shelburne, 2d Baron Wycombe, and (1784) Marquess of Lansdowne (1737–1805), was the elder son of John Fitzmaurice, who took the name of Petty upon succeeding to an uncle’s estates in 1751 and was created Earl of Shelburne (in the Irish peerage), 1753, and Baron Wycombe (in the peerage of Great Britain), 1760. The son matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, 1755, but left to enter the army, 1757, served with distinction on the Continent, and was promoted to colonel and aide-de-camp to the King, 1760. Elected M.P. for Chipping Wycombe, 1760, he never sat in the Commons because, after his father’s death in 1761, he entered the Lords as Baron Wycombe. He was generally called, however, by his Irish title of Lord Shelburne. Politically independent at first, he acted nevertheless as a negotiator between Bute and Fox. Upon Grenville’s accession to power in April 1763 he became president of the Board of Trade, but resigned Sept. 2, 1763, when a scheme in which he was involved failed to bring Pitt into office in place of Grenville. Soon thereafter he attached himself firmly to the Pitt faction; he became secretary of state for the Southern Department in 1766, with complete charge of colonial affairs until Hillsborough was given the new office of secretary for the colonies in January 1768. Shelburne stoutly opposed most of his fellow ministers’ policy of colonial coercion and resigned when Chatham did the following October. In opposition during the next fourteen years, he was outspoken in sympathy for the American point of view, but repeatedly declared his objection to granting independence. Nevertheless, when he became secretary of state under Rockingham in March 1782, he took charge of the peace negotiations which led to recognition of that independence. On Rockingham’s death in July 1782 he became head of the government, but resigned, February 1783, and never again held political office. Generally regarded in America as a warm friend, he was bitterly hated and distrusted by fellow politicians in Great Britain. DNB; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, III, 271–2.

3Not found.

4Thomas Fitzmaurice (1742–1793) did not change his surname to Petty as his father and brother did. He was educated at Eton, 1755–58; Glasgow, 1759; and matriculated at St. Mary’s Hall, Oxford, 1761; Middle Temple, 1762; called to the bar, 1768. He served as M.P. for Calne, 1762–74, and for Chipping Wycombe, 1774–80, but ill health, impaired finances, and care of his Irish properties interfered with his attendance, and he withdrew from political affairs in 1780. Thereafter he became, not very successfully, a linen bleacher and merchant. He married, 1777, Lady Mary O’Brien, only surviving child and heir of the Countess of Orkney. She inherited her mother’s title in 1790. C.E.C[okayne], The Complete Peerage (under Orkney), X (London, 1945), 110; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, II, 430. Letters of 1770 and 1787 to be printed in this edition show that BF and Fitzmaurice, together with Dr. Hawkesworth, John Stanley, and others, came to form a circle of friends who combined jolly companionship with philosophical interests and experimentation.

5This sentence and what follows suggest a prior personal acquaintance between Shelburne and BF, but there seems to be no firm evidence that their direct contacts began until BF’s second English mission. Compare the tentative reconstruction of a mutilated passage in a letter from Pringle of the previous spring, above, pp. 267–8 n.

6For Shelburne’s resignation, Sept. 2, 1763, see the biographical note above.

7William Pitt.

8Just why Cumming had reservations about WF’s “Translation” to the governorship of N.J. is uncertain.

9For David James Dove (c.1696–1769), see above, IV, 223 n. In 1763 he was just opening a school in Germantown, and in the following year he was one of the scurrilous attackers of BF.

1For Israel Pemberton, Jr. (1715–1779), wealthy Quaker merchant, see above, V, 424 n. The reason for his disapproval of Cumming is not explained. Perhaps the strict Friend in Philadelphia objected to Cumming’s participation in the military expedition to capture Senegal.

2A London banking firm consisting of Thomas Smith, John Wright, and Henry Gray. While BF and they had apparently been on friendly terms during his first English mission, his first business dealings with them of which a record survives were in February 1764 (Memorandum Book, 1757–1776, p. 15, APS); the connection became much more extensive during his second English mission.

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