Benjamin Franklin Papers

Silas Deane to Robert Morris and the Committee of Secret Correspondence, 23 June 1776

Silas Deane to Robert Morris and the Committee of Secret Correspondence

ALS: (duplicate): Library of Congress

This letter, in form to Morris but in fact to the committee, is the only one from Deane that Franklin surely saw before his departure for France; it was therefore part of his small stock of information about what would face him in Europe.5 The letter deals only with the preliminaries of Deane’s mission, because he reached France long after he had hoped to. He sailed in early March, but his ship was forced to turn back. He left a second time on April 3, bound for Bermuda; there he chartered a sloop to take him to Bordeaux, where he arrived just over three months after his first departure from Philadelphia.6 He spent June in Bordeaux, and did not reach Paris until July 6. There he expanded the range of his activities, and they shaped in large degree those of his fellow commissioners when they joined him at the end of the year.7

Bordeaux June 23d. 1776

Dear sir

I wrote you a Long Letter from 6th. to this Day which DD [delivered?] Capt. Palmer of Portsmouth8 and fearing Accidents recapitulate the Heads in this (Via NYork). I arriv’d the 6th., sent forward your Letters and the Bills for Acceptance. Messrs. Ds.9 have done everything in their power to assist me and have added the utmost personal Kindness and hospitality. I could wish No American Vessels were sent to any other address in this port as theirs is a Capital House and may be relied on for secrecy and Dispatch. Have critically attended to such Occurrances as might point out the Disposition of this Kingdom and am of Opinion it is much in Our Favor. Large Fleets are fitting out at Brest and Toulon. Ammunition and other Stores are buying up by Order of Court, and Spain is arming Ostensibly against Portugal.1 The Crop of Grain will be short in this Kingdom of Wheat one third, of Rye one half the usual supply. This may be relied on.2 Salt Provisions are scarce and Dear. Beef 56. Sterling per Barrel see prices Current enclosed. Have wrote into Spain, Portugal, and England to find if they are in the same situation, and as I wrote immediately on my Arrival expect an Answer in a few Days. Messrs. Ds. have wrote on the same subject. I set out for Paris Tomorrow having obtaind Letters to Persons of Note there, particularly To Monsr: Clugny Comptroller of Finances,3 Mons. Vergennes Ministre des Affaires Etrangeres and some others, also To The Farmers General on the subject of Tobacco from their Agent here, and a Memorial from some Merchants in this City on the subject of American Commerce, which indeed is in part already granted, it having been sent forward a few Days after my Arrival. My Letters are from persons of Influence and Note here. My immediate address will be To Messr. Germany Gerardot & Co. Bankers in Paris on whom have Letters of Credit from hence.4 I have had all the success I could have wish’d for in this City, and have formed a Connection, (which may greatly promote my further Views,) by shewing them how deeply they were Interested in obtaining the Cheif Share of the American Commerce. The Ministry were Changed the Week I arrived. Count Maurepas is at the Head. Mons. Clugny late intendant of this City and province is Comptroller of Finances, a Circumstance which has greatly helped my obtaining Letters of Introduction. The Gentlemen who have Assisted me are of Note and stand well with the Ministry, but I may not mention them in my Letters. I leave the Sloop I came in here for the present for I expect to meet Docr. Bancroft at Paris and may send my first Dispatches from thence in her. None of the Articles of the Contract5 are to be purchased in this part of France on any reasonable Terms and but few at any Rate. I have wrote To all the Ports where remittances were expected, for tho’ I might obtain a Credit, the last Necessity only will induce me to Use it whilst remitting is so hazardous. But I am hourly in hopes of receiving something from you. I can add Nothing Material in this save My Respectful Compliments to the Gentlemen of the Congress, To your Worthy President and Gentlemen of the Committee with which I am more immediately connected in particular. I am with respects To Mrs. Morriss Dear sir Your Sincere Freind and Very Humble servant

S Deane

P.S.: As my Letters will often refer To Matters concerning the Indian Contract in particular, as Well as to Those of a General Nature, it will be at Times much easier for Me, to direct my Letters and write them addressed individually to You, as in the present Case, than to write in the plural Stile of Address.6


To Robert Morriss Esqr, To be Communicated To The Honorable Committee for Secret Correspondence

