Benjamin Franklin Papers

Memorandum Concerning the Snow Dickinson, [January 1776]

Memorandum Concerning the Snow Dickinson

AD: American Philosophical Society

On December 26, 1775, the secret committee contracted with Bayard & Jackson of Philadelphia to spend $15,000 on flour and other produce to be exchanged at Nantes for gunpowder, arms, and cloth. The firm had had earlier dealings with Montaudoüins frère of Nantes, to whom it entrusted the new transaction.2 The ship selected was the Dickinson or Dickenson, Capt. William Meston. Pierre Penet had intended to return on her with his list of American requirements, but changed to a faster vessel before the snow sailed in the latter part of January.3 The shift was lucky for him and the American cause, for the Dickinson never reached Nantes: when she was at sea her crew, learning the purpose of the voyage, mutinied and carried her in to Bristol. This contretemps caused great embarrassment to the French government as well as to the Montaudoüins.4

Penet and his partner, Emmanuel de Pliarne, appeared before Congress on December 30 and were referred to the secret committee.5 Franklin must have written this memorandum for the committee at some time after that and before he knew that Penet was not returning by the Dickinson; early January seems the most likely date.

[January, 1776]

The Proof to be inserted6

Mr. Penet to give us his Address

We are to give him the Address of Mr. John Daniel Schweighauser Mercht. at Nantes.7

The Snow Dickinson; Capt

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Lee Family Papers, roll 2, frame 541. The brothers, Arthur Montaudoüin and Jean-Gabriel Montaudoüin de la Touche, were among the greatest merchants in Nantes and were sympathetic to the American cause. Jean-Gabriel (1722–81), who later became closely associated with BF, was a writer as well as a merchant, and a correspondent of the Académie royale des sciences. Index biographique des membres et correspondants de l’Académie. . .(Paris, 1954), p. 365; Jean Meyer, L’Armement nantais dans la deuxième moitié XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1969), passim; Gaston Martin, “Commercial Relations between Nantes and the American Colonies,” Jour. of Economic and Business History, IV (1932), 821–2.

3For Penet’s list see the headnote above, Dec. 28, and for his change of plan Naval Docs., IV, 1025. The Dickinson sailed after Jan. 18, for she carried a letter of that date from Bayard & Jackson: Lee Family Papers, roll 2, frame 541.

4Smith, Letters, II, 523; Naval Docs., III, 771–2; IV, 1023–5, 1058–9, 1074–5; Crout, “Diplomacy of Trade,” pp. 104–9. Jean-Gabriel, nevertheless, was for a time Vergennes’ choice as forwarding agent for the funds that the King planned to furnish the Americans in secret: Doniol, Histoire, I, 372.

5JCC, III, 466.

6Bayard & Jackson’s contract stipulated only that the gunpowder should be good; see the Lee Family Papers, loc. cit. BF presumably meant that the committee should stipulate the quality with more precision.

7See the note on Bonvouloir to de Guines above, Dec. 28.

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