Benjamin Franklin Wife


Michael Benton, Contributor

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benjamin franklin wifeWhile Benjamin Franklin is well-known for his philandering and famous quotes about his standards for women (or lack thereof), he was a family man as well. Was Benjamin Franklin married? The answer is not so straightforward; he did take a common law wife in 1730 and they did hold a wedding, but Franklin could not legally marry Deborah Read because she had a previous marriage that was never annulled. Benjamin had first proposed to Deborah when he was only 17 and she was 15, but her parents did not give their permission. In 1724, Franklin left for London planning for a relatively short trip to purchase printing equipment on the credit of the Governor of Pennsylvania. When Governor Sir William Keith failed to deliver the letters of credit, Franklin was stranded in London and did not manage a return to Philadelphia until 1726 when he received a loan from a wealthy Quaker merchant. By this time, however, Deborah Read had married a man named John Rodgers. Unfortunately for Deborah, Rodgers proved to be less than husband material; he ran away from his debts by absconding to Barbados with her dowry. Because his whereabouts and condition were left unknown, Deborah Read could not remarry without breaking the bigamy laws of the time.

On September 1, 1730, Deborah Read and Benjamin Franklin were joined in a common law marriage. There was one major detail that Deborah had to accept which had only recently been recognized publicly: Benjamin Franklin had an illegitimate son, William. Not only did Deborah accept William into their home as a son, but she also had her own children with Benjamin. Francis Folger Franklin was born in 1732 but would tragically pass away due to smallpox only four years later. In 1743, their daughter Sarah "Sally" Franklin was born; she survived into adulthood and provided Franklin and Read with seven grandchildren. William Franklin grew up to become the Governor of New Jersey, but unfortunately his staunch loyalty to the British Crown created a great division between his father and himself when the movement for American Independence began. William had his own illegitimate son, William Temple Franklin, who would join his grandfather Benjamin in his and Deborah's home in Philadelphia.

As Benjamin Franklin's wife, Deborah had to endure many lengthy periods of her husband's absence while he followed a diplomatic career. She was reportedly afraid of traveling over the sea and thus never joined Benjamin on his transatlantic journeys. In 1769, she wrote to Benjamin that her illness was caused by the stress of his absence in her life; he did not cut short his trip. It seems that for Benjamin Franklin, wife did not come before duty. Between 1757 and 1775, Franklin spent almost every year in London serving as a representative of the colonies and became deeply attached to the radical political circles there. After the scandal of the Hutchinson Letters in which Franklin admitted his culpability, he was ridiculed and sent packing. Unfortunately, it was too late for Deborah as she died of a stroke in 1774 before Benjamin's return. Ben Franklin's wife was cursed by the worldly ambitions of the man she loved.