Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from the Comte de Proli, 14 May 1783

From the Comte de Proli8

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Paris le 14 May 1783.

Le Cte. de Proli prend la respectueuse liberté de rappeller au souvenir de Monsieur Francklin qu’il a bien voulu lui promettre un passeport pour le navire Impl. [Impérial] la Capriçieuse, une lettre de recommandation pour le Capne. Simpson qui la commande et deux passeports en blanc pour les batiments qui la suivront.9 Le Cte. de Proli ôse esperer que le depart precipité de la Capriçieuse, qui part dans le Courant de ce mois, lui fera pardonner Ses importunités. Sa reconnoissance Seroit infinie, Si Monsieur Francklin daignoit faire remettre au porteur les pièces desirées ou au moins les lui faire parvenir avant le depart du Courier de demain.1

Le Cte de Proli prie Monsieur Francklin d’agrèer les assurances de son respect

P Cte DE Proli

hôtel de Beauvais rûe des vieux Augustins

Notation: Cte. De Proli

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8Pierre-Jean-Berchtold, comte de Proli (1750–1794), was the scion of a mercantile and banking family that had migrated from Milan to Antwerp. Accounts of his early career vary. At the time of this visit to Paris, he may have still been employed in the financial administration of the Austrian Netherlands, though his errand at Passy was on behalf of the ailing Compagnie de Trieste, founded in 1781 by his uncle, Charles-André-Melchior, also comte de Proli. By the end of 1783 Proli had established himself in Paris, where he engaged in international commerce and stock speculation, championed free trade, took part in the French Revolution, and in 1794 was denounced as a spy and died on the guillotine: Lüthy, Banque protestante, II, 654–5; Roland Mortier, “Un essai sur la liberté du commerce, ou le comte de Proli contre les ‘économistes,’” in Les Combats des Lumières: Recueil d’études sur le dix-huitième siècle (Paris, 2000), pp. 354–67; Biographie nationale … de Belgique (44 vols., Brussels, 1866–1986), entries of Proli’s uncle and father, Balthazar-Florent-Joseph.

9Proli had requested these items in person, and left a record of them at Passy. His note, written in pencil on a blank leaf of an unrelated letter to BF (from Joseph Utzschneider, April 10, APS), provided details on the ship and captain (which BF incorporated into his certificate for the ship, published immediately below), requested the items listed in the present letter, and gave his address at the hôtel de Beauvais. He was representing the Compagnie de Trieste, which had requested papers for the Capricieuse from the Austrian court on May 1 but had received no response. On May 13 the company’s Parisian bankers reported that Proli had been in Paris for a week and had finally seen BF, who not only promised the passports they were seeking, but also promised to write letters of recommendation for the company’s ships. The Compagnie de Trieste had BF’s certificate in hand by June 2, when they forwarded a French translation and an extract of their bankers’ letter to the governor of Trieste (cited above). The governor forwarded their letter and its enclosures to Joseph II on June 7, adding his own plea for the required ships’ papers, which were issued on June 12. The foregoing summary is drawn from French, Italian, and German documents relating to the Capricieuse which are filed together at the Hofkammerarchiv, Austria: Perrouteau, Delon & Cie. to the Compagnie Privée de Trieste et Fiume, May 13, 1783 (extract); French translation of BF certificate, May 14, 1783; Compagnie de Trieste to the comte de Brigido, June 2, 1783; comte de Brigido to Joseph II, June 2 (fragment) and June 7, 1783; reports of Austrian officials, June 12, 1783.

1The only one of these papers that survives is BF’s general recommendation, the “certificate” published immediately below. BF obviously issued this in lieu of a passport, which was unnecessary in peacetime. According to the dispatches of Baron de Beelen-Bertholff, the Austrian commercial agent in Philadelphia, Capt. Simpson carried letters of recommendation to RB (provided by BF) and Robert Morris. The Capricieuse reached Philadelphia in the fall of 1783, the first ship from Trieste to arrive. Simpson, who was part owner of the venture, consigned his cargo of clothing, foodstuffs, and copper to Bache & Shee. Most of it sold favorably: Hanns Schlitter, ed., Die Berichte des ersten Agenten Österreichs in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika Baron de Beelen-Bertholff … (Vienna, 1891), pp. 322–5.

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