A Tale of Benjamin Franklin's Family
In the Days Leading up to The American Revolution
Meet the Benjamin Franklin that only his relatives knew: his stubborn son, his frivolous daughter-in-law, his warm-hearted daughter, his prickly sister — all of them through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy suddenly transplanted from London to Philadelphia.
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Claude-Anne Lopez read from "Temple's Diary" on November 16, 2005, at Christ Church in Philadelphia to launch the completion of this project, written exclusively for this website. She is the author of several books on Franklin and we are proud to host this wonderful story.
In loving memory of Deane Murray Sherman.
Launched November 2005
I have just received a big, fat diary, with instructions to write down what is happening in my life. Because, it seems, I am about to witness historic events and some day it will be of great interest to myself, my descendants, and perhaps others to learn about those events through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old boy.
Come to think of it, that is the only thing I know about myself, that I turned fifteen a few days ago. At least the headmaster of my boarding school in London said so, and the old gentleman who just gave me this diary also said it. We have been at sea, on the Pennsylvania Packet for twelve days now, the old gentleman and I, three of which I spent being seasick while he was happily up on deck measuring the temperature of the water, his favorite occupation, and writing page after page of a mysterious something, his next favorite occupation.
Strange to say, I know much more about him than I do about myself. I have never seen my father, or my mother, or my brothers and sisters, if I have any. Nobody has ever written to me. At school they call me Billy. Only the headmaster, Mr. Elphinston, calls me William Temple, but the boys snicker when he does that. They say that it is a made-up name, not my real name, and that I don't have a real name because my father never married my mother. So that I am illegitimate, what is known as a natural child, in plain English — a bastard.
Maybe all my kin are dead, which would make me both an orphan and a bastard. I don't quite believe that because my school is expensive, so that somebody has to send money for my tuition. Would I happen to be a rich orphan bastard? My best friend, Caldwell, maintains I am an Oriental prince — but then, Caldwell is a dreamer.
I used to mind all that terribly when I was small, especially the mother part, when the other boys spoke about the way their mothers would tuck them into bed at night. From the way they talked it must have been quite something, that tucking in. When lights were out I used to cry in bed, praying my mother would appear, but now I hardly care anymore and the boys have stopped teasing me. There is no point in asking Mr. Elphinston who I am because he would just pat me on the head and say, "All in good time, my dear boy."
But the old gentleman, my traveling companion, do I ever know about him! The first time he appeared at the school, — I must have been around six — there was a special kind of hubbub. The headmaster, delirious with pride and joy, showed us off as so many "young geniuses" as he puts it. My old gentleman's name is Franklin. Benjamin Franklin. Doctor Benjamin Franklin. And I still don't understand why he always came to see me in particular.
I say I know him, but he is mysterious in many ways. Take his title of Doctor for instance. I asked him once if, being a doctor, he would please take care of my sore throat. "Oh no," he said, that was not the kind of doctor he was, not a medical doctor. He bore the title of Doctor because the University of St. Andrews in Scotland had made him an honorary Doctor of Law. Oh, he was a lawyer, then? No, not at all. I have passed the age, now, of asking question after question, but at that time I must have been about nine and I could not resist. "Of what are you a doctor, Sir?" He said the title was meant to honor the accomplishments of his whole life, and then he proceeded to tell me about plenty of those accomplishments.
We were walking along the streets of London and I was hoping for the little bag of sweets that he sometimes bought me after those expeditions, so I trotted alongside him, two of my steps for every one of his, as polite as I could be. First of all, he reminded me yet again that I was such a lucky boy to be receiving a good education without having to struggle for it. How different it had been in his case!
He had been born across the sea, in Boston, in our colony of Massachusetts Bay, the fifteenth of seventeen children, the tenth and last boy. Sixteen brothers and sisters, thought I, what fun that must have been! His father was a hard-working soap- and candle-maker and there wasn't much money to go around, so that he was taken out of school at the age of ten. Better and better! I would be almost out of school by now, I figured, free to sleep late, roam, do as I pleased. No wonder he is almost always in a good mood. He was the lucky one.
By the time I pulled out of those pleasant daydreams, my companion was saying: "At twelve I was apprenticed to my older brother James, a printer. Hard work, heavy work, and James was a bully, quick to hand out a slap or worse. On the other hand, James had gone to London and brought back lively books and magazines, all very different from the religious tracts that were the only reading matter in our Boston home. And you know what I did, Temple? I taught myself how to write good English by memorizing parts of those books. Then I had another idea. I begged my brother to give me the money to buy my own food. By eating very little and turning vegetarian I could buy more books to read! I stayed up late into the night, and loved it."
I was amazed as I listened to old Dr. Franklin, not a bit vegetarian and quite plump, tell me about young Ben Franklin. Never would I dream of doing what he did. And that was just the beginning.
