Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from the Chevalier de Berruyer and Other Favor Seekers, 18 May 1783

From the Chevalier de Berruyer and Other Favor Seekers

ALS: American Philosophical Society

As usual, Franklin receives many unsolicited appeals from people, mostly unknown to him, who want to impose on his reputed benevolence. We summarize here those letters which produced no known response.9 The first category includes people who seek help with financial matters or beg money outright. Others write for information or advice, ask him to forward letters, urge him to answer neglected correspondence, or plead with him to grant a personal interview. The chevalier de Berruyer, a former officer in the French army on Saint-Domingue, whose letter we print below as a sample, claims to be owed payment for services he performed in 1775 and 1776. Although he already has Sartine’s support, he asks Franklin to write to Castries on his behalf to expedite matters.

Louis Frederic Stromeyer, a cloth merchant, and Straub, a master tailor, write on June 3 from Strasbourg to ask Franklin’s help in collecting a debt. Baron von Steuben left them a promissory note, which they enclose, for 421 l.t. 14 s. They have sent Steuben several letters, one even forwarded by Franklin, without receiving a response. Might Congress help two French subjects by paying the general’s debt out of his wages? Stromeyer and Straub reiterate their request on June 28 and enclose another copy of Steuben’s promissory note.1

On June 30 Madame Butler de Beaufort requests the return of the memoir she left for Franklin on May 20, on the ottoman in his apartment. (The memoir, addressed to Necker, the former director general of finances, concerns her effort to obtain the pension of her deceased husband, the sieur Boutin de Beaufort, a lieutenant colonel in the carabiniers with 30 years of service.)2 M. de MacMahon, whom she saw the day before, told her that Franklin was unlikely to intervene. She would like the memoir returned before others see it.

The Paris bankers Bost, Horion & Cie.3 ask Franklin on July 7 to honor a letter of exchange drawn on him for $60. They enclose it.

The baron de Perier, colonel commandant d’infanterie and chevalier de Saint-Louis,4 writes from his estate, the château d’Ussau, on August 10. Three years earlier the Jonathas of Marseille had sailed from Cape François bound for Bordeaux with a load of sugar from his plantations on Saint-Domingue. A bad storm forced the ship into port at New London, where it was condemned and the sugar sold.5 The captain deposited the receipts at the chancellery in Boston, as directed by the French consul M. de Valnais.6 Perier, the father of a large family, would be grateful if Franklin could assist him in recovering his money.

Dr. Bry writes from Lorient on August 11, emboldened by the memory of the kind reception he received from Franklin in April, 1780. To whom should he direct his request for the prize money owed him for his service as medical officer on the Vengeance under John Paul Jones? Franklin had approved his medical certificate at that time; would he now grant a new certificate that would allow him to serve with a group of Americans about to establish themselves at Lorient?

Three days later M. Baron, now signing himself as a master tailor at Dunkirk, repeats his earlier request for Franklin’s assistance in obtaining money owed him by Gognet and Colson, officers of the Pallas from John Paul Jones’s squadron who had fled Dunkirk without paying their bills. An account of their debts was sent to the commissaire of Lorient in February, 1780, but Baron has heard nothing since that time.7

Three correspondents ask for money outright. On May 31 Cavelier de Macomble writes from Rouen seeking funds for an undescribed project which, eight years ago, he explained to Miromesnil. The expense of rearing, outfitting, and marrying three children has left him unwilling to risk the 25 louis necessary to execute his design. He would be overjoyed to explain it to Franklin and get his support.

Joseph Bouillot, identifying himself as a post boy, writes from Passy on June 3 conveying greetings from the abbé Rochon at Morlaix, whom he saw recently. Bouillot came to Paris hoping to find work at the messagerie, but as there are no vacancies, he is forced to return. If Franklin would give him assistance, he would never cease praying for his health and prosperity.

