Archive for the ‘Franklin, Benjamin’ Category

“a Lad . . . engaged in the sea service”

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.

Phila. Octr 19 [17]81Not long since I had the pleasure of forwarding a letter from my Father to your Excellency, but as the casualties attending the receipt of letters in War time are many, it may not reach you Sir before this, if at all— And being furnished with a very favorable opportunity by the gentleman* who will honor me with the care of this, I hope you will excuse the liberty of my troubling you Sir, with a few lines; to which I am encouraged by the attention the American Minister has shewn to his unfortunate Countrymen, & my great anxiety for a Captive Brother; now a Prisoner in some part of England; late a Midshipman on board the Saratoga—Third & youngest Son of William Livingston’s—a Lad of about 19 years of age, inspired by the example of his fellow countrymen, engaged in the sea service, with a view to assist in humbling Americas proud Foes, & restoring peace & liberty to their Republic—

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.]

posted January 9th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty"

“disorder in this part of the world”

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act, the British Parliament’s attempt to impose on its American colonies a tax on such items as newsprint, bills of lading, legal documents, playing cards, indeed on every piece of printed paper. Britain was in need of money to defray the costs of the French and Indian War which it incurred in defending its possessions in America and fighting the French abroad in what is known as the Seven Years War. Americans resented this tax: it was not a duty on imported goods but a direct tax on items used internally in the various colonies and imposed without their consent. There were many protests which often turned violent. On September 22, 1765, Deborah Read Rogers Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s wife, wrote from Philadelphia to him in London where he was representing the interests of several colonies.

I am so very poor a writer that I dont undertake to say anything about the disorder in this part of the world. But to me it seems we are very wicked and so is the people in London and other places on your side the water. I pray god mend us all.
You will see by the papers what work has happened in other places and something has been said relating to raising a mob in this place.

In October Deborah again wrote to her husband, addressing him as “My Dear Child.”

I have been to see Mr. Hughes [the designated stamp distributor] who I found a little better and able to stir himself which I know will give you pleasure and the more so as you will hear no doubt how he has been used and by men that better things might be expected from. First to have the bells muffled and send two Drums about the town to raise the mob, and send them under Mr. Hughes’ window; then send messengers to tell him that they was a Coming and would be there in a minute and almost terrify his wife and Children to death; and after this, the man who was at the head of their affair to Complement himself with the merit of preventing the mob from falling on and destroying Mr. Hughes and his whole family. . . . O how I despise such men. . . .
As ever yours till Death
D Franklin

The fact of the matter is that Franklin, out of touch with sentiment in the colonies, had at first been accepting of the Stamp Act, and had in fact sought to have some of his friends named as stamp distributors. But when he realized the anger the Act had provoked in America he changed his mind, indeed testified against the Stamp Act before Parliament in 1766, helping to secure its repeal.

The above passages can be found on page 5 of In the Words of Women. Portrait by Matthew Pratt, circa 1759.

posted November 12th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Franklin, Deborah Read Rogers,London,Philadelphia,Stamp Act

“don’t you feel quite important, I assure you I do”

I seem to be fixated on MARY WHITE MORRIS. Her story is interesting and reflects the plight of many well-to-do families in Philadelphia. Uncertain whether to stay or flee must have been hard. Mary and her children remained in Philadelphia in April 1777, awaiting evidence of the enemy’s movements. She kept her mother informed. Needless to say, rumors abounded. (See previous posts here, here, and here.)

April the first [1777]My Dear Mamma
. . . a little time Unmolest’d holding our Selfs in Readiness to fly again, if the enemy moved this way, they are not yet in motion in the Jerseys, but have sent some Ships up the north River, and Destroyd one of our magazines, many think, as I told you in my last, that their Arms will be turnd to that quarter this Spring, the Congress has appointed General Gates Commander of our northern Army, he fully expects to be visitd by them, but the Discovery of a plot last week, makes me Affraid he is mistaken, and that this is still their object, theres a fellow who is Commissioned by Lord Howe, been tampering with our Pilots, makeing them great Offers, and promises of makeing their Fortunes, if they would go with him to New York, the Honest fellows, took 50 pounds as an Earnest of their promise, but with the good intention of proveing the fact, went Immediately to the Generals and lodged their Information, Accordingly he was produced and Confessd the Charge, he is an Englishman, has Served Cucessively the late mayors of this City as a Clark, went to new York, was Introduced to Lord Howe, by your Freind Joseph Galloway for those purposes which Commission, has Ended this day with his Life. . . . Mr. Hancock intends Resigning his Seat in Congress and going home, it is Imagined he will be appointd Governor of Boston, they meant to have Complimentd Mr. Morris with the Presidentship [of Congress] but he told the Gentlemen who informed Him of it, he could not Serve, as it would Interfere intirely with his private Business, so begd it might be drop’d, any peice of Intelligence I give you that only Concern our Selfs and freinds, I hope will be confined to Mr. Halls Family. . . .
. . . . [B]y a Vessel that’s arrived at Connectigut with a very Valuable Cargo of Arms, Ammunition, Woolens, and a variety of other articles, the Congress have still a more Valuable one, Dispatches from Doctor Franklin, the French have lent us a Hundred Thousand Pounds Sterling without Interest, payable when the United States have Established Independance and peace, he is received as our Embassador, and says we have every thing to expect from the favorable Disposition of the French
[D]on’t you feel quite important, I assure you I do, and begin to be Reconsiled to Independence. . . .
your very affectionate Daughter
Mary Morris

poor Tom has been under Doctor Shippens Hands
ever since we got home it was a great misfortune
he had not the attendance of a good Surgeon before,
as it would have save[d] him a good deal of Pain.

