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Item - #SZ-FR-1781

A comprehensive and effusive letter from Richard E. Oswald in Geneva to the British Double Agent, Dr. Edward Bancroft - Franklin's personal Secretary - in Paris. This concerns not only the Surrender of Cornwallis, but the movement of French troops into Switzerland and the changing political climate in France. What is so very curious about this letter, which shows Oswald's pro-American Sentiments, is that he communicates them to Britain's Double Spy, yet, nevertheless, he was soon thereafter appointed the lead negotiator for the British in their settlement of a Peace Treaty with the Americans. Was Bancroft in reality a Triple Spy? Purposely allowed to be turned and then re-turned by Franklin? Oswald very cautiously inquires if Benjamin Franklin intends to stay on as the Ambassador to France at Passy (the ambassador's residence just outside Paris). A letter riddled with innuendo, intrigue, diplomacy, politics, world affairs and opportunism.

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Front:  Black s/l "GENEVA" ms "15" [centimes] for inland French Rate. Addressed to Monsieur Bancroft a Doctor of Medicine, living near the Barricade in Chaillot in the City of Paris.
Reverse: Red Wax seal and Blue Pencil notation
Notes: A Scarce Continental perspective on Cornwallis' surrender and the American Revolution
Condition:  Very Fine with usual file folds.
Contents: In very legible English: A wonderful letter full of timely descriptions and highlighted by its discussion of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown. Likely written by Richard E. Oswald as his partner was Thomas Walpole and his son was named Alexander as well as his father-in-law, who was in a lawsuit at the time. Walpole had been a partner with Franklin in a large land deal prior to the American Revolution [see sidebars below].

Fernay the 29th November 1781

Dear Sir,
     I wrote to you on the 11th of last month to thank you for your communication on the subject of the Judgement obtained against Alexander. I have not since had the pleasure of hearing from you. I conclude that Mr. Thomas Walpole is gone to England, that he had carried his father’s Proposals to the Bank along with him. As he has not written to me, and I am consequently uninformed, I beg the favour of your acquainting me at your leisure;

     Whether the Proposals are made in his own name, or in that of the former partnership;
     Whether he takes any notice in the Proposals of the Dissolution of the Partnership; &
     What are the outlines of the Proposals; especially in regard to the Bank acceptances;

     As I hope & trust, that he will have consulted you in the making of the proposals, I flatter myself that in a matter which concerns me so much, you will give me the information which I desire.
     I shall be very glad to hear of Mr. Winter’s arrival in the West Indies. Has Mr. Walpole taken any steps in the Tobago business since the publication of the terms of Capitulation granted to that Island? Or have the annuitants in England made any application to Acton, or proceeded otherwise, since the receipt of his letter to them?
     It seems to me very advisable, that Mr. Walpole should exert all his Endeavours to come to an accommodation with the Several Parties, while the Islands of Grenada & Tobago continue under the Government of France. If they were to be restored at the Peace, he might possibly find those with whom he will have to do, less disposed to equitable settlement than he may do, while the Property continues under a foreign jurisdiction. If this notion strikes you as forcibly as it does me, you will not fail, I am sure, occasionally to incubate it, in order that he may not lose the fairest opportunity he can expect to have for settling dependences which, for his own sake, & that of all who belong to him, he should be so desirous of liquidating.
     A few days ago we received the Intelligence, which for some time before there had been reason to expect, of the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s Army. Such an event cannot but give great satisfaction to every well wisher to the American Cause; whether the British Ministry determines to proceed; or to desist at last from a Contest, in which there seems so little prospect of success & which in every aspect appears to have so little to recommend it. You will believe that I am not a little impatient to know what effect this calamity will have on the minds of People, & especially of those in office, in England. If any thing can, it should teach them to submit to Circumstances, & to desire peace on such terms as the Situation of things entitles them to expect. Yet I am far from concluding, that they will think in the same way.
     The State of Affairs in Geneva continue to be as distracted as ever; and every day it grows more likely that French troops will put an end to them.
     The death of Monsieur de Maurepas is an event which probably will produce great changes in the Councils of that nation – The Duke d”Aiguillon, de Nivernais, & de Choiseuil, are all named as his Successors in the Ministry.
     Mr. De Necker, I hear, has bought a Chateau at Coppet on the lake of Geneva & proposes to retire there in the Spring.
                                          I am Dear Sir,
                               Your Most obedient humble Servant
My address is Chez Messrs. Plantamour, Rillict & Compe @ Geneva
I shall be glad to hear that the Ladies of Mr. Walpole’s family are well.
My compliments at Passy – Does your friend there propose to continue in office?