On July 26 John Dudley, an American, writes from Poultry Compter, a debtors’ prison in London. He recounts his service in the Continental Army, first in the Second North Carolina regiment, then in Henry Lee’s cavalry, and finally commanding 100 men stationed opposite the British lines in New York.8 He was wounded for the thirteenth time in May, 1781, when he was also captured in an attack on Howbuck Island. Imprisoned and cruelly treated in New York, he was later sent to England, where his leg became so badly infected that it had to be amputated. After ten months in Deal Prison, he was released without any money. Unable to find help in London, he is now in jail for debt. Henry Laurens refused to advance him the £120 that he requested but offered to endorse his bills. As no one is willing to take bills drawn on America, his case is desperate.

C. E. Griffiths writes in English from Lisson Green near Paddington with a complicated tale of inheritance. Her late uncle May Bickley, attorney general of New York,9 left a house and lands in New York and New Jersey which eventually descended to her mother, who is a widow. Several individuals pressed her mother to sell tracts for far less than their value. She hired an agent, who was of no help; the one promising sale, arranged through a friend in Connecticut, fell through when the war broke out. The New York lands and house are now occupied by a Mr. Livingston, who never received title. Griffiths, the sole heir, has now been told that she might “meet with redress” because “her heart was for America.” She begs Franklin for his advice and assistance. Her undated letter is postmarked “17 JU,” indicating either June or July, and assuming that she sought redress once the peace was declared, 1783 is the probable year.

Also counting on Franklin’s far-reaching influence are two supplicants for letters of recommendation. The baron de Feriet, an infantry captain,1 writes from Versailles on May 29 reminding Franklin that he had agreed the previous Saturday to provide a letter of recommendation for M. Berthier fils, a merchant from Nancy who wishes to establish a business in Philadelphia. Unable to find Temple to ask him to draft the letter, and not wishing to interrupt Franklin a second time, Feriet left with a servant the note he had shown Franklin.2 The people on whose behalf he seeks this favor assure him that the Berthiers are esteemed merchants in Lorraine. The family hopes that the son, who is between 30 and 35 years of age, may be directed to someone in Philadelphia who can advise him on the execution of his project. Mme de Feriet joins in sending her respects.

On July 3 Stockar zur Sonnenbourg3 writes from Schaffhausen to recommend a close relative, formerly in the service of Sardinia, to serve as a lieutenant in General Washington’s army. He sends greetings to M. d’Alembert, should Franklin see him at a meeting of the Académie des sciences.

The dowager M. E. de Platen, née Krassou, writes on August 30 from Garz, on the island of Rügen, begging Franklin for news of her son, Philip de Platen, who left home seven years ago to join the American army. He has not been heard from since then.4

Various people contact Franklin concerning letters that they want him to deliver, forward, or write. The widow Guillaume sends her request from Faÿ-les-Veneurs on July 7. When Franklin arrives in New York, would he be good enough to deliver the enclosed letter to her son Paul Guillaume, who lives in that city, and arrange for his return to France? He served as a chasseur in Lauzun’s Legion,5 was taken prisoner by the Indians, escaped, and made his way to New York after the peace. He has written seven letters to her but has not received any of her replies, which she sent by way of Lorient.

Also on July 7 the Paris banker Louis Tourton6 forwards four letters he has received from Hamburg concerning an unscrupulous merchant named Borges, a “fripon insigne,” who fled to Philadelphia on a ship he had outfitted leaving a trail of unpaid bills. Tourton asks Franklin to forward these letters to Philadelphia; two are from magistrates of Hamburg, and all are written in the hope that Borges’s creditors will be compensated.

F. M. de Cabanes writes from Metz on September 12. Not knowing General Washington’s address, he asks Franklin to forward the enclosed letter, which seeks information about one of his relatives who fought under the general at Yorktown.7

François Roi writes from Paris on July 9 and again on July 13 to remind Franklin that on June 28, when Roi delivered a letter from his father, Franklin had promised to answer it. He is about to return to Switzerland and would be honored to carry Franklin’s response, which his father eagerly awaits.8

M. Dubois Martin, avocat aux Conseils du Roi et de Monsieur,9 also offers to carry a response—this one to M. de Both, a lieutenant colonel in service to the emperor, who wrote to Franklin on February 24 and now wants to know whether he ever received the letter. Dubois Martin’s letter is dated September 3 (a Wednesday); he offers to pick up Franklin’s answer, and would like it to be ready by Sunday or Monday.

