Benjamin Franklin Family


Michael Benton, Contributor

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benjamin franklin familyWhile Benjamin Franklin is often remembered as one of the great Founding Fathers, he is not often praised for his role as a familial father. Ben Franklin's family was not a simple nuclear structure of father, mother and children in one home. Franklin's first child was an illegitimate son named William who was born around 1730 when Benjamin was 24 years of age. Franklin acknowledged this illegitimate son even as he was entering common law marriage with Deborah Read who was not William's mother. Together, Benjamin and Deborah had two more children. Their first child, Francis Folger Franklin, was born in 1732 but died of smallpox only four years later. The second was Sarah Franklin, born in 1743, whom they often called Sally. As much as the Benjamin Franklin family was not conventional, he did commit to providing for his children and teaching them the virtues by which he lived. It is well known, however, that Franklin was a philanderer and this was propagated by his extended trips to France and England during his time as a diplomat. Although he kept up close communication with his wife until she passed away in 1774, Franklin also wrote in his diary and autobiography about his taste in women.

The greatest dilemma in the Ben Franklin family was his illegitimate son's loyalty to the British crown. As the Governor of New Jersey before and during the Revolutionary War, William Franklin was an avid Tory who called his own father a traitor. William was forced to flee New Jersey for the loyalist bastion of New York from where he administered a bloody campaign of reprisal against the rebels in his state. After Benjamin Franklin helped establish terms of peace through the Treaty of Paris in 1783, he sought a pardon for American loyalists. Many historians see this as his attempt to persuade his son to stay in America after the war and work on building a new nation, but William would have none of it and fled to England at the war's end.

Before the war, it was in England that William had his own illegitimate son, William Temple Franklin, born in 1760. Benjamin Franklin had demanded that Temple be raised under his care and so the boy was sent to live in Philadelphia with his grandfather. Temple sided with the cause of independence and traveled extensively in Europe while his grandfather was playing the role of American statesman. He served as Benjamin's secretary during the negotiations in Paris and although he did move back to America after the elder Franklin's service came to an end, he quickly returned to Europe and lived out his life there. He also had two illegitimate children, one daughter and a son who died in childhood. The patrilineal line of the Ben Franklin family tree ends there, but his daughter Sally produced children that allowed for a legacy of descendants of Benjamin Franklin. Often these descendants of the Benjamin Franklin tree have surnames such as Bache, Duane and Sergeant as Sally had married in to another family.