[Note: Passy was the home of the American Delegation outside Paris.]

The letter likely refers to the revolt of Chenaux against the rulers of the canton of Fribourg in 1781, quite near to Geneva. By 1782 a troop of 11,000 soldiers from France, Berne and Piedmont had enforced a restoration of the aristocracy to Geneva.

Historical Note

Dr. Edward Bancroft (1744 – 1820) was an American physician and double agent in the American Revolution. Born in Westfield, Massachusetts, he worked as a spy for Benjamin Franklin when he was secretary to the American Commission in Paris. He was also a spy for the British. His spying was not discovered until 1891 when British papers were disclosed to the public. Edward Bancroft was a highly regarded scientist and writer who was hired by Ben Franklin to spy on the British just before the Revolutionary War. Nearly 70 years after Bancroft's death, the British government released papers showing he had also been paid by the British to spy on the colonists. After the United States became independent, Bancroft spied for the French in 1789, then turned his attention to making money in the development and marketing of dyes. Bancroft wrote several articles on politics, as well as a novel and two non-fiction works, Natural History of Guiana (1769) and Experimental Researches Concerning Permanent Colors (1794). For a much more complete biography and history of Bancroft from the National Counter Intelligence Agency click here.

Richard E. Oswald
, a Scot by birth,  was an army contractor in America during the French and Indian War. A successful merchant, he continued living in the colonies for a number of years. He married Mary Ramsay, only daughter and heiress of Alexander Ramsay of Jamaica, a cadet of Balmain. Through her he had acquired large estates in America (which he lost, however, as a loyalist) and in the West Indies. Through his American and mercantile interests, Oswald acquired a circle of international friends including Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, the comte de Vergennes, Adam Smith, and the earl of Shelburne. During the Revolutionary War he was frequently consulted by the ministry on American matters. Shelburne used Oswald as his emissary to Franklin in Paris during the first informal inquiries on American peace terms and, when Shelburne became prime minister, he appointed Oswald commissioner to treat with America. Oswald had become intimate in particular with Lord Shelburne, to whom he had been introduced by Adam Smith, a friend of his old Glasgow days. Lord Shelburne formed the highest opinion of his ability and energy, good sense and tact, simplicity and straightforwardness. He knew that he was also well acquainted with America (where he had large property) and with Franklin. And when England had at last made up her mind to treat with the revolted Colonies, Lord Shelburne sent Mr. Oswald to Paris to negotiate with Franklin and the American Commissioners. Mr. Oswald acquitted himself well of this delicate task, and signed at Paris on 30th November 1782 the preliminary treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States. He left office with Shelburne when the peace treaty was defeated in the House of Commons. Franklin gave him his portrait, which is now at the family estate of Auchincruive which he had bought in 1759, the ancient seat of the Cathcarts. Mr. Oswald died 7th November 1784. This letter may have been one of the forerunners to Oswald's appointment as he was so familiar with all the players on both sides of the equation.

Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738 – 1805)
was an English military commander and colonial governor. In America, he is most remembered for his role in the American Revolutionary War, and in India, for promulgating the Permanent Settlement. He was the eldest son of Charles Cornwallis, 5th Baron Cornwallis (later 1st Earl Cornwallis) and was born at Grosvenor Square, London, even though his family's estates were in Kent. He was elevated to Marquess in 1792.With the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, Cornwallis volunteered for military service and on January 1, 1776, he was given a commission. In March, he set sail for New York with 2,500 troops with the assignment to serve under Major General Henry Clinton.

