Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 3. A Summer in New Jersey

The Electric Franklin

July 7, 1775

We hear from Philadelphia that Grandfather has been elected to the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. It is made up of 25 members, and its function is to supply necessities for the military, encourage the manufacture of saltpeter (used to make gunpowder), and to provide for defending the province against insurrection and invasion. At their first meeting, of course, they chose Grandfather as president. As if he is not busy enough!

I can just imagine him now, seizing his chance to put into practice an idea he told us about at the dinner table last month: a contraption with the French name of chevaux-de-frise (horses from Friesland) — Friseland being a province in the north of Holland — to be installed in the Delaware south of Philadelphia in order to slow or stop the advance of British warships.

Robert Erskine's Chevaux-de-Frise

Those chevaux consist of enormous spikes strung together with barbed wire and mounted on large wooden boxes. The boxes are weighed down with tons of stones and sunk to the bottom of the river so that the sharp ends of the spikes are positioned just below the water level. Thus, the spikes are invisible to ships' captains who will sail their hulls smack into them, and puncture the bottom of their boats. Ingenious! The location of the chevaux in the river must, of course, remain top secret.

That is not all we heard from Philadelphia. On June 15, the dapper Colonel Washington whom I admired when he arrived for the second Continental Congress, was unanimously elected General and Commander in Chief of the Armies. His name was proposed by the Boston lawyer, John Adams, rather to the displeasure, we hear, of the rich John Hancock, who would have liked that position for himself. But Hancock will have to be content with the presidency of the Congress.

There was some worry about a southern general, Washington, being put in command of a mostly northern army, and my father remarked that sectional animosities and mistrust were beginning to show up in the Congress. He added that it had long been Grandfather's dream to see the colonists unite with one another, and he told me about a meeting that had taken place 21 years ago in the city of Albany in the colony of New York. In response to the threat posed by the French, who were becoming ever more invasive, Grandfather had written up a Plan of Union and proposed it, but it was way too early for the various colonies to see that far ahead where their interest lay, so the plan was not adopted.

— "Were you there with Grandfather in Albany?" I asked, knowing precisely what Father would answer.

— "Of course," he said. "Wherever he went, I went."

— "How old were you then?"

— "Let's see. In the summer of 1754, I was 24. Why do you want to know?"

— "No special reason." I am not about to tell him how jealous I feel of all the experiences he has had with his father. On the other hand, these many examples of their closeness are reassuring, for I have been surprised that Grandfather has written only to me this summer, never to his son. Dare I hope that they will be friends forever and that I will be able to live alternately with both, enjoying Grandfather's formidable intelligence and Father's charm and kindness? I'll make up for lost time if that happens.

Still more news: the colonists have decided to invade Canada "to promote the peace and security" of the people there, it is said. But, I wonder, what if the Canadians do not want to be protected?