Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Wharton, 25 March 1765

From Thomas Wharton

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Philada: March 25: 1765

My Esteemd friend Benjamin Franklin

I wrote thee, on the 14th Instant by a Vessell bound for Hull,8 in which Vessell went Passengers, Capt. Hay and some other Officers, and in that Letter I inclosd thee Four depositions, relative to the Goods (designd for the treaty at Pittsburgh) being burnt and destroy’d by a Number of the Inhabitants of Cumberland County;9 which Depositions &c. I hope will come safe to hand; but As I apprehend the Matter’s containd in them are of a very Interesting Nature, And will Undoubtedly bring forward the Important Work thou art Engaged in, Judged it most prudent to send thee duplicates thereof, Which now Enclose thee being those of Robert Allison, Elias Davison, James Sampson, James Wilkins and Robert Mc-Farlin.1

On the 22d Instant William Bradford publishd in his Paper, a Letter said to be wrote in Cumberland County, Wherein they endeavour to palliate this Attrocious Act, And to throw it on some of the Inhabitants of Maryland;2 but thou may depend, that the Fact is not so; but that the principal Persons Concern’d therein, reside in that County; I am further informd, And that from those who have seen the Original Letter, that it is Matterially different from, what they have publishd in said News paper; I thought it prudent to say thus Much, as no doubt they’ll send this paper to England;3

I shall now give thee another Instance of the disaffection of that County to Paciffic Measures with the Indians, which is related by Richard Tea4 to be thus; That [blank] Montgomery,5 One of the representatives for the County, declared in his hearing and before a Number of Persons in One of the Streets of Carlisle, “that was it not, for his Seat in Assembly, He would Join in the destroying those Goods going to Pittsburgh.”

On the 23d the Governor with Rd. Penn, Ba. Chew, L. Lardner &c.6 sett off for Carlisle, (And as its said) to Inquire into this Matter.7

I shall be capable in future of Informing thee, What Steps were taken to bring those Imprudent Men to Justice; in the Night of the 23d and all day Yesterday it Snow’d so hard as to stop (I Judge) their Journey;

Brother Samuel is gone to Sir William Johnson to inform Him of this Affair; And since I wrote the last, We have receiv’d Account from Pittsburgh, that a very great Number of Indians were come in to the treaty,8 that they Impatiently waited the Arrival of those Goods, not knowing they were distroy’d. And I sincerely wish it may not prove of very disagreable Consequence, as we all know there’s no holding a treaty with Indians, without giving them such Articles as they stand in Need of: Especially as George Croghan is at this treaty, to obtain a passage through their’s And into the Illinois Country,9 a work which has Already cost the Crown a great Sum tho’ not obtain’d; And from what Information We now have, this treaty promised the most favourable Circumstances for the Completion thereof;

It gives me some concern that I cannot now furnish thee with a Copy of Robert Callender Esqr’s. Letter, it being sent Up to Governor Franklin for his perusal.

I would just inform thee that its mentiond in the printed Extract of the Cumberland Letter, that the Head of one of the Casks fell out, whereby they discovered that Scalping Knives, or as some calld them, pruning Knives were sent Up.

I made full enquiry into this Matter, And am satisfied, that no Other then the Common Cutteau Knives were sent; which Knives are well known in England, And are Used by most Farmers in this province, And are such as the Indians make Use of, to Carve their Victuals &c. but no Stone will be left Unturn’d, wherefrom the party can Expect, the least Advantage will Accrue to their Cause; so in the present Instance they endeavor to throw dirt at others, hoping thereby to draw the Attention of the public from themselves.

Thy Family are all well. I remain thy Sincere and Affectionate Friend

Tho Wharton

The January packet not yet Arrived.

Endorsed: T Wharton, March 25–65

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8Pa. Gaz., March 21, 1765, reported the clearance of the Mary, Capt. E. Bingley, for Hull and Dover. Wharton’s letter of March 14 has not been found.