Between January 2 and January 4, 1777, Cornwallis fought the American Continental Army at Princeton, New Jersey, led by General George Washington. The Americans surprised a detachment of Cornwallis's troops and pressed the attack until encountering the main body of Cornwallis' force. After this first engagement, the American army slipped away in the night before Cornwallis could counter-attack. The Battle of Princeton was commonly seen as an American victory, although it was composed of a confused series of skirmishes without a decisive defeat for either force.

In 1780, Cornwallis led British forces in the Carolinas against Nathanael Greene. Cornwallis' forces were severely damaged as he moved through the region. British forces suffered from a utilization of various guerrilla ambush tactics led by Francis Marion throughout South Carolina. General Nathanael Greene took advantage of Marion's weakening of the British forces. Cornwallis's army suffered heavy losses at the Battle of King's Mountain and Battle of Cowpens. Cornwallis and Greene engaged each other shortly thereafter in 1781 at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. British forces won the battle but once again suffered heavy losses. Cornwallis then abandoned plans to assert control of the Carolinas. He retreated to wait for reinforcements. After the siege of Yorktown by American and French forces, Cornwallis surrendered to the allied forces on October 19, 1781, thus virtually ending the war. Despite Cornwallis's personal responsibility for the surrender and the subsequent and inevitable loss of the war, Henry Clinton, Cornwallis's superior commander in America (secure in fortified New York City), received from the British public most of the blame for the defeat.

The Comte de  Jean Frédéric Phélippeaux Maurepas
,(1701–81) was a French statesman. He succeeded his father as minister of state at 14, the post being administered for him in his minority. He was later made minister of marine and attempted to apply scientific methods to naval affairs. A satirical epigram against the king's mistress, Mme de Pompadour, caused his dismissal and exile (1749). After King Louis XVI's accession (1774) Maurepas returned, became minister of state, and covered his mediocre abilities by a judicious selection of his council, which included the comte de Vergennes, A. R. J. Turgot, and Lamoignon de Malesherbes. He supported the alliance with the American colonies and the war against Great Britain. Jealous of his personal ascendancy over Louis XVI, Maurepas intrigued against Turgot, whose disgrace in 1776 was followed after six months of disorder by the appointment of Jacques Necker. In 1781 Maurepas deserted Necker as he had done Turgot, and he died at Versailles on November 21, 1781. His failure to give full support to the ministers helped to bring about the downfall of both Turgot (1776) and his successor, Jacques Necker (1781) and paved the way for the French Revolution.

Jacques Necker, (1732–1804) was a French financier and statesman, born in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1750 he went to Paris and entered banking. He rose rapidly to importance, established a bank of his own, and became a director of the French East India Company. As a writer, Necker opposed the then fashionable physiocrats and free traders; his eulogy on Jean Baptiste Colbert was lauded (1773) by the French Academy, and his Essai sur la législation et le commerce des grains (1775) criticized the free trade in grains advocated by A. R. J. Turgot. In 1776, Necker, who had previously aided the government with loans, was made director of the treasury; in 1777 he was made director-general of finances. He did not have the title controller general, because he was a foreigner and a Protestant. The salon of his wife, Suzanne Necker, exerted considerable influence. By measures of reform and retrenchment and by borrowing at high interest to finance the colonial cause in the American Revolution, he sought to restore the nation's financial position and gain popular confidence. In 1781 he published his Compte rendu, which stated that the government was in a sound financial position. He then demanded greater reform powers and was opposed by the comte de Maurepas, who resented his increased influence. He resigned and retired to St. Ouen. There he wrote the Traité de l'administration des finances de la France (1784). Returning to Paris in 1787, Necker was soon exiled from the city for having engaged in public controversy over financial policy with Charles Alexandre de Calonne. In 1788, Louis XVI recalled Necker as director-general of finances and minister of state. The populace acclaimed him, and he concurred with the recommendation that the States-General be summoned and reforms introduced. When his enemies at court again secured his dismissal in 1789, the populace, on July 14, stormed the Bastille in the first outbreak of violence of the French Revolution; Necker was once more recalled. His final resignation came in 1790. His last years were spent at “Coppet,” his Swiss estate.

