Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Browne, 13 May 1779

From John Browne

ALS: American Philosophical Society

L’Orient May the 13th. 1779—


I was first Lieutenant, of the Ship Boston, under Captn. Mc.Neil, the first Cruize she made, But when Captn. Tucker got her, I left her,6 I then got the command of the Continential Brigg Dispatch, to come to France, but had the misfortune to be taken, and Carried to Scotland, and with much Difficulty, got from thence to France, I was at your house in Passey, where I received money, to carry me home,7 I went to Nantes, where I remained Some time, waiting for a Passage. Captn. Jones, hearing I was there, applyed to me to go his Lieutenant, on which I repaired to L’Orient, to Superintend the fitting Out of the Poor Richard,8 When Captn. Jones was going to Paris, I told him my Lieutenants Commission, was in Boston, and told him to apply to you for another, but when he returned, he told me you, did not know me, Now Sir I tell you who I am, which Mr Jonathan Williams, can testifie,9 therefore I Beg you will let me know, if this is a Continential Ship or not, and if she is, and Shou’d be your pleasure I may Sail in her, please to Send me a Commission, or your Orders, what I am to do, Also Sir, I was the first Man in all America that Opposed the British Tyranny in the Affair of the Linnen Manufactory—1

Sir I remain, your most Humble & Obeidient Servant

John Browne

P.S. Sir I was appointed to the rank of first Lieutenant the 15th. Day of June 1776 and received my Commission in October, same year.

An ansr Directed to me at Mr. Solomans S Mercht. L’Orient will Oblige as before

Addressed: To / Doctor Benjamin Franklin / Commissioner for the / United States of America / at Passey near, Paris

Notation: Jonh Browne L’Orient 13 may 1779.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Hector McNeill suspended Browne for negligence on Oct. 9, 1777; McNeill himself was relieved of duty in November of that year and replaced by Samuel Tucker. XXVI, 216–17n; Gardner W. Allen, “Captain Hector McNeill, Continental Navy,” Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc., LV (1921), 124. For Browne’s command of the Dispatch see Claghorn, Naval Officers, p. 39.

7Browne received 480 l.t. on Nov. 28, 1778: Alphabetical List of Escaped Prisoners.

8In his capacity as acting commander while Jones was ill, Browne had twelve men on the Bonhomme Richard imprisoned for mutinous behavior: Bradford, Jones Papers, reel 3, nos. 642, 644.

9By enlisting Browne as first lieutenant, Jones was trying to replace Peter Amiel (XXVI, 221n), whom he mistakenly believed had disobeyed his orders in April (Bradford, Jones Papers, reel 3, no. 598; JW to Jones, April 22 and 29, May 6, Yale University Library). Browne wrote to JW on May 10 to ask for a lieutenant’s commission; JW answered five days later (after the present letter to BF had already been sent) that Peter Amiel’s appointment superceded any other and that BF, who did not meddle in ships’ affairs, ought not to be bothered (JW to Browne, May 15, 1779, Yale University Library). Neither man sailed on the Bonhomme Richard; Amiel requested a leave of absence to tend to private business matters, and Browne was appointed pilot on the Sensible. Bradford, Jones Papers, reel 3, nos. 650, 652, 655, 643.

1The Linen Manufactory House on Tremont St. in Boston was erected in 1753 with public funds, but was active in cloth production only through 1758. Thereafter, the building was leased to two Boston weavers, one of whom was John Browne. In October, 1768, Browne defended the Manufactory against the forcible attempts of Col. Dalrymple’s regiment to occupy the building, and also filed legal action for trespass against the sheriff. Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: the Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), p. 119; Samuel G. Drake, The History and Antiquities of Boston … (Boston, 1856), pp. 751–2; Oliver M. Dickerson, comp., Boston Under Military Rule … (New York, 1970), pp. 2, 8–10, 37–8.

JA told the story of “Brown of the Manufactory” to the chevalier de La Luzerne, when the Sensible set sail and JA realized that Browne was pilot on board. Butterfield, John Adams Diary, II, 382.

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