Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Benjamin Franklin and the Wheelocks


BENJAMIN FRANKLIN died on 17 April 1790 at his home in Philadelphia, one of the most celebrated individuals of the eighteenth century. After eighty-four years of legendary activity and versatility, Franklin left behind such a large number of manuscripts and amount of printed material that even now, in the bicentenary year of his death, their study is far from exhausted. One function a commemoration fulfills is to act as a stimulus to further inquiry into or re-examination of hitherto-held notions. Such a re-examination of possible contacts between Franklin and Dartmouth College has resulted in a better, more coherent, understanding of two episodes in the history of the College in which Franklin played a part. Both episodes were related to the perennial topic of solicitation of funds in general and the search for 'benefactions' in Europe in particular.


In 1733 Eleazar Wheelock, a 1733 Yale graduate, was installed as pastor of a parish in Lebanon, Connecticut. He soon became an early, enthusiastic follower of the then-current revivalist fervor, led by Jonathan Edwards of Massachusetts and George Whitefield, the English itinerant preacher; both men became close friends of Wheelock. The Great Awakening contributed to the early conversion of Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian; he became Wheelock's first and most famous student, lived in his house for several years, and became proficient in English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. This success made Wheelock expand his educational efforts among Indian youth, which led to the establishment in 1754 of the Indian Charity School, at times called Moor's Indian Charity School, so named after an early benefactor.

The first decade in the life of the school was beset by innumerable difficulties, but Wheelock's religiosity and tenacity carried matters along until one of Wheelock's closest friends and his most trusted adviser, the Reverend Charles Jeffrey Smith, made three prescient suggestions regarding the future of the school, when he wrote in a letter dated 30 March 1764:

Mr WhiteEleld & you I hope have or will la)- an affectual Plan for procureing an Incorporation . . . give all charitable People in Great Britain an opportunitv to raise a Fund. . . . When the Indian War is a little abated would it not be best to send Mr Occom with another Person home abegging? an Indian minister in England might get a Bushel of Money for the School. . . .1

Repeated attempts failed to acquire an official recognition of the school in the form of a charter. It was not until 1769, after many difficult years of growth and of transfer to Hanover, New Hampshire. that Dartmouth College (named after William Legge, second Earl of Dartmouth) received its charter.

The second and third of the Reverend Mr. Smith's suggestions were motivated by the chronic, discouraging, and sometimes desperate financial difficulties of the school. Some funds were forthcoming from individuals at home and abroad, from organizations such as the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America, and the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and from the New Hampshire Assembly. But the income from these sources was not only small, irregular, and unpredictable, it also necessitated the endless writing of memorials, recitations of accomplishments and services coupled with solicitations for reward. Wheelock himself did not receive any salary and he not uncommonly had to be personally liable for debts of the school.

Such frustrations led to thoughts of soliciting benefactions in Europe, especially in England, where George Whitefield's preaching had heightened interest in missionary work. Appeals for funds in Europe by American institutions of learning had occurred as early as 1691 by the College of William and Mary; others had included the College of NewJersey (Princeton) in 1749 and 1753; and the University of Pennsylvania and King's College (Columbia) in 1762.

The Reverend Charles Smith had not been alone in thinking of Samson Occom as particularly attractive to solicit funds; an ordained minister, highly intelligent and articulate, an excellent preacher and, of course, a true Indian, this combination was bound to secure 'a Bushel of Money for the School.' Whitefield had considered the same option, as expressed by Wheelock in a letter, dated 29 September 1764, to John Erskine (a pastor in Edinburgh, Scotland, close friend of Whitefield and early benefactor of the Indian Charity School): 'He [Whitefield] . . . writes that the Plan of taking Mr Occom and another to England with him next Spring; in order to obtain contributions for this School, and the Support of Missionaries, is Still upon his mind.'2

Much debate preceded the selection of the Reverend Nathaniel Whitaker, pastor of a church in Norwich, Connecticut, as the companion of Occom to represent the school on a tour of England, Scotland, and Ireland. In preparation of it, Whitaker traveled in New York State and New England, collecting recommendations and with much foresight suggested to Wheelock 'You must git a Short narrative . . . to be carried to Europe & printed there.'3 In 1763 Wheelock had published n'alrarive ofthe indian Chdrity School in which he described in great detail the state of the school, its financial condition, the activities ofthe missionaries the school was sending out and, of course, pleas for funds.4

Like Wheelock, Benjamin Franklin had established a close friendship with George Whitefield from the time of the evangelist's first (1739) of seven visits to America; the friendship was to last until the preacher's death in 1770. Franklin had arrived in London on his second mission to England in December 1764 and was in the midst of the battle for repeal of the hated Stamp Act when the emissaries of the school arrived in London on 6 Febrtuary 1766.