Emmanuel Armand de Vignerot du Plessis de Richelieu, Duc d'Aiguillon (1720 - 1782) was a French statesman and a nephew of the marechal de Richelieu. He entered the army at the age of seventeen, and at the age of nineteen was made colonel of the regiment of Brie. He served in the campaigns in Italy during the War of the Austrian Succession, was seriously wounded at the siege of Château-Dauphin (1744), was taken prisoner (1746) and was made maréchal de camp in 1748. His marriage in 1740 with Louise Félicité de Brehan, coupled with his connection with the Richelieu family, gave him an important place at court. He was a member of the so-called parti devot, the faction opposed to Madame de Pompadour, to the Jansenists and to the parlement, and his hostility to the new ideas drew upon him the anger of the pamphleteers.

When Louis XV, acting on the advice of Madame Dubarry, reorganized the government with a view to suppressing the resistance of the parlements, d'Aiguillon was made minister of foreign affairs, Maupeou and the Abbé Terray (1715-1778) also obtaining places in the ministry. The new ministry, albeit one of reform, was very unpopular, and was styled the "triumvirate." All the failures of the government were attributed to the mistakes of the ministers. Thus d'Aiguillon was blamed for having provoked the coup d'état of Gustavus III, king of Sweden, in 1772, although the instructions of the comte de Vergennes, the French ambassador in Sweden, had been written by the minister, the duc de la Vrillere. After the death of Louis XV he quarreled with Maupeou and with the young queen, Marie Antoinette, who demanded his dismissal from the ministry (1774). He died, forgotten, in 1782. In no circumstances had he shown any special ability. He was more fitted for intrigue than for government, and his attempts to restore the status of French diplomacy met with scant success.

Etienne François, Duc de Choiseul (1719-85), the celebrated first minister of Louis XV between 1758 and 1770. He directed French foreign policy during the Seven Years' War.

Louis-Jules Mancini-Mazarini, Duc de Nivernais (1716 – 1798), French diplomat and writer, was born in Paris, son of Philippe-Jules-François, duc de Nevers, and Maria Anne Spinola, and great-nephew of Cardinal Mazarin. He was educated at the Collège Louis le Grand, and married at the age of fourteen. He served in the campaigns in Italy (1733) and Bohemia (1740), but had to give up soldiering on account of his weak health. He was subsequently ambassador at Rome (1748-1752), Berlin (1755-1756) and London, where he negotiated the treaty of Paris (February 10, 1763). From 1787 to 1789 he was a member of the Council of State. He did not emigrate during the Revolution, but lost all his money and was imprisoned in 1793. He recovered his liberty after the fall of Robespierre, and died in Paris on the 25th of February 1798.

As an interesting sidebar: The first and most popular of all the French reflections of Benjamin Franklin was the Nini medallion of "B. FRANKLIN, AMERICAIN.," created by Jean Baptiste Nini, an Italian sculptor working in Paris. Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, a well-known businessman who held various official posts in Chaumont, France, was a friend of Franklin's and had given him the use of his chateau there. Nini had previously commissioned a medallion of Chaumont in 1771, and Chaumont now sent Nini a profile drawing of Franklin that had been given to him.

The history of the Nini medallions originates in pro-American, Parisian society. Chaumont was occupied with contracting for supplies, shipping gunpowder and other things to America. Many other business dealings between Paris and major seaports were occurring as well. Some of the people Franklin surrounded himself with were Dr. Bancroft, a physician and naturalist (also Franklin's secretary in Paris), Jonathan Williams, William Alexander, and English banker Thomas Walpole and his 22-year-old son. On December 11, 1777, Franklin sent a letter to Thomas Walpole, saying, "From a sketch Dr. B[ancroft] had which was drawn by your ingenious and valuable Son, they have made Medallions in terre-cuit." This letter acknowledged that a drawing of Franklin done by the younger Walpole had been sent to the Chaumont factory to make the famous terra cotta medallion.

