Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

[A short biography] FRANKLIN, Benjamin, (uncle of Franklin Davenport), a Delegate from Pennsylvania; born in Boston, Mass., January 17, 1706; attended the Boston Grammar School one year; was instructed in elementary branches by a private tutor; employed in a tallow chandlery for two years; learned the art of printing, and after working at his trade in Boston, Philadelphia, and London established himself in Philadelphia as a printer and publisher; founded the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1728, and in 1732 began the publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac; State printer; clerk of the Pennsylvania general assembly 1736-1750; postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737; a member of the provincial assembly 1744-1754; a member of several Indian commissions; elected a member of the Royal Society on account of his scientific discoveries; deputy postmaster general of the British North American Colonies 1753-1774; agent of Pennsylvania in London 1757-1762 and 1764-1775; Member of the Continental Congress 1775-1776; signed the Declaration of Independence; president of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1776; sent as a diplomatic commissioner to France by the Continental Congress and, later, Minister to France 1776-1785; one of the negotiators of the treaty of peace with Great Britain; president of the executive council of Pennsylvania 1785-1788; president of the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania; delegate to the Federal Convention in 1787; died in Philadelphia, Pa., April 17, 1790; interment in Christ Church Burial Ground.

Bibliography Morgan, Edmund. Benjamin Franklin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002; Wright, Esmond. Franklin of Philadelphia. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986.

[A long biography] Benjamin Franklin (January 17 [O.S. January 6] 1706 – April 17, 1790) was one of the most prominent of Founders and early political figures and statesmen of the United States.

Considered the earliest of the Founders, Franklin was noted for his curiosity, ingenuity and diversity of interests. His wit and wisdom is proverbial to this day. More than anyone else, he shaped the American Revolution despite never holding national elective office. As a leader of the Enlightenment he had the attention of scientists and intellectuals all across Europe. As agent in London before the Revolution, and Minister to France during, he more than anyone defined the new nation in the minds of Europe. His success in securing French military and financial aid was decisive for American victory over Britain. He invented the lightning rod; he was an early proponent of colonial unity; historians hail him as the "First American". The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is marking Franklin's 300th Birthday in January 2006 with a wide array of exhibitions, and events citing Franklin's extraordinary accomplishments throughout his illustrious career.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts to a tallow-maker, Franklin became a newspaper editor, printer, and merchant in Philadelphia, becoming very wealthy. He spent many years in England and published the famous Poor Richard's Almanack and Pennsylvania Gazette. He formed both the first public lending library and fire department in America as well as the Junto, a political discussion club.

He became a national hero in America when he convinced Parliament to repeal the hated Stamp Act. A diplomatic genius, Franklin was almost universally admired among the French as American minister to Paris, and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. From 1775 to 1776, Franklin was Postmaster General under the Continental Congress and from 1785 to his death in 1790 was President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.

Franklin was interested in science and technology, carrying out his famous electricity experiments and invented the Franklin stove, medical catheter, lightning rod, swimfins, glass harmonica, and bifocals. He also played a major role in establishing the higher education institutions that would become the Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania and the Franklin and Marshall College. In addition, Franklin was a noted linguist, fluent in five languages. He also practiced and published on astrology (see Poor Richard's Almanac). Towards the end of his life, he became one of the most prominent early American abolitionists. Today Franklin is pictured on the U.S. $100 bill.


Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin, was born at Ecton, Northamptonshire, England on December 23, 1657, the son of Thomas Franklin, a blacksmith and farmer, and Jane White. His mother, Abiah Folger, was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts on August 15, 1667, to Peter Folger, a miller and schoolteacher, and his wife Mary Morrill, a former indentured servant.

Around 1677, Josiah married Anne Child at Ecton, and over the next few years had three children. These half-siblings of Benjamin Franklin included Elizabeth (March 2, 1678), Samuel (May 16, 1681), and Hannah (May 25, 1683).v Sometime during the second half of 1683, the Franklins left England for Boston, Massachusetts. While in Boston, they had several more children, including Josiah Jr. (August 23, 1685), Ann (January 5, 1687), Joseph (February 5, 1688), and Joseph (June 30, 1689) (the first Joseph having died soon after birth).

Josiah's first wife Anne died in Boston on July 9, 1689. He was later remarried to a woman called Abiah on November 25, 1689 in the Old South Church of Boston by the Rev. Samuel Willard.

They had the following children: John (December 7, 1690), Peter (November 22, 1692), Mary (September 26, 1694), James (February 4, 1697), Sarah (July 9, 1699), Ebenezer (September 20, 1701), Thomas (December 7, 1703), Benjamin (January 17, 1706), Lydia (August 8, 1708), and Jane (March 27, 1712).

