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"I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. The scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined on what we thought but what we did."
-- Benjamin Franklin, letter to his father, 1738.more ...
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706. He was the tenth son of soap maker, Josiah Franklin. Benjamin's mother was Abiah Folger, the second wife of Josiah. In all, Josiah would father 17 children.
Josiah intended for Benjamin to enter into the clergy. However, Josiah could only afford to send his son to school for one year and clergymen needed years of schooling. But, as young Benjamin loved to read he had him apprenticed to his brother James, who was a printer. After helping James compose pamphlets and set type which was grueling work, 12-year-old Benjamin would sell their products in the streets.
When Benjamin was 15 his brother started The New England Courant the first "newspaper" in Boston. Though there were two papers in the city before James's Courant, they only reprinted news from abroad. James's paper carried articles, opinion pieces written by James's friends, advertisements, and news of ship schedules.
Benjamin wanted to write for the paper too, but he knew that James would never let him. After all, Benjamin was just a lowly apprentice. So Ben began writing letters at night and signing them with the name of a fictional widow, Silence Dogood. Dogood was filled with advice and very critical of the world around her, particularly concerning the issue of how women were treated. Ben would sneak the letters under the print shop door at night so no one knew who was writing the pieces. They were a smash hit, and everyone wanted to know who was the real "Silence Dogood."
After 16 letters, Ben confessed that he had been writing the letters all along. While James's friends thought Ben was quite precocious and funny, James scolded his brother and was very jealous of the attention paid to him.
Before long the Franklins found themselves at odds with Boston's powerful Puritan preachers, the Mathers. Smallpox was a deadly disease in those times, and the Mathers supported inoculation; the Franklins' believed inoculation only made people sicker. And while most Bostonians agreed with the Franklins, they did not like the way James made fun of the clergy, during the debate. Ultimately, James was thrown in jail for his views, and Benjamin was left to run the paper for several issues.
Upon release from jail, James was not grateful to Ben for keeping the paper going. Instead he kept harassing his younger brother and administering beatings from time to time. Ben could not take it and decided to run away in 1723.
Escape to Philadelphia
Running away was illegal. In early America, people all had to have a place in society and runaways did not fit in anywhere. Regardless Ben took a boat to New York where he hoped to find work as a printer. He didn't, and walked across New Jersey, finally arriving in Philadelphia via a boat ride. After debarking, he used the last of his money to buy some rolls. He was wet, disheveled, and messy when his future wife, Deborah Read, saw him on that day, October, 6, 1723. She thought him odd-looking, never dreaming that seven years later they would be married.
Franklin found work as an apprentice printer. He did so well that the governor of Pennsylvania promised to set him up in business for himself if young Franklin would just go to London to buy fonts and printing equipment. Franklin did go to London, but the governor reneged on his promise and Benjamin was forced to spend several months in England doing print work.
Benjamin had been living with the Read family before he left for London. Deborah Read, the very same girl who had seen young Benjamin arrive in Philadelphia, started talking marriage, with the young printer. But Ben did not think he was ready. While he was gone, she married another man.
Upon returning to Philadelphia, Franklin tried his hand at helping to run a shop, but soon went back to being a printer's helper. Franklin was a better printer than the man he was working for, so he borrowed some money and set himself up in the printing business. Franklin seemed to work all the time, and the citizens of Philadelphia began to notice the diligent young businessman. Soon he began getting the contract to do government jobs and started thriving in business.
In 1728, Benjamin fathered a child named William. The mother of William is not known. However, in 1730 Benjamin married his childhood sweetheart, Deborah Read. Deborah's husband had run off, and now she was able to marry.
In addition to running a print shop, the Franklins also ran their own store at this time, with Deborah selling everything from soap to fabric. Ben also ran a book store. They were quite enterprising.
The Pennsylvania Gazette
In 1729, Benjamin Franklin bought a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin not only printed the paper, but often contributed pieces to the paper under aliases. His newspaper soon became the most successful in the colonies. This newspaper, among other firsts, would print the first political cartoon, authored by Ben himself.