When he reached sixteen, he continued, "I felt that I could write well enough to fool my brother and the group of young men who helped James bring out a newspaper. I invented a character, that of a middle- aged widow called, of all things, Silence Dogood, a very outspoken woman of broad-minded views. She became my pen-name. Once a week, at dawn, I would slip an essay under the printshop's door and have a wonderful time listening to James and his friends puzzling over the identity of such a clever and witty writer. I kept my secret. After fourteen essays, Mrs. Dogood and I ran out of ideas. James would have been terribly angry if he had found out who she really was."
"And what did this Silence Dogood write about, Sir?" I asked, while trotting full speed beside him. "She wrote about giving girls an education," he said. "Most girls were not even sent to school in my day and that was a great pity. And I also made fun of, or rather Mrs. Dogood made fun of our famous college in Boston, called Harvard. You see, Billy, I was dying to go there myself but I was far too poor ever to attend, so the next best thing was to make those students look silly, unfit for real life."
How happy, how young the old gentleman looked when he told me all this! During our walks he was generally trying to teach me things about the natural world — thunder, rivers, fish, whatever. I could not always grasp what he meant. But that day it was so much fun to hear him tell the story of his life that I forgot all about the sweets. He remembered, though, and bought me a larger bag than usual.
We're still at sea, on our way to Philadelphia. Not the slightest event of historic importance for me to witness or record, only some leaping dolphins and idle chatter with our fellow passengers and the crew. My mysterious elderly companion is still scribbling furiously. He was happy to hear that I, too, was scribbling in my diary, and he promised never to read it without my permission. Still, he wondered if I would tell him, in a very general way, what I was writing about.
"About you, Sir," I said, "since I don't know anything about myself." He smiled at that and looked at me for a while, in that peculiar way he sometimes has of examining my face. "In a few days, Temple," he finally said, "you and I are going to have an interesting conversation that will give you plenty to write about. Just be patient."
Meanwhile, I'm going to relate another story that he told me during another of our London walks. I think it is the best one of all. "What did you do after those fourteen Silence Dogood essays?" I asked. What followed, he said, was a tumultuous year, because his brother's paper ran into serious trouble. The authorities in Boston were enraged because James Franklin often made fun of them.
— "Boston, you see, was very puritanical, very narrow-minded and humorless," he began. "Eventually James was thrown in jail, and to save his newspaper he had to pretend that I, the younger brother, was now the publisher. Our apprenticeship contract was supposedly annulled, but I knew well enough that James would never agree to such a thing once he was freed. Anyway, all of sixteen at the time, I enjoyed my new title, did my best, and managed to keep the New-England Courant afloat."
— "And when James came out of jail?"
— "Instead of thanking me for the good work I had done, he roughly reminded me that I was nothing more than his humble apprentice. The tension between us became unbearable. I must admit, Temple, that I was very uppity. I even managed to irritate the city authorities so much by my impertinent attitude that I decided to flee. In those days, for an apprentice to run away before the end of his contract was an extremely serious offense, but I wanted to take my chance anyway. I sold my books, did not mention my plan to anybody and embarked on a boat for New York where I hoped to find work, but I was disappointed. The only printer in town did not need any more help than he already had. He advised me to go way down South, all the way to Philadelphia where there might be a chance for employment, Philadelphia being the largest city in the colonies."
— "But isn't Philadelphia very far from New York?"
— "Very. And I was almost out of money. But I got back on another boat only to be caught in a light squall right in New York Harbor — this was late September, hurricane season. Luckily for me there was a Dutchman among the passengers, so drunk that he fell overboard and was about to drown. I managed to fish him out and received a few coins for my pains. Before falling asleep, this Dutchman took a book out of his pocket and asked me to dry it for him. Imagine my amazement and delight when I saw it was a translation into Dutch of the first book I had ever bought with my first few pennies: John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress."
Dr. Franklin interrupted his story to tell me how well printed this Dutch edition was, on nice paper with copper engravings. He will never stop surprising me, this man. In the midst of a squall, hungry, almost penniless, soaking wet, turned down for a job in New York, he ignores his surroundings to admire that book — and after so many years, he still remembers that moment with glee and takes the time to inform me that Bunyan was the first author to mix story-telling with dialogue. Incredible! We did read Bunyan in my school some years ago. To me it was an old book, by a Puritan preacher, published in 1678 or thereabouts, but for Dr. Franklin, no. For him it was a lifelong friend, suddenly found in the midst of a catastrophe.
— "Did you dry off during the night?" I asked.
— "We began sailing down the New Jersey coast, but the weather turned so awful that the boat could not even approach the shore. So we lay at anchor all night pelted by a furious rain. The next morning the wind was against us, making it impossible to sail further south. I had a high fever that I took care of by drinking a lot of water, as my mother used to advise. I decided to proceed on foot, leaving my things on the boat, to be picked up, I hoped, when it reached Philadelphia. Brought to shore in a rowboat, I began heading west. I walked and walked. I wished more than once that I could be back home with my family, but there was no turning back. My main concern was not to attract attention by looking too untidy, too much like a runaway. That would have led me straight to jail."
— "Straight to jail...?"
