UCSD Professor Discovers Benjamin Franklin Letters - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

UCSD Professor Discovers Benjamin Franklin Letters

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Dozens of letters written by Benjamin Frankin not seen in 250 years have been discovered by a UCSD professor.

Professor Alan Houston found the first letter on the final day of his last research trip to the British Library in London. It's a letter he never knew existed, and he was pretty sure he had read everything ever published that was written by Benjamin Franklin.

"When I read it... wait a minute - oh my god - what is this? And the excitement was just extraordinary," Houston said.

But it wasn't just one letter. Instead there were dozens, some written to Franklin, others by Franklin including one to his wife.

"This letter ends - 'Write to me every opportunity. I long to be with you. Being as ever your loving husband,'" Houston said.

The letters cover a five-month period and documents Franklin's participation in the Seven Years' War, where he helped British troops secure horses and carriages for a 250-mile trip to battle. Franklin's own autobiography says it was an easy job, but the letters - including one from his son - say otherwise.

"William is reporting to his father the farmers are terrified and angry at the misbehavior of the British soldiers, and that all feeds into and makes more difficult the task of persuading farmers to go along and cooperate," Houston said.
The letters are not in Franklin's own handwriting. Instead, they were copied by a friend of Franklin named Thomas Birch, an archivist who spent hours every day copying historical letters by hand.

"Birch saw these as important documents and it was a part of his habit to copy anything important that he came across," Houston said.

Houston can only assume the originals were destroyed in transit, or during the Revolutionary War. These copies haven't been seen in 250 years, copies that make you wonder what else is still out there.

"The fact that I was able to find these is a reminder that history is never finished, that there are always more stories to learn about the past," Houston said.

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