Although we lack a specific record of a meeting between Franklin and the College emissaries, other evidence would make such an encounter highly likely. Occom noted in his Diary, 'Lodg'd at Mr Whitefield's [they were Whitefield's guests for a few weeks]; Whitefield 'Introduc'd us to my Lord Dartmouth, and appear'd like a Worthy Lord indeed.'5 The visitors dined with Lord and Lady Dartmouth; only a few months earlier, in November 1765, Franklin had had his first meeting with Dartmouth, then president of the Board of Trade. On 11 February 'M' Whitefield carried us to D' Fothergil the Quaker ...';6 Fothergill was one of Franklin's closest friends of whom he said 'I can hardly conceive that a better man has ever existed.'7 'Thirsday Feb 13 Mr Whitefield Caried us to the Parlament House -- there we Saw many Curiosities. . . .'8 Had visitors been allowed, the travelers might have witnessed Franklin at the famous examination before the House of Commons in the debate for repeal of the Stamp Act. The bill of repeal was voted in the affirmative on 22 February. The king gave his assent to the bill on 18 March 1766; of the accompanying ceremony, Whitaker wrote to Eleazar Wheelock on 19 March 'yesterday the Good king went to the house . . . to sign the Bill for repealing the accursed Stamp Act. Of this I was a Spectator, & ajoyful day it was.'9 'Mr Whitefield takes unweried Pains to Introduce us to the religious Nobility and others, and to the best of men in the City of London.'10 Franklin undoubtedly was one of these 'best of men'; he wrote to his wife, Deborah, on 27 February, 'Mr Whitefield call'd today . . . ,' but no mention of the two visitors from Connecticut.11

Fear of contagion led to the postponement of Occom's preachings until after his inoculation against smallpox. The plan had been to have this done before leaving America, but there was too much to be done, '...it will hinder the Voyage...' and 'I can enoculate him if there be need in England...,' Whitaker wrote. 12 In London, the procedure was once postponed because of an imminent presentation of Occom to the king (they never met) and once because of a cold. But on 11 March 1766 'on Wednesday about a Quarter after 3 P.M. -- I was inoculated by the Rev. Mr. Whitaker -- near Mr. G. Whitefields Tabernacle in London.' 13 The inoculation was a success, but it was not until 22 April that Occom 'Preach'd in the Evening at Mr. Whitefield's Tottenham Court C[h]apel, to a great Multitude. . ..'14 From then on, throughout the tour, Occom preached hundreds of times, almost always to large congregations and with great success.The ministers were also quite successful in the collection of funds in London. The king gave 200 [pounds], Lord Dartmouth 50 [pounds], Doctor Fothergill twenty guineas. Franklin's name does not appear in the list of subscribers published in the fourth of Wheelock's Narratives (1767), but there are a number of anonymous donors.

An English board of trustees was established with Lord Dartmouth as president, Robert Keen as secretary and Samuel Roffey, a London banker, as one of its members. Whitaker and Occom stayed in London until August, when they left on a tour of the West of England. While on that tour, Robert Keen wrote to Whitaker on the 20th of August 1766 that 'Dr. Franklin is abroad & is Expected home ye beginning of Octbr. his Recommendation will be of real Service & will be got for & sent to you as soon as he arrives. . . .'15 Franklin visited Germany with his friend Sir John Pringle from 14 June until 13 August, so the reference to October does not make sense; it is also not clear what the requested recommendation was all about.

Another stay in London (December 1766-March 1767) was followed by a tour of northern England and Scotland. Around this time Whitaker initiated efforts to obtain an honorary degree of doctor of divinity for Eleazar Wheelock and himself from the University of Edinburgh. English universities did not grant degrees to dissenting ministers, but in Scotland degrees were awarded readily upon acceptable recommendations and the payment of a fee, consisting of `a Compliment to the Library of 10 [pounds] . . . some dues which I suppose may come to 2 or 3 guineas. . .';16 the diploma was not released until payment had been made. Edinburgh did not want to award the degree to both men at the same time; Whitaker obtained his from the University of St. Andrews, where Franklin had received the degree of LL.D. eight years before. The extent of the role Franklin played in securing the degree for Wheelock is not entirely clear; a careful review of all available information makes the following course of events likely.

From a series ofletters the Reverend Alexander Webster (minister of Tolbooth Church, Edinburgh) addressed to Nathaniel Whitaker, it would appear that it was Webster who acquired the degree for Wheelock; Webster himself had received the D.D. degree from the university in 1760.

Edinr June I3th [1767]

I spoke with the Principal [Dr. William Robertson] about conferring the degree of Doctor of Divinity on you and Mr. Wheelock; he was to take it into consideration and converse with Professor Hamilton [Professor of Divinity], and give me an answer today When I sent for the answer he was out of town. I then wrote to Professor Hamilton, His answer you have inclosed [not found]. Mean while you should trie the University of Glasgow.17

... the Principal is come to town, & Says, that they will confer the Degree of Doctor of Divinity on M' Wheelock, upon giving a Compliment to the Library of 10 [pounds], which they now always require, & some dues which I suppose may come to 2 or 3 guineas; but will not make more than one Doctor at this time.

