Benjamin Franklin Papers

Arthur Lee to Franklin and Silas Deane, 28 June 1777

Arthur Lee to Franklin and Silas Deane

Copy:9 Harvard University Library; copy and transcript: National Archives; extracts with added paragraph: Harvard University Library, National Archives1

Berlin, June 28th. 1777.

Dear Sirs

I have not yet receivd a line from you. It is not easy to divine the reason of so long a silence. There is for sale here and deliverable in any port in France, fourteen thousand weight of brass Cannon at 6 Guineas the Quintal, and Six thousand to be melted down at 5 G. and an half. They are Six, twelve and 24 pounders. The expence of freight and Insurance to Nantes or elsewhere will be added to this price.

Two days ago, while I was at dinner, my Bureau was broke open, and some papers stolen out which were in my Portfeul. The english Envoy happend to be in the Hotel where I lodge, when I discoverd the robbery. Upon being informd that I was gone to the Governor, and that the suspicion fell upon one of his Servants, he went away in great confusion, and in half an hour the portfeul with all the Papers were laid down at the door, and the person ran off undiscoverd. The examinations that have been taken, charge his Servant with having repeatedly told the Servants of the Hotel, that his Master woud give two thousand Ducats for my Papers. The Landlord who chargd his Servant with it before him deposes that he said he woud send the Servant to answer for himself; but the Servant never appeard. Prince Colberg, who was also present, deposes that he immediately quitted the room in the greatest confusion.2 The whole is before the King. The return of the Papers, and those which he particularly wanted not having been left in the Bureau, disappointed him of his object;3 while the whole odium rests upon him. He will do better the next time, and his Court will no doubt encourage him. Public Ministers have been regarded as Spies, Mr. Elliot will give them the additional title of Robbers.

I shall leave this on thursday next and expect to be at Strasbourg in 12 days from thence so that a Letter will meet me there by return of post. I am with the greatest Esteem Dear Sirs yours

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9In Lee’s hand.

1The extract at Harvard contains only the first paragraph, where 14,000 becomes 414,000 and 6,000 60,000, and adds a second paragraph that is in none of the copies, and for which we cannot account: “The enclosed estimate of Clothing you will compare with that you have contracted for, and determine whether it will be worth while to order 10,000 Suits from hence, which can be furnished in a very short time. I am Dear Sirs yours. N.B. The Estimate was about 24 l.t. [?] a Suit.” The two extracts in the National Archives are identical, except that the 14,000 reappears in the first paragraph and the “N.B.” is omitted.

2“Prince Colberg,” we assume, was Ludwig Karl Friedrich, Prinz von Saxe-Coburg, a captain in the Prussian army: Politische Correspondenz Friederich’s des Grossen (46 vols., Berlin, etc., 1879–1939), XLI, 597. “He” was the British envoy, Hugh Elliot, a young man who had been sent to the court only two months before: DNB.

3This was in part wishful thinking, for the restored papers had been copied. For the furor created by the theft see Lee’s letter below, July 6.

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