Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Henry Coder, 15 September 1778

From Henry Coder2

ALS: American Philosophical Society

paris ce 15e 7bre 1778


Je prends la Liberté de vous adresser la reponsse que m’a fait Le ministre a La notte que j’ai eu l’honneur de vous comuniquer.3

Je vous suplie de prendre conoissence, du memoire si joint et s’il vous interesse assés pour Le remettre ou du moins pour en parler a Mr. de Sartine, je vous devrai sans doute la fin d’une persecution, sous laquelle je suis a la vellie [veille] de succomber ainsi que mon frere.4

J’aurai Le plaisir d’aller a passi m’informer de l’etat de votre senté. Je suis avec veneration Monsieur votre tres humble et tres obeissent scerviteur


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M. le docteur franklin

Notation: Coder Paris ce 15e. 7bre. 1778

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2The former infantry captain (identified in XXIII, 362–3) who had been furnishing uniforms to the Americans and who had concocted, with Dubourg, a plan for raiding the Mediterranean the previous spring: XXVI, 655–6 n.

3Possibly a reference to the plan Dubourg and Coder had proposed, in an undated memorandum in Dubourg’s hand now at the APS, and would resubmit to BF on Dec. 13. BF endorsed it “Project Descente sur l’Irelande,” and some one has penciled on it “Coder;” it argues for raids on the English and Irish coasts. More than enough officers and old soldiers of all nationalities would leap at the chance of booty, and ships now fitted out as privateers might readily be borrowed. Congress could not invest in an enterprise that costs less or offers more. Coder is convinced that M. Jones or any other brave American—perhaps WTF—put at the head of such an expedition, “seroit un puissant aiguillon pour notre jeunesse avide de courses et de combats, de lauriers et de pillage.” France is famous for such young men; why not use them?

4Gabriel-Aphrodise de Coderc (b. 1743), an aide-major in the regiment of Port-au-Prince (St.-Domingue). Documentation of his travails fills a file at the Archives nationales (E 86 Colonies), and was forwarded by Jean-Claude David, Paris. Unless otherwise noted, details of the episode as given below come from that file.

Within two weeks of his arrival in St.-Domingue in mid-May, 1777 (Naval Docs., IX, 124), the new governor of the Leeward Islands, comte Robert d’Argout (for whom see the DBF), propositioned Gabriel who refused to compromise his honor “en se pretant a le favoriser dans ses redicules amours” (Henry Coder to Sartine, Oct. 4, 1778). Thereafter, the young officer, as he maintained, was persecuted by the governor. Exiled from the Court for reasons we do not know, Henry, in the fall of 1778, was trying to use all his connections on his injured brother’s behalf. But BF, unwilling to be drawn into the personal claims of individual French citizens, would not go beyond assuring Coder orally on Sept. 29 (“mardi dernier”) that he would seize the first opportunity of telling Sartine of his interest in both Henry and Gabriel. (Ibid.) During the following months, Henry tried to capitalize on his friendship with BF, who had given him reassuring words about Sartine’s “justice et sagesse sans egard au rang et aux considerations.” (Coder to Sartine, Nov. 19, 1778; see also his letter to Sartine, Feb. 18, 1779.)

Although Gabriel had come to France to present his own case, the King decided on Dec. 18 that a court-martial should be held in St.-Domingue. D’Argout, who had always maintained that the incident boiled down to a duel between Gabriel and another officer, acknowledged the order on April 26, 1779, and Gabriel was eventually vindicated: Coder to BF, Oct. 17, 1779, APS.

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