Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 2. I Have a Name! William Temple Franklin!

The Electric Franklin

May 9, 1775

Aunt Sally has a proposal to make. "Since we are soon going to hear so much about the second Continental Congress," she says, "let me show you where the first one took place. Carpenters' Hall has a really interesting history."

Carpenters' Hall

And so, on this beautiful day, we walk over to a two-story brick building that has none of London's grime or grandeur about it.

— "English patriot that you are," she teases, "you'll be glad to learn that the Carpenters' Company traces its heritage back to the Worshipful Company of Carpenters of London that was founded in the early 1300's. Do you know anything about guilds, Billy?"

— "I know that they gained legal rights as time went along, that they restricted their membership and would not allow people from the outside to exercise their craft."

Christ Church. Franklin and his wife are buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground, several blocks from the church.

— "Well, what was true in England has been true here in Pennsylvania. The Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia has been in existence since 1724 — that was one year after your runaway grandfather arrived in Philadelphia from Boston. Some of the early craftsmen had learned their trade in England; they were highly skilled, and you still see their work all around you: the State House, Christ Church, and their own meeting place, the lovely Carpenters' Hall we are looking at. By the way, Temple, our house, our Franklin Court was built by the same man who built Carpenters' Hall — Robert Smith, the best builder in Pennsylvania ... but slow! He drove your grandfather to distraction with his delays."

— "When was Carpenters' Hall built?"

— "It was completed just two years ago, and guess who were the first occupants ... ?"

— "Surely people who had something to do with Grandfather. From what I hear on all sides, he seems to have started everything around here: the street lamps, the hospital, the fire company, the insurance company — even the garbage collection."


— "You missed one, Billy — the Library Company." They were the first tenants of Carpenters' Hall.

— "Poor old William Penn! I wonder how he feels about Grandfather outshining him at every turn."

Aunt Sally is taken aback. There is no mockery in her soul.

— "They were not competing, you know. William Penn died five years before your grandfather's arrival ..."

— "I was only joking, Aunt Sally. Tell me about the first Continental Congress."

— "It took place last September and October. Its purpose was simply to consult about the situation in the colonies in view of the Intolerable Acts. Everybody was very upset after the British closed off the port of Boston, and that feeling helped bring the colonies closer to each other. Nobody was talking about independence at that time — even today it is rare to hear talk of independence. The idea was only to work out a formula by which the colonies would recover what they considered their rights and liberties, civil and religious, in order to restore harmony with the Mother Country."

— "Were all thirteen colonies represented?" I ask, eager to show off that I know there are thirteen of them.

Joseph Galloway

— "All but Georgia. Pennsylvania was represented by seven delegates. You should try to remember the name of one of them, Joseph Galloway, who was the Speaker of our Assembly. I don't want to go into it now but I think we are going to hear much more about him pretty soon — I mean we, the family."

— "Why we, the family?"

— "Because he is such a close friend of your father. But I really don't want to discuss that now, Billy. Your uncle will explain it to you one of these days."

— "Soon?"

— "Soon. The beauty of that Congress, as I have been telling you, is that people from New England in the North, from New York in the middle, and from Virginia in the South started drawing closer. That great orator, Patrick Henry, who came from Virginia, proclaimed: 'Government is now dissolved. The differences between us are no more. I am not a Virginian, not a New Yorker, not a Pennsylvanian, but an American.' That sounded wonderful, but there were still deep divisions between the conservative delegates and the more radical ones."

— "And who won out?"

— "The radicals, I'd say."

— "I knew it! Grandfather sounds like a radical to me and he is always on the winning side."

— "Easy, Billy. Things are not as simple as that. You know better than I do how much your grandfather struggled for a dignified reconciliation with England but was constantly stifled by a bunch of close-minded or corrupt politicians over in London."

— "Well ..."

— "Let me tell you what else I know about the First Continental Congress. Those 56 delegates worked for almost two months in Carpenters' Hall and at the end they drafted various addresses: one to the King, one to the British people, one to the people of Quebec, if I remember correctly, and one to all the American colonists. These addresses served as background for what they called a Declaration of Rights and Grievances in which they asserted their exclusive right to legislate their own affairs and their entitlement to the same sacred rights and privileges as other Englishmen." I recognized most of this, of course, from my laborious reading, while on board, of Grandfather's Journal of Negotiations.

— "And now," concluded Aunt Sally, "we must hurry home to give the boys their lunch, after which I shall make a pie for dinner. You may help me cut up the fruit if you'd like."

A note to my future self, if I ever re-read this, or to anyone who might stumble upon my diary someday: If I am writing such long entries these days it is because I have nothing else to do. It is too late in the year to be enrolled in school (that will have to wait until next fall), and I don't know anybody in the city except my aunt and uncle. I have no boy my age to talk with. Grandfather warned us that he is planning to be busy twelve hours a day for an indefinite period. This leaves a lot of time for me which is filled by homesickness for London, for my schoolmates, Caldwell in particular, even for my teachers. I don't dare write anyone because our departure was so hasty that I did not even say goodbye. I just stole away like a thief, and God knows what they are saying about me.


But now let's go help Aunt Sally with her pie! Maybe I'll find the courage to ask her a very important question.

There is so much flour over Aunt Sally that she looks like a jolly, fat ghost. Her pies, I am told, are always born from a tornado of motion and good stuff. I peel and I slice, peel and slice, and suddenly: "Aunt Sally, may I ask you a question?"

— "Of course, Billy. Haven't you been asking questions since you arrived?"

