While Benedict Arnold was in Canada and David Solesbury Franks, the Jew of Montreal and a British subject, was serving as quartermaster to the American troops, David Franks, of Philadelphia, a member of the same Jewish family and of the same Jewish syndicate of army-contractors, was also engaged in an interesting business.
It has already been shown that this David Franks, the Philadelphia Jew, had gone part way with the colonists in their protests against British colonial rule. That this was not sincerity on his part, his subsequent actions proved. He first comes into the purview of this narrative in 1775, the year in which Benedict Arnold performed the remarkable feat of marching into Canada, whence he was sending back into the colonies numerous Canadian prisoners. These prisoners were kept in the New England colonies for a time, but were later collected into Pennsylvania, some of them being quartered in the city of Philadelphia.
How inspired it is impossible now to tell, but presently a committee of the Continental Congress proposes that Mr. David Franks be commissioned to feed and otherwise care for these British prisoners, and be allowed to sell his bills for as much money as may be necessary for the purpose. Of course, in accepting this proposal, Franks was not only pursuing the course for which he and his numerous relatives had come to America. He was really doing business with and for Moses Franks, the head of the family syndicate in London. Shortly afterward we read of David under the mouth-filling title of “Agent to the Contractors for Victualing the Troops of the King of Great Britain,” and to check him up, a British officer was allowed to pass the lines once a month and spend a few hours with David. That this was a dangerous practice may be deduced from his further story.
In the records of the Continental Congress is a request from Franks that he be permitted to go to New York, then the British headquarters; and such was the power of the man that his request was granted on condition that he pledged his word “not to give any intelligence to the enemy” and to return to Philadelphia.
In January, 1778, six months before Benedict Arnold took command of Philadelphia, David Franks got himself into trouble. A letter of his was intercepted on its way to England. The letter was intended for Moses Franks, of London, and was concealed under cover of a letter to a captain in a regiment commanded by a British general who had married Franks’ sister. It appears on the record of the American Congress “that the contents of the letter manifest a disposition and intentions inimical to the safety and liberty of the United States.”
Whereupon it was “Resolved, that Major General Arnold be directed to cause the said David Franks forthwith to be arrested and conveyed to the new gaol in this city (Philadelphia), there to be confined until the further order of Congress.”
Thus Benedict Arnold comes into contact with another member of the Franks family, whose name was to be closely associated with the great treason.
And now begins a serpentine course of twistings and turnings which are so delightfully Jewish as to be worth restating if only to show how true the race remains to its character through the centuries. It is in October, about the eleventh day of the month. Franks is imprisoned and remains a week. Then by strange reasoning it is discovered that the United States has no jurisdiction over the charge of treason against the United States (!) and that the prisoner should be handed over to the Supreme Executive Council of the state of Pennsylvania. It follows that the state of Pennsylvania has nothing to do with the crime of treason against the United States either, and in spite of the contents of the letters and the findings of the Congressional Committee thereon, David Franks smiles pleasantly and goes free! It was a time, of course, when much money was lent by Jews to public officials. The Jew, Haym Salomon, was credited with having most of the “fathers” on his books, but he did not charge them interest nor principal. He grew immensely wealthy, however, and was recipient, in lieu of interest and repayment, of many official favors. David Franks, likewise a wealthy man, charged with treason, has his case transferred and finally dismissed. It is a trick not unknown today.
The Jewish records give much credit to Mr. Franks for not being daunted by this experience. Whether he is entitled to particular credit for his courage when he was master of so much influence, is a matter for the reader to decide, but that he was undaunted his subsequent actions show. He is very soon on the records again with an appeal for permission for his secretary to go again to New York within the British lines. He appeals to the Council of Pennsylvania. The Council refers him to Congress. Congress says it has no objection, if the secretary will be governed by General George Washington’s orders in the matter. Washington’s aid-de-camp gives permission, and the secretary gives sufficient bonds and sets out for New York.
