Financial History 140 Winter 2022 - Page 35

The Reverend George Whitefield
The Franklin-Whitefield publishing collaboration was so profitable that Franklin and his family were able to move to a larger house four doors down Market Street . Proof of their casting aside of Poor Richard ’ s frugality appeared almost immediately in the Gazette : they were robbed . The list of stolen goods included a silklined coat and a beaver hat .
In the spring of 1742 , news arrived that King George II had declared war on Spain . The Gazette spread the news that Spanish privateers were attacking British merchants who were trading illegally with Spanish colonies around the Caribbean . Gazette readers soon learned of the British invasion of Florida , of Frederick the Great ’ s invasion of Silesia and of the death of Emperor Charles VI .
As British coastal colonies braced for attacks , Scottish merchants in Philadelphia fitted out a privateer , the George , to carry the fight to the Spanish , only to be rebuffed when they sought an appropriation from the pacifist , Quaker-dominated Pennsylvania Assembly . When France joined forces with Spain against Great Britain , the Gazette ’ s columns brimmed not only with accounts of distant fighting , but with tales of Spanish and French privateers boldly sailing into Delaware Bay and capturing four ships bound for
Philadelphia .
In New England , militias boarded a British fleet to besiege the French fortress at Louisbourg . In New York , Frenchled Indians from Canada attacked and burned Saratoga and attacked Albany . Pennsylvania-German volunteers rode north with Franklin ’ s only son , William , who wore the red uniform of a Grenadier Guards ensign . Leading dangerous patrols , young Franklin was promoted to the highest provincial rank : captain .
The war finally reached the peaceable domain of the Quakers . Portuguese and Spanish privateers raided up the Delaware River , sacking plantations within 30 miles of Philadelphia and capturing a ship only a few miles south of the undefended city . After 65 years of peaceful relations with the natives since its founding by William Penn , the province of Pennsylvania , owned outright by the Penn family , had never made any provision for defense .
As the raids drew closer to Philadelphia and the assembly still refused to appropriate funds for defense , Franklin , who had much to lose from an Indian raid , broke into print , arguing in his Gazette that Quaker doctrine was not “ absolutely against defensive war .”
In Plain Truth , a pamphlet he wrote and distributed free in English and in German , Franklin argued that protection and obedience were reciprocal obligations . In exchange for the people ’ s obedience , government was duty bound to protect them . Franklin summoned a mass meeting of citizens and called for 500 signatures on a petition to the assembly . He got 1,000 , but the assembly still refused .
Franklin then appealed for volunteers to form a militia : 20,000 Scots Presbyterians and Pennsylvania Germans flocked to colors he designed . Franklin formed the Association for General Defense and created a lottery whose proceeds would be used to order cannon and small arms from Boston , then he rode off to New York City to borrow guns from that province ’ s government . Franklin ’ s militiamen drilled throughout Pennsylvania with “ good Muskets , all fitted well with Bayonets ,” some of which Franklin had sold them .
Franklin designed and , with hundreds of volunteers , built and armed two river forts . One , called the Association Fort , ran along some 400 feet of shoreline and bristled with borrowed cannon . The other , an 11-gun battery within walking distance of Franklin ’ s home and businesses , protected Society Hill and his own considerable property . Franklin set an example for other merchants by contributing cash to the city ’ s defense — and took his turn on guard duty at night .
Despite six years of constant imperial crisis , Franklin ’ s business interests flourished , largely because of his association with Whitefield . When European diplomats finally met in Paris and , to the disgust of Americans , halted the fighting , the rival empires returned all conquered territory to the status quo antebellum . After disbanding his militia , Franklin emerged as a leading intercolonial figure and spokesman for the new mercantile class . For the first time , he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly .
He made his former journeyman printer David Hall a full partner in his Philadelphia printing and book distribution business , and over the next 18 years , the profits from Franklin & Hall awarded Franklin with an average £ 467 per annum ( about $ 76,000 today ). Adding income from partnerships in New York and Charleston and receipts from his Philadelphia rental properties , Franklin ’ s aggregate income amounted to £ 2,000 a year ( approximately $ 300,000 today ), making him among the wealthiest Americans .
Arriving in Philadelphia a threadbare fugitive at 17 , Franklin by age 42 had become one of the most influential men in Pennsylvania , thanks largely to the wealth he had accrued . Now he could afford to leave the daily routines of the print shop and devote himself to scientific experiments ; to writing his best-selling almanac , as well as economic and philosophical tracts ; and to his growing political engagement .
Willard Sterne Randall is a Distinguished Scholar in History and Professor Emeritus at Champlain College . As a biographer and lecturer , he specializes in the history of the Founding Era and he has been featured on C-Span ’ s Booknotes , History . com , History . net and more . His latest book is The Founders ’ Fortunes : How Money Shaped the Birth of America ( Dutton , 2022 ), from which this article has been adapted .
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