Did Benjamin Franklin Have Kids?


Michael Benton, Contributor

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benjamin franklin kidsBenjamin Franklin could have held many titles in life; he was a printer, publisher, writer, satirist, inventor, scientist, postmaster, politician, and a diplomat as well as being a father and a grandfather. When the question arises: did Benjamin Franklin have kids? The answer is never simple. Yes, he had three children but the first was illegitimate and the second died of smallpox at the age of four. His son, William Franklin, would go on to become the staunch loyalist Governor of New Jersey and tangled with his father over politics until he fled for England at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. His daughter, Sarah (often called Sally), would marry a man named Richard Bache and give birth to seven children who would carry on Franklin's legacy under a different surname. For Ben Franklin, children were the innocents who had an opportunity to live in a better world and he was determined to create beneficial conditions for that outcome.

Franklin had a common law marriage with a woman named Deborah Read that began in 1730. He proposed to her at the age of 17 but her mother did not approve and her father had recently passed. They were separated for years while he plied his trade as a printer and left for London on an official trip under the orders of the Governor of Pennsylvania. While Franklin was gone, Deborah was married to another man, but he ran away to Barbados with her dowry just in time for Benjamin to reenter her life. A common law marriage was the most they could do under the circumstances and Deborah accepted Benjamin's illegitimate son, William, into their home. Their first child together was Francis Folger Franklin, born in 1732. This was during an upswing in Franklin's life when he had control of his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, had recently founded the first subscription library in the world and was on his way to becoming Grand Master of the local Masonic Lodge. It was a great heartbreak, then, when his young son Francis died of smallpox in 1736. It would be another seven years after that when Deborah and Benjamin would have their third and final child, Sarah Franklin.

For an elder Ben Franklin, kids were still an important part of his daily life. Besides the seven grandchildren Sarah gave him, William had his own illegitimate son while living in England. William Temple Franklin was sent to live with his grandfather in Philadelphia and supported the American Independence movement as a secretary to Benjamin during his diplomatic efforts in France and Britain. Benjamin Franklin retained a deep and true love for his son William, despite their political differences. He wrote much of his autobiography directly to William and hoped that all of his descendants would find a tradition and some direction in the 13 virtues he listed within the book. Although William Temple was the last patrilineal male of the Franklin family, many of Sarah's descendants were named after Benjamin Franklin along with their own patrilineal surnames.