Arrived in New York, the secretary discovers that Mr. Franks’ presence is necessary and has made all arrangements for his master to go to New York, having even secured British permission to pass the lines. It was made very easy for Congress, it had only to say yes. But this time Congress said “no.” The former escape of Franks made people aware of an un-American influence at work. After his first arrest he was regarded as dangerous to the American cause. He apparently succeeds in living well in Philadelphia in spite of his difficulties, living even gayly with the society of the city.
Up to this time, David Franks had come into contact with the two principal figures in Arnold’s treason. As purveyor to the captured troops, Franks had met and entertained, in 1776, the young and engaging Major André, who in 1780 was to become the tragic victim of Arnold’s perfidy. And in 1778 Franks had been the subject of an order of arrest given to General Benedict Arnold. Jacob Mordecai “mentions that it was at Mr. Franks’ house that he met Major André, then a paroled prisoner, who was passing his idle hours and exercising his talents in the most agreeable ways by taking a miniature likeness of the beautiful Miss Franks.” (American Jewish Historical Society, Vol. 6, page 41.)
In the meantime, Benedict Arnold was pursing his career, a career strangely checkered with brilliant bravery and subtle knavery, a career sustained by the confidence of noble friends who believed in Arnold even against himself. Except for this strange power of holding friends in spite of what they knew about him, Arnold’s career would have terminated before it did. That psychic gift of his, and the desperate need of the Continental cause for military leaders, held him on until his moral turpitude matured for the final collapse. As before stated, there is no intention to minimize Arnold’s services to his country, but there is a determination to show what were his associations during the period of his moral decline, and thus fill in the gaps of history and account for the distrust with which the American Congress regarded the young general.
David Solesbury Franks, the Montreal Jew, who was an agent of the Franks army-contractor syndicate in Canada, came south to the American colonies with Arnold when the American Army retreated. In his own account of himself, written in 1789—eight years after the treason—he makes so little of his association with Arnold that were it not for the reports of certain courts-martial it would be impossible to determine how close the two men had been. In his record of himself, as preserved in the tenth volume of the American Jewish Historical Society’s publications, he admits leaving Canada with the Americans in 1776 and remaining attached to the American Army until the surrender of Burgoyne, which occurred late in 1777. He then lightly passes over an important period which saw the command of Philadelphia bestowed on General Arnold. He mentions simply that he was “in Arnold’s military family at West Point until his desertion,” which was in 1780. Reference to the first court-martial of Arnold, in which Colonel David Solesbury Franks was Arnold’s chief witness, will show, however, that Franks and Arnold were more closely associated than the former would care to admit after Arnold’s name had become anathema. Indeed, as the Jewish Historical Society’s note correctly observes, the account of this court-martial “is of much interest, as it bears directly upon the relations of General Arnold and his aid, Major David S. Franks, before the traitor’s final flight in September, 1780.”
There were in all eight charges preferred against Arnold, the second one being—“In having shut up the shops and stores on his arrival in the city (Philadelphia), so as even to prevent officers of the army from purchasing, while he privately made considerable purchases for his own benefit, as is alleged and believed.”
Follows a supporting affidavit, printed in the style of the original, with emphatic italics added:
- “On the seventh day of May, A. D. 1779, before me, Plunket Fleeson, Esq., one of the justices, etc., for the city of Philadelphia, comes colonel John Fitzgerald, late aid de camp to his excellency general Washington, and being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith: That on the evening of the day on which the British forces left Philadelphia, he and Major David S. Franks, aid de camp to major Arnold, went to the house of miss Brackenberry, and lodged there that night; and the next morning, major Franks having gone down stairs, the deponent going into the front room of the said house, to view colonel Jackson’s regiment then marching into the city, saw lying in the window two open papers; that on casting his eye on one of them, he was surprised it contained instructions to the said major Franks to purchase European and East Indian goods in the city of Philadelphia, to any amount, for the payment of which the writer would furnish major Franks with the money, and the same paper contained also a strict charge to the said Franks not to make known to his most intimate acquaintance that the writer was concerned in the proposed purchase; that these instructions were not signed, but appeared to the deponent to be in the hand-writing of major general Arnold, whether or not there was a date to it the deponent doth not recollect; that the other paper contained instructions signed by major general Arnold, directing major Franks to purchase for the said general Arnold some necessaries for the use of his table; that the deponent compared the writing of the two papers and verily believes that they were both written by major general Arnold’s own hand; and soon afterward major Franks came into the room and took the papers away, as the deponent supposes. And further the deponent saith not.
