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From Boyhood to Manhood|
II. The Fifteenth Gift.
by Thayer, William M.
|"The fifteenth!" remarked Josiah Franklin to a relative, as he took the
fifteenth child into his arms. "And a son, too; he must bear the name
of his Uncle Benjamin."
"Then, we are to understand that his name is Benjamin?" answered the
"Yes, that is his name; his mother and I settled that some time ago,
that the next son should bear the name of my most beloved brother,
who, I hope, will remove to this country before long."
"Well, a baby is no curiosity in your family," remarked the relative,
laughing. "Some men would think that fifteen was too much of a good
"A child is God's gift to man, as I view it, for which parents should
be thankful, whether it is the first or fifteenth. Each child imposes
an additional obligation upon parents to be true to the Giver as well
as to the gift. I am poor enough, but no man is poorer for a large
family of children. He may have to labor harder when they are young
and helpless, but in age they are props on which he can lean."
Mr. Franklin spoke out of the depths of his soul. He was a true
Christian man, and took the Christian view of a child, as he did
of any thing else. While some men are annoyed by the multiplicity
of children, he found a source of comfort and contentment in the
possession. The seventeenth child, which number he had, he hailed with
the same grateful recognition of God's providence that he did when the
first was born. Yet he was poor, and found himself face to face with
poverty most of the time. Each child born was born to an inheritance
of want. But to him children were God's gift as really as sunshine or
showers, day or night, the seventeenth just as much so as the first.
This fact alone marks Josiah Franklin as an uncommon man for his day
"If more men and women were of your opinion," continued the relative,
"there would be much more enjoyment and peace in all communities. The
most favorable view that a multitude of parents indulge is, that
children are troublesome comforts."
"What do you think of the idea of taking this baby into the house of
God to-day, and consecrating him to the Lord?" Mr. Franklin asked, as
if the thought just then flashed upon his mind. "It is only a few
steps to carry him."
It was Sunday morning, Jan. 6, 1706, old style; and the "Old South
Meeting House," in which Dr. Samuel Willard preached, was on the other
side of the street, scarcely fifty feet distant.
"I should think it would harmonize very well with your opinion about
children as the gift of God, and the Lord may understand the matter so
well as to look approvingly upon it, but I think your neighbors will
say that you are rushing things somewhat. It might be well to let the
little fellow get used to this world before he begins to attend
The relative spoke thus in a vein of humor, though she really did not
approve of the proposed episode in the new comer's life. Indeed it
seemed rather ridiculous to her, to carry a babe, a few hours old, to
the house of God.
"I shall not consult my neighbors," Mr. Franklin replied. "I shall
consult my wife in this matter, as I do in others, and defer to her
opinion. I have always found that her judgment is sound on reducing it
"That is so; your wife is a woman of sound judgment as well as of
strong character, and you are wise enough to recognize the fact, and
act accordingly. But that is not true of many men. If your wife
approves of taking her baby into the meeting-house for consecration
to-day, then do it, though the whole town shall denounce the act."
There is no doubt his relative thought that Mrs. Franklin would veto
the proposition at once, and that would end it. But in less than a
half hour he reported that she approved of the proposition.
"Benjamin will be consecrated to the Lord in the afternoon; my wife
approves of it as proper and expressive of our earnest desire that he
should be the Lord's. I shall see Mr. Willard at once, and nothing but
his disapproval will hinder the act."
"And I would not hinder it if I could," replied his relative, "if your
wife and Pastor Willard approve. I shall really be in favor of it if
they are, because their judgment is better than mine."
"All the difference between you and me," continued Mr. Franklin, with
a smile playing over his face, "appears to be that you think a child
may be given to the Lord too soon, and I do not; the sooner the
better, is my belief. With the consecration come additional
obligations, which I am willing to assume, and not only willing, but
anxious to assume."
"You are right, no doubt; but you are one of a thousand in that view,
and you will have your reward."
"Yes; and so will that contemptible class of fathers, who can endure
five children, but not fifteen,--too irresponsible to see that one
of the most inconsistent men on earth is the father who will not
accept the situation he has created for himself. The Franklins are not
made of that sort of stuff; neither are the Folgers [referring to his
wife's family], whose fervent piety sanctifies their good sense, so
that they would rather please the Lord than all mankind."