During the 1720s and 1730s, the side of Franklin devoted to public good started to show itself. He organized the Junto, a young working-man's group dedicated to self- and-civic improvement. He joined the Masons. He was a very busy man socially.
Poor Richard's Almanack
But Franklin thrived on work. In 1733 he started publishing Poor Richard's Almanack. Almanacs of the era were printed annually, and contained things like weather reports, recipes, predictions and homilies. Franklin published his almanac under the guise of a man named Richard Saunders, a poor man who needed money to take care of his carping wife. What distinguished Franklin's almanac were his witty aphorisms and lively writing. Many of the famous phrases associated with Franklin, such as, "A penny saved is a penny earned" come from Poor Richard.
Franklin continued his civic contributions during the 1730s and 1740s. He helped launch projects to pave, clean and light Philadelphia's streets. He started agitating for environmental clean up. Among the chief accomplishments of Franklin in this era was helping to launch the Library Company in 1731. During this time books were scarce and expensive. Franklin recognized that by pooling together resources, members could afford to buy books from England. Thus was born the nation's first subscription library. In 1743, he helped to launch the American Philosophical Society, the first learned society in America. Recognizing that the city needed better help in treating the sick, Franklin brought together a group who formed the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751. The Library Company, Philosophical Society, and Pennsylvania Hospital are all in existence today.
Fires were very dangerous threat to Philadelphians, so Franklin set about trying to remedy the situation. In 1736, he organized Philadelphia's Union Fire Company, the first in the city. His famous saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," was actually fire-fighting advice.
Those who suffered fire damage to their homes often suffered irreversible economic loss. So, in 1752, Franklin helped to found the Philadelphia Contribution for Insurance Against Loss by Fire. Those with insurance policies were not wiped out financially. The Contributionship is still in business today.
Franklin's printing business was thriving in this 1730s and 1740s. He also started setting up franchise printing partnerships in other cities. By 1749 he retired from business and started concentrating on science, experiments, and inventions. This was nothing new to Franklin. In 1743, he had already invented a heat-efficient stove — called the Franklin stove — to help warm houses efficiently. As the stove was invented to help improve society, he refused to take out a patent.
Among Franklin's other inventions are swim fins, the glass armonica (a musical instrument) and bifocals.
In the early 1750's he turned to the study of electricity. His observations, including his kite experiment which verified the nature of electricity and lightning brought Franklin international fame.
The Political Scene
Politics became more of an active interest for Franklin in the 1750s. In 1757, he went to England to represent Pennsylvania in its fight with the descendants of the Penn family over who should represent the Colony. He remained in England to 1775, as a Colonial representative not only of Pennsylvania, but of Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts as well.
Early in his time abroad, Franklin considered himself a loyal Englishman. England had many of the amenities that America lacked. The country also had fine thinkers, theater, witty conversation — things in short supply in America. He kept asking Deborah to come visit him in England. He had thoughts of staying there permanently, but she was afraid of traveling by ship.
In 1765, Franklin was caught by surprise by America's overwhelming opposition to the Stamp Act. His testimony before Parliament helped persuade the members to repeal the law. He started wondering if America should break free of England. Franklin, though he had many friends in England, was growing sick of the corruption he saw all around him in politics and royal circles. Franklin, who had proposed a plan for united colonies in 1754, now would earnestly start working toward that goal.
Franklin's big break with England occurred in the "Hutchinson Affair." Thomas Hutchinson was an English-appointed governor of Massachusetts. Although he pretended to take the side of the people of Massachusetts in their complaints against England, he was actually still working for the King. Franklin got a hold of some letters in which Hutchinson called for "an abridgment of what are called English Liberties" in America. He sent the letters to America where much of the population was outraged. After leaking the letters Franklin was called to Whitehall, the English Foreign Ministry, where he was condemned in public.
A New Nation
Franklin came home.
He started working actively for Independence. He naturally thought his son William, now the Royal governor of New Jersey, would agree with his views. William did not. William remained a Loyal Englishman. This caused a rift between father and son which was never healed.