- “Sworn, etc. John Fitzgerald.”
That such a charge involved as much the trial of Major Franks as General Arnold, will at once appear. The statements in the charge argue close association between Arnold and Franks. Yet in Franks’ written record of himself in 1789 he passes over this Philadelphia period thus lightly: “In 1778, after the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British Army & on the arrival of Count D’Estaing I procured Letters of recommendation from the Board of War. . . . . and joined him off Sandy Hook, I continued with that Admiral until he arrived at Rhode Island, where on the failure of the Expedition I returned to Philadelphia where my military duty called me.”
No reference here, nor anywhere in his record, to a closeness of bond between the two which his testimony, now offered from the records, amply proves to have existed.
- “The judge-advocate produced major Franks, aid-de-camp to major General Arnold, who was sworn.
- “Q. On General Arnold’s arrival in Philadelphia, do you know whether himself or any person on his account, made any considerable purchases of goods?
- “A. I do not.
- “Q. At or before general Arnold’s arrival in Philadelphia did you receive orders from general Arnold to purchase goods, or do you know of general Arnold’s having given orders to any other person to make purchases of goods?
- “A. I did receive from general Arnold that paper which colonel Fitzgerald has mentioned in his deposition. There are circumstances leading to it which I must explain. I had, by being in the army, injured my private affairs very considerably, and meant to leave it, if a proper opportunity to enter into business should happen. I had several conversations on the subject with General Arnold, who promised me all the assistance in his power; he was to participate in the profits of the business I was to enter into. At that time, previous to our going to Philadelphia, I had several particular conversations with him, and thought that the period in which I might leave the army with honor and enter into business (had come). I received at that time, or about that time, I think several days before the enemy evacuated the city, the paper mentioned in colonel Fitzgerald’s deposition that was not signed, as well as the other. Upon our coming into town we had a variety of military business to do. I did not purchase any goods, neither did I leave the army. That paper was entirely neglected, neither did I think anything concerning it until I heard of colonel Fitzgerald’s deposition. General Arnold has told me since, which is since I came from Carolina some time in August last, that the reason for his not supporting me in business was, supposing I had left the army, it was incompatible with his excellency’s instructions and the resolution of Congress.”
This testimony, seemingly straightforward in form, is rather damning to the characters of both the men involved. Arnold, upon taking command of Philadelphia, ordered the stores and shops to be closed and no goods sold. He stopped business outright. It was a most unpopular order, because it prevented the merchants profiting by the new order of things, the return of the Americans.
The very first day the closing law is in force, Arnold writes an order to Franks to make large purchases of European and East Indian goods “to any amount” and to keep the transaction secret from his most intimate acquaintance. That is, Benedict Arnold and the Jewish major on his staff, have an understanding that under cover of the military closing, they will loot the city of its most profitable goods at the enforced low selling prices—for the obvious purpose of selling at higher prices when the military order was rescinded.
These are undisputed facts. Colonel Fitzgerald saw the papers and knew the unsigned one to be in Arnold’s handwriting, even as the signed one was. They were both addressed to the Jewish Major Franks. In his testimony, Major Franks admits the existence of the unsigned order as Colonel Fitzgerald saw it, and admits also its character.
Even Benedict Arnold admitted the order, but he endeavored to show that having exhibited General Washington’s orders to him (Arnold) to command Philadelphia, that fact would be a sufficient countermand to the order given to Franks to load up on valuable goods.
- “General Arnold to Major Franks. Did you not suppose my showing you the instructions from general Washington to me, previous to your going into the city, a sufficient countermand of the order I had given you to purchase goods?
- “Major Franks. I did not form any supposition on the subject.”
This admission that he wrote the order, and the fact that no large purchases of goods could be shown, constituted Arnold’s defense. It requires no keen legal mind to show its weakness. If the order was countermanded several days before they entered the city, what was it doing in Miss Brackenberry’s house in Philadelphia on the first morning of Arnold’s command and the first morning of the operation of his order to close the stores? And why did Franks come in search of it? Discarded orders are not thus carried around and preserved.
