Sep 28, 2023 - Sale 2646

Sale 2646 - Lot 229

Price Realized: $ 21,250
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 8,000 - $ 12,000
(PENNSYLVANIA.) Thomas Penn. Letters from the Proprietor of Pennsylvania to his agent, discussing Mr. Franklin, Indian wars, and more. 15 Letters Signed to Richard Peters of Philadelphia, plus one short letter signed by Thomas and Richard Penn to Governor William Denny. Folio and quarto formats, each 1 to 5 pages; some with separations at folds, minor to moderate wear; most with no address panels, a few addressed for private delivery. London and elsewhere, 1744-1761

Additional Details

Thomas Penn (1702-1775) was a son of Pennsylvania founder William Penn. He lived in the colony from 1732 to 1741, returned to England, and then took over for his late brother John as the colony's absentee proprietor in 1746. These letters were written to Richard Peters (1704-1776), an Anglican minister who served as one of Penn's main agents in Pennsylvania, serving on the Governor's Council and as Secretary of the Land Office.

The letters discuss Penn's American land dealings in detail, including ongoing negotiations with American Indians. The first, dated 8 August 1744, notes that at Callowhill Manor "wee expect to find oar on it and conveniences for an iron work." He adds: "The account you give me of the Indians having arrived at last is a very pleasing one, as their delay at this critical junction has filled me with some doubts. . . . Tis strange the people of Maryland should send Mr. Jennings, than whom I think they could not have picked one more unfit to deal with an Indian." On 8 December 1745 as King George's War heated up, he asked Peters "to send me an account of the Governor of Canada's answer to the Five Nations, who are made to believe bad things of the English."

On 14 May 1746, he offers land to one of the colony's wealthiest settlers: "If Caspar Wistar will take any other lots that are not appropriated, he may have them, but let him know these corner ones cannot be granted til I see the place. Wee are . . . greatly concerned at the treatment of the Indians met with at Albany." The surveyor Nicholas Scull comes in for criticism: "We cannot consent to grant the lot you propose to Nicholas Skull, and think a surveyor above all others ought to loose if he will buy a lot without examining where it fell, for I cannot believe Nicholas Skull was so ignorant as not to know they were alloted, as he must very often have seen the draft of the city with the figures upon it."

Penn addresses an epidemic outbreak on 30 March 1748 at length: "Wee are much concerned at the account you give of the sickly state of the city . . . but wee cannot think the mud in the dock can be different from what is left on the side of the river, unless it is occasioned by the tan pits, and if any unwholesome effluvia comes from them, they should be removed." He preaches austerity on 2 August 1748: "As the ballance of trade is so much against Pennsylvania, people of the highest rank should not shew themselves so fond of European superfluitys, but content themselves with many things of the produce of the country."

Several passages appear to relate to Benjamin Franklin, who was becoming increasingly involved in the colony's affairs. On 3 July 1755, Penn notes in a postscript: "I think Mr. Franklin as the King's servant should have observed the order from the Governor, rather than the Assembly, about publishing letters." He later suggested "If Mr. Franklin makes good his observations, as I have no wish to have any rent, if they will remove the enemy, make a settlement, and be a defense to the province" (4 October 1755). On 8 December 1758 he expresses frustration with Franklin's machinations: "I hope we have ended all correspondence with him, which we could not carry on after knowing how he had treated us." The bitter relationship between Penn and Franklin is discussed at great length in Robert Middlekauff's 1998 book "Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies," pages 23-112. Middlekauff writes that Franklin's "hatred of Penn was obsessive, uncontrollable, and almost without limits" (page 107).

Several of the letters discuss the French and Indian War. On 4 October 1755, Penn thanks Peters for his "account of the terrible massacre of General Braddock and his Army. . . . I am much concerned at the defenceless state of the country. . . . I am vastly concerned to hear the Indians have committed such outrages on Susquehannah." On 22 August 1760, he hopes that "Coll. Montgomery's spirited conduct will obligate the Cherokees to sue for peace, and I think you told me one of the generals aid fifteen hundred men would be sufficient. I hope to hear soon of General Amherst's success. He was indeed much too late, as he had so long a march to make, and I have not heard that propper vessels are built at Oswego." On 22 August 1760, he discusses a still-extant Philadelphia institution: "I have looked over the list of books from the Library Company, and desire you will return our thanks for them."

The body of the letters are written in a variety of secretarial hands, and many of the letters are marked "Duplicate," but all bear Penn's signature. It was not unusual in that period to send multiple copies of transatlantic correspondence, to protect against one copy's loss at sea.

With--one letter from William Plumsted addressed to Peters in London. It discusses "Mr. Franklin being appointed an agent in London to carry the scheme of the Quakers into execution against the Proprietors and the arts made use of to blind their friends in London." Philadelphia, 19 November 1764.

Provenance: Found with a 19th-century inventory headed "Letters to be returned to Mr. Jacob G. Morris." Jacob Giles Morris (1800-1854) died without heirs. These letters were found among the family papers of his sister Caroline Morris Pennock (1811-1882), which descended to her grandson Caspar Wistar Miller (1868-1940)--see the next lot.