Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson Hewson, 18 July 1770

To Mary Stevenson Hewson

ALS: American Philosophical Society

London, July 18. 1770

Dear Polly,

Yours of the 15th. informing me of your agreable Journey and safe Arrival at Hexham gave me great Pleasure, and would make your good Mother happy if I knew how to convey it to her; but ’tis such an out-of-the-way Place she is gone to, and the Name so out of my Head, that the Good News must wait her Return. Enclos’d I send you a Letter which came before she went, and, supposing it from my Daughter Bache, she would have me open and read it to her, so you see if there had been any Intrigue between the Gentleman and you, how all would have been discovered.5 Your Mother went away on Friday last, taking with her Sally and Temple, trusting me alone with Nanny, who indeed has hitherto made no Attempt upon my Virtue. Neither Dolly nor Barwell, nor any any other good Female Soul of your Friends or mine have been nigh me, nor offered me the least Consolation by Letter in my present lonesome State.6 I hear the Post-man’s Bell, so can only add my affectionate Respects to Mr. Hewson, and best Wishes of perpetual Happiness for you both. I am, as ever, my dear good Girl, Your affectionate Friend

B Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5We are at a loss to explain this teasing. The letter could have been either to Mrs. Stevenson or to BF, but there is no indication who wrote it or who the gentleman was.

6Sally was Sarah Franklin, BF’s remote cousin (A., who was staying at Craven Street; Temple was of course WF’s son. For Nanny, Mrs. Stevenson’s servant, see BF to DF above, June 10. Polly’s friend Dolly Blunt has frequently appeared before. Barwell has not, but reappears in later correspondence, where the references to her make clear only that she was a friend of BF and Dolly and the Stevenson clan, and give no hint of the notable woman she was. Mary Barwell (b. 1733) belonged to a rich Anglo-Indian family. Her father had been Governor of Bengal, and her half-brother Richard (1741–1804), a member of the Council in Calcutta, was by this time amassing the fortune that enabled him to return home a decade later as one of the outstanding “nabobs” of the period. DNB under Richard Barwell; Bengal Past & Present (Calcutta Hist. Soc. Jour.), VI (1910), 160–1. His sister Mary managed his business affairs at home. She was wealthy in her own right but also handled large sums of his money, and he instructed her on how to further his interests with the public and the ministry. She was close to India House, and a power in the political and financial world. See “The Letters of Mr. Richard Barwell,” ibid., VIII–XVIII (1914–19), especially XI, 49; XII, 212, 228; XIII, 74, 88, 255; XVI, 79.

The identification of BF’s Barwell with this redoubtable woman rests on numerous scraps of evidence. To him and Dolly Blunt their friend was a byword for the busy female, and her first name began with an M. (Smyth, Writings, VII, 15; Dolly to BF, March 18, 1779, APS.) A young man who was a member of BF’s circle in 1768, T. Henckell, seems to have been the same Henckell whom Mary recommended to Richard in India. (Above, XV, 237–8; Bengal Past & Present, X, 254; XIII, 88.) John Hawkesworth, BF’s old acquaintance, was a close friend of both Barwells. (Ibid., XI, 50–1; XIII, 74, 119.) When Jonathan Williams, Jr., wanted to get a consignment of East India Co. tea sent to him in Boston after his return there, he wrote to invoke Miss Barwell’s assistance. (BF to Williams, July 7, 1773, APS.) All these signs, taken together, indicate that BF’s friend was the nabob’s sister.

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