Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from James Carr, 25 December 1782

From James Carr

ALS: American Philosophical Society

cherburg Decr. the 25 1782

Honoured Sr.

I James carr Late Second mate & carpenter of the Brigantine active Capt John Hodge in the Service of the united States was taken Prisoner on our Passage from Philadelphia to the Havana by one of his Britanick Majestys Ships & sent to England where with a Large number of others I have Lain some time5 & haveing with five others made our escape in a small sloop & it being a matter of Doubt weather She will be condemd would be glad if your Honour would Speak in behalf of us & order some assistence for to help us to some Port in France that we may gett a Passage to our native homes6 in so Doing you will greatley Oblige Sr. yours to Serve7

James Carr

Addressed: To / Doctor Benjamin Franklin / Pleinopotentary to the United / States of America at Paris

Notation: Carr M. James Decr. 25. 1782.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5The Continental packet Active was captured in early 1782 and sent into Jamaica. Capt. Hodge sailed to America, arriving there by early August; the crew, sent to Forton Prison, must have arrived there after the cartels carrying American prisoners departed in early June: XXXVII, 447; Morris Papers, VI, 136–7.

6The sailors engaged a French official on Dec. 30 to draft a petition to BF describing this “circonstance assez rare”: six Americans escaped from Forton Prison on Dec. 11 and talked their way onto a small fishing vessel manned by three crew members that was preparing to ferry a British marine, a sail-maker, and four women to a large ship moored off shore. Before arriving at the ship the Americans seized control of the shallop and sailed it to Cherbourg; they arrived on Dec. 19 and were greeted with great astonishment and public admiration. These brave Americans now request that BF condemn the shallop as a prize; the proceeds from a sale would be meager, especially when split six ways, but it would ease their situation. The petition is unsigned. BF, confused as to the number of prisoners cited (the correct number, “9,” was written over “11”), endorsed it, “Petition in favour of Six Americans who brought an English Shallop and 19 Prisoners into France 1782.” APS.

7Among BF’s papers at the APS is a general letter from Thomas Wren to “whom it may concern” regarding James Carr and dated Portsmouth, Dec. 5. It certifies that Carr was a carpenter on the Active, was taken by the ship Proserpine, and was imprisoned at Forton for “many months” where he conducted himself with “great propriety and good behavior.” Carr may have forwarded this to Passy along with the present letter. As his name does not appear on the “List of Escaped Prisoners” and he never signed a promissory note, we assume that he did not come to Passy in person. No trace of a response from BF has been located.

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