BENT ON A MISSION TO ENGLAND.
OUR new governor, Captain Denny, brought over for me the before-mentioned medal from the Royal Society, which he presented to me at an entertainment given him by the city. He accompanied it with very polite expressions of his esteem for me, having, as he said, been long acquainted with my character. After dinner he took me aside into another room, and acquainted me, that he had been advised by his friends in England to cultivate a friendship with me, as one who was capable of giving him the best advice, and of contributing most effectually to the making his administration easy. That he therefore desired of all things to have a good understanding with me, and he begged me to be assured of his readiness on all occasions to render me every service that might be in his power. He said much to me also of the Proprietor’s good disposition towards the province, and of the advantage it would be to us all, and to me in particular, if the opposition that had been so long continued to his measures was dropped, and harmony restored between him and the people; in effecting which it was thought no one could be more serviceable than myself; and I might depend on adequate acknowledgments and recompenses.
My answers were to this purpose: that my circumstances, thanks to God, were such as to make Proprietary favours unnecessary to me; and that, being a member of the Assembly, I could not possibly accept of any; that, however, I had no personal enmity to the Proprietary, and that, whenever the public measures he proposed should appear to be for the good of the people, no one would espouse and forward them more zealously than myself; my past opposition having been founded on this, that the measures which had been urged were evidently intended to serve the Proprietary interest, with great prejudice to that of the people. That I was much obliged to him (the Governor) for his profession of regard to me, and that he might rely on everything in my power to render his administration as easy to him as possible, hoping, at the same time, that he had not brought with him the same unfortunate instructions his predecessors had been hampered with.
On this he did not then explain himself; but when he afterwards came to do business with the Assembly, they appeared again, the disputes were renewed, and I was as active as ever in the opposition, being the penman, first of the request to have a communication of the instructions, and then of the remarks upon them, which may be found in the Votes of the time, and in the Historical Review I afterwards published. But between us personally no enmity arose; we were often together; he was a man of letters, had seen much of the world, and was entertaining and pleasing in conversation. He gave me information, that my old friend Ralph was still alive; that he was esteemed one of the best political writers in England; had been employed in the dispute between Prince Frederick and the King, and had obtained a pension of three hundred pounds a year; that his reputation was indeed small as a poet, Pope having ridiculed his poetry in the Dunciad, but his prose was thought as good as any man’s.
The Assembly finally finding the Proprietary obstinately persisted in shackling the deputies with instructions inconsistent not only with the privileges of the people, but with the service of the crown, resolved to petition the King against them, and appointed me their agent to go over to England to present and support the petition. The House had sent up a bill to the Governor, granting a sum of sixty thousand pounds for the King’s use (ten thousand pounds of which was subjected to the orders of the then General, Lord Loudoun), which the Governor, in compliance with his instructions, absolutely refused to pass.
I had agreed with Captain Morris, of the packet at New York, for my passage, and my stores were put on board; when Lord Loudoun arrived at Philadelphia, expressly, as he told me to endeavour an accommodation between the Governor and Assembly, that His Majesty’s service might not be obstructed by their dissensions. Accordingly he desired the Governor and myself to meet him, that he might hear what was to be said on both sides. We met and discussed the business. In behalf of the Assembly, I urged the various arguments, that may be found in the public papers of that time, which were of my writing, and are printed with the minutes of the Assembly; and the Governor pleaded his instructions, the bond he had given to observe them, and his ruin if he disobeyed; yet seemed not unwilling to hazard himself, if Lord Loudoun would advise it. This his lordship did not choose to do, though I once thought I had nearly prevailed with him to do it; but finally he rather chose to urge the compliance of the Assembly; and he entreated me to use my endeavours with them for that purpose, declaring that he would spare none of the King’s troops for the defence of our frontiers, and that, if we did not continue to provide for that defence ourselves, they must remain exposed to the enemy.
I acquainted the House with what had passed, and presenting them with a set of resolutions I had drawn up, declaring our rights, that we did not relinquish our claim to those rights, but only suspended the exercise of them on this occasion through force, against which we protested—they at length agreed to drop that bill, and frame another conformable to the Proprietary instructions. This of course the Governor passed, and I was then at liberty to proceed on my voyage. But in the meantime the packet had sailed with my sea-stores, which was some loss to me, and my only recompense was his lordship’s thanks for my service; all the credit of obtaining the accommodation falling to his share.
