Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Richard Wheeler, 3 April 1772

To [Richard Wheeler]

ALS: Yale University Library

In November, 1771, just a year after the first sample of Pennsylvania silk had been sent to Franklin, the first consignment was dispatched to him for sale in London.5 But this was not his only responsibility to the Managers of the Philadelphia Filature; they also wished his help in acquiring some land in the city, presumably for their establishment.6 Obtaining a clear title involved prolonged negotiations in London, and for these he retained Richard Wheeler, who was doubtless a solicitor but about whom nothing else is known. The deed was to be made out to Cadwalader Evans, and Abel James was also a principal in the deal;7 they were acting, we believe, for their fellow Managers as well. The general outline of the negotiations is clear. A John Cook held the land, in the right of one John Stringfellow, and was offering it at a figure that more than tripled as time passed; some one named Philips, another unknown, was bidding against Evans and James.8 Franklin here instructed Wheeler to buy at the asking price.

Cravenstreet, April 3. 1772


On Perusal of the Letter and Papers receiv’d yesterday from you I am of Opinion, that Cook should be agreed with. It is indeed a great Advance from £30 which he once offer’d the Right for, to £100. Sterlg. but since Dr. Evans supposes it worth £200 Currency, which is something more than £100 Sterling, I should think it adviseable to strike the Bargain, even if you find it necessary to give 10 or £15 more than Philips offers, but not to exceed 20. You will take care of the Particulars of Proof that Dr. Evans says are requisite, and any Assistance I can afford shall be ready. I am, Sir, Your very humble Servant

B Franklin

I return Dr. Evans’s Letter inclos’d.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5See BF to Evans above, Feb. 6.

6We follow Jared Sparks in this assumption (Works, VIII, 4 n); although he gave no evidence, there is a considerable amount. BF sold the silk in April and credited the proceeds to the Managers, and at the same time he asked to be reimbursed for the smaller sum that the land had cost. To Evans below, under May 10, June 3. Instead the Managers drew upon him for the silk money and transferred it to Evans’s account, leaving a surplus that represented the difference between what was paid for the land and received for the silk. Below, BF to James, June 3, and to Evans, Dec. 2. The only possible interpretation that we can see is that the Managers were assuming the cost of the land. The other evidence is that the surplus was later used to reimburse Wheeler for his services. BF to the Managers below, Jan. 6, 1773. The fact that the lawyer, who as far as we know had nothing to do with selling the silk, was paid out of the proceeds strongly suggests that the two transactions were Siamese twins.

7See BF’s letters to each of them below, June 3.

8The evidence, as so often, leaves much to be desired. When Philadelphia was founded, initial purchasers of land in the colony were guaranteed lots in the city. John Stringfellow, who held a 500-acre tract in Philadelphia County, received a city lot at the corner of Sixth and Vine, which by the 1740’s was owned by John Cook. John Reed, … Map of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia with the Catalogue of Purchasers … (facsimile republished by Charles L. Warner; Philadelphia, 1870); Nicholas B. Wainwright, “Plan of Philadelphia,” PMHB, LXXX (1956), 164–5, 226. Cook held the 500-acre parcel as well, we presume, and BF was negotiating for the two together: Evans had the city lot surveyed (the penultimate stage in title-closing) on Nov. 2, 1772, and a year and a half later, after his death, the larger tract was surveyed in his name. 3 Pa. Arch., XXIV, 13–14. The whole transaction bristles with problems. The filature is said to have been on Seventh, several blocks away from the lot in question: J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia … (3 vols., Philadelphia, 1884), I, 262. Did the Managers intend to move their establishment? If so, why was the lot still in Evans’ name in 1774? The records of the silk enterprise have disappeared, and the questions appear to be unanswerable.

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