Additional sidebar: In 1769 a company was formed in London, consisting of Thomas Walpole, an eminent banker (brother of Horatio, Lord Walpole). Samuel Wharton, Benjamin Franklin, John Sargent, Governor Thomas Pownall,—and other gentlemen both in England and America,—for the purpose of buying from the Crown a portion of the vast country on the Ohio ceded to the King by the Six Nations the preceding year at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, and also to form a New Province or Government west of Virginia. The five persons above named were appointed a committee to manage the business. Mr. Wharton went to London to attend to it. Lord Hillsborough, President [242] of the Board of Trade, reported against the application for the grant. Dr. Franklin replied in an elaborate and able pamphlet, which was read, at a subsequent meeting of the Council, July 1, 1772; at the same time, as we learn from a letter to Sir William Johnson, written by an intelligent American (Letter of Rev. Wm. Hanna to Sir. Wm. Johnson.) who was present, "Mr. Walpole made some pertinent observations on the subject in general. Mr. Wharton spoke next for several hours and replied distinctly to each particular objection, and through the whole of the proceedings he so fully removed all Lord Hillsborough's objections and introduced his proofs with so much regularity and made his observations on them with so much propriety, deliberation and presence of mind, that fully convinced every Lord present, and gave satisfaction to the gentlemen concerned; and I must say it gave me a particular pleasure to hear an American and a countryman act his part so well before such a number of great Lords and such an august Board; and now I have the great pleasure to inform you that their Lordships have overruled Lord Hillsborough's Report and have reported to His Majesty in favor of Mr. Wharton and his Associates.—This is looked upon here as a most extraordinary matter, and what no American ever accomplished before. Indeed no one from America had so much interest and was so attended to by the great Lords as Mr. Wharton." On the same day the Lords of the Committee of Council reported in favor of making the grant to the Honorable Thomas Walpole, Samuel Wharton and their associates.

The Tract granted, comprised within its boundaries all that part of the present State of Kentucky, east of a line drawn [243] south from a point on the Ohio River opposite the mouth of the Scioto, and the western half of the present State of West Virginia. The price to be paid into the Royal Treasury was £10,460. 7. 6, and two shillings quit rent for every hundred acres sold or leased by the Grantees, payable yearly forever; to commence twenty years after the date of each sale or lease. The tract was usually known by the name of the Walpole Grant. It embraced within its limits the Traders' Grant, or Indiana, which was reserved to them. It also included the tract of five hundred thousand acres granted to the Ohio Company of Virginia, in 1749. The members of the Ohio Company were admitted into the new association, which was named the Grand Ohio Company. In compliance with the King's orders, the Council, on the 6th of May 1773, reported to His Majesty a constitution or form of Government for the New Colony, which they named Vandalia. It contained within its limits all of the Walpole Grant, with the addition of all the country westward to the Kentucky River. On the 28th of October following, the Lords of Council for Plantation Affairs, ordered "that His Majesty's Attorney General do prepare and lay before this Committee, the draught of a proper instrument to be passed under the Great Seal of Great Britain containing a Grant to the Honorable Thomas Walpole, Samuel Wharton, Benjamin Franklin and John Sargent Esqrs. and their heirs and assigns all the Lands prayed for by their Memorial." It was not, however, until the spring of the year 1775 that the draught of the Grant was finally prepared and ready for execution. The breaking out of the war of the Revolution occasioned a suspension of the business.


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Item - #SZ-FR-1781

[General Reference Materials Used: American Stampless Cover Catalogue 4th Ed.  Vols. I& II, Transatlantic Stampless Mail to and from the US by Arnell, US Letter Rates to Foreign Destinations by Starnes, History of Letter Communications between US and Europe, 2 ed. by Hargest, Canada's Post Office 1755-1895 by Campbell, Atlantic Mails by Arnell, The Penny Post by Staff, Letter Receivers of London by Feldman,  Timbres de France Le Spécialisé by Yvert & Tellier, Stampless Mail to and from Scandinavia to 1868 by Hughmark and Halpern, The Post Offices of the World 1888 by Proud, Postage Stamps and History of Canada by Boggs, Stamps of British North America by Jarrett, The History of the Post Office in British North America 1630 - 1870 by Smith, Holmes Specialized Philatelic Catalogue of Canada & BNA]

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