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Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 3

From Owen Biddle
Biddle, Owen RTP
Dear Sir, Philada: 29th: March 1777

I received your favour & am much obliged to you for the communication of the mood by which your Smiths attempted to make the forged Iron Cannon &c. In return shall endeavour to give you a detail of our proceedings in that department, which has not been less successfull in the quality than with you—but for want of proper persons to have the care and direction of the Cannon foundery & forgery the business has been much neglected & at this day little is done at it. Mr. Wheeler has finished his 4 pdr. It is well executed for the first and bore proof and many times fireing since, and our Military Gentlemen are much pleased with it—but this is the only One that is made of this kind, and no work yet establishd 361for that purpose yet I am in hopes Congress will not neglect it as I am informd they have order’d the Board of War, to contract for 100 pe. of 3 & 6 prs. of forged Iron. Your method is not so well approved of by Mr. Henry & Mr. Wheeler as our own, being of opinion they are more manageable in junks than in staves hooped. Mr. Byers returnd here after a long absence, and we have employ’d him at our foundery lately under the direction of Mr. Loxley, and after some difficulty he has got the furnace to do very well, and it contains a sufficient quantity of Mettal for a 12 pdr. He has cast 2 Howitze’s 5 1/2 In: diameter 3 Six pounders and one 12 pounder. They have been proved with 2/3 the weight of the ball, and appear sound & good. Mr. Loxleys moulds are many of them indifferent and some unfit for use. That we have to make a new set this occasions some delay but we are in hopes the works will be prosecuted with diligence in future. We are fully convinced from the Experiments we have made with Wood that it may do with out Sea Coal by enlarging our fireplace, but so long as Sea Coal can be had it is preferable to it. The Mettal you were desirous of being inform’d about has in part been recoverd and the whole Stock, both Continental & of this State ammounts to about 12,000 tot. exclusive of our own Bells which will hardly escape the fiery furnace should they be wanted. I have much regretted your absence from this City as the Ordinance board were without you inadequate to their appointment and I have never heard of any measures being taken by them to promote this very important business. My worthy friend Rittenhouse1 and myself have had it much at heart, and offer’d our service to the Committee of Congress to promote it,—but never had a proper authority from them. The return of Congress to this City will give new vigour to all the Military preparations and should we be able to repulse our Enemies again and keep a quiet possession of the City for a few Months I have hopes that a sufficient field train will be prepared. We have had a large importation of Arms into this port from france this week on Acct. of Congress viz. 6800 Stand, and 1500 Lgun locks.

While this ardous contest continues it is my desire to be able to devote the small talents I am possessed of for the benefit of my bleeding Country, and hope to be supported in it by the bright example of our Seniors and fellow patriots both with you & at home.

With sincere wishes for your happiness and success in your exertions for the defence of your Country I remain Yr. freind & humble Servt.,

Owen Biddle 362

N.B. This goes by Mr. Benjamin Poultney my brother-in Law. Should he need your assistance you would oblige me by granting it to him in the prosecution of his business—as above yr.,


RC ; addressed: “The Honble. Robert Treat Paine Esqr. at Beverly or Boston. fav:d by Benjn: Poultney Esqr.”; endorsed.


David Rittenhouse (1732–1796), astronomer, instrument maker, and mathematician, was at this time serving in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and as engineer for the Philadelphia Committee of Safety, of which he later became president. After the war he was professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania and in 1791 succeeded Benjamin Franklin as the president of the American Philosophical Society [ DAB ].

To Elbridge Gerry
RTP Gerry, Elbridge
My Dear Sir, Boston, April 12, 1777.

