In Thrilling Find, Scholar Unearths Long-Lost Letters of Benjamin Franklin





It sounds like a scene out of Possession: In the waning hours of a research trip to the British Library, an American scholar stumbles on a cache of letters overlooked for 250 years. It's the stuff of scholarly romance, and it happened to Alan Houston, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, who made what he describes as the find of a lifetime—47 letters written by, to, and about Benjamin Franklin, and never before seen by scholars.

Mr. Houston had traveled to England to round up material for his book Benjamin Franklin and the Politics of Improvement (Yale University Press, 2008). On the last day of his visit, he was in the library's Manuscripts Reading Room looking at material on the French and Indian War.

He asked to see a volume of papers that had belonged to Thomas Birch, secretary of the Royal Society from 1752 to 1765. The volume was described simply as "Copies of Letters Relating to the March of General Braddock," referring to the ill-starred venture of a British general dispatched in 1755 to capture Fort Duquesne, in present-day Pittsburgh, from the French.

"The first thing in it was a letter from Benjamin Franklin to the secretary of the governor of Maryland," Mr. Houston said this week. "I looked at the first sentence and said, 'This doesn't sound familiar.' Then I got kind of nervous and bouncy in my chair."...


comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list