Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Richard Woodward, 10 April 1773

To Richard Woodward2

ALS (draft3): American Philosophical Society

London, April 10. 1773

Reverend Sir

Desirous of being reviv’d in your Memory, I take this Opportunity by my good Friend Mrs. Blacker, of sending you a printed Piece, and a Manuscript, both on a Subject you and I frequently convers’d upon, with similar Sentiments, when I had the Pleasure of seeing you in Dublin.4 I have since had the Satisfaction to learn that a Disposition to abolish Slavery prevails in North America, that many of the Pennsylvanians have set their Slaves at liberty, [and] that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned [the] King for Permission to make a Law for preventing the Importation of more Slaves into that Colony. This Request however, will probably not [be gr]anted, [as their former laws of that kind have always been repealed,] and as the Interest of a few Merchants here has more Weight with Government than that of Thousands at a Distance. Witness a late Fact. The Goal Distemper being frequently imported and spread in Virginia, by the Ships transporting Convicts, occasioning the Death of many honest innocent People there, a Law was made to oblige those Ships arriving with that Distemper to perform a Quarantine. But the two Merchants of London, Contractors in that Business, alledging that this might increase the Expence of their Voyages, the Law was at their Instance repealed here.5 With great Esteem and Respect, I have the Honour to be, Reverend Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

Dean Woodward

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Woodward (1726–94), Dean of Clogher since 1764 and Chancellor of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, since 1772, was the stepson of a better known dean, Josiah Tucker, but unlike him rose in time to be a bishop. Woodward was best known for advocating a compulsory system of poor relief in Ireland. DNB.

3A few words in the MS, now illegible, have been supplied in brackets from the printed version in Sparks, Works, VIII, 42.

4For the elusive Mrs. Blacker, née Martin, see above, XIX, 40. If the subject of BF’s conversation with the Dean was slavery, as seems likely, the printed piece may well have been either BF’s “Conversation on Slavery” or “The Sommersett Case and the Slave Trade”: above, respectively, XVII, 37–44; XIX, 187–8.

5The Virginia House of Burgesses had tried in 1769 to tax the local slave trade out of existence, but the act had been disallowed as a result of mercantile pressure. In April, 1772, the House passed another, accompanied by an address to the crown requesting permission for the governor to permit such taxation in future (ibid., p. 116 n). On the issue of quarantining convicts the House was equally obstinate. An act for that purpose in 1767 was disallowed; a similar act followed in 1772, which the contractors in London insisted would stop their exporting convicts to the colony, and thereby contravene a Parliamentary statute. Both efforts of the House died in Whitehall. Board of Trade Jour., 1768–75, pp. 39, 333, 342–4; Acts Privy Coun., Col., V, 163–4, 287–8, 362–3.

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