Edinr June 17 1767 18

. . respecting Mr. Wheelock's Degree of Dr of Divinity. The Principal granted that favor at my own Desire.

Edinr June 20.1767 19

Webster had asked the Reverend John Erskine and Robert McQueen, advocate and judge (both of Edinburgh) to write in support of the applications; it is possible that Franklin, too, was asked to contribute such a letter.

The official text in the 'College Minutes' of University Senate reads:

At an University Meeting present Principal Robertson, Professors Hamilton [Robert Hamilton, Professor of Divinity Cuming [Robert Cumming, Professor of Church Historv] G. Stuart [George Stuart, Professor of Humanity and Librarian] Robertson. The Meeting being constituted by prayer, Principal Robertson reported that the faculty of Divinity had recommended the Rev. Mr Eleazir Wheelock Minister of the Gospel in America as a person worthy to have a degree in Divinity conferred upon him.

In consequence of which report the Senatus Academicus agreed to confer the degree of Dr of Divinity on the Said Mr Wheelock and ordered a Diploma to be issued accordingly .20

Click here to see a larger diploma and the text

The diploma is dated 29 June 1767; it carries the signature of eighteen members of the faculty. Franklin had developed close friendships with a number of them during his visit to Scotland in 1759; Dr. William Robertson, principal ofthe university since 1763, had become one of the closest.

The Catalogue ofthe Graduates in the Faculties of Arts, Divinity, and Law of the University of Edinburgh, since its Foundation (Edinburgh: Neill and Company, 1858) records on page 243 the following degrees of D.D. awarded in the summer of 1767.

.. June 1767
Eleazer Wheelock, Dartmouth, New Hampshire

.. 23 July
Andrew Kippis, London.
JosephJefireys, Professor of the Civil Law, Gresham College, London.
Samuel Cooper, A.M., Boston, New England.
Andrew Eliot, Boston, New England.

On 1 August 1767 Franklin wrote to his friend Richard Price 'Last Night I received a Letter from Dr. Robertson, acquainting me that the University of Edinburgh have on my Recommendation conferr'd the Degree of Dr.. in Divinity upon the Revd.. Mr. Cooper of Boston: an Event . . . I was desirous of waiting for, before I should be concern'd in any new Application [for Andrew Eliot] of the same kind. And indeed as I have made three already, I begin to feel a little unwilling to apply again immediately to the same University. . . .'21Deacon John Barrett paid cash for Andrew Eliot's degree. Of the three applications Franklin referred to, the first one was the D. D. degree in 1765 for Ezra Stiles who was pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Newport, Rhode Island, at the time and who became president of Yale in 1778. Franklin had proposed Samuel Cooper for the degree at the request of a Mr. Pomeroy of the firm Pomeroys & Hodgkin in London, who at the time of the request promised to repay 'what ever charges You may be at...' 22

This leaves Eleazar Wheelock as the third of the 'I have made three already.' No letter of recommendation of Franklin in behalf of Wheelock has been found. There is no mention of payment of the fee in Wheelock's accounts, but it is likely that Franklin was asked to pay the fee possibly by Whitefield. From Franklin's accounts of 4 August I767 we learn that he obtained a draft for 12[pounds] 7s. 6d. 'in fav. of Roffey for a Degree of Doct.. of Divinity.'23 Samuel Roffey, a banker in London, was one of the most active members of the London board of trustees for the Indian Charity School. The sum Franklin paid is identical to one he contributed a little more than a year later, when he wrote directly to William Robertson tat the suggestion of George Whitefield) in favor of obtaining a D.D. degree for the Reverend John Rodgers of New York.

Once the contribution to university had been made, the diploma could be sent to Eleazar Wheelock and this was promptly done. On 6 August, Robert Keen, secretary of the London board of trustees and a frequent correspondent of Wheelock, wrote '. . . I've sent your Deplome of D.D. from Edenburgh in a large Tin Box. . . .'24

It seems, therefore, the conclusion is warranted that Benjamin Franklin paid the required contribution as part of the acquisition of the honorary degree of D.D. for Eleazar Wheelock from the University of Edinburgh. It was not until 5 July 1768 that Wheelock thanked the Edinburgh faculty for the honor of the degree. There is no evidence that he ever thanked Franklin, although he may not have been aware of the latter's generosity.

After the successful sojourn in England and Scotland, the visit to Ireland was brief and anticlimactic. The visitors were soon headed for home, arriving in early spring of 1768, where they could proudly report 9,497 pounds had been subscribed in England by 2,169 persons and from collections in 305 churches; Scotland's results were not tabulated, but a respectable sum of 2,529 pounds was collected. The expenses of the mission were 1,000 pounds, resulting in net proceeds of 11,000 pounds, truly the 'Bushel of Money' that had been predicted four years earlier.

