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M-35: Franklin, Benjamin

SCOPE: Letter to Cambridge, Maryland concerning arrival in France.

HOLDINGS: 1 Letter, December, 15, 1781. A. L. S.

ACCESS: A transcription of the letter is available for download.  Due to rarity and condition, access to this collection is limited please contact the staff member listed below.

HISTORY: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, printer, scientist and writer.

Late 1781 was a critical period in the emergence of the United States as an independent nation. The defining event was the surrender of Earl Cornwallis’ Army at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. This was to result in the British recognition of the futility of continuing the war, the collapse of Lord North’s ministry in the following March, and the subsequent negotiations for peace and the de facto recognition of the U.S. independence during 1782. In December 1781 Franklin was U.S. Ambassador to France and would become one of the five Commissioners charged by Congress to negotiate peace with Great Britain. Franklin learned of Cornwallis’ defeat on November 19, 1781.

This short letter raises several questions. 1) to whom was the letter addressed?, 2) what was the “committee”?, 3) was the letter being addressed to Cambridge, Maryland in the US, and 4), why would Franklin be leaving Paris at this critical time to travel to Rheims? At this writing only conjecture can offer some possible answers. The reference to his enclosing a letter to Franklin’s correspondent indicates they are both involved with the “committee” in some fashion and that it may have a tie to Cambridge. One possibility is that this does not involve official diplomatic business but may be personal affairs associated with some of Franklin’s many scientific, philosophical or unofficial political affairs. If it is assumed that the letter is addressed to Cambridge, Maryland who might the addressee be? Cambridge, MD is a small town on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. One possibility is Robert Goldsborough (1733-1788), a life long resident and practicing lawyer of the town. As a young man Robert traveled to London to study law at the Inner Temple. He was admitted to the bar in 1754 and remained in England practicing law until 1759 when he returned to America. His English period was the time when Franklin was also in England serving as the representative for several of the colonies. They may have met there. In 1774 Goldsborough was a delegate to the Continental Congress - he served until May 1776. Later that year he attended the Convention that drafted Maryland’s first state constitution. Under the new state constitution, he was elected to the first Maryland Senate in 1777. In 1787, he was selected as a representative to attend the U.S. Constitutional Convention, but did not attend due to poor health. As for Item 4, it is possible that, although Franklin would have been busy with the rapidly evolving diplomatic situation, this was Christmas time and Franklin may have been taking a short sojourn to visit one of his many French friends or acquaintances. This letter could be the basis of new research in the life of Franklin.

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