George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major David S. Franks, 16 October 1780

From Major David S. Franks

Robinsons House 16th Octr 1780


When last I had the Honor of seeing your Excellency, I requested to be indulged with a Court of Enquiry on my Conduct, not only to investigate what Knowledge or Share I might have had in the late General Arnold’s Perfidy, but also to take in a retrospective View of my Conduct whilst serving in his Family at Philadelphia.1

You were so obliging as to accede to my Request and to promise that a Court of Enquiry should be called to examine into the first Part, but thought, that the Court could not with Propriety go into the second, as your Excellency was pleas’d to say; there appeared no Accusation.

It is with Pain I do inform you Sir, that a Report has been circulated thro’ this Part of the Country, and I believe has reach’d your Excellencys2 Ears, of a most cruel and injurious tendancy, That of having perjured myself last Winter to save Arnold from merited Punishment.3 This I feel most sensibly, unsupported by Connections or Interest on this Part of the Continent, I had here nothing but a Name unspotted I trust, untill Arnold’s baseness gave the Tongue of Calumny, Ground sufficient to work upon against any one unhappily connected with him.

A conscious Innocence of the abominable & groundless Charge of Perjury may cheer, yet cannot support me thro’ a World, too easily misled by first Reports and Prejudices; it however emboldens me earnestly to request your Excellency, to recommend to the Court, a strict examination into both Parts of my Conduct. I shall write to the Secretary of the Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania, who will, I make no doubt transmit to the Court every Paper found among Arnold’s which may carry the smallest Tendancy to criminate me, and from which I shall be fully able to exculpate myself.4

I do not wish to trespass longer on your Excellency’s time5 & shall therefore conclude myself with great Respect Your Excellency’s most obedient and obliged humble servant

Davd S. Franks


Franks wrote John Dunlap, proprietor of The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), from Bristol, Pa., on 6 Oct.: “THE extraordinary conduct of my late General has given rise to suspicions in the breasts of my countrymen, which are a direct attack upon my integrity, and sensibly wound my feelings as a man of honour and a whig: many surmises, void of truth and replete with malevolence, have been industriously spread abroad, and with such success, that the judgments of those inclined to think favourable of me have been thereby misled; assertions without proof have been received as established facts, and my reputation on this account injured and aspersed.

“Conscious of my own uprightness and integrity, and unable, upon the strictest scrutiny into my conduct, to discover the least deviation from principle or duty, I pleased myself with the agreeable idea, when last in Philadelphia, of remaining there such a length of time as would furnish an opportunity to remove impressions so derogatory to my honour, and exonerate my character from ill-grounded imputations; but an order from the Supreme Executive Council of this State requiring my immediate departure for camp, put the intended mode of justification out of my power.

“I must here remark, as argumentative of my innocence, and also to shew the sentiments of the honourable council, as to the several reports and insinuations respecting me, ‘that I am ordered after examination, by them, to return immediately to the army under General Washington.’ To their resolution I beg leave to request the particular attention of my fellow citizens, and am bold to declare, that candour, common sense common justice and plain reason justify the opinion, ‘that however charges were exhibited against me,’ the proof of them was defective; and that council, impressed with that idea, no longer harbour sentiments unfavourable to me; which they evidently manifest, by ordering me to join the army of our illustrious Chief. Can the supposition of treason or disaffection, on my part, be admitted, and the adjudication of that honourable body be reconciled? No: either Council believed me criminal or they did not; if the affirmative, the impropriety of that order is obvious; for camp is a very improper place for traitors, or persons even suspected of treason or disaffection; if they did not, their conduct is explicable, and to be accounted for on just and rational principles.

“I am now on my way to head-quarters, in obedience to this injunction from government; where I hope, by the indulgence of his Excellency, to have a full investigation of every part of my conduct: My ardent desire to merit the good opinion of my fellow citizens and countrymen, induces me most earnestly to urge and entreat them to suspend their judgments until I have the pleasure of laying before them the result of the enquiry, upon a deliberate discussion of the late groundless charges” (Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser, 14 Oct.). The Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council had examined Franks in Philadelphia on 3 Oct. and resolved that he “be required to return immediately to the army, under the command of his Excellency General Washington” (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 12:495–96).

