Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Jacob Duché, Jr., 28 January 1783

From Jacob Duché, Jr.2

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Asylum, Lambeth Jan. 28, 1783


I take the earliest Opportunity, since the Signing of the Provisional & Preliminary Articles of a General Peace, of expressing my sincere Congratulations to your Excellency on that happy Event, and at the same Time of communicating to you my most ardent Desire of returning to my Native City; earnestly requesting you to honour me with your Opinion & Instructions with Respect to my Conduct in an Affair so interesting to my own & my dear Family’s future Welfare.

I address your Excellency, as the Friend of my Father, and of my Wife’s Father;3 and flatter myself, that my own Name is not so entirely blotted out from your Remembrance, but that these Lines may remind you, that I had once the Happiness of enjoying your good Opinion, as well as that of all my Countrymen.4

Your Excellency has known me from my Infancy— You have known my Character to be uniformly & unexceptionably moral; and could not have been a Stranger to the reciprocal Affection, that subsisted for Years betwixt me and my Congregations, and the Unanimity, with which they elected me their Rector, on the Resignation of Dr Peters.5

To preserve their Affection & the same Unanimity, was the Object I have ever had in View: And to this alone I can truly refer every Part of what has been called my Political Conduct. For as to Politics I profess myself totally ignorant. I never had either Abilities or Influence to display, in that Line, nor had I ever the smallest Inclination to deviate from that happy & retired Path of Life, which I had made Choice of in my earliest Years.6

My Letter to Genl. Washington was the only Cause of Offence, which I ever gave to my Countrymen. The Circumstances attending this Letter, both previous & subsequent to the sending it, are not known. I trust, I may one Day have an Opportunity of giving your Excellency a fair & just Account of them.

I never communicated the least Intelligence nor had I ever the least Intercourse with the British Army, whilst I was in America— And since my Arrival in England, I have cautiously avoided all Kind of Political Connexions, or Political Meetings, & confined myself wholly to the Duties of my Profession— Of this my most amiable Friend Lady Juliana Penn, Mr Baker, & Mr R. Penn7 can give your Excellency the fullest Information.

I am at present very pleasantly situated, as Chaplain & Secretary of the Asylum, a Charitable Female Institution, which you may remember to have seen near Westminster Bridge. My Salary & other Emoluments, with my Pension from Government, which they now talk of exchanging for a Church Living of equal Value, amounts in the whole to more than £300 per Annum.8

This, with every Prospect of farther Preferment I would most chearfully resign, could I have any Assurance of being re-instated in the good Opinion of my Countrymen, and particularly of being restored to my Congregations, for whom, as my First Love, I feel a most ardent Affection.

I should be very happy, therefore, if your Excellency would condescend to inform me, as soon as may be convenient to you, whether the Act of Attainder9 in which my Name among others is mentioned will be repealed in Consequence of the Treaty of Peace; whether there is the least Prospect of my being re-imbursed any Part of the Sum for which my House &c was sold; and whether, if the present Rector1 & Vestry should agree to reinstate me in the Churches, it could be done under the Sanction of the State of Pennsylvania.

I should be happy to pay my Respects to you in Paris, if I could have your Permission, and you would condescend to give me your candid Advice on these Subjects.

I can very readily obtain Permission of the Guardians of the Asylum to make such an Excursion for a few Weeks; and as I am well known to the Marquis of Carmarthen who will set out in a few Days, as Ambassador from hence to Paris,2 and his Chaplain & private Secretary is my most intimate Friend & Kinsman, I am sure of a kind Reception from them, in Case your Excellency should think such a Visit proper & necessary.

I have the Honour to be With the Greatest Respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient humble Servant

J Duché

P.S. I take the Liberty of inclosing to your Excellency, Mr White’s Form of Acceptance of the Rectorship, which he sent to me, soon after his Election—3 Mrs Duché begs to be affecttionately remembered, and particularly enquires after Mrs Bache & her Children—