Probably no purchases were made. Probably the order was not carried out. When Colonel Fitzgerald walked into the room early in the morning and saw the papers, and when soon thereafter Major Franks walked into the room and saw both Colonel Fitzgerald and the papers, there was nothing else to do than to call the plan off. It had become known. Colonel Fitzgerald waited in the room to see what became of the papers. He saw the Jew Franks come and get them. He saw him go out with them. He knew what those papers directed the Jew to do, and he knew that the directing hand was Benedict Arnold’s. Doubtless with this clue he kept his eyes open in Philadelphia during the operation of the closing order. And doubtless Franks lost no time in transmitting to General Arnold the fact that he found Colonel Fitzgerald in the room where the papers had been left. The inadvertent visit of Colonel Fitzgerald is the key-fact in that phase of the matter.
But the Jewish major becomes talkative in his effort to explain the situation. “There are circumstances which I must explain,” he says. And then, in words that were frequently in the mouth of Arnold, he represents that his service in the army was injuring his private affairs very seriously, and that he was contemplating retiring from the army and going into business.
It is worth noting at this point that numerous opportunities were given Franks to retire, both before and after the Arnold treason, but he developed into a persistent clamorer after official jobs. In spite of his testimony, he could not be shaken loose from public employment.
And then Franks revealed the whole secret of his relations with Arnold. They were in close association in profiteering matters. “I had several conversations on the subject with general Arnold . . . . he was to participate in the profits of the business I was to enter into.” Arnold was to remain a general in the army; his aide was to get out of the army and work with him privately, sharing the profits.
But what had all this to do with the orders to close the stores at Philadelphia? What had this to do with the papers found by Colonel Fitzgerald? For after all, this was the “circumstance” which Major Franks had set out to explain. At last he reaches it: “At that time, previous to our going into Philadelphia, I had several particular conversations with him . . . . I received at that time, or about that time, the paper mentioned in Colonel Fitzgerald’s deposition which was not signed, as well as the other.”
The paper authorized him to get the most merchantable goods out of the closed stores. It followed upon “several particular conversations” about the business of which Arnold was to “participate in the profits.” But, apparently, the deal did not go through. Colonel Fitzgerald’s untimely appearance, and the carelessness of some one in leaving the papers about, were most unfavorable to the Arnold-Franks project.
There can be no question of the intimacy of the relations between the Jew and Arnold and the use that both made of their relationship. There can be no question, either, that these relationships must have been the result of continuous acquaintance and testing.
Merely to show that a Jew once crossed the path of Benedict Arnold and was implicated with him in a discreditable scheme that probably did not fully mature, means nothing. But that this Jew was involved in Arnold’s fortunes from the time the two first met in Canada until the day that Arnold betrayed his country, may mean something. And that is the case. From the time of their first meeting, their lines run along together—Franks always being relied upon by Arnold as the credible witness who extricates him from his scrapes, and Franks usually doing it with a sort of clumsy success, as in the instance just cited.
The reader may refer now to the reference made above to Franks’ record of himself in which he mentions having joined Count d’Estaing, the French admiral, at Sandy Hook. This was just a month after Arnold took command at Philadelphia, just a month after the events on which the above charge was based. Evidently Franks got out of town for a little while. He would notice the coolness of his fellow officers among whom reports of Colonel Fitzgerald’s discovery must have circulated. There would be no prejudice against him because he was a Jew, it would be solely due to the suspicions concerning him. Indeed, readers of the ordinary history will never learn that Arnold had Jews around him. There were David Franks, moneyed man and merchant in the city, and David Solesbury Franks on Arnold’s staff—both outstanding figures, yet wholly passed over by the historians, with one or two exceptions, and even these have never caught the Jewish clue. In that day there was no prejudice against Jews as Jews, even as there is none now.
