From the Board of Trustees of Dartmouth College3
ALS: University of Pennsylvania Library
University of Dartmouth September 24th. 1782
We could wish to avoid any seeming indelicacy in a matter, that respects your Excellency, by communicating an idea of the repeated and increasing joys, which are handed from breast to breast among the citizens of the empire of this western world— But permit us, Sir, to render a tribute of praise, that Providence has been propitious to honor our nation, and imbellish the present age, with the genius of philosophy, united with the virtues of a patriot, and the talents of a statesman.
From your known character we fondly perswade ourselves, Sir, that, while successfully attentive to the most interesting arts of national government, your mind is inspired with a love of other things, which are productive of happiness to mankind— We might mention particularly that extensive department, the cultivation of knowledge, and unbiassed virtue.
With these views, Sir, permit us to recommend to your particular attention and patronage the honorable John Wheelock Esquire, the worthy president of this institution; (accompanied by Mr. James Wheelock) and the design, which is the object of his attention.4
We beg leave to say, that the institution, founded on the most catholic and liberal basis, is unrestrained by the barrs of bigottry, and calculated for the furtherance of extensive knowledge and humanity; as your Excellency may see by the tenor of the recommendation herewith forwarded from his Excellency, the President, and the members of Congress; and others, the most eminent characters in these United States.5
In so usefull and benevolent a cause permit us, Sir, to solicit the favor of your friendship and influence, as a patron of learning, and of mankind.
We beg only to add our sincere wish, that you may long live to enjoy all that personal felicity, which is meritted by the greatest services to society, and the republic of letters.
We have the honor to be with the greatest respect, Sir, your Excellencys most obliged, obedient, and humble servants, Signed by order of the board of Trustees
His Excellency Benjamin Franklin LLD &c &c &c
3. Dartmouth College was on the verge of financial collapse. Unable to raise funds in America, the trustees decided to seek assistance in France and the Netherlands. At their Sept. 20 meeting they elected their young president John Wheelock to make the trip with his brother James as companion and assistant. (At the same meeting they conferred an honorary degree upon JA.) The two men left Hanover on Nov. 1 and traveled to Philadelphia hoping to find passage to Europe; finding the Delaware blockaded, they went north to Boston and sailed for France on Jan. 3. Along the way they gathered letters of recommendation from eminent public officials (including George Washington) and personal friends of BF, which will be published or summarized below. The present letter is the official introduction from the college itself. See Leon B. Richardson, History of Dartmouth College (2 vols., Hanover, N.H., 1932), I, 205; Dick Hoefnagel, “Benjamin Franklin and the Wheelocks,” Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, new ser., XXXI (1990), pp. 12–19.
4. John Wheelock (1754–1817), after serving in the Continental army, replaced his late father, Eleazar Wheelock (XIV, 219n), as president of Dartmouth College in October, 1779. James (1759–1835) was the youngest of Eleazar Wheelock’s eleven children: ANB under Eleazar and John Wheelock; Richardson, History of Dartmouth College, I, 204; James D. McCallum, Eleazar Wheelock: Founder of Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H., 1939), pp. 63n, 151–66.
5. Wheelock carried a large document on parchment that outlined the college’s circumstances and recommended that assistance be sought in the United States and Europe. The document was probably drawn up in March, 1781, and it was signed by 39 prominent Americans between December, 1781, and November, 1782. George Washington was one of the first to sign, followed by other army generals; other signatories included Benjamin Lincoln, Robert Morris, Robert Livingston, presidents and governors of states, and delegates to Congress. An additional resolution was added on Sept. 20, 1782, authorizing John Wheelock to make this particular journey. A facsimile and transcription of the document is in Hoefnagel, “Benjamin Franklin and the Wheelocks,” pp. 14–17.
6. Bezaleel Woodward (1745–1804) had served as president pro tempore after the death in April, 1779, of Eleazar Wheelock. He had held various positions at Wheelock’s schools since 1766 and in 1772 married Wheelock’s daughter Mary. He served as acting president of Dartmouth while John Wheelock was abroad: Franklin B. Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College … (6 vols., New York, 1885–1912), III, 89–92; Richardson, History of Dartmouth College, I, 15n, 101.