Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Philip Mazzei, [16?] December 1779

From Philip Mazzei

LS: American Philosophical Society

Nantes Decemb. [16?]3 1779.


In January last the Governor & council of Virginia appointed me their Agent cheifly to transact in Europe some business as directed by the General Assembly & ordered me in their written Instructions to communicate the whole matter to you desiring the favour of your advice & assistance4 as in the space of 4 months we could not find Bills to buy, nor Tobacco to ship on freight, to avoid a longer delay I undertook to find resources in my native country for my Expences untill they would make remittances & they furnished me with Mr. Penet’s Letter of credit for 300 Louis on messrs. Penet D’acosta fréres & Co. Armateurs à Nantes to enable me to equip myself & proceed on my Journey as far as there.5 I was taken off the capes, & carried to new york: from Long Island after a series of the most favourable accidents I happened to go to Ireland, where I lived concealed, untill an opportunity offered to come here,6 where I arrived in a bad State of health, after an illness of 2 months & half & a constant uneesiness of the mind during 5 months having not only Spent all the cash I had with me, but likewise parted with my private Bills of Exchange & almost everything valuable I had about me, & contracted a debt with a noble fellow in Cork to whom I am greatly indebted for my present security. In this deplorable situation M. D’acosta, after counting me 53 Louis & 18 Livres has made on the large sums due to his house by the americans has Shewed me a letter from the Partners in Paris declaring against any further advances before they receive some remittances from America, & refuse to pay me a Liver more untill m. Penet arrives himself, notwisthtanding the letter of credit is payable to me, against whom they can have no claim.7 After I got the best information I could relative to the Inhabitants of this Place I have thought proper to confide my case to Mr. Williams to whom I have Showed the Certificates of the Governor & Treasurer of Virginia of 36000. Dollars I have in the funds of that State on which I would be glad to barrow at least 200 Louis which Sum I would engage to replace withhin 2 months after my arrival in Tuscany. I shall not apoligize for the liberty of asking your advice & assistance in this as I am ordered to do in other matters. Having not as yet notified my arrival to the Grand Ducke8 I wish it may be kept as secret as possible. In Expectation of the honour of your commands I am most respectfully Your Excellency Your most obedient & most humble servant

Philip Mazzei

Docter Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3JW enclosed the present letter with his of this date, immediately below.

4Mazzei, a native of Tuscany who had arrived in Virginia in 1773, was commissioned by Gov. Patrick Henry on April 22, 1779, to negotiate a loan for the state. His instructions authorized him to seek from Tuscany, Genoa, Spain, or elsewhere a loan of up to £900,000 at an interest rate of no more than 5 percent and directed him to consult with BF immediately upon arriving in Paris: Margherita Marchione, Stanley J. Idzerda, and S. Eugene Scalia, eds., Philip Mazzei: Selected Writings and Correspondence (3 vols., Prato, Italy, 1983), I, 143–7. See also John E. Selby, The Revolution in Virginia 1775–1783 (Williamsburg, Va., 1988), p. 182.

5After a delay of several months, Mazzei embarked in June on the brig Johnston Smith, owned by Penet, d’Acosta frères & Cie.: William T. Hutchinson, William M.E. Rachal et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (21 vols. to date, Chicago and London, 1962–), I, 292–5. He was provided with a letter of credit on Pierre Penet, who was himself returning to Europe on the Confederacy (Jay to BF, Jan. 26, 1780, below).

6Shortly after leaving Virginia the Johnston Smith was captured by a British privateer and Mazzei was imprisoned in the vicinity of New York City. In August he managed to sail for Ireland with the Cork fleet and from there to France on a Portuguese ship: Mazzei, “Narrative of Capture and Captivity,” in Marchione, Mazzei: Selected Writings, I, 182–201; Jefferson Papers, III, 319. He arrived in Nantes around Nov. 19: Jefferson Papers, III, 201.

7Mazzei wrote Thomas Jefferson on Nov. 27 that although the d’Acosta firm refused to honor the letter of credit, they had supplied him with “some” money. The firm argued that because the letter of credit was on Penet as an individual they were not obligated to honor it. Jefferson Papers, III, 202, 300.

8Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany: XX, 330n.

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