Western Lands and the American Revolution

By Thomas Perkins Abernethy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
WATCHFUL WAITING, 1777

DURING 1777 the partisan struggle in Congress was becoming more acute. Its ramifications included many issues in addition to that of Western lands, and because of the interrelation of various questions it seems desirable to touch upon at least two of them in order to clarify the general situation.

When in 1770 Dennys de Berdt--father-in-law of Joseph Reed of Pennsylvania and long agent for Massachusetts--died in London, Benjamin Franklin had been appointed by that province to succeed him. Upon being deposed as postmaster-general in 1774 Franklin made ready to return to America after an absence of ten years and suggested to Massachusetts authorities that he resign their agency into the hands of his deputy, Arthur Lee, "a young man of parts and ability." Lee was the youngest of six sons of Thomas Lee, organizer of the Ohio Company, and had been living in London for some time where he was an intimate of Lord Shelburne. His brother William was also resident in the British Capital where he looked after the tobacco interests of his Virginia family and friends; in 1775 he and another American, Stephen Sayre, his business partner, were elected Aldermen of the City of London--two "foreigners" chosen by the "City men" to show their contempt for the existing government.

When the Committee of Secret Correspondence was formed in Congress it appointed Arthur Lee as its agent in London. He was to sound European opinion and was instructed to act in "impenetrable secrecy."

Ever since losing Canada to England in 1763 France had kept an observer in the British colonies, watching with satisfaction the growing discontent in America and biding her time. Now, in the present crisis, she also dispatched an observer to London in the person of Pierre- Augustin Caron, watchmaker, musician, playwright, adventurer, who, as an aid to his social climbing, had assumed the noble name of Beaumarchais. He was no stranger to London, having recently been involved in a profitable blackmail scheme with Théveneau de Morande, an expatriate Frenchman resident in that city, whose former mistress had been du Barry. The author of Figaro was not only an unscrupulous blackmailer,

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