Mr. Willard was seen, and he endorsed the act as perfectly proper,
and in complete harmony with a felt sense of parental obligation.
Therefore, Benjamin was wrapped closely in flannel blankets, and
carried into the meeting-house in the afternoon, where he was
consecrated to the Lord by the pastor.
On the "Old Boston Town Records of Births," under the heading, "Boston
Births Entered 1708," is this: "Benjamin, son of Josiah Franklin, and
Abiah, his wife, born 6 Jan. 1706."
From some mistake or oversight the birth was not recorded until two
years after Benjamin was born; but it shows that he was born on Jan.
Then, the records of the "Old South Church," among the baptism of
infants, have this: "1706, Jan. 6, Benjamin, son of Josiah and Abiah
Putting these two records together, they establish beyond doubt the
fact that Benjamin Franklin was born and baptized on the same day. The
Old South Church had two pastors then, and it is supposed that Dr.
Samuel Willard officiated instead of Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton, because
the record is in the handwriting of Doctor Willard.
We are able to furnish a picture of the house in which he was born. It
measured twenty feet in width, and was about thirty feet long,
including the L. It was three stories high in appearance, the third
being the attic. On the lower floor of the main house there was only
one room, which was about twenty feet square, and served the family
the triple purpose of parlor, sitting-room, and dining-hall. It
contained an old-fashioned fire-place, so large that an ox might have
been roasted before it. The second and third stories originally
contained but one chamber each, of ample dimensions, and furnished in
the plainest manner. The attic was an unplastered room, which might
have been used for lodgings or storing trumpery. The house stood about
one hundred years after Josiah Franklin left it, and was finally
destroyed by fire, on Saturday, Dec. 29, 1810. The spot on which it
stood is now occupied by a granite warehouse bearing the inscription,
"BIRTHPLACE OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN."
Mr. Franklin had three children when he left Banbury, and four more
were given to him during the first four years of his residence in
Boston, one of whom died. Soon after the birth of the seventh child
Mrs. Franklin died.
So young and large a family needed a mother's watch and care, as
Josiah Franklin found to his sorrow. The additional burden laid upon
him by the death of his wife interfered much with his business, and he
saw fresh reasons each day for finding another help-mate as soon as
possible. To run his business successfully, and take the whole charge
of his family, was more than he could do. In these circumstances he
felt justified in marrying again as soon as possible, and, with the
aid of interested friends, he made a fortunate choice of Abiah Folger,
of Nantucket, a worthy successor of the first Mrs. Franklin. He married
her a few months after the death of his first wife. The second Mrs.
Franklin became the mother of ten children, which, added to those
of the first Mrs. Franklin, constituted a very respectable family of
seventeen children, among whom was Benjamin, the fifteenth child. His
"Autobiography" says: "Of the seventeen children I remember to have
seen thirteen sitting together at the table, who all grew up to years
of maturity and were married." Of the second wife it says: "My mother,
the second wife of my father, was Abiah Folger, daughter of Peter
Folger, one of the first settlers of New England, of whom honorable
mention is made by Cotton Mather in his ecclesiastical history of that
country, 'as a godly and learned Englishman.'"
Josiah Franklin was an admirer not only of his wife, Abiah, but of
the whole Folger family, because they were devoutly pious, and as
"reliable as the sun, or the earth on its axis." They were unpolished
and unceremonial, and he liked them all the more for that. He wrote to
his sister in a vein of pleasantry, "They are wonderfully shy. But I
admire their honest plainness of speech. About a year ago I invited
two of them to dine with me; their answer was that they would if they
could not do better. I suppose they did better, for I never saw them
afterwards, and so had no opportunity of showing my miff if I had
We have said that Benjamin was named for his uncle in England, and,
possibly some of the other children were named for other relatives in
the mother country. Certainly there were enough of them to go round
any usual circle of relatives, taking them all in. Uncle Benjamin was
very much pleased with the honor conferred upon him, and he always
manifested great interest in his namesake, though he did not dream
that he would one day represent the country at the court of St. James.
