Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from William Dunlap, 1 February 1766

From William Dunlap2

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Falmouth, Febry. 1st. 1766

Honor’d Sir

It is now upwards of a Twelve month since I sail’d from Philadelphia for Barbados, in order to inspect into the State of my Affairs there, and if possible procure some Kind of Subsistance on the Spot that might Support my Family:3 When I arriv’d, I found my little Interest on the Island badly regulated, and the Partnership Accounts in worse Order; the rectifying of which has been my Employment ever since: Tho’ indeed the Place has hitherto produced scarce sufficient to maintain the Man who has had the Management of the Business in his Hands,4 yet I am clearly convinc’d, that could I procure a Residence there, it might be brought to produce Something well worth the Attention: To this my Inclinations, with that of my Family, strongly lead me; but the Income of my Share of the Business there, will not be sufficient of itself to support us: There is a Vacancy at present, for the Office of Searcher of His Majesty’s Customs, for the Port of Bridge-Town, in that Island, occasion’d by the Death of Mr. John Green, who last held the same, and who was burried on the 16th. of Novr. last. Could I be fortunate enough to procure that Office, it would effectually raise me above the Contempt and Distresses usually attendant on a State of Dependancy: The Sallary allow’d by the Crown is but about £70 Str: per Annum but the Perquisites make it at least £200 Barbadoes Currency: It is reckon’d a genteel Office, and requires but a very moderate Attendance: Mr. Green came from England about fore Months ago, and occupied his Office but about five Weeks before his Death: He told me it was to Lord Grenvill’s5 Interest he was beholden for his Promotion: As I cannot doubt your Inclination, so I am sure your Interest is sufficient to serve me effectually in this important Affair: Indeed I am the more sollicitous on this Head, as I have now a very Advantageous Offer with respect to the Disposition of my Interest in Philadelphia6 which if closed in with, will enable me in Time to pay off my Debts, and that sooner than I am sorry to say I can otherwise ever hope for: I inclose the Paper on which this Belief is founded, for your Inspection: After this, I need not enlarge: If you mean to serve me, however, there is no Time to be lost, as there are a Variety of Letters come in the Vessel that has brought me here, from different Hands, on the same Subject with this: One in particular to Lord Edgcomb,7 whom I am told is like to be the most Formidable: I know not in whose Gift this little Office is invested, but of this you will be at no Loss: I intended to have waited on you in Person with this Application, but not being innur’d to travelling, and my weaken’d Frame rendering it impossible for me to make that Dispatch that is realy necessary on such an Occasion, I concluded it most expedient to write: For God’s Sake, Sir, do not fail me on this important Occasion, nor blame me in this Effort as Rash and Inconsiderate: There is nothing more natural than for a drowning Man to catch at the most distant Twig:8 I am, Honor’d Sir Your most obedient Humble Servant

W. Dunlap

P.S. I had form’d a Resolution to mak Application to the Secretary of the Treasury,9 and not to have troubled you in the least; and had actually wrote the Letter which accompanies this, before I could bring myself to break through the Rule I had prescrib’d myself; but being diffident of his Interest, I have taken the Liberty with you I could have wish’d to avoid: I send the Letter that I intended for him cased, that you may open and act by it as may be most agreeable to you:

Addressed: To / Benj Franklin Esqr. / Craven Street / London

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2For William Dunlap, husband of DF’s niece and a printer at both Lancaster and Philadelphia, whom BF appointed postmaster of Philadelphia in 1757, see above, V, 199 n; VII, 168–9. In the fall of 1764 Dunlap was replaced in the postmastership by Peter Franklin, while still owing the post office a substantial sum of money; he charged BF and Foxcroft with “merciless Oppression” in trying to collect the debt. Above, XI, 418–22, 469 n.

3In 1760 Dunlap sent one William Brown, a former apprentice, to Barbados to manage a printing office at Bridgetown in which he had an interest. “No record remains of any printing done by Brown in Barbados. He left the island in 1763 and went to Quebec.” See Douglas C. McMurtrie, Early Printing in Barbados (London, 1933), p. 13. Whatever other assets Dunlap may have had in the West Indies remain unknown, but he was able to take occasional leave of absence from his Virginia parish in later years to attend to his affairs in the islands.

4Apparently a successor of Brown, not otherwise identified. A George Ismand is noted as having begun to print a newspaper in Barbados in 1762; perhaps he was Dunlap’s partner. Ibid., p. 13.

5Dunlap obviously means George Grenville, first lord of the Treasury, 1763–65.

6Perhaps Dunlap’s nephew and former apprentice, John Dunlap, who took over his printing business in Philadelphia in 1768, had offered to do so at this time.

7George Edgcumbe (1720–1795), M.P. from Fowey, 1746–61, was a naval officer who served with Boscawen at the capture of Louisburg in 1758. He succeeded his brother as 3d Baron Edgcumbe in 1761. Under the Rockingham ministry (1765–66) he served as a privy councillor and as treasurer of the Household. As Dunlap surmised, Edgcumbe’s interest was “most Formidable” because, in addition to the offices which he held, he controlled “one of the greatest borough interests in Great Britain.” Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, ii, 379–80.

8Dunlap’s application proved ineffectual, either because BF refused to support it (perhaps he did not care to be called a “distant Twig”) or because the post in the customs was already promised or filled; instead, the “drowning Man” caught hold of another twig and was ordained a deacon in the Church of England on February 22 and a priest the next day. See below, p. 176. In a letter to the Bishop of London, Dec. 18, 1766, the Rev. William Smith related that Dunlap had sought letters of recommendation for Holy Orders before leaving Philadelphia for Barbados, but had been refused “as he had no education but reading and writing” and because his role in a lottery a few years earlier, in which he was threatened with a law suit, was remembered against him. According to Smith, Dunlap procured the appropriate letters in Barbados, even though the clergy there could not have known him very well. Because of Dunlap’s deficient education Smith believed that the Church in Philadelphia would “suffer a little in the sight of her adversaries,” all of whom, the Presbyterians in particular, had a learned ministry. William S. Perry, ed., Papers relating to the History of the Church in Pennsylvania, A. D. 1680–1778 ([Hartford], 1871), pp. 412–13. He later obtained a parish in Virginia.

9Charles Lowndes (1699?–1783) was secretary to the Treasury, July 1765–August 1767. Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, iii, 55.

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