Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Silas Deane, 27 August 1775

To Silas Deane4

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Philada Augt. 27. 1775.

Dear Sir,

I am much oblig’d by your Favour of the 13th Inst. Mr. Goddard, Riding Surveyor to the Gen. Post Office is gone to the Southward, for Settling the new Post-Offices all along to Georgia. Mr. Bache, the Comptroller, is to set out next Week Northward on the same Business, who will take with him Directions from me to establish all the Officers in your Government that you recommend, and the new Offices and Stages that appear likely to support themselves.5

I am glad to hear that the Gunsmith’s Business goes on so well with you.6 We make great Progress in it here; but the Price is high. If we would acquire that Manufacture in Perfection, it must be by assuring the Workmen of a large Demand, for a Number of Years, and at a Price certain. Then they will be encourag’d to bring up Apprentices for different Parts of the Work, and also to make Tools and Machines for facilitating and expediting it, such as Suages7 for Lock Plates and Cocks, Mills for grinding and boring the Barrels, &c. Those bred to Parts of the Work only, will dispatch more and do it better. And then I am confident Arms may be made as good and as cheap in America as in any Part of the World. I intend therefore to propose to our Assembly to give that Encouragement here, by engaging to take 2000 Muskets per Annum for Ten Years, at a good Price, which I doubt not will in that time establish the Manufacture among us; and an Arsenal with 20,000 good Firelocks in it, will be no bad thing for the Colony. As the Numbers of People are continually increasing, we can never be long overstock’d with the Article of Arms. And I wish the Congress may think fit to recommend the same Project to the other Colonies.

I congratulate you on the plentiful Year with you as well as with us.8 It makes one smile to see in the English Papers, the Ignorance of some of their Political Writers, who fancy we cannot continue the Non Importation Agreement; because if we do it must starve us.

I lament with you the Want of a naval Force. I hope the next Winter will be employ’d in forming one. When we are no longer fascinated with the Idea of a speedy Reconciliation, we shall exert ourselves to some purpose. ’Till then Things will be done by Halves.9

Those you mention who seem frightned at finding themselves where they are, will by degrees recover Spirits when they find by Experience how inefficient merely mercenary the regular Troops are, when oppos’d to Freeholders and Freemen, fighting for their Liberties and Properties. A Country of such People was never yet conquer’d, (unless through their own Divisions,) by any absolute Monarch with his Mercenaries: But such States have often conquer’d Monarchies, and led mighty Princes captive in Triumph.

I shall be curious to hear more Particulars of your new mechanical Genius.1 A Mr. Belton, who I fancy comes from your Province and is now here, has propos’d something of the kind to us; but is not much attended to.2 With great Esteem, I am, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

Honble. Silas Deane Esqr

Endorsed: Benja Franklin Esqr Lettr. Sepr. 1775

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4This is the first extant correspondence between BF and the man who was to be his fellow commissioner and close associate in France. Deane (1737–89) had established himself in Wethersfield, Conn., as a prominent merchant and lawyer, and become a leader in the colony’s resistance to the British. He had been a delegate to the first Continental Congress, as he was now to the second, where he and BF served together on several committees. The tone of this reply to a missing letter implies that the two were already on cordial terms.

5The evidence suggests that RB’s trip was postponed and that Goddard, immediately after returning from the south, took his place; see the note on BF to Hazard below, Sept. 25, 1775.

6For the past three months Connecticut had been actively encouraging the manufacture of arms, had offered bounties for providing them to soldiers, and had attempted to procure damaged guns and barrels abandoned at Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Charles J. Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut . . . (15 vols., Hartford, 1850–90), XV, 17–18, 97–8, 110–11.

7Swages, metalworkers’ tools.

8The harvest was so exceptionally good that it left a surplus of grain for export; see the opening phrase that was subsequently added to BF’s resolution on trade, above, p. 127.

9Deane was one of the chief Congressional advocates of a navy. Rhode Island and Connecticut had already enlisted armed vessels, and Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were following suit; but Congress had done nothing more than urge the same course on the other colonies. The idea of creating a continental navy went hand in hand with the idea of opening the ports, for free trade without protection was meaningless. Conservatives resisted both ideas as too provocative. William M. Fowler, Jr., Rebels under Sail: the American Navy during the Revolution (New York, [1976]), pp. 42, 44–6. The first move to open the ports failed on July 21; see the headnote on BF’s resolution on trade above, under that date. The agitation in Congress for a navy was consequently languishing.

1Undoubtedly David Bushnell; see Gale to BF above, Aug. 7.

2Joseph Belton, a native of Groton, Conn., who had graduated in 1769 from the College of Rhode Island, was living in Philadelphia. He had recently submitted to the Pa. committee of safety his plan for a submersible, to carry one or more cannon with which he expected to hole a warship below the waterline. Reuben A. Guild, Early History of Brown University . . . (Providence, R.I., 1897), p. 90; I Pa. Arch., IV, 650–2, 654. The committee seems to have ignored him, as suggested here, and a year later he went to New York in hopes of trying out his invention against the British fleet in the harbor; see BF to Washington below, July 22, 1776.

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