Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 7. Ups and Downs of Family Life

The Electric Franklin

December 10, 1775

Dear descendants, now that I have told you at great length — too great, perhaps — about the good times I have with Aunt Jane, I must be honest and show you my other side, the lazy and procrastinating side, to use the Latin verb that my great-aunt now sprinkles generously through her conversation.

Well over a month ago, a boy named Drummer who is in my class, a shy, serious, friendly type, approached me and said that his father, who lives in Perth Amboy and works as a clerk for my father, has just launched his own little business: a conveyance that will carry the latest news three times a week, as fast as possible, from New Jersey to Philadelphia and back. Would I like his father to include short messages for me in the bag, telling me what is happening to the Governor?

What could I answer but "yes, thank you, I would be very interested"? In fact, I don't really want to know. I have not revealed yet how angry my father was when he found out that the allowance he gave me "to last until Christmas" was all spent long ago, and angrier still when I would not tell him where it had gone. How could I explain the moonstone earrings that had not even been offered to a high-society girl he might approve of, but to my dear little waitress at the City Tavern? I could have reminded my father of all the money he had borrowed from Grandfather over the years and never paid back, but it would only have made matters worse, so I remained silent and let him fume.

But now the time has come to find out how things are going with him. Would he possibly be in a better mood?

And so, I open the bottom drawer in which the messages are hidden under some dirty clothes. The earliest one informs me that my father has lost some of his friends and supporters in the course of November, but that he sticks to his decision to remain in his post, even though he mentions his fear of being led some day "like a bear through the country to some place of confinement in New England." He understands that the Continental Congress wants to get rid not only of him, but of all the remaining governors, in order to create a single government for the thirteen colonies. Only four Loyalist governors are still in place: those of New York, Virginia, Georgia, and New Jersey.

The British Navy, I learn, has stationed warships in many harbors along the coast, ready to pick up the Loyalist officials who feel endangered by the rebels. One of those officials, no less than the former Attorney General and current Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, Father's strongest supporter, has already climbed aboard, leaving behind his wife and thirteen children!

The next slip of paper informs me that Father, in late November, convened the New Jersey Assembly in Burlington. At that point, fear for their own safety had already led two of the five New Jersey congressional delegates to resign, whereupon Father asked the members of the Assembly to warn him as soon as they felt that he, too, was in personal danger. Even though his request had put the Assembly in a sour mood — didn't he trust them? — they assented. Still another message tells me that, in a move to placate England, Grandfather has been replaced as New Jersey's colonial agent. One more petition to the King, hoping for "restoration of Peace and Harmony" is to be prepared, even though the previous petition has never been answered.

I have to stop and think. This separate new petition, when sent, will break, of course, the unanimity of the drive for independence. Indeed, as I learn from the next bit of news provided by Drummer, as soon as they heard about it, three important figures from the Continental Congress galloped to Burlington on December 5, five days ago, and demanded to be heard by the New Jersey Assembly. They pleaded their cause — the cause for independence — for about one hour, and won over the Assembly. Their names? John Dickinson (of Pennsylvania), John Jay (of New York), and George Wythe (of Virginia).

That, I guess, might mark the beginning of Father's downfall, but does he understand it? He decided, as always, to stand firm.

What amazes me is that nobody in this house ever pronounces my father's name. And yet they must know. Grandfather certainly does, and Uncle Richard too. But Sally? Jane? Come to think of it, there are so many mysteries in this family.

— Who was Father's mother?

— Who was my own mother?

— Who gave Grandfather those "Hutchinson letters" that provoked such a drama in the Cockpit?

— How did Father, still so young and inexperienced, obtain the post of Royal Governor?

— Why was Grandfather's wife never made aware of my existence as long as she lived?

Just as I'm feeling resentful about all the secrecy, I remember that I, too, have a well-kept secret: Abigail!

Talking of Abigail, I'm a little worried about her behavior these last few weeks. She doesn't jump for joy anymore when we meet, but looks worried. Walking at a distance ahead, she turns back frequently, hurries on, and does not become herself again until we reach the bank of the river. Then she pulls out her earrings from a secret pocket inside her skirt, looks around again, and throws her arms around my neck.

At times, I think I feel her trembling, but that may be the cold, since she only wears a thin shawl around her shoulders. I've asked her time and again to let me buy her a lovely ruby-red warm shawl I saw in a shop, but she always shakes her head. No, her parents would want to know where it came from. There would be a scene ... She seems more and more in love with me these days, but also very sad. I don't dare ask questions. Anyway, where would I find the money for the shawl? Aunt Jane? Aunt Sally?