I have before me your kind letter of February 14th, and have delayed writing merely because I was in expectation of collecting something solid and decisive respecting some public measures, but matters seem to be worrying on at a strange rate; the regulating act, though framed with the greatest care and good intentions, and though called for by almost every body, is now reprobated by many and obeyed by few. Many that are supposed good judges in the mercantile way tell you, “that if silver and gold were passing instead of paper, the prices of goods would be as high, and that nothing but reducing the glut of paper currency will save the credit of it.”1 No doubt goods would be higher in war than peace, and the act made provision for that, and meant to state such prices as silver would regulate in time of such war: but the glut of money is horrible. Yet while I lament the emission of such quantities I can but recollect the occasion: taxation should have begun sooner, loans should have been coeval with the emission: but unhappily, governments were not sufficiently formed nor the people prepared in all of them for the former; and the seat of war drawing the bulk of the currency with it, made loans impracticable and disagreeable in other governments. The remedy is obvious: particular governments must emit no more, on pain of censure. Rhode-Island in particular must be watched most narrowly, or she will drown New-England with paper, and then suffer individuals to do all in 363their power to depreciate it; of which there are some shocking instances. We have begun taxation with an assessment of 105,000 l.; and such as been the largeness of the bounties given by some towns to raise the new army, as to equal their proportion of the public tax; which altogether falls as heavy again on individuals as it did last war. But the great evil lays here, for which some remedy must be found: the cause of the war has thrown property into channels, where before it never was, and has increased little streams to overflowing rivers: and what is worse, in some respects by a method that has drained the sources of some as much as it has replenished others. Rich and numerous prizes, and the putting six or seven hundred per cent. on goods bought in peace time, are the grand engines. Moneys in large sums, thrown into their hands by these means, enables them to roll the snow ball of monopoly and forestalling; and thus while these people are heaping up wealth and (what is very astonishing) doing every thing to depreciate their own property, the remaining part are jogging on in their old way, with few or no advantages, and the salary men and those who live on the interest of their money are suffering exceedingly. Let us now apply taxation to these circumstances. The man of visible property will stand highest in the valuation. It is exceeding hard to ascertain stock in trade; and with many of these people large sums come and go lightly: by this means they who are best able to pay the tax and circulate the money back to the fountain where it is wanted, escape with a very small proportion, while others who stand high in the valuation because they used to be so, are called upon for sums that bear hard upon their abilities. Cannot some mode be hit upon to draw money by taxation from those who are really the possessors of it? Might not an impost on privateers or their prizes be so contrived as to bring large sums to the treasury without discouraging that business? Why should one part of the community reap such large profits by a branch of business licensed by congress, without contributing their proportion towards supporting government? It will eventually be serviceable to them, as it tends to secure their accumulated wealth from the enemy and from depreciation. If the southern governments say they are not ripe for these matters or do not need them, I hope they will consent to some useful measures for regulating matters with us. The lottery tickets came at last and sell rapidly; and I think the sale of the first class will ensure the sale of all the others: the plan is very popular. The loan tickets sell very fast, and I please myself with the prospect of great profit from these branches. For Heaven’s sake, let something be set 364a-going before these are exhausted. There must not be more money emitted, and all the colonial emissions must be called in as soon as possible.

I have wrote Mr. Hancock about our progress in cannon making. They make good iron field pieces at Connecticut and at Providence. I hear Mr. S. Adams was very ill at Baltimore, but I had the pleasure of hearing from his lady the other day that he was recovered. My compliments to both the Mr. Adams’: I intended to have wrote them on particular subjects, but continual avocations render it impracticable. Pray describe to me as nearly as you may, the situation of your affairs. Without any great skill in astrology, I calculate that you intend to send for me seasonably, before dog days come on. I hope you are well and in good spirits. Remember me to Mr. Lovell. I wish to know to what pitch the price of living and expenses have arisen.

The house have passed a resolve calling upon towns to instruct their next representatives to consult and form government: it now lays at the board. The small pox is breaking out continually,—hospitals erecting in very many places. There are so many objects of importance to attend to, that one may well say in a political sense, the harvest is great, but the labourers are few.2

I am your friend and servant, R. T. Paine

Original not located; printed in James T. Austin, The Life of Elbridge Gerry. With Contemporary Letters, 2 vols. (Boston, 1828), 1:219–223.


RTP and Azor Orne were appointed members of a committee to meet with the other states relative to paper currency, June 27, 1777.


Matthew, 9:37.