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5He may or may not have seen also Deane’s three letters to Jay, dated June 11, which came by the same conveyance. They largely duplicated the contents of this one, and are discussed in L. Bendikson, “The Restoration of Obliterated Passages and of Secret Writing in Diplomatic Missives,” Franco-American Rev., I (1936–37), 248–54. Deane, just before leaving Bordeaux, gave the letters to Jay and Morris to a Capt. Leavey (he also appears as Lever or Leviz), who arrived in New Bedford on Sept. 5. The letters were forwarded to Washington, and by him to Philadelphia, together with one from the General that was read in Congress on Sept. 13. Deane Papers, I, 401; Pa. Packet, Sept. 24, and Pa. Gaz., Sept. 25, 1776; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, VI, 46; JCC, V, 755. Deane’s communications, therefore, must have been in Philadelphia by Sept. 12.

Our rubric, to print communications to a group to which BF belonged, obviously does not apply when he ceased to be a member on leaving for France. We have therefore had to weigh probabilities. Letters from abroad that we are confident he read include the present one and the following: above, two from Dumas to the committee, one of April 30 to May 9, the other of May 14 to June 6, and one from Dubourg to BF, of June 10 to July 2; below, Dubourg to BF, July 5, Penet to BF, Aug. 3, and Story’s report in the committee memorandum of Oct. 1. Four others to the committee, the dates of which suggest that they should have arrived in time, we omit because we do not believe that they did. They are:

(1) From Arthur Lee, June 3, 1776, Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, II, 95–6. This letter went by William Carmichael, a young Marylander who was later a member of Congress and who will be prominent in future volumes; he stayed so long in Paris that the dispatch was not delivered until December, 1778: ibid., 95 n, 184–5; Smith, Letters, II, 410–11 n.

(2) From Dumas, June 30-August 10, 1776 (National Archives). Portions of this letter are printed in translation with an incorrect date in Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, II, 108–110. Because the letter went by St. Eustatius, according to Dumas, we do not believe it could have arrived before BF sailed.

(3) From Deane, July 20 to August 18, 1776, Deane Papers, I, 195–218. William McCreery, who like Carmichael was a young Marylander and future Congressman and, like him, will appear often in later volumes, carried this letter: Deane to the committee, Sept. 17, 1776 (transcript, Harvard University Library). McCreery’s ship was chased and captured, and he threw the letter overboard: Lovell to BF, after May 26, 1777, APS.

(4) From Beaumarchais, Aug. 18, 1776, Wharton, op. cit., II, 129–31. This letter also went by McCreery: ibid., p. 201.

Subsequent communications from Deane, Dumas, and Beaumarchais we are confident BF never saw. He sailed on Oct. 27, and six to seven weeks seems to have been the minimal time for a direct crossing from France.

6Smith, Letters, II, 315 n; Deane Papers, I, 126–7, 134–5, 178; III, 146; V, 385, 394–6.

7For Deane’s undertakings in the interval between this letter and BF’s arrival see the headnote on BF’s letter to him below, Dec. 4, 1776.

8Capt. Thomas Palmer sailed from Bordeaux on Aug. 15 and reached Portsmouth on Oct. 6; en route he was chased by a British man-of-war and threw overboard all his dispatches, Deane’s among them. Naval Docs., VI, 1144.

9The two Delaps, for whom see the committee of secret correspondence to Bingham above, June 3, 1776.

1The arming was more than ostensibly against Portugal. A dispute over boundaries in South America was bringing the two countries close to war.

2Not so; the harvest was abundant. F. Braudel and E. Labrousse, eds., Histoire èconomique et sociale de la France (4 vols., Paris, 1970–80), II, 386–7, 392.

3Turgot’s successor, Jean-Ètienne-Bernard de Clugny, baron de Nuits-sur-Armançon, died after five months in office: Dictionnaire de biographie française.

4For Deane’s activities in Bordeaux see Crout, “Diplomacy of Trade,” 120–3; Price, France and the Chesapeake, II, 704. Germany, Girardot & Co. was the successor of the bank established by Jacques Necker.

5For presents to the Indians. The contract, and Deane’s expectation of meeting Bancroft, are explained in his instructions above, March 2, 1776.

6A large blank in the MS at this point was apparently a communication in invisible ink, which is no longer decipherable; see Smith, Letters, V, 225 n.

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