29 August 2010

Meet the Signers - Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania

Benjamin Franklin was born 17 Jan 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts to Josiah Franklin and his second wife Abiah Folger. Franklin had 7 half brothers and sisters and 8 older siblings and a younger sister. Josiah was a soap and candle maker. Benjamin was apprenticed to his father for a couple of years, didn’t like the work, and at the age of 12 was sent to his half-brother James’s to learn printing. He remained in James’s printing house until 1723. He wrote under the pseudonym, Silence Dogood, for the New England Courant, his brother’s newspaper and took over publishing the paper when James was jailed for offending the authorities.

At the age of 17 Franklin ran away to Philadelphia. He lived and worked in London from 1724 to 1726 then returned to Philadelphia. By 1728 he had set up his own shop a friend. In 1730 Franklin entered into a common law marriage with Deborah Reed, took over publication of the Pennsylvania Gazette, and became the official printer of Pennsylvania. He would go on to become the official printer for Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Franklin's accomplishments were great and varied. He started a subscription library, created Poor Richard’s Almanac, founded the American Philosophical Society, and was instrumental in Philadelphia’s first police force, fire department, and street department.

While he himself had little formal education, in 1743, he proposed an educational academy that would lead to the founding of the University of Pennsylvania. He received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the College of William and Mary, and Oxford. He was a free mason and a member of the Royal Society.

Franklin was also renown for his scientific prowess. Among his inventions are the Franklin stove, bifocals, a flexible catheter, and a duplicating machine. Famous for his lightning experiment where he flew a kite in a thunderstorm, his scientific studies didn't end there. He was the first to study the Gulf Stream and pioneered the diagnosis of lead poisoning.

Think he was finished? Guess again. Franklin was also active in politics. Among the political offices he held were Philadelphia postmaster, deputy postmaster for the colonies, member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, president of Pennsylvania, member of Continental Congress. Between 1765 and 1776 he was London where he served variously as Agent of Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. In late 1776, he returned to Europe. This time as minister to France. He would return home to Philadelphia in 1785. In 1787 he was the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention and served as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

Benjamin and Deborah Franklin Tombstone

Franklin had three (3) children. His eldest son, William, born in 1731 was illegitimate. He had two (2) children with his wife Deborah. The eldest, a boy named Francis, was born in 1732 and died of smallpox in 1736. The youngest was a girl named Sarah born in 1743. Sadly, Franklin was forced to miss Deborah’s funeral. She died in December 1744 following a stroke; her husband was in London. Franklin died 17 April 1790. He and Deborah are buried in the Christ Church cemetery in Philadelphia.

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