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David Franks

Colonial Merchant

Mark Abbott Stern

Publication Year: 2010

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: A Keystone Book ®

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

When Mark Stern first introduced himself and told me he wanted to write a biography of David Franks, I was skeptical. Yes, I knew about David Franks, who was accused of treason in Philadelphia during the American Revolution, but I also knew that there was no large set of Franks papers and thus doubted whether...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xvii

A dislike for fiction, particularly fantasy, has shaped the way I’ve used my spare time throughout my life. Whether the format was books, movies, live stage performances—whatever, I have sought reality. One of my favorite reading subjects was the American colonial period and the War of Independence...

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pp. xix-xxi

A substantial body of written material describes the origins and development of the Jewish community in America. Most of the authors were themselves Jewish and tended to focus on various elements of settlement related to Jews while paying scant attention to the general population. A number of societies and religious organizations...

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1. David Franks, Arrested for Treason

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pp. 1-5

On November 10, 1778, Philadelphia newspapers reported, “Last week, Mr. David Franks, late Commissary for the British Prisoners . . . had been confined by Congress in the new gaol in this city, for writing letters of an improper nature and dangerous tendency to the enemy.”1 Franks had written the letter in question to his brother, Moses Franks...

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2. Family, Friends, and Associates

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pp. 6-24

Success always seemed to come easily to Abraham Franks and his sons. David’s paternal grandfather was described as “second in wealth, though not in activity,” within the congregation of the Great Synagogue of London, and was “one of the twelve original Jew Brokers admitted in 1697” to the London Stock Exchange, which established a quota...

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3. Indian Affairs, Family Growth, and Supplying the Army

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pp. 25-38

David Franks was both a hard-headed businessman and a visionary. He had the advantage of a long and extensive family history in the mercantile arena, which provided him with many mentors, potential partners, and trustworthy associates, not to speak of financial resources and ample credit. He was also quick to see the huge business potential in the vast western reaches...

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4. Commercial Adventures

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pp. 39-45

Involvement in the army supply activity did not preclude forays into other business ventures. David Franks had begun selling insurance for ship cargoes in 1757. An interesting series of communications between Franks and a client, Philip Cuyler, recorded the solicitation and purchase of a policy and the subsequent loss of goods that were taken to Louisburg...

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5. Plumsted and Franks, Agents for the Contractors

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pp. 46-55

David’s choice of a partner displayed brilliant managerial skill. William Plumsted’s father, Clement, had been a prosperous merchant, among Philadelphia’s wealthiest inhabitants; he became an alderman and a judge on the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. At his death in 1745 he left a significant mercantile business to William, who had become his partner and who...

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6. General Jeffrey Amherst and Colonel Henry Bouquet

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pp. 56-68

In May 1763 a bizarre chain of events began, concerning one William McKee, a partner of Barnard Gratz, who had contracted with the Franks firm to deliver a boatload of their tobacco and other products somewhere in North Carolina. Gratz and McKee chartered the sloop Ranger for the purpose, and McKee had sailed off and disappeared...

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7. Major General Thomas Gage

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pp. 69-78

Jeffrey Amherst’s departure and Thomas Gage’s taking command of the British forces in North America coincided with a particularly frenetic period in David Franks’s business activities. The combined Suffering Traders had held their organizational meeting on December 7, 1763, at the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia...

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8. Franks, Inglis and Barkly, Agents for the Contractors

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pp. 79-89

The contract to supply Fort Pitt and the other western posts, which had been negotiated between General Monckton and Plumsted and Franks, had provided a cushion in the pricing to defray the costs of delivery to these remote locations. David Franks needed that cushion, because assembling herds, hiring riders, collecting and transporting forage, and sustaining losses...

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9. Levy and Franks and Land Speculation Companies

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pp. 90-101

For David Franks, the second half of the 1760s began with both land speculation and supplying the troops. The turmoil associated with Indian relations never seemed to abate and was not limited to the western territories. Sir William Johnson made repeated efforts to negotiate treaties that would survive longer than the time it took him to make it home. He engaged ...

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10. A Time of Transition

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pp. 102-112

With the departure of Colonel Bouquet for Florida in 1764, new officers took over the posts in the western section. Along with the change went years of close personal working relationships and good will. At Fort Chartres, Colonel Wilkins had a long-standing business connection with Baynton, Wharton and Morgan, although he and George Morgan disliked each...

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11. Working Both Sides of the Street

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pp. 113-121

As the revolutionary crisis developed, things went from bad to worse for David Franks. First came his second legal defeat at the hands of Baynton, Wharton and Morgan. He had contested the quality of merchandise in their residuals at Fort Chartres and Kaskaskia based upon Murray’s assessment. The disagreement had gone on for years and had ended up in the courts...

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12. War and Financial Turmoil in Philadelphia

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pp. 122-135

The newly established Commonwealth of Pennsylvania passed numerous laws enabling it to fight in the war to guarantee its independence. A militia law required the service of all men between the ages of eighteen and fifty-three. David Franks was fifty-six. Fines were imposed on those who failed to serve. A complex set of additional regulations dealt with the use of...

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13. The Revenge of the Radicals

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pp. 136-145

The year 1778 had started with a welcome festivity—the marriage of Tench Coxe to Catherine McCall. This was unquestionably one of the high points of the social season. Coxe’s resourceful mercantile activities had resulted in sudden success, and he was marrying into one of the most prominent families in town. While both of Catherine’s parents had passed away...

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14. A Time of Trials

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pp. 146-157

Though ostensibly the result of his letter to Moses, David Franks’s arrest was in fact part of the radical Pennsylvania revolutionaries’ reprisals against suspected loyalists, the disaffected, the attainted, and all others they disliked. Among those at the top of this list, former lieutenant governor James Hamilton attracted considerable enmity...

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15. Exiles

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pp. 158-168

New York City, David’s birthplace and original hometown, had been filled with family and friends years earlier. When David and Becky returned in late 1780, few of those friends and relatives remained. His parents were both long dead. His siblings Moses, Naphtali, Richa, and Abigail (Poyer) were in England, as were both of his sons. Abby and Andrew Hamilton were back...

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16. The Final Chapter

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pp. 169-177

When David Franks left America for England, Tench Coxe recorded a list of his real property holdings, fastidiously collected rents, and managed properties. Coxe was equally meticulous about keeping the account books, listing all of the items purchased for repairs on the various buildings and all payments to laborers. He also recorded David’s other expenses...

Appendix A: Letters to the Editor

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pp. 179-196

Appendix B: Questions of Death and Burial

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pp. 197-199

Appendix C: “Dear Mrs. Cad”: A Revolutionary War Letter of Rebecca Franks

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pp. 201-205


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pp. 207-240


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pp. 241-251


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pp. 253-263

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053486
E-ISBN-10: 0271053488
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271030982
Print-ISBN-10: 0271030984

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: A Keystone Book ®

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- Biography.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Franks, David, 1720-1794.
  • Merchants -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- Biography.
  • Contractors -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- Biography.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Great Britain. Army -- Equipment -- History -- 18th century.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Biography.
  • Franks, David, 1720-1794 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Trials (Treason) -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
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