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CCCLXIX: TO THE LONDON CHRONICLE 1 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. V Letters and Misc. Writings 1768-1772 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. V (Letters and Misc. Writings 1768-1772).
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TO THE LONDON CHRONICLE1
While the public attention is so much turned towards America, every letter from thence that promises new information, is pretty generally read. It seems, therefore, the more necessary that care should be taken to disabuse the public, when those letters contain facts false in themselves, and representations injurious to bodies of people, or even to private persons.
In your paper, No. 310, I found an extract of a letter, said to be from a gentleman in General Abercrombie’s army. As there are several strokes in it tending to render the colonies despicable, and even odious, to the mother country, which may have ill consequences, and no notice having been taken of the injuries contained in that letter, other letters of the same nature have since been published; permit me to make a few observations on it.
The writer says: “New England was settled by Presbyterians and Independents, who took shelter there from the persecutions of Archbishop Laud; they still retain their original character; they generally hate the Church of England,” says he. It is very true that if some resentment still remained for the hardships their fathers suffered, it might perhaps be not much wondered at; but the fact is, that the moderation of the present Church of England towards dissenters in Old as well as New England, had quite effaced those impressions; the dissenters, too, are become less rigid and scrupulous, and the good-will between those different bodies in that country is now both mutual and equal.
He goes on: “They came out with a levelling spirit, and they retain it. They cannot bear to think that one man should be exorbitantly rich, and another poor; so that, except in the seaport towns, there are few great estates among them. This equality produces also a rusticity of manners; for their language, dress, and in all their behaviour, they are more boorish than any thing you ever saw in a certain northern latitude.” One would imagine, from this account, that those who were growing poor plundered those who were growing rich, to preserve this equality, and that property had no protection; whereas, in fact, it is nowhere more secure than in the New England colonies; the law is nowhere better executed, or justice obtained at less expense. The equality he speaks of arises first from a more equal distribution of lands by the assemblies in the first settlement than has been practised in the other colonies, where favourites of governors have obtained enormous tracts for trifling considerations, to the prejudice both of the crown revenues and the public good; and secondly, from the nature of their occupation; husbandmen with small tracts of land, though they may by industry maintain themselves and families in mediocrity, having few means of acquiring great wealth, especially in a young colony that is to be supplied with its clothing and many other expensive articles of consumption from the mother country. Their dress the gentleman may be a more critical judge of than I can pretend to be; all I know of it is, that they wear the manufacture of Britain, and follow its fashions perhaps too closely, every remarkable change in the mode making its appearance there within a few months after its invention here; a natural effect of their constant intercourse with England, by ships arriving almost every week from the capital, their respect for the mother country, and admiration of every thing that is British. But as to their language, I must beg this gentleman’s pardon, if I differ from him. His ear, accustomed perhaps to the dialect practised in the certain northern latitude he mentions may not be qualified to judge so nicely what relates to pure English. And I appeal to all Englishmen here, who have been acquainted with the colonists, whether it is not a common remark, that they speak the language with such an exactness both of expression and accent, that though you may know the natives of several of the counties of England, by peculiarities in their dialect, you cannot by that means distinguish a North American. All the new books and pamphlets worth reading, that are published here, in a few weeks are transmitted and found there, where there is not a man or woman born in the country but what can read; and it must, I think, be a pleasing reflection to those who write either for the benefit of the present age or of posterity, to find their audience increasing with the increase of our colonies, and their language extending itself beyond the narrow bounds of these islands, to a continent larger than all Europe, and to future empire as fully peopled, which Britain may one day probably possess in those vast western regions.
