The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Fifty Three

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Section Fifty Three[edit]

The Secretary’s Papers with all the General’s Orders, Instructions and Correspondence falling into the Enemy’s Hands, they selected and translated into French a Number of the Articles, which they printed to prove the hostile Intentions of the British Court before the Declaration of War. Among these I saw some Letters of the General to the Ministry speaking highly of the great Service I had rendered the Army, & recommending me to their Notice. David Hume too, who was some Years after Secretary to Lord Harcourt when Minister in France, and afterwards to Genl Conway when Secretary of State, told me he had seen among the Papers in that Office Letters from Braddock highly recommending me. But the Expedition having been unfortunate, my Service it seems was not thought of much Value, for those Recommendations were never of any Use to me.

As to Rewards from himself, I ask’d only one, which was, that he would give Orders to his Officers not to enlist any more of our bought Servants, and that he would discharge such as had been already enlisted. This he readily granted, and several were accordingly return’d to their Masters on my Application. Dunbar, when the Command devolv’d on him, was not so generous. He Being at Philadelphia on his Retreat, or rather Flight, I apply’d to him for the Discharge of the Servants of three poor Farmers of Lancaster County that he had enlisted, reminding him of the late General’s Orders on that head. He promis’d me, that if the Masters would come to him at Trenton, where he should be in a few Days on his March to New York, he would there deliver their Men to them. They accordingly were at the Expense & Trouble of going to Trenton, and there he refus’d to perform his Promise, to their great Loss & disappointment. As soon as the Loss of the Wagons and Horses was generally known, all the Owners came upon me for the Valuation which I had given Bond to pay. Their Demands gave me a great deal of Trouble, my acquainting them that the Money was ready in the Paymaster’s Hands, but that Orders for paying it must first be obtained from General Shirley, and my assuring them that I had apply’d to that General by Letter, but he being at a Distance an Answer could not soon be receiv’d, and they must have Patience; all this was not sufficient to satisfy, and some began to sue me. General Shirley at length reliev’d me from this terrible Situation, by appointing Commissioners to examine the Claims and ordering Payment. They amounted to near twenty Thousand Pound, which to pay would have ruined me.

Before we had the News of this Defeat, the two Doctors Bond came to me with a Subscription Paper, for raising Money to defray the Expense of a grand Fire Work, which it was intended to exhibit at a Rejoicing on receipt of the News of our Taking Fort Duquesne. I looked grave and said “it would, I thought, be time enough to prepare for the Rejoicing when we knew we should have occasion to rejoice.” They seem’d surpris’d that I did not immediately comply with their Proposal. “Why, the D——I,” says one of them, “you surely don’t suppose that the Fort will not be taken?” “I don’t know that it will not be taken; but I know that the Events of War are subject to great Uncertainty.” I gave them the reasons of my doubting. The Subscription was dropped, and the Projectors thereby miss’d the Mortification they would have undergone if the Firework had been prepared. Dr Bond on some other Occasions afterwards said, that he did not like Franklin’s forebodings.

Governor Morris who had continually worried the Assembly with Message after Message before the Defeat of Braddock, to beat them into the making of Acts to raise Money for the Defense of the Province without Taxing among others the Proprietary Estates, and had rejected all their Bills for not having such an exempting Clause, now redoubled his Attacks, with more hope of Success, the Danger & Necessity being greater. The Assembly however continu’d firm, believing they had Justice on their side, and that it would be giving up an essential Right, if they suffered the Governor to amend their Money-Bills. In one of the last, indeed, which was for granting 50,000£ his propos’d Amendment was only of a single Word; the Bill express’d that all Estates real and personal were to be taxed, those of the Proprietaries not excepted. His Amendment was; for not read only. A small but very material Alteration! However, when the News of this Disaster reach’d England, our Friends there whom we had taken care to furnish with all the Assembly’s Answers to the Governor’s Messages, rais’d a Clamor against the Proprietaries for their Meanness & Injustice in giving their Governor such Instructions, some going so far as to say that by obstructing the Defense of their Province, they forfeited their Right to it. They were intimidated by this, and sent Orders to their Receiver General to add 5000£ of their Money to whatever Sum might be given by the Assembly, for such Purpose. This being notified to the House, was accepted in Lieu of their Share of a general Tax, and a new Bill was form’d with an exempting Clause which pass’d accordingly. By this Act I was appointed one of the Commissioners for disposing of the Money, 60,000£. I had been active in modelling it, and procuring its Passage: and had at the same time drawn a Bill for establishing and disciplining a voluntary Militia, which I carried thro’ the House without much Difficulty, as Care was taken in it, to leave the Quakers at their Liberty. To promote the Association necessary to form the Militia, I wrote a Dialogue, stating and answering all the Objections I could think of to such a Militia, which was printed & had as I thought great Effect. While the several Companies in the City & Country were forming and learning their Exercise, the Governor prevail’d with me to take Charge of our Northwestern Frontier, which was infested by the Enemy, and provide for the Defense of the Inhabitants by raising Troops, & building a Line of Forts. I undertook this military Business, tho’ I did not conceive myself well-qualified for it. He gave me a Commission with full Powers and a Parcel of blank Commissions for Officers, to be given to whom I thought fit. I had but little Difficulty in raising Men, having soon 560 under my Command. My Son who had in the preceding War been an Officer in the Army rais’d against Canada, was my Aid de Camp, and of great Use to me. The Indians had burnt Gnadenhut, a Village settled by the Moravians, and massacred the Inhabitants, but the Place was thought a good Situation for one of the Forts. In order to march thither, I assembled the Companies at Bethlehem, the chief Establishment of those People. I was surprised to find it in so good a Posture of Defense. The Destruction of Gnadenhut had made them apprehend Danger. The principal Buildings were defended by a Stockade. They had purchased a Quantity of Arms & Ammunition from New York, and had even plac’d Quantities of small Paving Stones between the Windows of their high Stone Houses, for their Women to throw down upon the Heads of any Indians that should attempt to force into them. The armed Brethren too, kept Watch, and reliev’d as methodically as in any Garrison Town. In Conversation with Bishop Spangenberg, I mention’d this my Surprise; for knowing they had obtain’d an Act of Parliament exempting them from military Duties in the Colonies, I had suppos’d they were conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms. He answer’d me, “That it was not one of their establish’d Principles; but that at the time of their obtaining that Act, it was thought to be a Principle with many of their People. On this Occasion, however, they to their Surprise found it adopted by but a few.” It seems they were either deceiv’d in themselves, or deceiv’d the Parliament. But Common Sense aided by present Danger, will sometimes be too strong for whimsical Opinions.