Benjamin Franklin Papers

Edward Hughes to Joshua Sharpe, 28 April 1771

Edward Hughes to Joshua Sharpe1

ALS: American Philosophical Society

These volumes have occasionally included documents that were not written by or to Franklin, but throw light on his character or activities. The one below is included for a quite different reason: it has been alleged to throw light, but in fact does not. A recent account of his second English mission concludes, from the sole evidence of this letter, that he was involved in some business so illegal that he was in danger of arrest.2 If the evidence has nothing to do with him, the conclusion evaporates.

Sheerness 28th: of April 1771

Dear Sir

I was duly favour’d with your letter of the 8th: since which have not heard a Syllable from Mr. Francklin,3 but of him, that he is taking his Measures to return to America in the Squadron of Admiral Montague; Tho’ he promises not to stirr without my previous knowledge, his Conduct has the appearance of making that Notice so short as will probably be ineffectual, that I will not rely on these assurances, therefore earnestly beg the favour you will Act for me in this Affair respecting Mr. Francklin, as you woud do were it your own Case, but I must pray it may be Still and quiet as possible, not to expose him but to secure us, and to do all that is proper without delay.4 I think when he is arrested his friends will find such security you approve, rather than lett him be detain’d here. I intend waiting on you at Chambers next Thursday and am ever Dear Sir Your Oblig’d Humble Servant

Edwd Hughes

Addressed: To / Mr. Joshua Sharpe / att his Chambers in / Lincoln’s Inn / London

Endorsed: 28th April 1771  Lre Hughes

1Capt. (later Admiral Sir Edward) Hughes (1720?–94) was at this time commander of a guardship; he later gained fame in the naval campaign off India, as the dogged if uninspired opponent of the brilliant Bailli de Suffren. For Joshua Sharpe, the solicitor for a number of colonial agencies, see above, VIII, 5 n.

2Cecil B. Currey, Road to Revolution: Benjamin Franklin in England, 1765–1775 (New York, 1968), pp. 276–80. The author’s argument has been ably refuted by Paul H. Smith, “Benjamin Franklin: Gunrunner?,” PMHB, XCV (1971), 526–9. We print the letter in order to include some evidence that Smith does not cite.

3The text in Currey (op. cit., p. 277) is inaccurate in many inconsequential details and, at this point, in one of great consequence: “Mr. Francklin” becomes “Docr. Franklin,” and the name is again misspelled when it reappears. Hughes was unquestionably referring to Michael Francklin, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia and of the newly formed government of St. John’s (Prince Edward Island), who had been in London for some time because he was in trouble with the government. See above, XVII, 179 n; Hist. MSS Commission, Fourteenth Report, Appendix, Part V (Dartmouth MSS, I; London, 1887), p. 333; James S. Macdonald, “Memoir [of] Lieut.-Governor Michael Francklin, 1752–1782,” Nova Scotia Hist. Soc. Coll., XVI (1912), 27.

4Rear Admiral John Montagu (1719–95) had just been appointed commander in chief on the American station. He and his squadron were bound for Halifax (London Chron., June 8–11), a destination which in itself rules out BF as a possible passenger and makes Francklin a likely one; but the Lieutenant Governor actually stayed in London until the following year. He had promised not to leave without Hughes’ consent: Douglas Brymner, Report on Canadian Archives, 1894 (Ottawa, 1895), p. 304, a reference for which we are indebted to Dr. Paul Smith.

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