But the gentleman makes more injurious comparisons than these:
“That latitude,” he says, “has this advantage over them, that it has produced sharp, acute men, fit for war or learning, whereas the others are remarkably simple, or silly, and blunder eternally. We have six thousand of their militia, which the general would willingly exchange for two thousand regulars. They are forever marring some one or other of our plans, when sent to execute them. They can, indeed, some of them at least, range in the woods; but three hundred Indians with their yell throw three thousand of them in a panic, and then they will leave nothing for the enemy to do, for they will shoot one another; and in the woods our regulars are afraid to be on a command with them on that very account.” I doubt, Mr. Chronicle, that this paragraph, when it comes to be read in America, will have no good effect; and rather increase that inconvenient disgust which is too apt to arise between the troops of different corps, or countries, who are obliged to serve together. Will not a New England officer be apt to retort and say, what foundation have you for this odious distinction in favour of the officers from your certain northern latitude? They may, as you say, be fit for learning; but, surely, that return of your first general, with a well-appointed and sufficient force, from his expedition against Louisbourg, without so much as seeing the place, is not the most shining proof of his talents for war. And no one will say his plan was marred by us, for we were not with him. Was his successor who conducted the blundering attack, and inglorious retreat from Ticonderoga, a New England man, or one of that certain latitude? Then as to the comparison between regulars and provincials, will not the latter remark that it was two thousand New England provincials, with about one hundred and fifty regulars that took the strong fort of Beaudejour in the beginning of the war; though in the accounts transmitted to the English gazette, the honor was claimed by the regulars, and little or no notice taken of the others. That it was the provincials who beat General Dieskau with his regulars, Canadians, and “yelling Indians,” and sent him prisoner to England. That it was a provincial-born officer, with American batteaux-men, that beat the French and Indians on Oswego River. That it was the same officer, with provincials, who made that long and admirable march into the enemy’s country, took and destroyed Fort Frontenac, with the whole French fleet on the lakes, and struck terror into the heart of Canada. That it was a provincial officer, with provincials only, who made another extraordinary march into the enemy’s country, surprised and destroyed the Indian town of Kittanning, bringing off the scalps of their chiefs. That one ranging captain of a few provincials, Rogers, has harassed the enemy more on the frontiers of Canada, and destroyed more of their men, than the whole army of regulars. That it was the regulars who surrendered themselves, with the provincials under their command, prisoners of war, almost as soon as they were besieged, with the forts, fleets, and all the provisions and stores that had been provided and amassed to so immense expense at Oswego. That it was the regulars who surrendered Fort William Henry, and suffered themselves to be butchered and scalped with arms in their hands. That it was the regulars under Braddock, who were thrown into a panic by the “yells of three or four hundred Indians,” in their confusion shot one another, and, with five times the force of the enemy, fled before them, destroying all their own stores, ammunition and provisions. These regular gentlemen, will the provincial rangers add, may possibly be afraid, as they say they are, to be on a command with us in the woods; but when it is considered that, from all past experience, the chance of our shooting them is not as one to a hundred, compared with that of their being shot by the enemy, may it not be suspected, that what they give as the very account of their fear and unwillingness to venture out with us, is only the very excuse; and that a concern for their scalps weighs more with them than a regard for their honor.
Such as these, sir, I imagine may be the reflections extorted by such provocation from the provincials in general. But the New England men in particular will have reason to resent the remarks on their reduction of Louisbourg. Your writer proceeds “Indeed they are all very ready to make their boast of taking Louisbourg, in 1745; but if people were to be acquitted or condemned according to the propriety and wisdom of their plans, and not according to their success, the persons that undertook the siege merited little praise; for I have heard officers who assisted at it say, never was any thing more rash; for had one single part of their plan failed, or had the French made the fortieth part of the resistance then that they have made now, every soul of the New Englanders must have fallen in the trenches. The garrison was weak, sickly, and destitute of provisions, and disgusted, and therefore became a ready prey; and, when they returned to France, were decimated for their gallant defence.” Where then is the glory arising from thence? After denying his facts: “that the garrison was weak, wanted provisions, made not a fortieth part of the resistance, were decimated,” &c., the New England men will ask this regular gentleman, if the place was well fortified, and had (as it really had) a numerous garrison, was it not at least brave to attack it with a handful of raw, undisciplined militia? If the garrison was, as you say, “sickly, disgusted, destitute of provisions, and ready to become a prey,” was it not prudent to seize the opportunity, and put the nation in possession of so important a fortress, at so small an expense? So that if you will not allow the enterprise to be, as we think it was, both brave and prudent, ought you not at least to grant it was either one or the other? But is there no merit on this score in the people, who, though at first so greatly divided, as to the making or forbearing the attempt, that it was carried in the affirmative by the small