Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Michel-Guillaume St. John de Crèvecceur, 3 January 1783

From Michel-Guillaume St. John de Crèvecœur

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Chès Mr. Le Marquis de Blangy2 Lieutt. Gènéral Caën— Normandie 3d. Jany 1783.—

I have been Wittness whilst I was in America of a Cir Constance which I think it Imports Your Excellency to Know; my Good Intention will I hope, apologyse for the Liberty I am taking, if your Excellency is acquainted With it; if unknown, it is Certainly my duty as a good Cytysen of that Country to Inform you of what Follows—

In the Year 1775 Samuel Bayard Junior dèputy Sècretary of, the then Province of New York, was ordered by the Convention to the house of Nicholas Bayard a Mile out of Town, in order to watch over the records of the Province, then under the Guard of a Capt. & 30 Men; Some Time after, they were Transported to Kingston on the North River, Vulgarily Called Eusopus; under the Guard of the Same Person, & the Same Military Party;—18 Months after the Said Samuel Bayard, Contrary to the oath he had Taken to the Convention, found Means of Sending that part of those Records which Contained the Grant of Lands &ca. to Govr. Tryon then on board the Dutchess of Gordon; Since that, they have been Conveyed to the Tower of London, Where they now are;—those papers, fortunately become useless to Gr. Britain; at the return of the Peace must be of the Greatest Consèquence to that State; because, as you well know, they contains not only the Title of Lands but the Copy of Wills &ca.3

I cannot Terminate this Letter Without taking the Liberty of Congratulating your Excellency, non only as a Man, an European, or Gaul, but as an American Cytisen, on the happy, Thrice happy rèvolution, which you have began Conducted & Terminated with So much Wisdom; hence forth Will begin a new Era in the annals of Mankind, far more Intèresting than those absurd rèvolutions which have hitherto Stained the Earth with Blood Without meliorating it; May nature Extend your days to the utmost Verge, to the End you may See the Misfortunes of War repaired, the Energy of this new people, the Wisdom of their Laws the Industry of those new States admired & respected by all nations.— Permit me to add that I am the Person who under the name of St. Jean de Crèvecoeur had the honor of dining with your Excellency Last March, with the Contesse de Houdetot & who last July Sent you, by the hands of Mr. Target a Book Intitled, Letters of An Américan Farmer.4

I am with the most unfeigned Respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

H. St. John

Notations in different hands: H. St. John Caen Normandie 3rd. January 1783 / De Crevecoeur

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Maximilien-Pierre-Marie, vicomte de Blangy (1718–1791): DBF.

3Crèvecœur’s story was basically correct, except for one essential detail, the current whereabouts of the documents. In November, 1775, Gov. William Tryon ordered Samuel Bayard, Jr., to secretly withdraw 25 volumes of New York records—land grants, records of commissions and charters under the Great Seal of Great Britain, Indian cessions, and minutes of council—and place them on the Duchess of Gordon, a British ship in New York Harbor. Sealed in two boxes, these volumes were unknowingly transferred from ship to ship over the next few years, finally sailing to Portsmouth on the Eagle and unloaded. When the boxes were opened in the fall of 1781 and their nature discovered, they were placed aboard the Warwick and returned to New York, where they were delivered to Gen. James Robertson, the military governor. All but one volume survived the adventure; the rest were damp and mildewed, but legible: William Smith, Historical Memoirs, ed. William H. W. Sabine (2 vols., New York, 1969–71), II, 72–3, 449–50; Hugh Hastings et al., eds., Public Papers of George Clinton (10 vols., Albany, 1899–1914), I, 9–11.

4XXXVI, 691; XXXVII, 628–9, 693–4.

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