The financial success did, however, hide the less pleasant fact that Whitaker's behavior in England must have had an ill effect in the long run, witness some of the comments by John Thornton, important benefactor of Wheelock, Occom, and the College and the treasurer of the London trust. Thornton to Wheelock on 26 April 1771: `I presume you know Dr. Whitaker was thought a double minded Man & artful while on this side of the Water, that his espousing your cause can by no means help it. . . .25 And as late as 1774 (22 July) in even stronger, not to say rude, terms: '. . . both in South & North Brittain the less you say of Dr Whitaker the better as all parties see thro him as a Self sufficient crafty Man & as such is held in pretty general abhorrence, how far he gave occasion for this I can't say, but that his name stinks is most certain.'26


When Eleazar Wheelock died on 29 April 1779 his son John was in Philadelphia on the staff of General Gates. He had served in the Continental army, knew George Washington personally, and had been a lieutenant colonel since November 1777. By the will of his father and by the charter of the College, John was appointed successor and assumed the presidency in September 1780; he was twenty-five years old, only eight years out of college, having graduated with the College's first class in 1771.

It could not have taken long for the new president to realize how precarious the College's financial situation was. Even before his official inauguration, a memorial was submitted to the Continental Congress, dated 8 January 1780; it was quickly turned down. With little or no success at the regional and national level and with the excellent results of the Whitaker-Occom European sojourn in mind, Wheelock realized that another tour to Europe might be rewarding, this time with France and The Netherlands as the prime targets. In anticipation of such an event a large [68 x 68 cm.] document on parchment was prepared; since there is mention in it of 'these confederated States,' it is likely that the document was completed sometime after the first of March 1781 when the last state [Maryland] had ratified the Articles of Confederation. Space was left for the names of the representatives of the College to make the tour; in addition a sizable blank space was reserved for signatures of members of the Continental Congress and army.

Thirty-nine signatures were obtained at various times from mid-December 1781 until November 1782; the Third Continental Congress, more commonly called the Congress of the Confederation, met from 1781 to 1879. John Wheelock was in Philadelphia in December 1781 when General Washington signed on the thirteenth of the month. This took place only two months after the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown on 19 October; the British troops formallv surrendered to General Benjamin Lincoln, who had been appointed as the first secretary of war on 30 October, and whose signature appropriately appears under that of his commanding officer.

Click here for a larger version or to see the transciption of the text and signatures

The list includes the signature of nine signers of the Declaration of Independence: Robert Morris, Abraham Clark, George Clymer, Arthur Middleton, Thomas McKean, William Ellery, Oliver Wolcott, William Floyd, and Samuel Huntington.

While in Philadelphia, Wheelock submitted, on 19 December, another petition to Congress for financial help for the College; it was rejected the following day by a committee consisting of Samuel Livermore (New Hampshire), Daniel Carroll (Maryland), and William Houston (New Jersey) because of 'the present state of the Finances of the United States.'27

At the September 1782 meeting of the College trustees, honorary doctor of laws degrees were awarded to 'Thomas McKean Member of Congress for the State of Delaware, Chief Justice of the supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania and late President of Congress, and his Excellency John Adams Esquire Minister Plenopotentionary of the United States to the United Netherlands, and on the Chevelier de la Luzerne Minister of his most Christian Majesty to the United States.'28 From the draft of the minutes of this meeting, we learn that others considered for an honorary degree were the Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French forces in America, the Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, the French consul at Philadelphia, and the Marquis de Chastellux, member of the Académie Française in Paris.29 De Chastellux was not only a general in the army of Rochambeau, but also a philosopher, poet, and author of the well known Voyage . . . dans l'Amérique septentrionale.30 Awarding of these degrees was clearly intended to smooth the way for success in the upcoming tour of Europe. Of note, however, is that the name of the minister plenipotentiary of the United States to France, Benjamin Franklin, is absent from the list.

At the same meeting, on to September, the following resolutions were approved.

Resolved That this board esteem it expedient that application be made to France and other Kingdoms and States of Europe for benefactions to this Institution.

Resolved That the following commission with the Seal of this University annexed be subjoined to the general recommendation of this design already obtained from many of the principal characters in the United States.


The Trustees of the University of Dartmouth in America, convened in Council on the twentieth day of Scptember, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty two, do hereby declare ...............to be persons in whom the utmost confidence may be reposed to solicit benefactions in the dominions of his most Christian Majesty in the United States of Holland and other parts of Europe, for the said Institution, which has a most liberal establishment for the promotion of humanity virtue and knowledge among persons of every denomination; and we do accordingly appoint them and each of them Agents for that purpose, and cordially recommend them and each oft hem to that honorable notice and acquaintance which superior merit demands among the noble learned and benevolent in every part of the world.31

This text was then crowded into the space left on the parchment below the thirty-nine signatures, and signed by Joseph Huntington, Sylvanus Ripley, B [enjamin] Pomeroy, Beza[leel] Woodward, Eden Burroughs, and Elisha Payne.

