Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Charles-Armand Flöbergue de la Motte de la Rocatelle, [August? 1778]: résumé

From Charles-Armand Flöbergue de la Motte de la Rocatelle5

ALS: American Philosophical Society

<Toul, [August?,6 1778], in French: On the 28th of last June I addressed a memorandum to Congress and to M. Washington and sent the packet to M. Williams to forward. He did not reply, and I have heard nothing from America; the packet, I fear, was lost. I send you enclosed the same memorandum, in which I propose to head a school to teach young Americans all that is requisite for engineers and artillerymen. I shall need as assistants an expert mathematician and a cartographer-draftsman.7

When I saw you in Paris about a year ago I showed you all my papers. I speak German well, having as I told you been in the service of the Emperor Charles VII. I was recalled to the French service in 1745 and was in all the campaigns from 1741 to 1748, and again in 1760. In 1763 I became a chevalier de Saint-Louis at the age of thirty-six, was promoted to major in 1774, and retired in 1777. If fortune had favored me I should have gone to America last winter with the recommendations that you offered me. I still have in me twenty years of useful service, and promise to learn English within a year of emigrating; my family will go with me, a wife, son, and three daughters. M. Duportail is fourteen years my junior, M. de La Radière fifteen, and Messrs. Laumoy and Gouvion nineteen; thus I deserve a higher rank than M. Duportail. They are good officers, but have not experienced war except in their American campaign last year.>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5Since his only previous appearance, mentioned below, we have learned his full name and a little more about him. His dates were 1727–94; he was an artilleryman in the Bavarian service and then an engineer in the French, and from 1769 to 1772 was stationed in Guadeloupe. He retired perforce on Jan. 1, 1777, charged with misconduct both in the West Indies and after his return; he fought the charges without success. Bodinier.

6The letter is impossible to date precisely. It looks at first glance like a product of the chevalier’s effort to make his project known in America in the summer of 1777, the effort to which he refers at the start. He wrote his memorandum on June 28, 1777, we take him to mean (“last” can be stretched to cover more than a year), and then sent it with a covering note that JW forwarded to the commissioners on Aug. 15. Above, XXIV, 438 n. That note, dated Aug. 5, gives no hint that the writer knew any one on the commission. Yet here he speaks of seeing BF in Paris about a year ago and being promised recommendations; he also says that Duportail and his companions have had one campaign in America. Hence he is undoubtedly writing in 1778. Our guess of August rests on a testimonial to him from the minister of war, dated July 30, 1778, which with an undated covering note of his own is among BF’s papers in the APS. We assume that these were intended to supplement the present letter.

7He goes into considerable detail about the curriculum and his subordinates’ duties.

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