(c. 1740 - 1793)
David Salisbury Franks was a hero of the American Revolution.
Ironically, because he was assigned as aide-de-camp to the traitorous
Benedict Arnold, Franks reputation was tainted. Although cleared
on all charges of complicity in Arnolds efforts to surrender West
Point to the British in 1780, Franks suffered from charges of disloyalty.
Despite formal exoneration, Franks reputation never fully recovered.
Unfortunately, his name is rarely included in pantheon of first-rank
David S. Franks was born in Philadelphia around 1740
into a large and highly respected Jewish merchant family. As a young
man, Franks father relocated his branch of the family to Quebec.
In 1775, on the eve of the Revolution, David S. Franks was living in
Montreal, serving in the distinguished position of parnas (president)
of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in that city, though he was
of German Jewish descent. According to the late historian Jacob Rader
Marcus, because Franks publicly defended the right of a protester to
compare King George III of England to the Pope and call him a fool,
Franks was jailed and held for 16 days. The experience converted him
to the colonists cause and, when the Continental Army invaded
Quebec to "liberate" it from the British, Franks joined the
revolutionaries. He was appointed paymaster of the Continental Army
in Quebec and apparently expended his own funds to pay the salaries
of the American volunteers.
When the American campaign faltered in Canada, Franks retreated to
Philadelphia, reaching it in July 1776. He joined the Continental Army
and served actively until October 1777. Because he spoke French, Franks
was then assigned as liaison officer to the Comte dEstaing, commander
of the French naval forces fighting on the American side. Franks attained
the rank of major and was assigned as aide-de-camp to Benedict Arnold,
the military governor of Philadelphia. Arnold alienated several of the
citys leading merchants and was given command of the strategic
garrison at West Point, which controlled access to the upper reaches
of the Hudson River.
When Arnolds treason became known, Franks fell under suspicion
of complicity. To make matters worse, David Salisbury Franks was probably
confused with his uncle, David Franks of New York City, who remained
a notorious Tory. The court martial dropped all charges against David
Salisbury Franks on the ground that they were unfounded. Remarkably,
Benedict Arnold himself wrote a letter from a British ship exonerating
Franks. One can imagine, however, that a letter of support from the
traitorous Arnold did little to restore Franks good name.
After Franks was returned to active duty, General George Washington
had him assigned to his command. However, the other officers of Franks
own regiment started a whispering campaign against him. Seeking to clear
his name definitively, Franks asked General Washington to initiate another
court-martial, one that would investigaterather than simply dropthe
scurrilous charges against him.
After a month-long investigation, the court issued a thorough report
completely exonerating Franks. A promotion in rank immediately followed.
Franks was entrusted by the State Department to carry highly secret
documents to diplomats Benjamin Franklin in Paris and John Jay in Madrid.
In 1783, Franks returned to Philadelphia, but soon left for Paris to
deliver to Franklin the official copy of the peace treaty that ended
the war and granted American independence. According to his accounts,
Franks often paid more of his expenses than his beloved young nation
could afford to reimburse.
At wars end, Franks was made American vice-consul at Marseilles.
In 1786, he was appointed to the American diplomatic team that negotiated
a trade treaty between the United States and the potentates of Morocco.
Yet, political opponents pursued David S. Franks. To a degree not comprehensible
today, politics in the 1780s was a "blood sport" in which
it was commonplace to attack opponents with accusation of vile moral
corruption. Despite his exoneration, Jeffersonian Republicans continued
to attack Franks for his association with Benedict Arnold. In 1786,
the attacks succeeded and Franks was dismissed from the diplomatic corps.
He returned to the United States discredited and bankrupt.
Undaunted, Franks fought to restore his reputation. Several times,
he petitioned President Washington for reappointment to the diplomatic
service. Finally, in 1789, Congress granted Franks 400 acres of land
in recognition of his service during the Revolutionary war. His last
position was that of assistant cashier at the Bank of the United States
David Salisbury Franks died of yellow fever in October of 1793 at the
age of 53. His fortune gone, a Christian neighbor rescued his corpse
from the coroners wagon before it went to potters field.
Franks today lies buried today in Philadelphias Christ Church
Burial Yard, saved from the paupers fate but not among his fellow
Like so may other "minor" patriots, Franks name is
not well known today. His courage, loyalty and willingness to expend
his personal fortune for the cause of independence, plus his dogged
determination to clear his name, deserve remembrance. Had he not had
the bad fortune to be assigned to serve under the infamous Benedict
Arnold, that name might rank with that of Haym Salomon, Mordecai Sheftall
and Francis Salvador among the best-known Jewish patriots of the American
Sources: American Jewish