Trove of unknown Benjamin Franklin letters discovered

April 24th, 2009 - 12:42 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Apr 24 (ANI): A professor from the University of California, San Diego, has discovered a trove of letters written by Benjamin Franklin.

The notes, which have not been seen in more than 250 years, turned up in the British Library.

Discovered by Alan Houston, the letters are copies of correspondence.

All dating from the spring and summer of 1755, the 47 letters by, to and about Franklin are in the hand of one Thomas Birch, a contemporary of Franklin’s who was a prodigious - almost inveterate - compiler and transcriber of historical documents.

They are being published for the first time in the April issue of the William and Mary Quarterly.

The letters concern Franklin’s involvement in the first phase of the French and Indian War, specifically General Edward Braddock and what Franklin later called the “wagon affair.”

The French and Indian War is the North American chapter of The Seven Years’ War. The most important colonial war between Great Britain and France, it resulted, by 1763, in the French loss of most of its colonial possessions in the New World. But in 1755 that eventual outcome was not at all clear. Following George Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity the previous year, imperial authorities dispatched one of their top commanders, General Braddock, to regain control of the frontier.

Braddock landed in Virginia, tasked with capturing France’s Fort Duquesne in what is today Pittsburgh. He had been promised, by Virginia and Maryland, 2,500 horses and 250 wagons for his 250-mile overland march. Instead, he received only 20 wagons and 200 horses and exploded in anger.

Benjamin arrived just in the nick of time, offering to arrange the help of Pennsylvania farmers. He was successful. Braddock, less so: The general died in a surprise attack just a few miles shy of the fort. About 1,000 of his 1,500 men in the field were killed or wounded.Houston, professor of political science at UC San Diego, was working on his latest book, “Benjamin Franklin and the Politics of Improvement” (Yale University Press, 2008), when he discovered the new letters.

“I knew almost instantly what I was looking at,” said Houston, who specializes in the history of political thought.

“Franklin refers to a book of letters concerning the ‘wagon affair’ in his ‘Autobiography,’ but no one has ever seen it. Like others, I assumed that it had had not survived,” the expert added. (ANI)

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