Benjamin Franklin Papers

Editorial Note on Promissory Notes, 1782

Editorial Note on Promissory Notes

During the months covered by this volume, seven American seamen claiming to have escaped from British prisons, all but one of whose claims seem to have been legitimate, received financial assistance on Franklin’s order and signed promissory notes at Passy.8 They each received the same amount: 120 l.t., or 5 louis d’or.

Capt. Samuel Mansfield, who signed a promissory note on Aug. 25, brought Franklin a letter of introduction from Francis Coffyn dated August 21 (below). Thomas Potter9 and John Smith also applied to Franklin on August 25. Chipman Bangs of Boston1 and Rufus Hopkins of Providence, both of whom called themselves midshipmen on the Alliance, signed promissory notes on December 7. Thomas Cox2 signed a note on December 18, and Thomas Connoly3 on January 13, 1783. Connoly carried a letter of introduction from Francis Coffyn dated January 9 (below).

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8These printed promissory notes are at the APS, and all seven men are on the Alphabetical List of Escaped Prisoners. For a history of the printed promissory note forms see XXXI, 497; XXXV, 6; XXXVII, 4. The first three notes described here were from the third printing; the last four were from the second printing.

Account XXVII (XXXII, 4), which lists these payments, also shows that John Allen (who did not sign a promissory note) received 240 l.t. on Nov. 26. Allen was probably the Massachusetts native who commanded the Newbury: Claghorn, Naval Officers, p. 4; Kaminkow, Mariners, p. 231.

9Potter was no escaped prisoner. A former whaleman who served as a midshipman on the Bonhomme Richard (XXVII, 653n; XXX, 630), he had just completed a lucrative cruise on the French privateer Eclipse where he was first lieutenant under the command of Nathaniel Fanning. Fanning had been his fellow midshipman under John Paul Jones (XXX, 630). Potter challenged Fanning’s authority on numerous occasions, and he forced the Eclipse back to Dunkirk in mid-August after he had plundered a neutral vessel carrying wealthy French passengers; see our annotation of Fanning to BF, Nov. 23, below.

1In a 1780 petition Bangs signed as the ship’s steward: XXXII, 456.

2Possibly the commander of the schooner Franklin, captured en route from Lorient to the U.S. in late July or early August, 1782, and sent to Plymouth: Courier de l’Europe, XII (1782), 77; Claghorn, Naval Officers, p. 76.

3For whom see Francis Coffyn to BF, Jan. 9, 1783, below.

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