— "This one is different. Do you think that the reason for my father's not showing up is that he is ashamed of me for being illegitimate?" I thought "illegitimate" was a better word to use than "bastard" when addressing my aunt. But my aunt, not a bit shocked, bursts into such wild laughter that even the dough all around her is shaking.

— "What are you talking about, Billy? That he of all people should mind your being born out of wedlock, just like himself?"

— "Just like himself?"

Now Aunt Sally stops dead and even through the flour I can see her face turn red. She is panting.

— "Oh my God, Temple. You didn't know?"

— "Know what?"

— "About your father. Didn't your grandfather tell you?"

— "He only told me my father was Royal Governor of New Jersey.

— "Yes, of course. Temple, if you give me your word of honor not to say a word about this, ever, to anybody, I'll tell you, since I have made this stupid mistake. Promise me, Temple."

— "I promise. Tell me first, who was my mother?"

— "I have no idea. If you know what is good for you, don't ask your father, just let it go."

— "Who was HIS mother? Was it Deborah, before she and Grandfather were married?"

— "If you will stop asking questions, I will tell you the whole story, at least as much of it as I know. Keep in mind that I am 13 years younger than your father and there are some things I don't know. And please, Temple, keep in mind, too, that people make mistakes, especially when they are young, that one should not judge harshly."

Aunt Sally's hands are still in the dough but she is not kneading anymore and the dough has an abandoned look. What if tonight's pie is a failure? I am worried about the pie, but I am more worried about the origins of William Temple.

And here is what she told me.

Aunt Sally's Account of the Family Story

"Franklin's Arrival in Philadelphia," by N.C. Wyeth (1923)

Benjamin and Deborah met when they were both around seventeen, shortly after he arrived in Philadelphia, a disheveled and penniless youth on the run from Boston. He promptly found a job at a printing house and rented a room in her father's home. He did so well at work that he impressed a number of people, including the Colonial Governor, who offered to send him to London in order to purchase the equipment needed to set up a printshop in Philadelphia capable of handling all the official business. Before leaving, he and Deborah "exchanged promises" meaning, I suppose, that they became engaged.

But when Benjamin reached England, he discovered that the Governor's promises were so many empty words and that no provision had been made either for the purchase of printing equipment or for his return home. Resourceful lad that he was, he soon found work and made enough money to start enjoying the pleasures of London. First there were the cultural pleasures which are so much more plentiful overseas, as you know. And then, how shall I put it, there were the pleasures of the flesh, the enjoyment of which was rather easily obtained there. Remember how young he was. It turned his head and he made the awful mistake of writing to Deborah that she should not wait for him, for he had no idea as to when or whether he would come home.

You can imagine Deborah's despair. Her father had recently died and her mother pushed her into accepting the marriage proposal of a man called Rogers about whom little is known except that he was an excellent potter and had recently emigrated from England. Deborah discovered all too soon that he had a terrible temper and drank far too much. Within a short time he used up her modest dowry and then took off for the Bahamas, never to come back. Rumor had it that he had died in a brawl but it was not confirmed and no death certificate ever arrived, leaving Deborah in limbo, so to say, without a husband yet not free to marry again.

Benjamin, meanwhile, became homesick in London, and was anxious to come back to Philadelphia. He was all the more eager to return, since he had met a Quaker merchant who offered him a good job in business and whose fatherly advice he appreciated. When he arrived, he found a Deborah so depressed that she cried most of the time and would not leave the house. He felt guilty but did not know how to make amends since, as I said, she was not free to marry. Furthermore, his Quaker mentor suddenly died and Benjamin was out of work.

After a few difficult years, his financial situation improved but a new problem arose in the form of a baby that a woman he had had an affair with was about to deliver. Benjamin was unwilling to marry the woman in question — don't ask me who she was — I don't know — but he wanted to take responsibility for the child. Your grandfather and Deborah took a bold step at that point: they decided on a common-law marriage, without the benefit of the Church, but with the provision that Deborah would rear the child as her own. The danger was that if Deborah's husband reappeared, the couple would be charged with bigamy, and severely punished, but he was never heard from again. Deborah simply started calling herself Mrs. Franklin, went to live with Benjamin, and everybody considered them a married couple. Baby William, your father, grew up in the house.

Francis Folger Franklin, who died of smallpox.

Some years later, Deborah gave birth to another boy, Francis Folger, who unfortunately died at the age of four. After a long interval, seven years I believe, they had me. Legally speaking, William is only my half- brother, but we have always been very close and I consider him my full brother.

I see sadness on your face, Temple. I imagine you are wondering why you were not treated in the same way and kept in the family. I was never told why, but I want to tell you that, for all the care and good education he received, William did not have an easy time as a child. Once again, we humans have our flaws, and my mother, Deborah, could never bring herself to like William. Your grandfather, on the other hand, adored him, and that may have been quite a problem since my mother felt, especially after they had lost Francis, that her husband lavished too much time and attention on this boy who was not hers.

One more point, dear nephew. Public life is a rough arena, and in politics anything goes. A dreadful campaign was mounted against your grandfather once, as he was running for office back in 1764, and his enemies thought nothing of insulting him by calling his son "a base-born brat." William is a proud man, Temple, keen on doing his absolute best, and that slur hurt him deeply. This is why I beg you to let bygones be bygones and not bring up the topic of illegitimacy. You are a Franklin now. Open your heart to your father."

— "Your pie is not as flaky as usual, Sally," grumbled Uncle Richard at supper.

Sally gave me a quick look and whispered: "We'll do better the next time."