President John Wheelock himself was elected to make the trip with his younger brother James as companion and assistant. The trustees also 'resolved that the Gentlemen who shall go to Europe be empowered to borrow one thousand dollars to defray their expense, to enable them whereunto the treasurer is hereby directed to make out one or more bonds, as occasion may require, in the name of the board for security of the monies so borrowed.'32

As if the large recommendation were not sufficient, the trustees themselves added a letter to Franklin, notable for its obsequiousness.

University of Dartmouth
September 24th 1782

We could wish to avoid any seeming indelicacy in a matter, that respects your Excellency, by communicating an idea of the repeated and increasing joys, which are handed from breast to breast among the citizens of the empire of this western world. But permit us, Sir, to render a tribute of praise, that Providence has been propitious to honor our nation, and imbellish the present age, with the genius of philosophy, united with the virtues of a patriot and the talents of a statesman.

From your known character we fondly persuade ourselves, Sir, that, while successfully attentive to the most interesting arts of national government, your mind is inspired with a love of other things, which are productive of happiness to mankind -- we might mention particularly that extensive department, the cultivation of knowledge, and unbiased virtue.

With these views, Sir, permit us to recommend to your particular attention and patronage the honorable John Wheelock Esquire, the worthy president of this institution; (accompanied by Mr. James Wheelock) and the design, which is the object of his attention.

We beg leave to say that the institution founded on the most catholic and liberal basis, is unrestrained by the barrs of bigotry and calculated for the furtherance of extensive knowledge and humanity; as your Excellency may see by the tenor of the recommendation herewith forwarded from his Excellency the President, and the members of Congress, and others, the most eminent characters in these United States.

In so usefull and benevolent a cause permit us, Sir, to solicit the favor of your friendship and influence, as a patron of learning, and of mankind.

We beg only to add our sincere wish, that you may long live to enjoy all that personal felicity which is merited by the greatest services to society and the republic of letters. We have the honor to be with the greatest respect, Sir, your Excellencys most obliged obedient, and humble servants, Signed by the order of the board of Trustees.

Besa Woodward, Secretary
His Excellency Benjamin Franklin LLD&&&33

The travelers left Hanover on the first of November 1782 and Boston on the third of January 1783, carrying in addition to the formidable official recommendation separate letters of introduction from Washington, the ambassador of France de la Luzerne, several governors, and other influential individuals. The sea voyage lasted only three weeks and after a brief stay in Nantes, John and James arrived in Paris on the fifth of February 1783. We have a description of the events in Paris by Wheelock himself, as part of a twenty-page narrative written a few days after his return to Hanover, 'An account of my tour in Europe relative to the prosperity of Dartmouth College. '

The day after our arrival we paid our respects to Doctr Franklin the American Ambassador. I presented to him letters from the Board of Trustees, Genl Washington, President Huntington. & Govr Green; and communicated my credentials. He observed that the design was noble and liberal; and wished to render some essential services to it. He took notice that he had made several applications to the court in favor of very considerable sums in behalf of the United States. That he had at that instant in hand an application from Congress which he concluded to make within two or three days to the court for their additional favor to the States; -- and that under these circumstances, he should blush to appear at Versailles as an advocate for the design, however important or deserving it might be. The French, he said, would think that our applications and solicitations might never end, and there would be real danger of some disgust & national disservice. We received from him much personal politeness, kindness and civilities. He invited us to dine with him the next day; and said he would get an authentic translation of the credentials (which I delivered to him) in the French language; and that he would advise with one or two of his intimate and intelligent friends. At dinner the ensuing day he introduced us to the Abbe de-Morolet and several other French characters. The Abbe is a man of great erudition, and well acquainted with the political springs and movements of his nation. He is toward fifty years old; is greatly esteemed by the king; and now employed by him in writing an important commercial Dictionary upon a new and improved plan. He invited us to his house, where we were treated with notice and complaisance. He remarked that the design of my agency was extensive and humane, but appeared fearful considering the Juncture of public affairs, that an introduction would be attended by some unfavorable consequences.

I told Dr Franklin afterwards at breakfast. that as he in the position of affairs, thought it inconsistent to promote the affair in France, I should not take any steps to introduce the design there, nor even deliver the letter from Chevalier Luzerne to Count de Vergennes minister at Versailles. He proposed then, that we should go first to England; perhaps afterwards to Holland, and said the door might in some future time be opened in France. The Doctor offered to write to some of his Correspondents at London in favor of the subject: the Abbe Morolet likewise proposed politely to write to his friend the Earl of Shelburn. But, as the English were just emerged from a state of war, and necessitated to announce our dependency against their feelings and inclination, and the clamors of the people were great, and rising against the minister, who made the overtures of peace, I could hardly think we might expect votaries at an altar of charity erected by those, whose very existence was mortifying; and for that reason we concluded first to visit the United Netherlands, and afterwards Britain.