majority of one vote only; yet when it was once resolved on, unanimously prosecuted the design, and prepared the means with the greatest zeal and diligence; so that the whole equipment was completely ready before the season would permit the execution? Is there no merit or praise in laying and executing their plan so well, that, as you have confessed, not a single part of it failed? If the plan was destitute of “propriety and wisdom,” would it not have required the sharp, acute men of the northern latitude to execute it, that by supplying its deficiencies they might give it some chance of success? But if such “remarkably silly, simple, blundering mar plans,” as you say we are, could execute this plan, so that not a single part of it failed, does it not at least show that the plan itself must be laid with some “wisdom and propriety”? Is there no merit in the ardour with which all degrees and ranks of people quitted their private affairs and ranged themselves under the banners of their king, for the honor, safety, and advantage of their country? Is there no merit in the profound secrecy guarded by a whole people, so that the enemy had not the least intelligence of the design, till they saw the fleet of transports cover the sea before their port? Is there none in the indefatigable labour the troops went through during the siege, performing the duty of both men and horses; the hardship they patiently suffered for want of tents and other necessaries; the readiness with which they learnt to move, direct, and manage cannon, raise batteries, and form approaches; the bravery with which they sustained sallies; and finally, in their consenting to stay and garrison the place after it was taken, absent from their business and families, till troops could be brought from England for that purpose, though they undertook the service on a promise of being discharged as soon as it was over, were unprovided for so long an absence, and actually suffered ten times more loss by mortal sickness through want of necessaries, than they suffered from the arms of the enemy? The nation, however, had a sense of this undertaking different from the unkind one of this gentleman. At the treaty of peace, the possession of Louisbourg was found of great advantage to our affairs in Europe; and if the brave men that made the acquisition for us were not rewarded, at least they were praised. Envy may continue a while to cavil and detract, but public virtue will in the end obtain esteem; and honest impartiality, in this and future ages, will not fail doing justice to merit.
Your gentleman writer thus decently goes on: “The most substantial men of most of the provinces are children or grandchildren of those that came here at the king’s expense—that is, thieves, highwaymen, and robbers.” Being probably a military gentleman, this, and therefore a person of nice honour, if any one should tell him in the plainest language that what he here says is an absolute falsehood, challenges and cutting of throats might immediately ensue. I shall therefore only refer to his own account in this same letter, of the peopling of New England, which he says, with more truth, was by Puritans, who fled thither for shelter from the persecutions of Archbishop Laud. Is there not a wide difference between removing to a distant country to enjoy the exercise of religion according to a man’s conscience, and his being transported thither by a law, as a punishment for his crimes? This contradiction we therefore leave the gentleman and himself to settle as well as they can between them. One would think from his account that the provinces were so many colonies from Newgate. The truth is, not only Laud’s persecution, but the other public troubles in the following reigns, induced many thousand families to leave England and settle in the plantations. During the predominance of the Parliament many Royalists removed or were banished to Virginia and Barbadoes, who afterwards spread into other settlements. The Catholics sheltered themselves in Maryland. At the Restoration many of the deprived non-conformist ministers, with their families, friends, and hearers, went over. Towards the end of Charles the Second’s reign, and during James the Second’s, the dissenters again flocked into America, driven by persecution, and dreading the introduction at home. Then the high price or reward of labour in the colonies and want of artisans there drew over many, as well as the occasion of commerce; and when once people begin to migrate, every one has his little sphere of acquaintance and connections, which he draws after him by invitation, motives of interest, praising his new settlement, and other encouragements. The “most substantial men” are descendants of those early settlers, new comers not having yet had time to raise estates. The practice of sending convicts thither is modern; and the same indolence of temper and habits of idleness that make people poor and tempt them to steal in England continue with them when they are sent to America, and must there have the same effects, where all who live well owe their subsistence to labour and business, and where it is a thousand times more difficult than here to acquire wealth without industry. Hence the instances of transported thieves advancing their fortunes in the colonies are extremely rare; if there really is a single instance of it, which I very much doubt; but of their being advanced there to the gallows the instances are plenty. Might they not as well have been hanged at home? We call Britain the mother country; but what good mother would introduce thieves and criminals into the company of her children to corrupt and disgrace them? And how cruel is it to force, by the high hand of power, a particular country of your subjects, who have not deserved such usage, to receive your outcasts, repealing all the laws they make to prevent their admission, and then reproach them with the detested mixture you have made! “Their emptying their jails into our settlements,” says a writer of that country, “is an insult and contempt, the cruellest perhaps that ever one people offered to another, and would not be equalled even by emptying their jakes on tables.”