Early life

Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler, a maker of candles and soap, who married twice. Josiah's marriages produced 17 children; Benjamin was the tenth and youngest son. He attended Boston Latin School but did not graduate. His schooling ended at ten, then worked for his father, and at 12 he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer who published the New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. While a printing apprentice, he wrote under the pseudonym of 'Silence Dogood' who was ostensibly a middle-aged widow. His brother and the Courant's readers did not initially know the real author. James was not impressed when he discovered his popular correspondent was his younger brother. Franklin left his apprenticeship without permission and in so doing became a fugitive.

At the age of 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, seeking a new start in a new city. When he first arrived he worked in several printer shops around town. However, he was not satisfied by the immediate prospects. After a few months, while working in a printing house, Franklin was induced by Pennsylvania Governor Sir William Keith to go to London, ostensibly to acquire the equipment necessary for establishing another newspaper in Philadelphia. Finding Keith's promises of backing a newspaper to be empty, Franklin worked as a compositor in a printer's shop in what is now the Church of St Batholomew the Great, Smithfield. Following this, he returned to Philadelphia in 1726 with the help of a merchant named Thomas Denham, who gave Franklin a position as clerk, shopkeeper, and bookkeeper in Denham's merchant business.

Upon Denham's death, Franklin returned to his former trade. By 1730, Franklin had set up a printing house of his own and had contrived to become the publisher of a newspaper called "The Pennsylvania Gazette". The Gazette gave Franklin a forum for agitation about a variety of local reforms and initiatives through printed essays and observations. Over time, his commentary, together with a great deal of savvy about cultivating a positive image of an industrious and intellectual young man, earned him a great deal of social respect. Even after Franklin had achieved fame as a scientist and statesman, he would habitually sign his letters with the unpretentious 'B. Franklin, Printer'.

Deborah Read

In 1724, while a boarder in the Read home, Franklin had courted Deborah Read before going to London at Governor Keith's request. At that time, Miss Read's mother was wary of allowing her daughter to wed a seventeen-year old who was on his way to London. Her own husband having recently died, Mrs. Read declined Franklin's offer of marriage.

While Franklin was finding himself in London, Deborah married a man named John Rodgers. This proved to be a regrettable decision. Rodgers shortly avoided his debts and prosecution by fleeing to Barbados, leaving Deborah behind. With Rodgers' fate unknown, and bigamy an offense punishable by public whipping and imprisonment, Deborah was not free to remarry.

Franklin himself had his own actions to ponder. In 1730, Franklin acknowledged an illegitimate son named William, who eventually became the last Loyalist governor of New Jersey. While the identity of William's mother remains unknown, perhaps the responsibility of an infant child gave Franklin a reason to take up residence with Deborah Read. William would be raised in the Franklin household but eventually broke with his father over the treatment of the colonies at the hands of the crown, but was not above using his father's notoriety to enhance his own standing.

Franklin established a common law marriage with Deborah Read on September 1, 1730. At a time when many colonial families consisted of six or more children, Benjamin and Deborah Franklin eventually had two (in addition to raising William). The first was Francis Folger Franklin, born October 1732. In one of the most painful moments of Franklin's life, the boy died of smallpox in the fall of 1736. A daughter, Sarah Franklin, was born in 1743. She eventually married a man named Richard Bache, had seven children, and cared for her father in his old age.

Benjamin Franklin was a successful write, inventor, businessman and politician and statesman.

In 1743, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society to help scientific men discuss their discoveries. He began the electrical research that, along with other scientific inquiries, would occupy him for the rest of his life.

In 1736 Franklin created the Union Fire Company, the first volunteer firefighting company in America. As he matured, Franklin began to concern himself more with public affairs. In 1743, he set forth a scheme for The Academy and College of Philadelphia. He was appointed President of the Academy in November 13, 1749, and it opened on August 13, 1751. At its first commencement, on May 17, 1757, seven men graduated; six with a Bachelor of Arts and one as Master of Arts. It was later merged with the University of the State of Pennsylvania, to become the University of Pennsylvania, today a member of the Ivy League. In 1751, Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond obtained a charter from the Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital was the first hospital in what was to become the United States of America.

Franklin urged the colonies to join together during the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War). In politics he proved very able, both as an administrator and as a controversialist. As an office-holder, he made use of his position to advance his relatives, though doing so was all but expected in a world dominated by political patronage. His most notable service in domestic politics was his reform of the postal system, but his fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his diplomatic services in connection with the relations of the colonies with Great Britain, and later with France. It was during this period that Franklin was involved in the creation of not only the aforementioned first volunteer fire department and free public library, but also many other civic enterprises.

In 1754 he headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the Albany Congress. This meeting of several colonies had been requested by the Board of Trade in England to improve relations with the Indians and defense against the French. Franklin proposed a broad Plan of Union for the colonies. While the plan was not adopted, elements of it found their way into the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

Benjamin Franklin's accomplishments are endless and one truly must read his biography to understand the immense influence he had on Colonial society as well as on America in the 21st century.

Source: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - Dover Publications - June 7, 1996. ISBN 0486290735

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