Messrs Adams, Franklin and Jay exhibited a specimen of their Philanthropy in twenty Lui dor's each [a louis d'or, a gold coin in the French currency, worth about five dollars]; and we received the favor of ample letters from the first (who was truly a useful friend) to Mr Dumas the public agent at the Hague . . . the Second also wrote to Mr Dumas. After gratifying our inclination in visiting the antiquities and curiosities of Paris, having experienced the polite attention of some of the nobility and others, we concluded to leave the City on the morning of the 21st.34

The discussions, dinner, and breakfast must have taken place at Franklin's residence at Passy, a charming village outside Paris. John Adams and John Jay, ambassadors at the courts of the Netherlands and of Spain respectively had joined Franklin in Paris in the negotiations which would lead, on 3 September 1783, to the definitive treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States.

What must have been a rather stern rebuff from the seventy-seven-year-old Dr. Franklin of the twenty-nine-year-old emissary of Dartmouth College, is here couched in the most polite of terms.

Wheelock gave up any effort to proceed with the collection of funds in France; he even did forgo presenting the Luzerne letter of introduction to the French minister of foreign affairs, Comte de Vergennes. Franklin did have a translation made of the recommendation for use in 'advise with one or two of his intimate and intelligent friends.'35 One of the latter was undoubtedly the Abbé de Morrelet, one of Franklin's closest friends in France; he lived in Paris and was fifty-six years old at the time. In 1783, the Abbé had been working for more than twenty years on an ambitious, five-volume, edition of a 'Dictionnaire de Commerce'; it was never published. In the course of these years, the king had favored the Abbé a number of times with financial support.36

The real attitude of Franklin and Adams toward solicitations of this kind is more clearly seen in the letters written by them following the Wheelock visit. John Adams politely wrote to the trustees of Dartmouth College from Paris on 25 February 1783, in answer to their letter of introduction of John Wheelock that 'It is to American seminaries of learning that America is indebted for her glory and prosperity, and, therefore, no man can be more usefully employed than in affording them every countenance and assistance in his power.' But how different did he sound in a letter, dated London 12 November 1783, to members of the committee of the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked for assistance in raising funds in France and Holland to cover the costs for repairs of their church. 'On occasion . . . of the application of Dartmouth College lately I have seen that there is such a degree of ridicule attends such solicitations of benevolence in Europe, that I cannot advise you to expect any relief this way. If you were to send an agent on purpose, in my opinion, he would not obtain to pay his expenses.'37

Franklin was more explicit when he wrote to the Reverend John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton).

Passy April 5. 1784.

Revd Sir,

I have received the Letter you did me the honour of writing to me the 17th past. It would be a pleasure to me to see you here, but I cannot give you any Expectations of success in the Project of obtaining Benefactions for your College. Last Year Mess" Wheelock came hither with the same Views for their College at Dartmouth in New England, and they brought a Recommendation sign'd by a great Number of the principal People of our States. They apply'd to me for Advice & Assistance, and I consulted some knowing prudent Persons, well acquainted with this Country & Friends of ours. After well considering the Matter, they gave their Opinion that it was by no means adviseable to attempt a Collection here for such a purpose, for tho' possibly we might get something, it would not be equal to the Expence and Trouble attending the Solicitation; and the very Request would be disgraceful to us, and hurt the Credit of Responsibility we wish to maintain in Europe, by representing the United States as too poor to provide for the Education of their own Children. For my own part, I am persuaded we are fully able to furnish our Colleges amply with every Means of public Instruction. and I cannot but wonder that our Legislatures have generally paid so little Attention to a Business of so great Importance. One Circumstance in Messrs Wheelock's Application here made me somewhat ashamed for our Country. Being ask'd by a Gentleman, what Sums had been subscribed or Donations made by the many eminent Persons who had sign'd the Recommendation, they were not able to say that more that one had given any thing. [Emphasis added.] Meeting with no Encouragement from any other Quarter here, They went to Holland & England. What Success they had in those Countrys, I have not heard. With great Esteem & Respect, I have the honour to be

Revd Sir,
Your most obedient
& most humble Servant
B. Franklin 38

In a similar letter addressed 'To the Regents of the University of New York,' dated Passy, 9 August 1784, Franklin enclosed a copy of the letter to Dr. Witherspoon and wrote:

Yours is the fourth American Seminar that since the Peace has sent persons hither, or empower'd Persons here to make such solicitations. all of which I have declined being concern'd in; tho' I should certainly be exceedingly glad if I could by any proper Means be serviceable to the Interests of Learning in our Country . . . The Necessity we still are under for Credit in Europe where we have Loans opened, the Success of which may be hurt by Declarations of Poverty (the only Excuse for Mendicity) make this mode of procuring Money at this time exceedingly improper . . .' and we should not '. . . appear a Nation that is either unable or unwilling to support among ourselves the common Expence of Education.' 39

After failure in France, the visit to The Netherlands appears to have been financially rewarding, the one to England less so. From The Hague, Wheelock tried again to sound Franklin out about possibilities of soliciting funds in France.

