Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners: A Public Announcement, 4 December 1777

The American Commissioners: A Public Announcement

D: American Philosophical Society

Jonathan Loring Austin had ridden post haste from Nantes with his dispatches. On Thursday morning, December 4, he paused in Versailles for an hour’s sightseeing, and then at 11:30 A.M. he arrived in Passy.6 Rumor had preceded him, or so the story goes, and the commissioners were waiting in the courtyard. “Before he had time to alight Dr. Franklin addressed him. ‘Sir, is Philadelphia taken?’ ‘Yes sir.’ The old gentleman clasped his hands and returned to the hotel. ‘But, sir, I have greater news than that. GENERAL BURGOYNE and his whole army are prisoners of war! The effect was electrical. . . .”7

The commissioners immediately faced the problem of how to publicize the news. Waiting for the Parisian press to circulate it would take time, and so would printing it themselves. They therefore composed this announcement and had it copied by hand; Austin was drafted into service.8 Copies went to individuals, and some were apparently passed around in the city.9 The result, at least according to American observers, was all that could be hoped for. Joy filled the court, said Arthur Lee, and Paris and all France; the people greeted the victory, said Temple Franklin, as if it had been their own.1

4 xbre. 1777.

Courier arrivé aujourd’huy de philadelphie à Passy Chés Le Docteur franklin en 34 Jours.2

Le 14. 8bre. Bourgoyne obligé de mettre bas Les Armes, 9200 hommes tués ou prisonniers.

On a apporté Les articles de La Capitulation avec Gates.

Parmi les prisonniers outre Le Général, 4 membres du parlement d’Angletterre.

On a laissé howe dans Philadelphie ou il est enfermé.

Toute Communication avec sa flotte est Coupée.3

17. de ses vaisseaux qui ont voulu s’approcher sont peris ou pris.

Wazington avec Son armée, d’autres Generaux avec des corps détachés et des milices entourent la ville. Le général Gates arrive avec son armée Victorieuse pour se joindre a eux.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Edward E. Hale and Edward E. Hale, Jr., Franklin in France (2 vols., Boston, 1887–8), I, 158.

7Boston Monthly Mag., II (1826), 59. The quotation is from a long article entitled “Memoir of Jonathan Loring Austin,” published two months after his death. No source is given, and the Hales say merely that Austin left the account “behind him in conversation” (op. cit., p. 159). The Major’s MSS survived until recent times but cannot now be found: Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, XVI, 308. Whether they were the basis for the article is a question now unanswerable. It is also important, for that article goes on (pp. 61–3) to tell of a secret mission to England (in Feb.) on which BF dispatched Austin, to describe to all who would listen the true situation in the U.S. BF had him destroy the letters he brought from American friends, gave him in return two letters of introduction, and enjoined him to reveal nothing about his connection with the commissioners. Austin had a most agreeable stay in London. Shelburne and Priestley took him under their wing, and he met Fox and the Prince of Wales. Everywhere he defended the American cause; many of his interlocutors were doubtful or hostile, but all showed great interest. BF was satisfied with the mission. This is the story, and part of it can be established: Austin did go to London, as he had planned to do before leaving America (Sowden to BF below, Dec. 19); and the Hales’ extract of his diary (op. cit., pp. 163–4) indicates that he did act as a propagandist in England. But BF’s encouragement of the trip, plausible as it seems, we cannot document.

8The article just cited, p. 59. BF treated Austin as a son, the article continues, and as an additional secretary took him everywhere and showered him with marks of attachment.

9Turgot received his copy, “dicté par Mr. Franklin,” and forwarded it on the 5th to the duchesse d’Enville; on the 7th a Parisian bookseller noted that many people had these MS bulletins in their hands. Joseph Ruwet, ed., Lettres de Turgot à la duchesse d’Enville . . . (Louvain and Paris, 1976), pp. 128–9; Peter M. Ascoli, “The French Press and the American Revolution: the Battle of Saratoga,” Western Soc. for French History Proc. (1977), p. 49.

1Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, I, 359; WTF, Memoirs, I, 314.

2Inaccurate, like much that follows; the news came from Boston.

3By the American forts down river. They held out for weeks, during which Howe’s situation was precarious. BF made the most of the danger. When friends condoled with him on the loss of the city, an acquaintance reported from Paris a month later, he replied that “you mistake the matter, instead of Howe taking Philada.—Philada. has taken Howe.” Frederic R. Kirkland, ed., Letters on the American Revolution in the Library atKarolfred” (2 vols., Philadelphia and New York, 1941–52.), II, 44.

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