Elk Landing and Ben Franklin
Today marks the 306th anniversary of the birth of American statesman, diplomat, philosopher, and entrepreneur, Benjamin Franklin. Dr. Franklin has at least 2 connections to Historic Elk Landing. The first occurred in 1756 when Franklin traveled through Elk Landing on his way to receive an honorary Masters Degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The second was a decade and a half later.
In January of 1782 the American Revolutionary War was over, but the treaty officially ending the conflict had not yet been signed. The Congress was in session from time to time, and the chief financier for the new nation, Robert Morris, was scrambling to pay bills. Always a challenge, Morris now found lack of a Congressional quorum and word from our ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, particularly troubling. France had agreed to foot the bill for the Revolution, but Morris was unsure as to the specifics of that underwriting. So, putting pen to paper, Morris sent a somewhat disparate note to Dr. Franklin in Paris writing:
“…we remain in Uncertainty as to our pecuniary Dependence. And this is the more distressing as the Time rapidly approaches when I must draw Bills either with or without advise from you and therefore I must pray you to prepare for them if I should be compelled to do it with this Assurance nevertheless that as my Drafts will be delayed to the last Moment so they will be as moderate as I can contrive to make them.”
Morris’ “Uncertainty” was warranted because the former British colonies were essentially broke.
“This at least is certain that those States cannot pay in Coin as they have not Coin to pay. I send it [so] you may see we neglect no Opportunity of calling forth the Resources of this Country: and that when we ask Help it is not because we are unwilling to help ourselves.”
In addition, Morris enclosed information on a proposal for “a Plan for adjusting the public Accounts,” which Morris had introduced to Congress earlier. While confident of its passage, Morris is worried.
“It has not yet been adopted because there are now present so few members that it is with Difficulty they can get thro their Business, the Confederation requiring seven States to agree on most Questions. Whether this Plan will be adopted I really do not know but I incline to think that in Substance it will.”
Morris did sound one optimistic note, the establishment of the Bank of the United States, “or,” as he wrote, “according to the Stile of it the national Bank of America which opens and does Business this Day. I expect to derive great Advantage from it, and that the Commerce of this Country will lie under great Obligations to an Institution long wanted among us.” Morris than makes a sales pitch for Franklin to purchase stock in the new bank. “Several of the shares are yet in the Hands of the Public so that if you chuse to become interested or any of your Friends it can be done without Difficulty.”
The entire letter may be read at http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Historic Elk Landing. Well, quite a bit. As Morris wrote: “This Letter is to go by the French Frigate Hermione. Mr. le Comte de la Touche Captain of that Frigate is now here and will go in a Day or two to the Head of Elk where his Ship lies and sail thence for France stopping in his Way down the Chesapeak to receive the Dispatches of the Comte de Rochambeau.”
Rochambeau remained at Yorktown, Virginia with General Washington, following the October 1781 battle that essentially ended the Revolutionary War. The Hermione had a famous, from the French perspective, and infamous history from the English. Two years earlier the Hermione transported The Marquis de La Fayette to the United States to deliver word of French re-enforcements totaling five thousand men and five frigates. In 1781 the Hermione participated in the Naval battle of Louisbourg with between 26 and 36 twelve pound cannons. After the Revolution, the Hermione served in the Indian Ocean campaign against the British and sank off the western coast of France in 1792.
In 1997 work began in France on the reconstruction of the Hermione which continues today. There is a web site, http://www.hermione.com/en/home/ with news of the reconstruction including videos of its progress.
But in January of 1782, the Hermione was sitting at anchor next to one of the docks at what would become, Historic Elk Landing, waiting to once again, sail into history.