Mary wrote again on April 8 urging her parents to come to Philaldephia.

[I]t is well worth the Ride to see how Confident every one now seems of Success, Except the Torys, theres no Other news from the Camp, than that Deserters are comeing in Constantly, who all agree, that the Enemy are very Sickly, and a general Defection between the Hessian and British Soldiery, these accounts joind to the Curcumstances of their not moveing yet, all this fine weather, Joind the good News from France, has given Life and Spirit to every body who wishes us Success. . . . we have reason to think, there will be a Bank Established in France, for the Support of our Continentall money. . . .

Joseph Galloway, mentioned by Mary, became a Loyalist during the Revolution. His wife Grace Growden Galloway was unhappy in her marriage and remained in Philadelphia after the British evacuated to try to prevent the property she brought to the marriage from being confiscated by the Patriots. She was unsuccessful. Her husband took their only surviving child Elizabeth with him when he fled to New York. After the war, Galloway lived out his days in England.
When Mary says “I . . . begin to be Reconsiled to Independence,” she indicates that she as well as her husband were not initially in favor of independence, although they resented the actions of the British. Her husband in fact absented himself from the Congress when it voted for independence so that Pennsylvania’s vote would not be divided. He later signed the Declaration of Independence placing his signature right beneath that of John Hancock and committed himself to the American cause.

The letters come from the Robert Morris Collection at the Huntington Library, Lists No. 5, pages 53-55, transcribed by Louise North. [Microfilm, courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Nuxoll].

posted June 11th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Galloway, Joseph,Hancock, John,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert,Philadelphia

“Favorable . . . that you can forgit you are grown old”

In the last post Jane Mecom mentions that her brother, Benjamin Franklin, was building a new house. Benjamin Franklin expected to retire upon his return from Europe in 1785, but he was drawn into politics and elected “president” of Pennsylvania, in effect the governor, the following year. In this letter Jane rather playfully remarks that the construction will give his life a focus and make him forget that he is getting old. Jane is such a character, lively and witty, always fun to read.

Boston Oct. 12 1786Dear Brother
I am sorry you are Pesterd with Law disputes in your old Age but as that is the case it is well you have Plenty of Ground to Inlarge your Present Dwelling. It will not only be an Amusement but in all Probebilety a sample of many Ingenious contrivances for others to Profit by in Future. I Imagin Part of your Plan will be to have a Front Dore, Entry and Starecase, to go all the way up to your Lodging Rooms and garretts; besides a Pasage from the mane Hous as I sopose thro won of your best chamber closets which will be saifer in case of Fier. I shall Expect Mrs. Bache to Inform me how it is Decorated when Finished if I live so long which it is Proble Enouf I may not. It is a Favourable circumstance that you can sometimes forgit you are grown old otherwise it might chick you in many Useful Discoveries you are makeing for yer fellow men, I wish our Poor Distracted State would atend to the many good Lesons which have been frequently Publishd for there Instruction, but we seem to want Wisdon to Giued, and honesty to comply with our Duty, and so keep allways in a Flame. . . .
Jane MecomMy love to your children and Grandchildren

Don’t you like the notion of an escape route in case of fire through a door inside a closet?

The letter can be found online in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, The Digital Edition maintained by the The Packard Humanities Institute in the unpublished letters for the years 1786-87.

posted March 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Mecom, Jane

“we might have been Buried Alive “

I cannot help coming back to Jane Mecom, Benjamin Franklin’s sister who lived in Boston. The two corresponded throughout their lives. Jane’s letters are delightful to read, if only to puzzle out what she is trying to say—her spelling was atrocious. Her life was filled with difficulties, but blessed with an optimistic nature, she always seemed to make the best of things. Franklin regularly sent her both practical necessities and thoughtful gifts.

Resuming residence in Philadelphia in 1785 after years abroad, Franklin continued to help his sister. In a letter dated November 5, 1786, Jane thanked him for ten cord of wood “so that we shall have Plenty Should your Prognostications happen to be in the Right.” Benjamin’s prediction of a hard winter proved to have been spot on as the following letter confirms. This past winter in Boston seems to have been a replay of the one Jane describes.

Boston Decr 17 1786
My Dear Brother
Mr. Bradford has Just informed me of his going to Philadelphia to morrow morning. I would not let him go without a Line as I have not yet had opertunity to thank you for the charming Barrill of Flower you sent me. He is to take the Bill you Premited me to Draw, I some times seem to feel giulty at being so Expencive to you, but why should I; when I know it gives you Pleasure to make Every won happy: and I constantly feal the Blesing. Your Predictons concerning a hard winter are begining to be Verified in a formidable maner. The snow has been so Deep and we no man in the House that we might have been Buried Alive were it not for the care of some good Neibours who began to Dig us out before we were up in the morning, and cousen Williams came Puffing and Sweating, as soon as it was Posable to see how we were and if we wanted any thing, but thank God we had no want of any thing Nesesary if we had been shutt up a fortnight. Exept milk.

My Daughters Gout, or Rhumitism or what Ever it is, has not Left her yet; but she can Just hobble about the chamber, she desires her Duty to you.

I want much to know if you were so Luckey as to git your New Apartments covered in before the hard wether [Franklin was building a new house]. . . .

I had Intended to have wrote to my Niece but cannot at this time but Remember my Love to Mr. and Mrs. Bache [Benjamin’s daughter Sarah] and all the Dear Children. From your Ever obliged and Affectionat sister
Jane MecomAddressed: His Excellancey Benjamin Franklin Esqr. / Philadelphia / Favrd by Col: Bradford

The letter can be found online in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, The Digital Edition maintained by the The Packard Humanities Institute in the unpublished letters for the years 1786-87.

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