The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Sixty One
Section Sixty One
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 sail’d. There were then two of the Packet Boats which had been long in Port, but were detain’d for the General’s Letters, which were always to be ready to- morrow. Another Packet arriv’d and she too was detain’d, and before we sail’d a fourth was expected. Ours was the first to be dispatch’d as having been there longest. Passengers were engag’d in all, & some extremely impatient to be gone, and the Merchants uneasy about their Letters, & the Orders they had given for Insurance, (it being Wartime) & for Fall Goods. But their Anxiety avail’d nothing; his Lordship’s Letters were not ready. And yet whoever 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 from thence express, with a Packet from Governor Denny for the General. He deliver’d to me some Letters from my Friends there, which occasion’d my inquiring when he was to return & where he lodg’d, that I might send some Letters by him. He told me he was order’d 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 return’d, Innis! Return’d; No, I am not gone yet.—How so?—I have call’d here by Order every Morning these two Weeks past for his Lordship’s Letter, and it is not yet ready.—Is it possible, when he is so great a Writer, for I see him constantly at his Scritore. Yes, says 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 gave it as one Reason for Removing this General, and sending Amherst & Wolf, that the Ministers never heard from him, and could not know what he was doing.
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 right we were about Six Weeks, consuming our Sea Stores, and oblig’d to procure more. At length the Fleet sail’d, the General and all his Army on board, bound to Louisburg with Intent to besiege and take that Fortress; all the Packet Boats in Company, ordered to attend the General’s Ship, ready to receive his Dispatches when those should be ready. We were out 5 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 detain’d, carry’d them with him to Halifax, where he stayed some time to exercise the Men in sham Attacks upon sham Forts, then alter’d his Mind as to besieging Louisburg, and return’d to New York with all his Troops, together with the two Packets abovementioned and all their Passengers. During his Absence the French and Savages had taken Fort George on the Frontier of that Province, and the Savages had massacred many of the Garrison after Capitulation. I saw afterwards in London, Capt. Bonnell, who commanded one of those Packets. He told me, that when he had been detain’d a Month, he acquainted his Lordship that his Ship had grown foul, to a degree that must necessarily hinder her fast Sailing, a Point of consequence for a Packet Boat, and requested an Allowance of Time to heave her down and clean her Bottom. He was ask’d how long time that would require. He answer’d Three Days. The General reply’d, If you can do it in one Day, I give leave; otherwise not; for you must certainly sail the Day after to-morrow. So he never obtain’d leave tho’ detain’d afterwards from day to day during full three Months. I saw also in London one of Bonnell’s Passengers, who was so enrag’d against his Lordship for deceiving and detaining him so long at New York, and then carrying him to Halifax, and back again, that he swore he would sue him for Damages. Whether he did or not I never heard; but as he represented the Injury to his Affairs it was very considerable. On the whole I then wonder’d much, how such a Man came to be entrusted 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 & 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 Loudon in 1757, which was frivolous, expensive and disgraceful to our Nation beyond Conception: For tho’ Shirley was not a bred Soldier, he was sensible and sagacious in himself, and attentive to good Advice from others, capable of forming judicious Plans, quick and active in carrying them into Execution. Loudon, instead of defending the Colonies with his great Army, left them totally expos’d while he paraded it idly at Halifax, by which means Fort George was lost; besides he derang’d all our mercantile Operations, & distress’d our Trade by a long Embargo on the Exportation of Provisions, on pretense of keeping Supplies from being obtain’d by the Enemy, but in reality for beating down their Price in Favor 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, by neglecting to send Notice of it to Charlestown, the Carolina Fleet was detain’d near three Months longer, whereby their Bottoms were so much damag’d by the Worm, that a great Part of them founder’d in the Passage home. Shirley was I believe sincerely glad of being reliev’d 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 Loudon on his taking upon him the Command. Shirley, tho’ thereby superseded, was present also. There was a great Company of officers, Citizens and Strangers, and some Chairs having been borrowed in the Neighborhood, there was one among them very low which fell to the Lot of Mr Shirley. Perceiving it as I sat by him, I said, They have given you, Sir, too low a Seat. No Matter, says he, Mr Franklin; I find a low Seat the easiest!
While I was, as aforemention’d, detain’d at New York, I receiv’d all the Accounts of the Provisions, &c. that I had furnish’d to Braddock, some of which Accounts could not sooner be obtain’d from the different Persons I had employ’d to assist in the Business. I presented them to Lord Loudon, desiring to be paid the Balance. He caus’d them to be regularly examin’d by the proper Officer, who, after comparing every Article with its Voucher, certified them to be right, and the Balance due, for which his Lordship promis’d to give me an Order on the Paymaster. This, however, was put off from time to time, and tho’ 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, says he, when in England, have only to exhibit your Accounts at the Treasury, and you will be paid immediately. I mention’d, but without Effect, the great & unexpected Expense I had been put to by being detain’d so long at New York, as a Reason for my desiring to be presently paid; and On my observing that it was not right I should be put to any farther Trouble or Delay in obtaining the Money I had advanc’d, as I charg’d no Commissions for my Service, O, Sir, says he, you must not think of persuading us that you are no Gainer. We understand better those Affairs, and know that every one concern’d in supplying the Army finds means in the doing it to fill his own Pockets. I assur’d him that was not my Case, and that I had not pocketed a Farthing: but he appear’d clearly not to believe me; and indeed I have since learned that immense Fortunes are often made in such Employment. As to my Balance, I am not paid it to this Day, of which more hereafter.