Some correspondents seek appointments to make their appeals in person. Although Franklin had suggested to the baronne d’Ahax that she explain in writing the matter she wished to discuss,1 she insists in a letter of June 17 on speaking with him. She once again recommends M. Martin and his wife, and asks Franklin to forward her enclosed letter to them at the residence of M. de Gand.2

On August 2 Madame Loyer Deslande, writing from Versailles, requests an appointment to discuss certain business affairs which her husband has conducted in America since 1777.3 She is staying at the home of M. Bretel, premier commis of the Marine, but will be leaving soon.

On August 1 the abbé Coquillot, who had presented his Couplets sur la paix to Franklin in April,4 sends the manuscript of a fourteenstanza “Ode a son Excellence Monsieur B. Franklin … en recevant de luy la Medaille frappée par les Americains en 1782” (the Libertas Americana medal). He requests permission to publish it as a mark of gratitude and admiration.

An unusual request comes on June 9 from a sieur Bousquetÿ, a lawyer in Beaumarchès, a fortified town west of Toulouse. He would like to know more about the illustrious doctor’s discoveries and experiments and therefore asks for a collection of his writings on electricity in manuscript. Since he writes in the name of liberty and friendship, he hopes that Franklin will respond.

A. Laignier, a simple craftsman who has recently arrived in Paris knowing no one, writes on June 30 that he has made an important discovery about magnetism and electricity but does not know how to announce it. He submitted a letter to the Journal de Paris but has been told that he should have had it reviewed first by a scientist. He hopes that Franklin will meet with him to discuss “Cette descouverte La plus importante pour Lumanite qui nait jamais parut.”

Finally, in an undated letter, a certain Blanchard, who identifies himself as the person who recently sent Franklin a memorandum, begs on bended knee for a few minutes of his time, even if the doctor only expresses regret at being unable to help him. The 12-page memorandum, also undated, describes his misfortunes, including a nervous disorder that keeps him from doing anything more than giving a few language lessons. He has waited two years to send this appeal out of respect for Franklin’s important occupations. Dr. Mac-Mahon, who recently saved his elderly wife from a serious illness, will doubtless vouch for him. His debts are many and his creditors merciless. Perhaps the United States, on the forthcoming announcement of peace, will authorize some largesse, in which he would of course be included. He requests that this appeal be kept confidential; he and Franklin have common acquaintances, and he does not want them to gossip. We can date these documents only as before September 3.

au chateau de st fromond par st lo ce 18 may 1783. normendie

Je me croy fondé monsieur a reclammer au pres de vous pour vous prier d’ecrire au ministre de la marinne non pour me faire rendre la justice quil ne me paroit pas eloingué de me rendre mais pour en accelerer lexécution. Mon affaire est fort simple, monsieur le comte denry general de st domingue,5 ma envoyé dans vottre pays en 1775 pour luy rendre des comptes de ce qui sy passoit et par consequent me rendre utille aux americains. En y passant avec ces pase ports sous des expeditions de st pierre de miquelon, je contrefesaisais le negotient en armant des navirs en marchandises. Ils ont eté pris en retour de Boston lun et les deux autres sortant de la martinique, messieurs du comitté de ports smuth ou j’ai armé pour aider le pays de poudre et canons vottre colonel lingdon6 agent du congres en ce port en sonts les témoins j’ai en fin fait tout ce qui dependait de moy pour me rendre utille, cest moy qui me suis deplacé pour aller a gous Bray [Goose Bay?] et a Kene Beck pour assurer les sauvages que la france s’alliait avec les americains, j’ai fait ce voyage a la sollicitation du comitté de port smuth avec un officier de Boston qui avoit des pouvoirs du congres. De ce moment il en a mesme embarqué 16 dont un corsaire de Boston armé par le congres de philadelphye.