Hague 12 June 1783


I should long before this time have done myself the honor to write-but the situation of my affair has been such, that a letter might have been impertinent, as it could have communicated nothing with precision.

Their Serene & Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Orange have manifested great approbation of this design, and have munificently favored it -- As the proposal has not been encouraged by the gentlemen of influence at Amsterdam, nothing has been obtained from that city. --But it has succeeded well at Haarlem; and many gentlemen in other places have been disposed to promote it.

I should be particularly obliged to your Excellency for the favor of a letter, on behalf of the affair, to Dr Prier [a close English friend of Franklin]. We shall likely leave this country in a fortnight [leaving Holland on 1 July the travelers arrived in London on July the fifth], and go to England, (agreeable to your advice) and may wait on him in three or four weeks. --I should be happy Sir, to hear, whether any thing has appeared within your particular acquaintance in favor of the plan, could I be honored with a letter directed to the care of the Dr.

Please to accept my most grateful acknowledgements for your kindness and attention, and esteem me as being with the greatest respect,

Your Excellency's
much obliged, & very obedt Servt
John Wheelock 40

His Excellency
Dr Franklin &.&.&.

Franklin did receive this letter, but did not answer. Wheelock tried again from London.

St James' Street No 40
London 17 July 1783


I wrote to your Excellency from the Hague, requesting a letter to Dr Price & the favor to be informed, whether any thing had appeared in the circle of your acquaintance conducive to the furtherance of the object of my attention. But likely my letter has not reached you, as I have nothing since.

I beg, Sir, the honor to be informed whether or no, in your opinion, any thing can be done to effect in any part of His Christian Majesty's dominions. A complian[c]e, so soon as you might think it convenient, would be very obliging, as we shall not stay long in this country unless something should turn up more favorable to success than now appears. I am with the greatest respect,

Your Excellencys most obedient
& verve humble servant
J Wheelock 41

Again, no answer from Franklin; the travelers left England on to October. The passage home, on 'the fine Brigantine Peace & Plenty with an exceeding good Commander Captain Callahan' was 'very uncomfortable' with 'gales numerous and sometimes violent.' It took nine weeks to reach Halifax where repairs were made. Another violent storm on the second of January beached the vessel near Cape Cod and 'A large part of the goods & things . . . were entirely lost . . .'including '. . . my strong box which contained my money & most important and valuable papers. . . . Besides the loss of many official papers, I lost near 200 private letters of Correspondence while in the different parts of Europe.'

The brothers 'arrived at Boston about the 19th of the month [January 1784]; and after stay there of six days . . . we took our leave for Dartmouth; & traveling by the way of Portsmouth arrived on the 1st Instant [February].'42

After an absence of fifteen months and the expenditure of 666 dollars of the thousand allotted by the College trustees for the tour, the net financial results, although not known, must have been disappointing.


I thank for help in various stages of this endeavor: Beth Caroll-Horrocks, Manuscripts Librarian, American Philosophical Society; Claude-Anne Lopez, Editor Emerita, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin; from the Dartmouth College Library Suzy Schwoerkc, Patti Houghton, Barbara Krieger, and Kenneth C. Cramer (College Archivist). all four of Special Collections; Claire B. Packard, Executive Secretary Office of the Librarian, and William S. Moran, Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian, translator of the Latin text of the Wheelock Edinburgh diploma; and Professor and Mrs. Fred Berthold who, while in Edinburgh, secured documents pertaining to the Edinburgh diploma.


In 1768 a new cabinet post was created in the English government, that of Secretary of State for the American Colonies, also called the American Department. The first incumbent of the post, Lord Hillsborough, was much disliked by Franklin and it came as a welcome relief when Hillsborough resigned in August 1772, to be replaced by Lord Dartmouth, who thereby became part of the administration of his stepbrother, Lord North.

William Legge, second Earl of Dartmouth, had served for about a year (July I775-July I776) in the Rockingham ministry as president of the Board of Trade. Between the resignation from that post and the reluctant acceptance of the new one, 'the good Lord Dartmouth,' who much preferred private over public life, had devoted himself to the three things most important to him: his family his private estates, and his religion. A pious man, he never left the established church, but was supportive of the evangelical movement, witness his friendship with George Whitefield and his leadership of the English trust established to manage funds for Eleazar Wheelock's Indian Charity School and Dartmouth College.

