Benjamin Webb (fl. 1760 - 1784) was a merchant and sometime schoolmaster active in London, England and later Basel, Switzerland in the mid to late 18th century. His origins are obscure: there is a reference to 'A Hamburger Merchant' by the name, and his associations suggest that he may have been at university in Leipzig. But his adult life found him London, where he began a decades-long correspondence with the American inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790). He is famously the recipient of Franklin's generosity in what is the earliest documented instance of the concept of 'Paying It Forward.' The name 'Benjamin Webb' is common enough that it is difficult to develop a specific history. We know from his letters to Franklin that he was involved in business with his father-in-law, William Curties at Martin's-Lane, Cannon-Street, London. This Curties-Webb enterprise dates to at least 1767, when 'Mess. Webb and Curties' are listed as subscribers to 'Benjamin Webb's' essay on accounting and negotiation. It is unclear if the author of that work is the same as 'Webb and Curties' but it is likely the case. If so, then Webb self-describes as a 'writing-Master and accountant' and 'Master of the Free Grammar School in Bunhill Row'. Webb and Curties went into insolvency in 1777 or 1778. Webb's earliest surviving correspondence with Franklin dates to this period, penned on December 25, 1777. Therein, Webb, writing from London, sent Franklin, then in Paris, a letter of recommendation on behalf of a long-standing scholar friend, the Lexicographer Johann Rogle (1728 - 1791) of the University of Leipzig. The content suggests significant earlier communication and engagement between Franklin and Webb - most of which is now lost. Likely his relationship with Franklin dates to the period from 1757 to 1762, when Franklin was in England protesting the influence of the Penn family on the governance of Pennsylvania. In 1781, Webb's wife, Mary Curties, long in poor health, died. Following his wife's death, Webb fled from his creditors to settle in Basel, Switzerland, possibly with his son, Charles Webb. There they became close with Benjamin Franklin Bache (1769 - 1798), Franklin's grandson, with whom Charles was close in age. (Franklin had sent his grandson to Geneva in 1779 to gain first-hand experience in a Republic.) Webb's bankruptcy and flight to Switzerland led to a 1784 letter begging assistance of Franklin on the strength of their relationship and his friendship with Bache. Franklin's response in a famous letter was a loan of 10 Louis d'or (French gold coins), and instructions that 'when you meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation when he shall be able... This is a Trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.' Although it is implied in the letter that Franklin's 'Pay It Forward' concept pre-dated his employment of it with Webb, it is in this correspondence that it appears for the first time.

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