Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from “Comte” Julius de Montfort de Prat: Two Letters, 19 August 1780: résumés

From “Comte” Julius de Montfort de Prat: Two Letters

(I) and (II) ALS: American Philosophical Society


<Paris, August 19, 1780, in French: I am the innocent victim of a terrible woman, Mme de Villeneuve. She will not forgive me for having proposed marriage to her daughter, who is of age and free to dispose of her fate. She has not ceased visiting Inspector Brugniere and Commissary Ninnin; unable to destroy me through civil law they decided to resort to criminal law.3 They persuaded a simple and credulous wheelwright named Macon to pursue me for not having paid for a carriage I purchased, even though I still have three months to do so, and for signing myself since my return from America as “Montfort d. P.” instead of “Prat-Montfort” in order to dupe people. I am even accused of not having held the rank of major in America, but of having been a servant.4 These calumnies resulted in my arrest. Held incommunicado, I am at this moment finally able to write.

Respectable representative of a nation I served at the price of great suffering, you will not abandon me in my hour of distress when my only failing consists in a few debts which I soon will be able to repay. As to my name, I never hid that I was originally named Prat. No one can be harmed if I call myself Montfort. Everyone in our province knows that my father, Jean-Baptiste-Julien Prat, seigneur du Tour Lavaissiere, avocat at the Parlement of Toulouse, lived honorably from the income of his estates.

Now that my honor is under attack, I trust you will deliver me an ambassadorial certificate stating that J. Ant. J. Prat, comte de Montfort, served with distinction as a captain and a major in the American army in order that I may use it with the certificate signed by Secretary of Congress Thomson.

I hear that M. Deane has arrived. He certainly will confirm the good reputation I enjoyed in America. So too will the letter from your friend General Roberdeau5 and so also can testify the doctor from Philadelphia6 whom your son would have met had he been able to dine at my house the day before I was arrested. You have all the reasons in the world to perform this act of justice.>


<Undated but written later the same day, in French: Sir, your testimony is absolutely critical to my case. Please ask me in an official manner for the documents I left with you in Passy. Since they have been seized by the police, this is the only way I have to bring them to the judge’s attention. Do not abandon me.7>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3The self-proclaimed count (actually Jean-Antoine-Justin Prat) was arrested on Aug. 4 on suspicion of fraud. He had given Jean-Marie Macon, a maître charron, three 1,000 l.t. notes signed the “comte de Montfort” in partial payment for an English traveling coach. When Macon learned the title of nobility was fictitious, he issued a complaint and Prat was arrested. The police inspector was de Brugnières, boulevard du Temple (Almanach Royal for 1780, p. 406). Imprisoned at the Grand Châtelet, Prat was examined by Commissaire-Enquêteur Jean-Baptiste Ninnin (Almanach Royal for 1780, p. 374), whose papers at the Archives Nationales (Y 15083 B) provide numerous details about the case. One such detail is Prat’s boast that his prospective bride (Mlle. de Villeneuve) was worth 40,000 l.t., but she is not otherwise identified. His career during the French Revolution and later is described in Bodinier, Dictionnaire, p. 497.

4For once Prat seems to have been accused falsely; he had been a major in the American Army and was wounded at Brandywine: XXVIII, 481n.

5While serving in Congress Daniel Roberdeau (who was also a brigadier general of militia) had sat on a committee dealing with French officers (XXIV, 11n), but his recommendation of Prat is missing.

6The Philadelphian probably was Dr. John Foulke. He seems to have been in Paris at this time: George Fox to WTF, Aug. 29, 1780 (APS). Prat’s Aug. 2 invitation to WTF is at the APS.

7On Aug. 23 the increasingly desperate Prat, still imprisoned at the Grand Châtelet, wrote to François and Arbelot, two servants in the Franklin household, asking them to plead his cause with their master (APS). How incredible, he said, that the Doctor should refuse his request for a certificate of service in the American army. As for his debts, they were contracted in good faith, with no intention of deceiving anyone. Two days later he sent another appeal to BF, covering the same points (APS). A notation in WTF’s hand indicates that he, WTF, answered the following day, but we have no further record of it or of Prat.

BF seems to have first had a favorable opinion of Prat; see, for instance, XXX, 44, 564–5. But later he may have been influenced by an undated letter from Capt. Paul Bentalou (XXXII, 387n) to Prat protesting the latter’s duplicitous use of a title of nobility and demanding letters from his parents in Prat’s possession. Bentalou wrote an April 4 covering letter to a Monsieur Bessiere at Versailles, who must have provided BF with both letters, now at the APS. These may be the papers to which BF referred when he wrote on the verso of a printed advertisement from a “Chirurgien Herniare” named Garreau, “Papers concerning Montforts being a Count.”

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