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2The former rector of Christ Church and St. Peter’s, Philadelphia (VII, 170–1n), who was elected Chaplain of Congress on July 8, 1776. His early sympathies for the revolutionary cause changed, however. On Oct. 8, 1777, he wrote a long, intemperate letter to George Washington urging Congress to rescind the Declaration of Independence and negotiate a peace. America’s prospects were dismal, he argued: the members of Congress (many of whom he named) were incompetent; the army was undisciplined and cowardly; the navy was practically nonexistent; the expectation of French aid, fueled by intelligence from BF, was “a fiction from the first.” Washington was stunned by this “ridiculous, illiberal performance” and forwarded the letter to Congress. It was copied by many members and widely circulated, with versions also appearing in the New York and Philadelphia press. Duché was denounced, and sailed for England in December, 1777; when he arrived, he learned that his assets had been confiscated and his wife and children had been evicted from their home. They joined him in 1780. Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., comp., Patriot-Improvers: Biographical Sketches of Members of the American Philosophical Society (2 vols. to date, Philadelphia, 1997–), II, 9–19; W. W. Abbot et al., eds., The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series (18 vols. to date, Charlottesville and London, 1985–), XI, 430–7, 528; Smith, Letters, VIII, 150–1, 158, 161, 168–9, 182–3, 194, 213; Rivington’s New-York Loyal Gaz., Nov. 29, 1777; Pa. Evening Post, Dec. 13, 1777.

3Duché was married to Elizabeth Hopkinson, the sister of Francis Hopkinson and daughter of Thomas Hopkinson (I, 209n; IV, 208). BF had known Thomas Hopkinson and Duché’s father, Jacob Duché, Sr. (VII, 170n), since their service together as directors of the Library Company of Philadelphia. The elder Duché and his son had witnessed BF’s 1757 power of attorney to his wife Deborah: VII, 169–70.

4BF expressed that good opinion in a 1765 letter: XII, 125–6. A member of the APS since 1768, Duché was also a trustee along with BF of the Dr. Bray Associates of London.

5The Rev. Richard Peters (III, 187n) resigned in 1775.

6For an account of the tensions that Duché experienced as a clergyman of the Church of England accountable to an American vestry see Clarke Garrett, “The Spiritual Odyssey of Jacob Duché,” APS Proc., CXIX (1975), 146–9.

7Juliana Penn, widow of Pa. proprietor Thomas Penn, was currently in Paris, trying to gain BF’s assistance in recovering her family’s property in America: XXXVIII, 343–4, 464n. Her son-in-law William Baker, a member of Parliament and the executor of part of Thomas Penn’s personal estate (Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, II, 42–3), and her nephew Richard Penn, Jr., were also with her: Richard Penn, Jr., to BF, Feb. 25, below; Benjamin Vaughan to the Earl of Shelburne, Jan. 28, 1783 (APS); Howard M. Jenkins, “The Family of William Penn,” PMHB, XXI (1897), 346, 421.

8Duché was appointed to this position in July, 1782. The pensions of American Loyalists were reevaluated in early 1783, though there is no indication that Duché’s was threatened: Garrett, “The Spiritual Odyssey of Jacob Duché,” p. 150; George A. Ward, ed., Journal and Letters of the Late Samuel Curwen … (London, 1842), pp. 367–8.

9On March 6, 1778, the Pa. Assembly passed an act for “the attainder of divers Traitors,” which provided that if certain persons, including Duché, failed to appear for trial by a specified date, the Commonwealth would seize their estates. The Supreme Executive Council was empowered to attaint other individuals, and in eight subsequent proclamations between 1778 and 1781, the Council designated 453 persons as traitors. James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, comps., The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1801 (17 vols., [Harrisburg], 1896–1915), IX, 201–15; Wilbur H. Siebert, The Loyalists of Pennsylvania (Columbus, Ohio, 1920), pp. 57–8.

1William White (XVII, 246n) succeeded Duché as rector. The large house Duché and his family had owned on Third Street was now occupied by Thomas McKean: Bell, Patriot-Improvers, II, 11, 17; Smith, Letters, XVI, 742n.

2On Jan. 25 Grantham notified Francis Osborne, Marquess of Carmarthen, later 5th Duke of Leeds (1751–1799), that he would be appointed ambassador to France. Carmarthen received official notification on Feb. 9. He never served, however, because of the change in ministry two weeks later: ODNB; Oscar Browning, ed., The Political Memoranda of Francis Fifth Duke of Leeds … (London, 1884), pp. 77–9.

3Duché only copied one paragraph of White’s acceptance, a declaration that if Duché were permitted by the civil authorities to return, and if the vestry desired to reinstate him, White would resign. This “Extract from the Minutes of Vestry” was taken from White’s letter of April 15, 1779: Benjamin Dorr, A Historical Account of Christ Church, Philadelphia, from Its Foundation, A.D. 1695 to A.D. 1841; and of St. Peter’s and St. James’s, until the Separation of the Churches (New York and Philadelphia, 1841), pp. 194–6.

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