J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, March 21, 2021

“A good amount of the Franklin Papers”

For anyone who cares about preserving the papers of important Founders, Valerie-Anne Lutz recounted quite a heart-stopping adventure for the American Philosophical Society in January.

Lutz wrote about Benjamin Franklin’s surviving papers:
When Franklin left for London in 1764 1776, he left his papers with his friend and fellow Pennsylvania Assembly member Joseph Galloway. Galloway kept the papers in his vault, a stone building on his property, along with some of his family’s papers and early Bucks County records.

By the time of the American Revolution, Galloway, a Loyalist, believed that the colonies should remain under British rule. This led to his departure for England in 1778 and the confiscation of his estate in 1779. The property was raided by either British or Continental forces, or both, who broke into Galloway’s vault, stole some of the papers, and left others scattered about the grounds. . . .

The letterbooks were, unfortunately, never found. For this reason, most of Franklin’s papers consist of letters to Franklin, rather than letters from Franklin. However, [son-in-law Richard] Bache was able to rescue a large amount of materials, which represent a good amount of the Franklin Papers that eventually found their way to APS.

In his will, Franklin left his papers to his grandson, William Temple Franklin, known as Temple. Intending to publish his grandfather’s papers, Temple set off for London with a portion of them, but left the largest portion with family friends, the Fox family, near Philadelphia. . . . In 1840, Charles Pemberton Fox and his sister Mary Fox gave the collection to the American Philosophical Society, where they have been ever since. . . .

A somewhat smaller collection of Franklin Papers held by the Fox family was overlooked for another 25 years. During the Civil War, the family sold some old papers from their barn to a paper mill. A house guest, identified as Mrs. Holbrook, noticed that some of the papers bore Franklin’s handwriting. She rescued them and left the papers to her son, George O. Holbrook, who, with the encouragement of physician S. Weir Mitchell, sold the collection to the University of Pennsylvania in 1903.

As for the papers that William Temple Franklin took to London, they were discovered in the 19th century in a tailor shop below where Temple had lived, where they were being used as clothing patterns. They were rescued, and after a series of legal issues, eventually were donated to the Library of Congress.
The Papers of Benjamin Franklin project built from these collections and added documents saved elsewhere to create as full a picture of the man’s correspondence and writings as possible. And we can enjoy the result through Founders Online.

Also recommended, though not as adventure reading: Jack Hitt’s article “In the Franklin Factory,” about the Papers of Benjamin Franklin as it operated about twenty-five years ago, published in Quick Studies: The Best of Lingua Franca.


Valerie-Anne Lutz said...

Hello and thank you so much for posting this!

I'm the author of the piece that you featured here and wanted to let you know about a correction that we need to make on my post: The date should be 1776, not 1764. I should have remembered that most sources note that Franklin left his papers with Galloway in 1776 when he left for France. I included the correct date in the first article that I wrote about this for the Franklin Gazette several years ago: http://friendsoffranklin.org/docs/gaz/17_4.pdf.

I've let APS know that we also need to change the "Continental Army" reference to note that accounts vary as to who did the sacking and when. In some accounts the pillagers are referred to as "the rebels" (Benjamin Vaughan to Franklin, April 9, 1779, APS) or "a mob" (Galloway to W.T. Franklin, October 28, 1783, APS). Other references, including a footnote in the Examination of Joseph Galloway (Thomas Balch, ed. Philadelphia:Collins, 1855), state that it was the British.

Some accounts note that the incident occurred in 1776, and some give the date as 1777-1778. We know that it occurred before Richard Bache's July 14, 1778 letter to Franklin (APS), and probably before Franklin's inquiry to Bache on May 22, 1777 (Yale).

The use of "Continental Army" stemmed from William W.H. Davis' account in History of Bucks County (Doylestown, Pa. : Democrat Book and Job Office Print, 1876): Davis notes that the building on Galloway's property included Franklin's papers and has "bullet holes from shots fired by soldiers in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War" (page 105).

Davis also states that "a squad of soldiers" appeared in search of Galloway in the "autumn of 1776" and "sacked the mansion and plundered the wine cellar" (page 106), However, he doesn't specifically state that the Continental Army soldiers had anything to do with this. It could have been another "mob" of "rebels" or the militia.

I'm actually in the process of sorting out some of the details with a historian who inquired about this. While reconstructing and reviewing some of my original sources, I found that you'd posted this today. I'll let you know when the post is updated.

Thanks so much again!


J. L. Bell said...

Thank you for the article! I altered it a little to reflect your corrections, and I think your comment does a good job of showing how the fog of war and passing years make it hard to pin down exactly who first messed with the papers.

For folks reading this, Val Lutz’s article discusses other curiosities of the collection, including how a bunch of Galloway family papers were also scooped up by Franklin’s son-in-law and remained with the collection ever since.