It is claimed that the uncle's interest in his namesake brought him to
this country, a few years later, where he lived and died. Be that as
it may, he ever manifested a lively interest in a protege, and
evidently regarded him as an uncommonly bright boy, who would some day
score a creditable mark for the family.
Benjamin was more than a comely child; he was handsome. From babyhood
to manhood he was so fine-looking as to attract the attention of
strangers. His eye beamed with so much intelligence as to almost
compel the thought, "There are great talents behind them." Mr. Parton
says: "It is probable that Benjamin Franklin derived from his mother
the fashion of his body and the cast of his countenance. There are
lineal descendants of Peter Folger who strikingly resemble Franklin in
these particulars; one of whom, a banker in New Orleans, looks like a
portrait of Franklin stepped out of its frame."
Josiah Franklin did not enter upon the trade of a dyer when he settled
in Boston, as he expected. The new country was very different from the
old in its fashions and wants. There was no special demand for a dyer.
If people could earn money enough to cover their nakedness, they cared
little about the color of their covering. One color was just as good
as another to keep them warm, or to preserve their decency. There was
no room for Josiah Franklin as a dyer. There was room for him, however,
as a "tallow-chandler," and he lost no time in taking up this new but
greasy business. He must work or starve; and, of the two, he preferred
work, though the occupation might not be neat and congenial.
The word "chandler" is supposed to have been derived from the French
chandelier, so that a tallow candle-maker was a sort of chandelier
in society at that early day. He furnished light, which was more
necessary than color to almost every one. The prevailing method of
lighting dwellings and stores was with tallow candles. Candles and
whale oil were the two known articles for light, and the latter was
expensive, so that the former was generally adopted. Hence, Josiah
Franklin's business was honorable because it was necessary; and by it,
with great industry and economy, he was able to keep the wolf of
hunger from his door.
The place where he manufactured candles was at the corner of Hanover
and Union streets. The original sign that he selected to mark his
place of business was a blue ball, half as large as a man's head,
hanging over the door, bearing the name "Josiah Franklin" and the date
"1698." The same ball hangs there still. Time has stolen its blue, but
not the name and date. Into this building, also, he removed his family
from Milk street, soon after the birth of Benjamin.
In his "Autobiography," Franklin says: "My elder brothers were all put
apprentices to different trades." Several of them were apprenticed
when Benjamin was born. John worked with his father, and learned the
"tallow-chandler's" trade well, setting up the business for himself
afterwards in Providence. This was the only method that could be
adopted successfully in so large a family, except where wealth was
We must not omit the fact that the father of Benjamin was a good
singer and a good player of the violin. After the labors of the day
were over, and the frugal supper eaten, and the table cleared, and the
room put in order for the evening, he was wont to sing and play for
the entertainment of his family. He was sure of a good audience every
night, if his performance opened before the younger children retired.
There is no doubt that this custom exerted a molding influence upon
the household, although the music might have been like Uncle
Benjamin's poetry, as compared with the music of our day.
For the reader, now familiar with the manners, customs, rush of business,
inventions, wealth, and fashion of our day, it is difficult to understand
the state of society at the time of Franklin's birth. Parton says of it:
"1706, the year of Benjamin Franklin's birth, was the fourth of the
reign of Queen Anne, and the year of Marlborough's victory at Ramillies.
Pope was then a sickly dwarf, four feet high and nineteen years of age,
writing, at his father's cottage in Windsor Forest the 'Pastorals'
which, in 1709, gave him his first celebrity. Voltaire was a boy of ten,
in his native village near Paris. Bolingbroke was a rising young member
of the House of Commons, noted, like Fox at a later day, for his
dissipation and his oratory. Addison, aged thirty-four, had written his
Italian travels, but not the 'Spectator' and was a thriving politician.
Newton, at sixty-four, his great work all done, was master of the mint,
had been knighted the year before, and elected president of the Royal
Society in 1703 Louis XIV was king of France, and the first king of
Prussia was reigning. The father of George Washington was a Virginia boy
of ten; the father of John Adams was just entering Harvard College; and
the father of Thomas Jefferson was not yet born."