Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to John Waring, 17 December 1763

To John Waring7

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Philada. Dec. 17. 1763

Reverend and dear Sir,

Being but just return’d home from a Tour thro’ the northern Colonies, that has employ’d the whole Summer, my Time at present is so taken up that I cannot now write fully in answer to the Letters I have receiv’d from you,8 but purpose to do it shortly. This is chiefly to acquaint you, that I have visited the Negro School here in Company with the Revd. Mr. Sturgeon9 and some others; and had the Children thoroughly examin’d. They appear’d all to have made considerable Progress in Reading for the Time they had respectively been in the School, and most of them answer’d readily and well the Questions of the Catechism; they behav’d very orderly, showd a proper Respect and ready Obedience to the Mistress, and seem’d very attentive to, and a good deal affected by, a serious Exhortation with which Mr. Sturgeon concluded our Visit. I was on the whole much pleas’d, and from what I then saw, have conceiv’d a higher Opinion of the natural Capacities of the black Race, than I had ever before entertained. Their Apprehension seems as quick, their Memory as strong, and their Docility in every Respect equal to that of white Children.1 You will wonder perhaps that I should ever doubt it, and I will not undertake to justify all my Prejudices, nor to account for them. I immediately advanc’d the two Guineas you mention’d, for the Mistress,2 and Mr. Sturgeon will therefore draw on you for £7 18s. only, which makes up the half Year’s Salary of Ten Pounds.3 Be pleased to present my best Respects to the Associates, and believe me, with sincere Esteem Dear Sir, Your most obedient Servant

B Franklin

Addressed: To / The Reverend Mr Waring / to be left at Mr Burd’s a / Bookseller in Ave Mary Lane / London

Endorsed: Dr. Franklin Philadelphia Decr. 17: 1763 read March: 1: 17644

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7For the Rev. John Waring, secretary of the Associates of the Late Dr. Bray, see above, VII, 98 n; and for the activity of this organization in promoting Negro education in the colonies and BF’s connection with it, see above, VII, 100–1, 252–3, 256, 377–9; VIII, 425; IX, 12–13, 20–1, 174; and this volume, pp. 298–300.

8Not found.

9On William Sturgeon, Philadelphia clergyman and catechist of the Negro school there, see above, VII, 252 n; and on the criticism of his work, from which he was exonerated, see this volume, pp. 298–9 n.

1This is one of the earliest, if not the very first, of all statements by distinguished Americans of a belief, based on personal observation, that Negro children’s intellectual capacity fully equals that of white children. On March 20, 1774 (APS), BF wrote the Marquis de Condorcet that the Negroes were “not deficient in natural Understanding, but they have not the Advantage of Education.”

2Elizabeth Harrison, wife of Richard Harrison, master of the free school in the Academy, had been appointed mistress of the Negro school, May 1, 1761. A new mistress, Mrs. Ayres, was put in charge in November 1764. PMHB, LXIII (1939), 288 and note.

3In the previous June BF had told Waring that he would pay his annual subscription of two guineas to Sturgeon. His Memorandum Book, 1757–1776, p. 14, shows under date of Nov. 26, 1763, that he had paid over this subscription (£3 8s. Pa. currency) and had also taken Sturgeon’s bill for £7 18s. sterling drawn on Waring, giving £13 17s. Pa. currency for it. He sent this bill to Henton Brown in London for collection.

4The Bray Associates Minute Book, pp. 200–1, records the reading of this letter and summarizes its contents.

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