Benjamin Franklin Papers

List of Scoundrels, [c. 4 January 1782]

List of Scoundrels

AL (draft):6 American Philosophical Society

[c. January 4, 1782]

In composing this list, Franklin was revisiting irritations from the earliest days of his French mission to the present. These were not enemies like Arthur Lee and Ralph Izard, who were intent on causing him harm.7 They were petty swindlers and cheats, con men and rogues, people who had betrayed his trust and abused his generosity. Some hoodwinked him out of money, some obtained letters of recommendation on the basis of false stories, and others obstructed the American cause by embezzling Congressional funds, spying, or simply refusing to carry out their duty. What provoked Franklin to draft this list is a mystery. But once having recalled to mind the names of these twelve men, he then canceled them all with a simple, and characteristic, vertical line.

Mr Hood8

Mr. Davis

[lined through]: Sir James Jay


Dr Williamson



Mr Jackson Jones

Mr. Brown

Come. Gillon

Thoms Morris1

Cap. Hinson

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Written on the verso of BF’s draft letter of Jan. 4, immediately above.

7BF professed, in fact, to benefit from such enmity: XXXV, 473.

8The first five names belong to men whom BF had met in 1776 or early 1777. Thomas Hood borrowed money under false pretenses (XXIII, 424n, 573). Nicholas Davis also obtained money from the commissioners by lying to them (XXIII, 193, 288; XXIX, 454–6). Sir James Jay had not, as far as we know, done anything at this time that was actually illegal; perhaps this was why BF crossed off his name. He was such an annoyance, however, that BF terminated their correspondence (XXVI, 288–9, 303–4, 305–6, 340–1). Isaac Van Zandt was a British spy (XXV, 180n), and Dr. Hugh Williamson had at least volunteered his services to the British (XXIII, 55n).

9Thomas Digges, as recent volumes have amply documented, pocketed money BF had been sending for the relief of American prisoners (XXXIV, 475, 507–8). John Shaffer, the simple-minded swindler, had imposed on BF’s time and goodwill, but had not actually stolen from him (XXXIV, 364n; XXXV, 440–2). Edward Jackson Jones, on the other hand, took money from both BF and Vergennes before seeking new victims in Holland (XXXIII, 181–2, 204, 205–6, 211–12, 450). “Mr. Brown” might possibly be Joseph Brown, Jr., whose claim to this category could only be (as far as the documents reveal) that, having ingratiated himself at Passy and imposed on BF to secure him passage to America, he took sides against BF’s grand-nephew JW in a duel (XXXII, 9, 567). Alexander Gillon’s name appears frequently in the present and preceding volumes as having refused to carry military supplies to America or to convoy the ships that did carry them.

1With these last two names, BF returns to earlier years. Thomas Morris, the alcoholic and incompetent brother of Robert, had died before he could be recalled by Congress, and left a trail of debts and ill feelings (XXIII, 195, 357–8; XXXV, 568). Capt. Joseph Hynson was entrusted by the commissioners with dispatches for America, and delivered them instead to the British (XXIII, 234n).

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