9Wharton is here referring to the exploits of James Smith and his “Black Boys,” who have been romanticized by biographers, antiquarians, and even by Hollywood. The activities of Smith and his cohorts were triggered by a get-rich scheme, hatched by George Croghan (above, V, 64 n), deputy superintendent of Indian affairs under Sir William Johnson, by the Philadelphia firm of Baynton, Wharton & Morgan, and by the Philadelphia Indian traders, Robert Callender and Robert Field. In the spring of 1765 the Pennsylvania Indian trade was still regulated by a Pa. act of Oct. 22, 1763, which declared that all traffic with the savages in arms, ammunition, or “other warlike stores” was illegal, unless permitted by a license from the governor or from the British military commander in the area. Croghan in his official capacity applied to Col. Henry Bouquet and received a pass to transport Indian goods—belonging, Bouquet was led to believe, to the Crown—to a treaty which Johnson had called for the spring of 1765 at Fort Pitt. Under the protection of Bouquet’s pass, Croghan’s partners began sending westward the firm’s own goods; of their stock of £20,000 Croghan secretly owned 25 percent. One consignment of goods under Robert Callender was discovered by accident to contain scalping knives (see Wharton’s refutation of this charge later in the present letter). This discovery infuriated the inhabitants of Cumberland County, many of whose relatives had only recently been murdered and scalped by marauding Indians. Consequently, at Sideling Hill on March 5–6 a number of frontiersmen with faces blackened led by James Smith attacked and virtually destroyed Callender’s pack train, now under the command of Ralph Nailer. The loss to the Croghan group was reckoned at £3000. The goods that had not been destroyed were rescued, at Nailer’s request, by soldiers of a detachment of the 42d (Black Watch) Regiment, stationed at Fort Loudoun. There the goods were removed for safekeeping and there a handful of frontiersmen, suspected of having participated in the destruction of the goods, were imprisoned. This action focused the wrath of Smith and his men on the garrison at the fort, which they besieged sporadically until the next November. It was this hostility toward the British regulars which accounts for certain subsequent attempts to picture Smith and his men as firing the first shots of the American Revolution. There were, however, no political overtones to their wrath; they were angered by the apparent softness of the regulars toward an illicit Indian trade. One of the most recent accounts of Smith and his “Black Boys” is Eleanor M. Webster, “Insurrection at Fort Loudon in 1765 Rebellion or Preservation of Peace?” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, XLVII (1964), 125–39; see also Nicholas B. Wainwright, George Croghan Wilderness Diplomat (Chapel Hill, 1959), pp. 212–18.

1In the Franklin Papers at APS there are copies of depositions, all in the same hand, of Davison, Sampson, and Wilkins, also of a Joseph Dobson and a Samuel Simison. Whether these were originally sent to BF by Wharton is not known.

2“Extract of a letter from Carlisle, dated March 14,” published in Bradford’s Pa. Jour., March 21, 1765.

3The extract of the letter from Carlisle does not appear in London Chron. The May 21–23 issue of the paper does, however, print extracts of two letters from Philadelphia, March 15 and March 24, describing with great disapproval the actions of the “Black Boys.” Conceivably these letters were written by correspondents of BF, although it is not now possible to identify the authors.

4Tea was a deputy surveyor in the Blue Mountain area; see above, VI, 234 n.

5John Montgomery (1722–1808) sat for Cumberland County, 1763–1775. He was a proprietary partisan who had voted against BF’s appointment as agent to England and had signed the Protest of Oct. 26, 1764 (above, XI, 408–12) against it.

6Richard Penn (c. 1734–1811), the governor’s younger brother, came to Pennsylvania in 1763, was made a member of the Council the next year, and governed the province himself from 1771 to 1773. In 1775 he carried the “Olive Branch” petition from the Continental Congress to England, where he resided the rest of his life, sitting in Parliament from 1784 to 1791 and from 1796 to 1806. DAB; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, III, 261–2. Benjamin Chew (1722–1810) was attorney general and a member of the Council. Lynford Lardner (above, III, 12 n), the uncle of John and Richard Penn, was the proprietary receiver general of quit rents and a member of the Council.

7The governor and his group investigated the attack on the traders’ goods, took depositions from the parties involved, and issued warrants for the arrest of certain of the “Black Boys.” No one was arrested, however, and the grand jury which met at Carlisle in April refused to return any indictments against the rioters. Webster, “Insurrection at Fort Loudon,” p. 134; The Papers of Sir William Johnson, XI (Albany, 1953), 746.

8Actually the Indians were very slow in arriving at Fort Pitt; few appeared before the middle of April, and the conference did not begin until April 29. See Croghan’s Journal, Pa. Col. Recs., IX, 250–64.

9A key part of the scheme of Croghan and his partners was to transport to the Illinois country enough of the £20,000 of Indian trade goods to open a trade with the natives there in beaver skins, the profits of which were envisioned to be limitless. Wainwright, Croghan, pp. 211–12.

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