Franklin's opinion of Lord Dartmouth as colonial secretary moved from an early hope 'to obtain more in favour of our Colonies' to disappointment a year later;'he is a truly good Man, and wishes sincerely a good Understanding with the Colonies, but does not seem to have Strength equal to his Wishes.' (Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. William B. Willcox, vol. 19, January 1 through December 31, 1772 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976), 244; vol- 20 (January 1 through December 31, 1773 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976), 308).

There is only one autograph (draft) letter of Franklin to Lord Dartmouth in the College collections.

Cravenstreet, Dec. 8.72

Dr. Franklin presents his best Respects to Lord Dartmouth, and believing it may be agreable as well as useful to him, to receive other information of the Sentiments & Dispositions of Leading People in America, besides what Ministers arc usually furnish'd with from the Officers of the Crown residing there, takes the Liberty of communicating to his Lordship a Letter just received from the Speaker of the Assembly of the Massachusetts Bay [Thomas Cushing], written not as Speaker, but in his private Capacity Dr. F. purposes to wait on Lord D. at his Levee [a morning reception] to-morrow: and shall be happy if he may bring from thence any thing proper to write in Answer, that should tend to compost the Minds of People in that Province, at present greatly disquieted & alarm'd by some late Measures of Government.

Endorsed: Note to Lord Dartmth with Mr Cushing's Letter of Oct. 1772 [Dartmouth College. Library. Mss. Ticknor 772658.1)


1.Leon Burr Richardson, An Indian Preacher in England; Being Letters and Diaries Relating to the Mission of the Reverend Samson Occom and the Reverend Nathaniel Whitaker to Collect Funds in England for the Benefit of Eleazar Wheelock's Indian Charity School, from which grew Dartmouth College. Dartmouth College Manuscript Series, No. 2 (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Publications, 1933), 19-20. Although the footnote references refer to Richardson's history the original manuscripts in Special Collections have also been examined.

2. Ibid., 21.

3. Ibid., 46.

4. Between 1763 and 1775 Wheelock published nine of these continuing Narratives.

5. Richardson, Indian Preacher 82. See note on Lord Dartmouth and Franklin at end of article.

6.Ibid., 94.

7. Ibid.. 97. Note 5.

8. Ibid., 83.

9. Ibid., 111

10. Ibid. 83.

11. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. vol. 13, January through Decernber 31. 1766 (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1969), 176.

12. Richardson. Indian Preacher, 59, 43./p>

13. Ibid., 100.

14. Ibid., 101.

15. Ibid., 160.

16. Ibid.. 267.

17. Ibid., 264.

18. Ibid., 267.

19. Ibid., 268.

20. Photocopy of 'College Minutes' for 14 July 1767 received fom Edinburgh University Library, 2 December 1989.

21. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, vol. 14., January 14 through December 31, 1767 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 218.

22. Ibid., 92.

23. Ibid., 219, note 4.

24. Richardson, Indian Preacher, 285.

25. Ibid., 357.

26. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections. Mss. 774422

27. United States. Continental Congress, Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington: National Archives and Record Service, General Services Administration, 1971), Reel 28, Item 19, Vol. 6:533

28. Dartmouth College. Trustees, 'Minutes of Meetings.' Vol. I:72 (Meeting of September 1781). Dartmouth College Library. Special Collections.

29. Dartmouth College Librarr Special Collections. Mss. 782540.

30. Francois Jean, Marquis de Chastellux, Voyages de M, le Marquis de Chastellux dans l'Amérique septentrionale, dans les années 1780, 1781 & 1782. . . (Paris: 1786).

31. Dartmouth College. Trustees. 'Minutes of Meetings,' Vol. I:73-74. (Meeting of September 1781). Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections.

32. Ibid., 74.

33. Manuscript transcription reproduced by courtesy of the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia.

34. Dartmouth College Library Special Collections. Mss. 784157 and transcription. This text taken from pp. 2-4 of the manuscript.

35. The manuscript translation into French which Franklin had made is in the American Philosophical Society Library.

36. As noted, the 'Dictionnaire de Commerce' by André Morellet (the Abbé) was never published. A Prospectus, d'un nouveau dictionnaire de commerce was published in 1769 and part of the unpublished work was used by Jacques Peuchet for his Dictionnaire univerel de la géographie commerçante.

37.John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States...10 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company 1853), 8:44, 158.

38. Franklin's letter of 5 Aprii 1784 is published by courtesy of the Department of History of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, which owns the manuscript.

39. The quotation is taken frorn a transcription of the original manuscript, Columbia College Records, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia Universirty.

40. This transcription is from the manuscript in the American Philosophical Society Library.

41. This transcription is from the manuscript in the American Philosophical Society Library.

42. John Wheelock, 'Some account of my tour in Europe relative to the prosperity of Dartmouth College,' 16, 1 8, Mss. 784157 Dartmouth College Library Special Collections.