George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Salisbury Franks, 12 May 1789

From David Salisbury Franks

New York 12th May 1789.

Early in the Year 1774, I settled in Montreal with a small Capital and a considerable Credit as a Merchant & was successful in Business. In the Spring of 1775 I suffered a short tho rigorous imprisonment on Account of my attachment to the Cause of America. As soon as the Troops under General Montgomery took Possession of Montreal I did everything in my Power to promote their Success, & at one time advanced nearly to the Amount of Five hundred half Johanes in Goods & Money, which was afterwards paid to me in depreciated Paper. In 1776 soon after the unfortunate Attack on Quebec, General Wooster appointed me to the office of Clerk of the Checque or Paymaster to the Artificers of the Garrison of Montreal, in which Capacity I was indefatigable in forwarding the public Works, & again advanced considerable Sums of Money, at times when there was not a farthing in the Military Chest to satisfy the demands of the Workmen. When the Northern Army retreated from Canada, I join’d it as a Volunteer & continued attached to that army with some little intermission until the reduction of General Burgoyne. In 1778, after the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British Army & on the arrival of Count D’Estaing I procured Letters of recommendation from the Board of War, from Mr Gerard & Mr Deane who came with the Count & join’d him off Sandy Hook, I continued with that Admiral until he arrived at Rhode Island, when on the failure of that Expedition I returned to Philadelphia where my military Duty called me.

In 1779 I went a Volunteer to Charles Town & was an Aid de Camp in General Lincoln’s Family ’till I was recalled to attend the Tryal of General Arnold. In 1780,1 was in Arnolds military Family at West Point until his Desertion to the Enemy, when a Court of Enquiry which I had solicited of the Commander in chief made the Report which accompanies this, and which His Excellency was pleased to accept and approve. In 1781 The Superintendant of Finance sent me with Dispatches to Mr Jay at Madrid & to Mr Franklin at Paris. I continued employed in Europe until the next Year when I returned home with the approbation of our Ministers, as well as of Mr Morris, for my Conduct while abroad. At my return I found myself deranged from the Line of the Army but on application to Congress I was reinstated for one Year only. When Mr Jefferson was going to Paris, one of the Commissioners for making a Treaty of Peace, he took me into his Family: we waited a considerable Time at Baltimore for an Opportunity to go to Sea (a British Squadron then guarding the Bay of Chesapeak) Congress in the mean while received information that a Treaty was already signed & this precluded the necessity of Mr Jefferson’s embarking.1 I then solicited the Secretary for foreign Affairs for an appointment in the Consular Line, and procured a recommendation from some of the most eminent Merchants of my native Place. Mr Livingston mentioned me in a particular Manner to Congress, a Copy of his Letter and of that of the Merchants, are joined herewith.2

In the Winter of the Year 1784 Congress dispatched me to Europe with a Copy of the ratification of the definitive Treaty, which I had the Honor of delivering to our Ministers in Paris, where I remained ill of a Fever, which prevented me Going to Holland in consequence of orders received from the Superintendant of Finance. In 1785 I went at a considerable Expence to Marseilles to which Place Mr Barclay had named me Vice Consul. I resided there ’till my little Stock of Money was nearly exhausted & in the Spring of 1786 I returned to Paris; for my first Voyage to Europe, as well as the second with the ratification of the definitive Treaty, and for my residence at Marseilles as Vice Consul, I never received any emolument whatever. In fall 1786 Mr Barclay was commissioned by our Ministers for making a Treaty of Peace And Commerce with the Emperor of Morocco3 & I was appointed his Secretary; previous to our departure for Africa it was judged necessary to send a Confidential Person to London to get the proper Instruments signed by Mr Adams & to fix the mode of drawing Bills of Exchange &c., with that Gentleman; I offered myself & executed what depended on me in the two journeys I made to London with Zeal & dispatch. After Mr Barclay’s return to Spain from Morocco where he had compleated a Treaty with the Emperor I was sent by him with it from Madrid to Paris & from thence by Mr Jefferson to London to get Mr Adams’s signature to it. In the month of March following I embarked by order of our Ministers for America, bearer of the Treaty of Morocco & had the Honor of delivering it to Mr Jay at New York in the Month of May; with me I also brought Testimonials of the approbation of our Ministers abroad as appears by their public Dispatches.

Thus I have devoted Eleven Years of the best Part of my Life to the Service of my Country, in all which time, I am bold to say that I have ever been actuated by a disenterested Zeal for her Honor & Prosperity.

Davd Franks.


The career of David Salisbury Franks (c.1740–1793) during and immediately after the Revolution is adequately described in his letter to GW. After his return to the United States in 1787 Franks was in considerable financial difficulties with extensive debts both abroad and in the United States, a condition he hoped to remedy with a federal appointment. On 11 June 1789 he wrote again to GW: “When I had the Honor of addressing you my last Letter, in delicacy to Mr Barclay I did not mention my desire to succeed him as Consul General in France, he being still in Possession of that Office. I now have his Consent to apply for it, and next to being employed as I have already described, that would be my Object” (DLC:GW). Franks received no consular appointment, but in August 1789 he served as secretary to the commissioners GW appointed to negotiate with the Creek Indians. After his return from the mission in November 1789 he settled in Philadelphia and served as assistant cashier of the Bank of the United States in that city. He died of yellow fever during the 1793 epidemic.

1Failing to secure a consular appointment from GW in 1789, Franks approached Jefferson, 8 Feb. 1790, for a post in the State Department, preferably as Jefferson’s secretary. He recapitulated his services to the United States, believing they had been such “as not to merit a forfeiture of that Place in your good Opinion, which I once had reason to flatter myself I possessed” (DLC:GW). Franks clearly overestimated Jefferson’s esteem. Writing to Madison on 14 Feb. 1783, while both he and Franks were waiting for a ship to France, Jefferson commented: “my stay here has given me opportunities of making some experiments on my amanuensis Franks. . . . He appears to have a good enough heart, an understanding somewhat better than common but too little guard over his lips. I have marked him particularly in the company of women where he loses all power over himself and becomes almost frenzied. His temperature would not be proof against their allurements were such to be employed as engines against him. This is in some measure the vice of his age but it seems to be increased also by his peculiar constitution” (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 6:241–44).

2The enclosures were copies of a letter from Robert R. Livingston to the president of Congress, 5 June 1783, recommending Franks to succeed Thomas Barclay as United States consul in France and a certificate, 10 May 1783, signed by a group of New York merchants, supporting the appointment. Both documents are in DLC:GW.

3For Thomas Barclay’s career, see Barclay to GW, 18 Feb. 1789. Barclay went in the fall of 1785 to negotiate a treaty with Morocco (Jefferson to John Jay, 11 Oct. 1785, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 8:606–9). Barclay, accompanied by Franks, arrived in Morocco in June 1786. Over the next few months Barclay succeeded in negotiating a liberal treaty, with commerce between the two powers placed reciprocally on a most favored nation standing (Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 2:185–227).

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