He set out for New York before me; and, as the time for despatching the packet-boats was at his disposition, and there were two then remaining there, one of which, he said, was to sail very soon, I requested to know the precise time, that I might not miss her by any delay of mine. The answer was: "I have given out that she is to sail on Saturday next, but I may let you know, entre nous, that if you are there by Monday morning you will be in time, but do not delay longer." By some accidental hindrance at a ferry, it was Monday noon before I arrived, and I was much afraid she might have sailed, as the wind was fair; but I was soon made easy by the information that she was still in the harbour, and would not move till the next day. One would imagine that I was now on the very point of departing for Europe. I thought so; but I was not then so well acquainted with his lordship’s character, of which indecision was one of the strongest features. I shall give some instances. It was about the beginning of April that I came to New York, and I think it was near the end of June before we sailed. There were then two of the packet-boats, which had been long in readiness, but were detained for the General’s letters, which were always to be ready to-morrow. Another packet arrived; she too was detained; and, before we sailed, a fourth was expected. Ours was the first to be despatched, as having been there longest. Passengers were engaged for all, and some extremely impatient to be gone, and the merchants uneasy about their letters, and the orders they had given for insurance (it being war time), and for adtumnal goods; but their anxiety availed nothing; his lordship’s letters were not ready; and yet who ever waited on him found him always at his desk, pen in hand, and concluded he must needs write abundantly.
Going myself one morning to pay my respects, I found in his antechamber one Innis, a messenger of Philadelphia, who had come thence express, with a packet from Governor Denny, for the General. He delivered to me some letters from my friends there, which occasioned my inquiring when he was to return, and where he lodged, that I might send some letters by him. He told me he was ordered to call to-morrow at nine for the General’s answer to the Governor, and should set off immediately. I put my letters into his hands the same day. A fortnight after I met him again in the same place. "So, you are soon returned, Innis?" "Returned! no, I am not gone yet." "How so?" "I have called here this and every morning these two weeks past for his lordship’s letters, and they are not yet ready." "Is it possible, when he is so great a writer, for I see him constantly at his escritoire?" "Yes," said Innis, "but he is like St. George on the signs, always on horseback, and never rides on." This observation of the messenger was, it seems, well founded; for, when in England, I understood that Mr. Pitt, afterwards Lord Chatham gave it as one reason for removing this general, and sending Generals Amherst and Wolfe, that the minister never heard from him, and could not know what he was doing.
In this daily expectation of sailing, and all the three packets going down to Sandy Hook, to join the fleet there, the passengers thought it best to be on board, lest by a sudden order the ships should sail, and they be left behind. There, if I remember, we were about six weeks, consuming our sea-stores, and obliged to procure more. At length the fleet sailed, the General and all his army on board, bound to Louisbourg, with intent to besiege and take that fortress; and all the packet-boats in company were ordered to attend the General’s ship, ready to receive his despatches when they should be ready. We were out five days before we got a letter with leave to part, and then our ship quitted the fleet and steered for England. The other two packets he still detained, carried them with him to Halifax, where he stayed some time to exercise the men in sham attacks upon sham forts, then altered his mind as to besieging Louisbonrg and returned to New York with all his troops, together with the two packets above mentioned, and all their passengers! During his absence the French and savages had taken Fort George on the frontier of that province, and the Indians had massacred many of the garrison after capitulation.
On the whole, I wondered much how such a man came to be intrusted with so important a business as the conduct of a great army; but, having since seen more of the great world, and the means of obtaining, and motives for giving, places and employments, my wonder is diminished. General Shirley, on whom the command of the army devolved upon the death of Braddock, would, in my opinion, if continued in place, have made a much better campaign than that of Loudoun in 1756, which was frivolous, expensive and disgraceful to our nation beyond conception. For though Shirley was not bred a soldier, he was sensible and sagacious in himself, and attentive to good advice from others capable of forming judicious plans, and quick and active in carrying them into execution. Loudoun, instead of defending the colonies with his great army, left them totally exposed, while he paraded idly at Halifax, by which means Fort George was lost; besides, he deranged all our mercantile operations, and distressed our trade, by a long embargo on the exportation of provisions, on pretence of keeping supplies from being obtained by the enemy, but in reality for beating down their price in favour of the contractors, in whose profits it was said, perhaps from suspicion only, he had a share; and, when at length the embargo was taken off, neglecting to send notice of it to Charleston, where the Carolina fleet was detained near three months, and whereby their bottoms were so much damaged by the worm, that a great part of them foundered in their passage home.
Shirley was, I believe, sincerely glad of being relieved from so burdensome a charge, as the conduct of an army must be to a man unacquainted with military business. I was at the entertainment given by the city of New York to Lord Loudoun, on his taking upon him the command. Shirley, though thereby susperseded, was present also. There was a great company of officers, citizens, and strangers, and, some chairs having been borrowed in the neighbourhood, there was one among them very low, which tell to the lot of Mr. Shirley. I sat by him, and perceiving it, I said, "They have given you a very low seat." "No matter, Mr. Franklin," said he, "I find a low seat the easiest."
While I was, as before mentioned, detained at New York, I received all the accounts of the provisions, &c., that I had furnished to Braddock, some of which accounts could not sooner be obtained from the different persons I had employed to assist in the business. I presented them to Lord Loudoun, desiring to be paid the balance. He caused them to be examined by the proper officer, who, after comparing every article with its voucher, certified them to be right; and his lordship promised to give me an order on the paymaster for the balance due to me. This was, however, put off from time to time; and, though I called often for it by appointment, I did not get it. At length, just before my departure, he told me he had, on better consideration, concluded not to mix his accounts with those of his predecessors. "And you," said he, "when in England, have only to exhibit your accounts to the Treasury, and you will be paid immediately."