The letter I have been considering, Mr. Chronicle, is followed by another in your paper of Tuesday, the 17th, past, said to be from an officer who attended Brigadier-General Forbes, in his march from Philadelphia to Fort Du Quesne, but written probably by the same gentleman who wrote the former, as it seems calculated to raise the character of the officers of the certain northern latitude, at the expense of the reputation of the colonies and the provincial forces. According to this letter-writer, if the Pennsylvanians granted large supplies and raised a great body of troops for the last campaign, this was not on account of Mr. Pitt’s zeal for the king’s service, or even a regard for their own safety; but it was owing to the “general’s proper management of the Quakers and other parties in the province.” The withdrawing the Indians from the French interest, by negotiating a peace, is all ascribed to the general, and not a word said of the honour of the poor Quakers, who first set these negotiations on foot, or of honest Frederick Post, that completed them with so much ability and success. Even the little merit of the Assembly’s making a law to regulate carriages is imputed to the general’s “multitude of letters.” Then he tells us “innumerable scouting parties had been sent out during a long period, both by the general and Colonel Bouquet, towards Fort Du Quesne, to catch a prisoner, if possible, for intelligence, but never got any.” How happened that? Why, “it was the provincial troops that were constantly employed in that service,” and they, it seems, never do any thing they are ordered to do. That, however, one would think might be easily remedied, by sending regulars with them, who, of course, must command them, and may see that they do their duty. No; the regulars are afraid of being shot by the provincials in a panic. Then send all regulars. Aye; that was what the colonel resolved upon. “Intelligence was now wanted [says the letter-writer]; Col. Bouquet, whose attention to business was [only] very considerable [that is, not quite so great as the general’s for he was not of the northern latitude], was determined to send no more provincials a-scouting.” And how did he execute his determination? Why, by sending “Major Grant, of the Highlanders, with seven hundred men, three hundred of them Highlanders, the rest Americans, Virginians, and Pennsylvanians.” No blunder this in our writer, but a misfortune; and he is, nevertheless, one of those “acute sharp” men who are “fit for learning.” And how did this major and seven hundred men succeed in catching the prisoner? Why, their “march to Fort Du Quesne was so conducted the surprise was complete.” Perhaps you may imagine, gentle reader, that this was a surprise of the enemy. No such matter. They knew every step of his motions, and had, every man of them, left their fires and huts in the fields, and retired into the fort. But the major and his seven hundred men, they were surprised,—first to find nobody there at night, and next to find themselves surrounded and cut to pieces in the morning, two or three hundred being killed, drowned, or taken prisoners, and among the latter the major himself. Those who escaped were also surprised at their own good fortune; and the whole army was surprised at the major’s bad management. Thus the surprise was indeed complete, but not the disgrace; for provincials were there to lay the blame on. The misfortune (we must not call it misconduct) of the major was owing, it seems, to an unnamed and, perhaps, unknown provincial officer, who, it is said, “disobeyed his orders and quitted his post.” Whence a formal conclusion is drawn, “that a planter is not to be taken from the plough and made an officer on a day.” Unhappy provincials! If success attends where you are joined with the regulars, they claim all the honour, though not a tenth part of your number. If disgrace, it is all yours, though you happen to be a small part of the whole, and have not the command; as if regulars were in their nature invincible when not mixed with provincials, and provincials of no kind of value without regulars. Happy is it for you that you were neither present at Prestonpans nor Falkirk, at the faint attempt against Rochfort, the rout of St. Cas, or the hasty retreat from Martinico. Every thing that went wrong, or did not go right, would have been ascribed to you. Our commanders would have been saved the labour of writing long apologies for their conduct. It might have been sufficient to say, provincials were with us.
A New Englandman.
May 9, 1769.
[1 ]This communication first appeared in the London Chronicle, and in reply to “some extracts of letters from officers serving in the British army in America,” tending to cover the Americans with ridicule and obloquy, which appeared in that print in the month of May, 1769. I found it in Walsh’s Appeal from the Judgments of Great Britain, &c., p. 447. It seems to have escaped the attention of Mr. Sparks.—Editor.