Franklin was elected to the Second Continental Congress and worked on a committee of five that helped to draft the Declaration of Independence. Though much of the writing is Thomas Jefferson's, much of the contribution is Franklin's. In 1776 Franklin signed the Declaration, and afterward sailed to France as an ambassador to the Court of Louis XVI.
The French loved Franklin. He was the man who had tamed lightning, the humble American who dressed like a backwoodsman but was a match for any wit in the world. He spoke French, though stutteringly. He was a favorite of the ladies. Several years earlier his wife Deborah had died, and Benjamin was now a notorious flirt.
In part via Franklin's popularity, the government of France signed a Treaty of Alliance with the Americans in 1778. Franklin also helped secure loans and persuade the French they were doing the right thing. Franklin was on hand to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1783, after the Americans had won the Revolution.
Now a man in his late seventies, Franklin returned to America. He became President of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania. He served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and signed the Constitution. One of his last public acts was writing an anti-slavery treatise in 1789.
"Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshipped.
"That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
"As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see;
"But I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive, that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure."
-- Benjamin Franklin wrote this in a letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University on March 9, 1790.
Benjamin Franklin was born in England. (Is this right? Some sources have his birth in Boston, Mass., on January 17, 1706.)
He lived in Philadelphia, PA, for most of his life.
He was one of America's greatest scientific minds. He was always looking for ways to make things work better and improve the daily existence of mankind.
His idea of two different eye glass lenses in 1784, with the top half for distance seeing and the bottom half for reading, came to be called bifocals. This may have been one of his greatest ideas and still in use over 200 years later.
Other new concepts developed by Franklin include:
A flexible urinary catheter.
The lightening rod for buildings and ships to help prevent direct lightening strikes.
The odometer he developed to figure distance traveled in a carriage. He used this while he was in charge of postal routes.
A long handled pole with a grasping claw to assist him and others who had difficulty reaching items high up.
With all his creative inventions, he did not patent them, in turn not making a fortune from them.
He is buried at the Christ Church cemetery in Philadelphia.
Note that Benjamin Franklin did not have a middle name.
Declaration of Independence Signer, Continental Congressman, US Diplomat, Printer and Inventor. Published the "Pennsylvania Gazette" and "Poor Richard's Almanac". Famous for his confirming lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Invented bifocals, Franklin Stove and other inventions. Served as a Delegate from PA to the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1776. Signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Served as U.S. Minister to France during the Revolutionary War. Instrumental in encouraging France to side with the U.S. One of the main negotiators of the peace treaty with Britain. Signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783. His son William Franklin was the last Royalist Governor of New Jersey, remained loyal to England and died in London. Uncle of Revolutionary War New Jersey Militia Major General and US Senator Franklin Davenport. 23 U.S. States have counties named after him. Image is on the current U.S. $100 dollar bill. One of the most famous and well known 18th Century thinkers, Renaissance men and Revolutionary Patriots. (bio by: Russ Dodge)
Josiah Franklin (1657 - 1745)
Abiah Folger Franklin (1667 - 1752)
Deborah Read Franklin (1708 - 1774)*
William Franklin (1731 - 1813)*
Francis Folger Franklin (1732 - 1736)*
Sarah Franklin Bache (1743 - 1808)*
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Christ Church Burial Ground
Plot: Very near 5th and Arch Streets corner
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Jan 01, 2001
Find A Grave Memorial# 364
from page 3 of Benjamin's auotbiography, he writes:
"Josiah, my father, married young, and carried his wife with three children into New England about 1682. The conventicles having been forbidden by Law, and frequently disturbed, induced some considerable men of his acquaintance to remove to that country, and he was prevailed with to accompany them thither, where they expected to enjoy their mode of religion with freedom. By the same wife he had four children more born there, and by a second wife ten more, in all seventeen; of which I remember thirteen sitting at one time at his table, who all grew up to be men and women, and married. I was the youngest son, and the youngest child but two, and was born in Boston, New England. My mother, the second, was Abiah Folger, "
Historians now believe that William Franklin's mother was in fact Deborah Read. We have no record os a Sally Franklin in the children of Benjamin. All known descendants of Benjamin come from his daughter Sarah. His son William has no heirs.