Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Hope & Co., 16 October 1783

From Hope & Co.1

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Amsterdam the 16 October 1783—


We presume on the Strength of the personal Acquaintance we have the honour of & the Sentiments of Esteem inseperable from this advantage to present to You our estimable friend William French Esqr., prior of the Firm of French Crawford & Co. one of the most opulent & respectable Houses at Glasgow,2 who with Peter Spiers Esqr. a Young Gentlemen of Family there are on a tour to Paris,3 the former to Join his Son lately returned from India & farther with the View of Soliciting your powerfull Assistance & Protection in a matter Depending in America which he will crave leave to lay before you.4 We Shall esteem ourselves particularly happy if our Recommendation of Mr. French be an additional Motive to your Attention to his Concerns from the Interest we take in what regards him & from the flattering proof it will afford that we retain a place in Your remembrance.—

We Shall be proud on every Occasion of your Commands here to convince you of the particular and respectful Sentiments of Esteem & Attachment with which we have the honour to be.— Sir.— Your most Obedient humble Servants

Hope & Co:

The Honble. Benjamin Franklin Esqr.—

Endorsements:5 Mr James French / Mercht at Petersburg / James River Virginia / Lands in Prince Edward / Property of Alexr Spears, John Bowman6 & Compa.— // Hotel de York

1This is the first extant letter from the firm since 1779 (XXVIII, 342–4). The Hopes had first entertained BF at Amsterdam in 1761: IX, 367.

2William French (1732–1802), a tobacco merchant, was involved in the Chesapeake trade through multiple firms, most notably the preeminent Speirs syndicate discussed below. He was provost of Glasgow between 1778 and 1780 and a director of the Chamber of Commerce for 1783: T. M. Devine, The Tobacco Lords: a Study of the Tobacco Merchants of Glasgow and their Trading Activities, c. 1740–90 (Edinburgh, 1975), pp. 74, 115, 164, 180; Plan for the Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures in the City of Glasgow … (Glasgow, 1783), p. 13.

3Peter Speirs was the son of French’s late partner Alexander Speirs (1714–1782), who began his career as a Va. plantation owner, returned to Glasgow in the 1740s, and built several tobacco syndicates that made him one of the wealthiest merchants in that city. Peter had been educated to the trade in France, Holland, and London, and after his father’s death became a member of the Merchants House of Glasgow: Devine, Tobacco Lords, pp. 7–8, 26, 183; Plan for the Chamber of Commerce, p. 14.

4The only clues to their conversation, which undoubtedly concerned how to reclaim sequestered property in America, are the notes BF jotted on the verso of this letter, published below as the first endorsement. Alexander Speirs, John Bowman, and William French were partners in various trading firms that imported tobacco from Virginia and Maryland. Speirs, Bowman & Co., of which French was a controlling partner, held numerous stores along the James River. In 1783, their attempts to recover property seized during the war were unsuccessful. Land belonging to “Spiers and company” in Prince Edward County, Va., was likewise litigated, as was French, Crawford & Co.’s property in Richmond: Devine, Tobacco Lords, pp. 71, 74, 76, 187; Memorial of Speirs, Bowman & Co., n.d. (Public Record Office); William W. Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being A Collection of All the Laws of Virginia … (13 vols., Richmond and Philadelphia, 1810–23), XI, 392–3; Sundry Resolutions and Proceedings, in Cases Before the Board of Commissioners … (Philadelphia, 1799), pp. 90–2; Isaac S. Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia: Chapters in the Economic History of the Revolution (Durham, N.C., 1926), pp. 99–100, 161–2.

5We indicate the line breaks in BF’s first endorsement by means of single slashes and use a double slash to separate the first and second endorsements, which were written on different sections of the same sheet.

6The former provost of Glasgow whose son, a Ga. planter, presumably met BF in 1777 and received a passport from him in 1780: XXV, 45–6; XXXIII, 230–1, 508; Devine, Tobacco Lords, p. 178.

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