Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Williams, 1 May 1778

From John Williams4

ALS: University of Pennsylvania Library

1 May 1778

Honourable Sir,

I now find that I have been most cruelly and Shamefully as well as designedly deceived and deluded here by pretended friends whose deep designs have but lately Come fully to light, and which had I an opportunity of explaining would lessen the wonder that has been excited in my friends in France, at my tarrying here.5

Dr. Smith, the bearer has so long and so uniformly taken such a Very public and active part against the present administrators that it is unnecessary for me to say much in his favour as a friend to America.6 He has almost wholly sacrificed his own private intrest and Estate in the cause, and I have every reason to beleive, has never had any Kind of communication with the present set of Ministers. I beg leave to refer you to him for many particulars;7 I send here enclosed a Letter from Mrs. Huston which will acquaint you with Mrs. Stevensons lame Situation.8 And I shall wait in [on] them for their commands before I take my departure and shall be made extremely happy to receive my commands from you. I have the honour to be with the greatest respect and faithfullness Honored Sir your devoted and most Humble Servant

Jno Williams

Dr Franklin &c &c &c

Notation: Williams 1st. May 1778.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4See above, from Mary Hewson, April 25.

5I.e., London. He was presumably in financial troubles, to which he was prone. His controversy with Samuel Wharton, discussed below, did not erupt until May 19.

6Dr. James Smith (1738–1812), the brother of William, the New York Loyalist, historian, and gossipy diarist, will appear frequently in later volumes. He graduated from the College of N.J. in 1757, studied medicine in London and Edinburgh and took his degree from Leyden, then returned to America in 1767. For three years he was a professor of chemistry and materia medica at King’s College, now Columbia, but left to become “a Wanderer and an Adventurer,” in John Adams’ words, “in the West Indies and in England.” He lived for a time in Surrey, and in May of 1778 appeared with his family in Paris and approached the commissioners. Whether he came as a spy or merely as a favor-seeker they did not know (nor does any one else to this day), but he managed in short order to alienate both BF and Lee. Envy, BF told his colleagues, was a disease he hoped never to catch; “I had rather have the pox and Dr. Smith for my Physician.” Butterfield, John Adams Diary, IV, 75–6; for a sketch of Smith’s career see James McLachlan, Princetonians, 1748–1768: a Biographical Dictionary (Princeton, N.J., 1976), pp. 209–13.

7These may have had unusual interest. Smith is said to have brought BF, from Williams, substantiation of a charge against Samuel Wharton that came into the open a few weeks later. The story, as it emerges from Wharton’s correspondence, is a web of hearsay about who said what to whom, but does seem to establish that Lord North was involved. Williams had apparently been trying, at least since the previous November, to ingratiate himself with Whitehall in order to get onto its payroll: Stevens, Facsimiles, III, nos. 310–11; VIII, no. 768, p. 2. But he was not trusted. The government believed that he had given the commissioners the names of its American spies in Paris, according to Wharton, and thereby forced them to leave the city. Williams, North told him in an interview in early March, would lose the support he had been seeking; the Minister further revealed, when pressed, that Wharton had been the source of Whitehall’s information. Some months later Wharton learned of this interview, and indignantly denied that he had had the least contact with North or his henchmen; he asked to have his denial forwarded to BF. Wharton to [Bancroft], May 19, 22, and to Williams, May 20, 26; Williams to Wharton, May 23, 1778. APS. Wharton subsequently appealed directly to BF, and through him to the other commissioners, and enclosed his correspondence with Williams: below, June 2.

8He had intended to leave England in late April with Polly Hewson’s letter above of the 25th. By the time she wrote again (below, June 18) she had come to distrust him.

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