I mentioned, but without effect, a great and unexpected expense I had been put to by being detained so long at New York, as a reason for my desiring to be presently paid; and, on my observing that it was not right that I should be put to any further trouble or delay in obtaining the money I had advanced, as I charged no commission for my service, "Oh," said he, "you must not think of persuading us that you are no gainer; we understand better those matters, and know, that every one concerned in supplying the army finds means, in the doing it, to fill his own pockets." I assured him that was not my case, and that I had not pocketed a farthing; but he appeared clearly not to believe me; and indeed I afterwards learned, that immense fortunes are often made in such employments. As to my balance, I am not paid it to this day; of which more hereafter.
Our captain of the packet boasted much, before we sailed, of the swiftness of his ship; unfortunately, when we came to sea, she proved the dullest of ninety-six sail, to his no small mortification. After many conjectures respecting the cause, when we were near another ship almost as dull as ours, which, however, gained upon us, the captain ordered all hands to come aft and stand as near the ensign staff as possible. We were, passengers included, about forty persons. While we stood there, the ship mended her pace, and soon left her neighbour far behind, which proved clearly what our captain suspected, that she was loaded too much by the head. The casks of water, it seems, had been all placed forward; these he therefore ordered to be moved further aft, on which the ship recovered her character, and proved the best sailer in the fleet.
The foregoing fact I give for the sake of the following observation. It has been remarked, as an imperfection in the art of shipbuilding, that it can never be known till she is tried, whether a new ship will, or will not, be a good sailer; for that the model of a good-sailing ship has been exactly followed in a new one, which has been proved on the contrary remarkably dull. I apprehend, that this may partly be occasioned by the different opinions of seamen respecting the modes of loading, rigging, and sailing of a ship; each has his method, and the same vessel, laden by the method and orders of one captain, shall sail worse than when by the orders of another. Besides, it scarce ever happens, that a ship is formed, fitted for the sea, and sailed by the same person. One man builds the hull, another rigs her, a third loads and sails her. No one of these has the advantage of knowing all the ideas and experience of the others, and, therefore, cannot draw just conclusions from a combination of the whole.
Even in the simple operation of sailing when at sea, I have often observed different judgments in the officers who commanded the successive watches, the wind being the same. One would have the sails trimmed sharper or flatter than another, so that they seemed to have no certain rule to govern by. Yet I think a set of experiments might be instituted, first, to determine the most proper form of the hull for swift sailing; next, the best dimensions and most proper place for the masts; then the form and quantity of sails, and their position, as the wind may be; and lastly, the disposition of the lading. This is an age of experiments, and I think a set accurately made and combined would be of great use.
We were several times chased in our passage, but outsailed everything; and in thirty days had soundings. We had a good observation, and the captain judged himself so near our port, Falmouth, that, if we made a good run in the night, we might be off the mouth of that harbour in the morning; and by running in the night might escape the notice of the enemy’s privateers, who often cruised near the entrance of the Channel. Accordingly all the sail was set that we could possibly carry, and the wind being very fresh and fair, we stood right before it, and made great way. The captain, after his observation, shaped his course, as he thought, so as to pass wide of the Scilly Isles; but it seems there is sometimes a strong current setting up St. George’s Channel, which deceives seamen and caused the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovel’s squadron in 1707. This was probably also the cause of what happened to us.
We had a watchman placed in the bow, to whom they often called, "Look well out before there;" and he answered, "Ay, ay "; but perhaps had his eyes shut, and was half asleep at the time; they sometimes answering, as is said, mechanically; for he did not see a light just before us, which had been hid by the studding-sails from the man at the helm, and from the rest of the watch, but by an accidental yaw of the ship was discovered, and occasioned a great alarm, we being very near it: the light appearing to me as large as a cartwheel. It was midnight, and our captain fast asleep; but Captain Kennedy, jumping upon deck, and seeing the danger, ordered the ship to wear round, all sails standing; an operation dangerous to the masts, but it carried us clear, and we avoided shipwreck, for we were running fast on the rocks, on which the light was erected. This deliverance impressed me strongly with the utility of lighthouses, and made me resolve to encourage the building more of them in America if I should live to return thither.
In the morning it was found by the soundings that we were near our port, but a thick fog hid the land from our sight. About nine o’clock the fog began to rise, and seemed to be lifted up from the water like the curtain of a theatre, discovering underneath the town of Falmouth, the vessels in the harbour, and the fields that surround it. This was a pleasing spectacle to those who had been long without any other prospect than the uniform view of a vacant ocean, and it gave us the more pleasure, as we were now free from the anxieties which had arisen.1
I set out immediately with my son for London, and we only stopped a little by the way to view Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and Lord Pembroke’s house and gardens, with the very curious antiquities, at Wilton. We arrived in London, the 27th of July, 1757.1