Franks, then, easily gains letters which permit him to join the French fleet of d’Estaing, within a month after the Philadelphia business. And strange to relate, at precisely the same time, Benedict Arnold conceived the notion that he too should go into the navy, and a month after his appointment to Philadelphia he writes to General Washington suggesting nothing less than that he be given command of the American Navy!—at precisely the time Major Franks takes to the water.
“. . . . being obliged entirely to neglect my private affairs since I have been in the service,” Arnold writes to General Washington, “has induced me to wish to retire from public business, unless an offer, which my friends have mentioned, should be made to me of the command of the navy . . . . I must beg leave to request your sentiments respecting a command in the navy.”
So far as the historians have been able to discover, no one ever proposed such a thing as making Arnold the admiral of the American Navy. But, then, the historians did not know David S. Franks. He, a landsman, had gone for a few weeks with the French ships. Perhaps he was the friend who “mentioned” the matter. At any rate, when Franks came off the ships again, it was to serve as witness once more for Benedict Arnold.
The charges against Arnold were such as these: Permitting an enemy ship to land, and buying a share of her cargo; imposing menial service on soldiers (a charge brought about by an action of Major Franks); issuing passes unlawfully—the case in point being that of a Jewess, named Levy; the use of army wagons for his private affairs, and so forth.
This is Major Franks’ testimony concerning Arnold’s permitting “The Charming Nancy” to land at a United States port, contrary to law:
- “Q. (by the court) Do you know whether general Arnold purchased any part of the Charming Nancy or her cargo?
- “A. I do not know of my own knowledge, but I have heard general Arnold say he did, and I have also heard Mr. Seagrove say he did.
- “Q. Was it previous or subsequent to general Arnold’s granting the pass?
- “A. It was subsequent.”
Here is a complete admission of all the facts, but the defense consisted in laboriously showing, by means of quite leading questions addressed to Franks, that the owners of “The Charming Nancy” were indeed good Americans, though residing and doing business in enemy territory. Franks was rather useful in this part of the business, and the court, overlooking the other elements, simply found that the permission which Arnold gave to “The Charming Nancy” was illegal. The fact that a major general of the United States Army speculated in the cargo of the ship which had come into port in violation of the law and on his military permission, was not considered at all. Neither was the fact, stated in the charge, that he gave his permission while he was in camp with General Washington at Valley Forge, whom he did not consult in any way.
But here again the fact is established that Major Franks was privy to the whole matter, and was the chief witness for Arnold’s defense.
If it had occurred but once, as at Montreal, that Arnold had been charged with irregularities involving profitable goods; or if it had occurred but once, as at Philadelphia, that Major Franks happened to be the chief available witness, no serious notice could be taken of it.
But time and again Arnold is caught in shady acts involving profitable goods, and time and again the Jewish Major Franks is his accomplice and chief witness. And this partnership in shady transactions, extending from the time Arnold first met Franks till the time Arnold betrayed his country, is significant, at least as a contribution to history, and possibly as a side light on the gradual degeneration of Benedict Arnold.
Arnold could no longer wholly escape. But still the good fortune that seemed patiently to accompany him, as if waiting for his better nature to recover from some dark spell, remained with him; the court could not exonerate him entirely, but neither could they punish him as he deserved; and so it was given as a verdict that General Arnold should be reprimanded by General Washington, his best friend.
Washington’s reprimand is one of the finest utterances in human record. It would have saved a man in whom a shred of moral determination remained:
- “Our profession is the chastest of all; even the shadow of a fault tarnishes the luster of our finest achievements. The least inadvertance may rob us of the public favor, so hard to be acquired. I reprimand you for having forgotten that in proportion as you have rendered yourself formidable to our enemies, you should have been guarded and temperate in your deportment toward your fellow-citizens. Exhibit anew those noble qualities which have placed you on the list of our most valued commanders. I will myself furnish you, as far as it may be in my power, with opportunities of regaining the esteem of your country.”
It was a bad day for Benedict Arnold when he got into touch with the Jewish syndicate of army-contractors. There was hope for him even yet, if he would cast off the evil spell. But time pressed; events were culminating; the alien, having gripped him, was about to make the best of the baleful opportunity. The closing chapter was about to be written in glory or in shame.