CATHARINE LIVINGSTON undertook the responsibility of contacting Benjamin Franklin, at the time Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to France, concerning the fate of her brother John Lawrence. Catharine was the daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, and the elder sister of Sarah Livingston Jay. The Livingston family was exceedingly concerned as they had not heard from their son/brother who was a midshipman on the Saratoga in nearly a year.
The purport of my father’s letter, was Sir, to request your interest in releiving & effecting as far as in your power his Sons exchange. It is near a twelve month since my Brother left America, & no particulars has reached his family respecting his fate, but the capture of the Ship in which he sailed; for many months we suffered much on his account, those less interested than his relatives, gave up all Idea of ever hearing of the saratoga— our hope was a remote one, & would admit only of the cruel alternative of capture— my brothers situation is particularly unfortunate to him, as he has not for a few years past enjoy’d his health except at Sea, tho naturally sound & strong constitution’d—but impaired in being often exposed in the frequent incursions of the Enemy in New Jersey the State of his residence—nor can he flatter himself that he will find friends in a country to which his father is so notoriously an Enemy to—
Any releif that he experiences in consequence of your Excellency’s exertions in his favor, will be gratefully acknowledged by his Family & Friends, & particularly so by his affectionate Sister, & your very obliged Friend & Admirer
Catharine W Livingston
P.S. My Brothers name is John Lawrence Livingston
* Matthew Ridley, whom Catharine later married.
It was later learned that John Livingston was not a prisoner of war but was lost at sea with all his shipmates when the Saratoga was sunk. Such a long time to discover the truth, for a family to hope, and then to mourn. Not at all uncommon at that time.
“To Benjamin Franklin from Catharine W. Livingston, 19 October 1781,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-35-02-0464. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 35, May 1 through October 31, 1781, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999, pp. 611–612.]