Cest moy qui ai fait monter vos 90. pieces de cannon de fonte que vous aviez envoyee dans L’amphitrite capte fautrelle7 vu que les officiers de la division de du coudray etoient partis pour l’armee et n’avoient l’aissé q’un officier qui ne parloit pas englois, j’ai egalement traduit touts les paquets du congres pour le capte: fautrel mesme lorsque ces messieurs luy envoyerent mr. paul jhoon [Jones] pour monter sa fregatte de moitié avec luy. J’ai mesme fait soingner du vin en Bouteilles que vous envoyiez a madame franklin j’ai eté notament le premier francais au commencement de vottre guerre qui a prouvai du zele sans coutter un sol aux americains il m’en reste les fatigues et 180000 l.t. de pertte malgré que j’aie le plus grand droit et en voila la preuve, j’ai Raporté chaque fois que j’ai ete depuis les sentences en englois de comdem nation vu que nous navions pas guere(?) de tortole, st christophe et antigua, monsieur le marquis de Bouillé generalle de la martinique et mr dar Baud8 les onts viser onts renvoyai des parlementaires pour Reclammer mes navirs Ces generaux onts ecrits les lettres les plus instantes a mr de sartinne! Ce ministre ma mis vis avis de mr. chardon pour estre dedomagé sur les fonds des prises faittes sur les englois dans nos ports lors de la declaration de guerre, le Roy a disposé de ces fonds depuis, aujourdhuy lon ne peut me dire que j’ai tord et lon ma fait temporiser en me disant que j’ai Bon droit sans rien faire ny dire de décisif. Si j’étais sans fortunne il faudrait donc que je moureusse de faim. Je croy monsieur que vous ne pouvez me Refuser d’ecrire au ministre en luy faisant voire que ma demende est juste. J’ai un parent qui est mr. le Baron de chigny qui est directeur general des ports et arseneaux, qui a en main les certificats comme mr. de sartinne a Receut mes pieces, il sinteresse a moy et je suis seure de son amitié. Si vous voules bien y aider il fera le reste parceque il me la promis il y a un mois, mais il ne peut y mettre trop dinstance vu que cest mon parent, mr. de laporte ma promis aussi que rien n’arresterait de son costé et il trouve mon affaire juste. Comme vous voyes monsieur il ne faut que de l’aide pour reussire & avoire justice, je ne croy pas que vous vouluties me refuser celle d’ecrire une seulle lettre a mr. de castries. Vous voyes que j’ai aidé dans la nouvelle englettere de ce que j’ai peut tant de ma fortunne que de mon zele pour le service. Mr. William de Boston qui est vottre parent, a veut ma maniere honeste et discrette de me conduire dans ce pays la, il scait que j’ai manqué d’estre assaciné par des mauvais sujets de francais qui venoient de faire des coquineries dans le pays aux quels je fesais des Representations ils monts intercepté mes lettres pour le general. Mr. Baudoin9 president du congres de Boston a eté obligai dinterposer son authorité, et ma maniére honeste de me conduire ma merité j’ause dire lestimme de ces messieurs.1 Cest ce qui me fait esperer que vous ne me refuseres pas de m’accorder la vôttre./.

J’ai lhonneur d’estre avec Respect Monsieur vottre tres humble et tres obest serviteur

LE CHER. DE Berruyer
encien offer des trouppes de st domingue

Notation: De Beruyer 18 May 1783.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9Unless otherwise specified, the following documents are in French and at the APS.

1BF forwarded their June 3 letter to Charles Thomson on Sept. 13, below, and it remains among Thomson’s papers at the Library of Congress. The June 28 letter and Steuben’s promissory note (in German, dated June 10, 1777, and promising payment within six weeks) are at the APS. Steuben visited Strasbourg on his way to Paris (where he would meet BF: XXIV, 499–500) at a time when he was unemployed and already deeply in debt; see John M. Palmer, General von Steuben (New Haven, 1937), pp. 83–4.

