Philadelphia Benjamin Franklin


Michael Benton, Contributor

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Although Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, he spent most of his life in Philadelphia and was appointed President (equivalent to governor) of Pennsylvania from 1785-1788. In modern Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin memorials, statues, depictions and references are ubiquitous. He is truly the grandfather of the city and the legacy is well deserved. Franklin was the city's most famous printer, publisher, satirist, scientist, inventor and diplomat who also served as Postmaster and brought efficiency and profitability to the postal service. In the run up to the Revolutionary War, Franklin was an adviser to Thomas Jefferson during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. His diplomatic mission to secure the support of France was essential to the winning of the war; he was also an important member of the American delegation during the talks with Britain that led to the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the war and granting independence to the colonies. Before all of this, Franklin had been renowned as a scientist and inventor who made sense of electricity and made convenience an important objective. In his popular periodic publication, "Poor Richard's Almanack," Franklin created sayings and aphorisms that have survived into the modern American lexicon.

Franklin first came to Philadelphia in 1724 as a runaway 17 year old. He had been an apprentice in his brother, James' print shop but caused controversy by sending in anonymous letters to be published in James' newspaper, The New England Courant. That same year, Franklin was given a mission by the Governor of Pennsylvania to go to London and purchase printing equipment. He ended up stranded there with none of the credit the Governor had promised to send. Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1726 and soon earned co-ownership of a print shop and a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette. For Ben Franklin, Philadelphia brought real opportunity and his ambition led him to greater heights. He helped establish a group of like-minded, ambitious young men called the Junto and together they founded the first subscription library in the world, the Library Company, which still exists in Philadelphia today. In 1734, he became the Grand Master of the local Masonic Lodge and made a number of connections which would propel his public career. In 1736, he founded the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia, a volunteer firefighting brigade that was one of the first of its kind in the colonies.

Benjamin Franklin spent many years away from Philadelphia as a diplomat before and during the Revolutionary War, but the city had truly become his home. He had a common law marriage with a woman named Deborah Read beginning in 1730 and she accepted his illegitimate son William into their home as well as providing him with two more children. One of his children died of smallpox at the age of four, but his son William would grow up to be the staunch loyalist Governor of New Jersey, clashing with his father over American Independence. His last child, a daughter named Sarah but often called Sally, would give him seven grandchildren who continued his legacy under a different surname. Franklin also helped design The Academy and College of Philadelphia; in 1749 he became President of the school and today it is known as the University of Pennsylvania.