2Franks wrote “Excellenys” for this word.

3Franks had testified at Morristown, N.J., on 29–30 Dec. 1779 during Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s court-martial for maladministration while military commander at Philadelphia (see Arnold, Proceedings description begins Proceedings of a General Court Martial of the Line, Held at Raritan, in the State of New-Jersey, By Order of his Excellency George Washington, Esq., General and Commander in Chief Of the Army of The United States of America, For the Trial of Major General Arnold, June 1, 1779. Major General Howe, President. Philadelphia, 1780. description ends , 26–29). The court convicted Arnold on two minor charges and sentenced him to receive a reprimand (see General Orders, 6 April 1780, and n.3).

4Franks wrote Timothy Matlack, secretary of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, from Beverly Robinson’s house on 20 Oct.: “His Excellency the Commander in Chief has with great Generosity granted me a Court of Enquiry, and I have a few days since moved him to suffer the Court to go into an investigation of my Conduct whilst acting as Aid de Camp to Arnold at Philada, adverting particularly to that Part on which a Scandalous Report of Perjury seems to be founded.

“I need not urge to you Sir, the evil Effects such a Report may create to my Character, or my anxiety to remove them, as far as in me lays, and I trust you will be kind enough to forward any Paper or Copies of them now in the Possession of the Honble the Council which may seem to criminate me in the smallest degree. I am fully conscious of my own Innocence in this affair, and hope the Honorable the Executive Council will be so obliging as to give me every opportunity of clearing a Character which is my only support, by forwarding the Papers mentioned to His Excellency General Washington” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 8:589–90).

5For GW’s reply to Franks, see Document XVII. Brig. Gen. Henry Knox had written Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene from Preakness on 13 Oct.: “This will be handed to you by Major Franks, who has requested a Court of enquiry on himself and Colonel Varick, respecting their knowledge or participation in any degree of Arnolds apostasy. …

“It is unhappy for Franks, or any other person, to have been connected with that monster, for the Misjudging World will suppose, that no person, or thing, could have been within the focus of such an essence of Villany, and not to have been contaminated. But Arnolds Crimes were too abominable to have been communicated to the open and Unsuspicious breasts of Varick and Franks” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:380–81). Knox provided a deposition at Preakness on 22 Oct. regarding Lt. Col. Richard Varick’s “behavior on the day of Arnold’s flight, and on the days subsequent. …

“In justice to the said Colonel Varick, I think myself bound to say, That on the discovery of Arnold’s treachery there was not a single circumstance to induce a suspicion that either he, or Major David Franks, was knowing or privy to the perfidy or flight of Arnold. That Col. Varick and Maj. Franks gave ready and decided answers to such questions respecting Arnold as were asked them, and willingly produced all papers belonging to him that were in their possession or that they could find— a particular instance of which was exhibited by Col. Varick two days after the first discovery. By a critical research in a trunk where Arnold’s clothes were deposited, he found the plans and profiles of each work at West Point, in a separate paper, which he instantly brought to His Excellency General Washington. It was, until that time, supposed that Arnold had carried off these papers with him.

“Also, That I frequently examined the papers detected upon Major Andrè, all which were written in Arnolds own hand. And that nothing appeared upon Major Andrè’s trial before the general officers of the army, of whom I was one, to prove that he had ever been at Robinsons house; but he declared that the meeting at Smith’s house was his first personal communication with Arnold” (Hart, Varick Court description begins Albert Bushnell Hart, ed. The Varick Court of Inquiry to Investigate the Implication of Colonel Varick (Arnold’s Private Secretary) in the Arnold Treason. Boston, 1907. description ends , facsimile manuscript between 116 and 117; see also Document VIII with Major John André’s Capture and Execution, 23 Sept.–7 Oct., editorial note).

Index Entries