2Undated, Hist. Soc. of Pa.

3They are listed among the “Banquiers pour les Traites & Remises de Place en Place” in the Almanach royal for 1783, p. 473.

4Listed as Martin-Louis de Perrier, baron d’Ussau (b. 1745), in the Dictionnaire de la noblesse, XV, 687–8.

5The incident took place in the fall of 1779. The Jonathas was convoyed by d’Estaing (XXX, 265n) and after the storm sailed into New London with the Négresse, which was unharmed. The Négresse carried the stranded crew back to France in May, 1780; among the other passengers was John Trumbull. The ship’s captain later claimed that Trumbull introduced him to BF: XXXII, 245; Smith, Letters, XIV, 122; Mémoires du capitaine Landolphe, contenant l’histoire de ses voyages pendant trente-six ans, aux côtes d’Afrique et aux deux Amériques, ed. J. S. Quené (2 vols., Paris, 1823), I, 196–256.

6XXXVIII, 473n.

7Baron’s previous letter, dated May 31, 1781, and written by a professional scribe, complained of three officers: Gognet, Colson, and Saillot. At the time of their offense, Baron was the keeper of a hotel: XXXV, 15. The commissaire of Lorient was La Grandville.

8Dudley enlisted in the regiment in 1777: Roster of Soldiers from North Carolina in the American Revolution … (1932; reprint, Baltimore, 1967), pp. 60, 606. He wrote in English, and misaddressed this letter to “His Excellency W. Franklin.”

9For May Bickley (d. 1724), who emigrated to New York from England in 1701 and became attorney general in 1705, see William Smith, Jr., The History of the Province of New-York, ed. Michael Kammen (2 vols., Cambridge, Mass., 1972), II, 284.

1Possibly a son or nephew of Joseph, baron de Fériet (1707–1779), conseiller at the court of Lorraine: English Showalter et al., eds., Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny (13 vols. to date, Oxford, 1985–), VIII, 180n.

2This undated note, perhaps given to Feriet, asks that BF provide this recommendation. APS.

3XXXVI, 204–5n.

4The son wrote BF for assistance in 1777: XXIV, 31.

5The legion, created in March, 1780, as the “Volontaires étrangers de Lauzun,” served in America with Rochambeau’s army. Remaining there after most of the army had departed, it embarked for France in May, 1783: Rice and Brown, eds., Rochambeau’s Army, I, 314–15; II, 182–3.

6XXXIX, 304n.

7Lt. Col. Cabanes had written almost two years earlier, hoping to settle in America with his family. In the same letter he mentioned no fewer than four relatives who fought at Yorktown: XXXVI, 314–15.

8The father was probably J. J. Roi, the pastor from Neuchâtel who had offered to dedicate his work to BF and expressed a wish to emigrate to America: XXXVI, 314; XXXVIII, 390–1.

9Almanach royal for 1783, pp. 130, 285.

1See XXXIX, 597.

2For the Martins see XXXIX, 373, 447, 455–7. De Gand (Degand) was Mme Martin’s maiden name: Mme Martin to BF, March 10, 1784 (APS).

3Her husband, a merchant, had aided an American prisoner on his way to America: XXV, 361n.

4XXXIX, 241.

5Victor-Thérèse Charpentier d’Ennery was commandant général of Saint-Domingue from 1775 until his death at the end of 1776: DBF.

6John Langdon: XXII, 323n.

7Nicolas Fautrel: XXVI, 580.

8Bache-Alexandre, comte d’Arbaud de Jouques, became governor of Guadeloupe in 1775 and served through the War for American Independence: DBF.

9James Bowdoin.

1The chevalier wrote to Gen. Washington from Boston on Sept. 9, 1776, explaining that he was 36 years old and had come there from Saint-Domingue to recover his health. He requested permission to sail to France and asked Washington to forward an enclosed letter to Congress with the same request: W. W. Abbot et al., eds., The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series (20 vols. to date, Charlottesville and London, 1985–), VI, 353n.

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