— He nodded. "Yes. It took me three days, that walking across New Jersey. Finally, I arrived at a place called Burlington, on the Delaware river. I called to some people passing in a rowboat, and asked where they were going. 'Philadelphia,' they said. I offered to help with the rowing, and hopped on board. We went ashore as soon as it got dark, for fear of going too far and missing the city."
I could not help thinking, though I did not tell him so, that nobody would bypass London in the dark. It must be no more than a sleepy village, this "large" Philadelphia he talks so much about.
— "It was a cold night," he continued. "Luckily we were able to make a fire out of the rails of an old fence. The next morning we landed at the Market Street wharf. This was Sunday, October 6, 1723."
Arriving in Philadelphia was the best thing that ever happened to him, he said. From the first, he breathed the air of tolerance and freedom. At seventeen, he was a new man, and on the very day of his arrival he caught a glimpse of the girl he would marry a few years later. She was standing on her doorstep as he passed, and she told him later that she had giggled because he looked awkward with his pockets full of socks. As I am writing down this story the way he told it to me, I remember what I was thinking at the time — that I would never know how to survive three days in London by myself, let alone cover so many miles while hiding from the police. I was thinking that all I had studied in my fancy boarding school was of no use in real life and that I did not possess any skill worth a shilling. A chilling thought. I was also horrified to learn that for many months he never let his family know whether he was dead or alive. He who was so lucky to have a family!
But now that I am fifteen, my thoughts are quite different and I see my friend Dr. Franklin in a different light. He is no longer just a clever, clever boy who always manages to get his way, but a man who repeatedly rebels against authority when he believes authority is wrong. He rebelled at great risk against his brother James, his master at the time.
When he found out that lightning is really made of electricity — this at a time when it was believed that lightning was God's punishment for men's misdeeds — he invented the lightning rod to protect houses. Before him, the only recourse that people thought they had was to ring church bells during thunderstorms which, needless to say, did not help at all. I won't go as far as to assert that his experiments were a rebellion against God, but he certainly defied the forces of nature. And now I fear he is defying our King and Parliament, no less, because he is the agent of four of our colonies in North America and they are most dissatisfied with the way we Englishmen rule them.
But this time, I fear, he is going too far.
Why do I believe he has gone too far? I have been feeling that way for the past fifteen months, ever since that awesome day in January 1774 when he was summoned to the Cockpit to answer troubling political questions. The Cockpit, as I learned at the time, is a London building across the street from Whitehall, our Foreign Ministry. They used to hold bloody cockfights there but now it serves as a meeting place for the Privy Council. "What's the Privy Council?" I asked our headmaster who was urging me to attend the momentous event. He explained that it is a group of advisers chosen by the King among the lords, the high clergy, and other luminaries of the realm. "I'm afraid they're going to excoriate our dear friend," he sighed. "He will need you there." Flattered by the prospect of being needed, but puzzled by the word excoriate, I promptly looked it up and learned that it means to "take off a person's skin."
Well, that is what it turned out to be, not literally, of course. Mrs. Stevenson, who sat next to me, cried quietly throughout that long, long ordeal.
How could I have written so much without mentioning Mrs. Stevenson? Her house on Craven Street near the Strand has become my home when I'm not at school. She always has a kind word for me and something tasty to carry away. Come to think about it, there's another puzzle: Mrs. Margaret Stevenson and Dr. Benjamin Franklin.
She owns the house that he has been living in for years, but I'm sure they are much closer than landlady and tenant. She acts like a loving wife, always trying to please him. That's fine, but he has a real wife back in Philadelphia. In all the plays and poems we read in school, the wife gets angry when her husband even looks at another woman, but those two ladies, who have never met, seem to be really good friends.
Mrs. Franklin sends barrels of apples from America, especially of a kind called Newton Pippins, that the Doctor raves about. She also ships delicious red berries that they call cranberries over there. And squirrels when he asks for them, lovely tame squirrels for English children to keep as pets. Bacon, too, and other good things. And she thanks Mrs. Stevenson for taking such good care of her Pappy, as she calls him. Not to be outdone, Mrs. Stevenson sends the latest fashion in London clothes and bonnets, fine china that I help her pack, yards of silk, and lace for the Franklin daughter, Sally.
Mrs. Stevenson, too, has a daughter called Mary but everybody calls her Polly. I think that Polly is Dr. Franklin's favorite person in the whole world. Polly's father died many years ago and the Doctor seems to be a substitute father. He even gave her away on her wedding day. I was invited to that wedding and, as usual, was trying to find some clue as to how I fitted in with all those people. No luck. I was introduced as the American's young protégé, a fancy French word to say he took me under his wing, but why me of all people? Any time I suddenly burst into the Stevenson kitchen as the maids are gossiping, the minute they see me, they fall silent.
But I must get back to that dramatic morning in the Cockpit. The room was packed with lords and ladies, as excited and bloodthirsty as if they had come to a real cockfight. They laughed and applauded wildly when the Solicitor General, Alexander Wedderburn, denounced — should I say excoriated? — my old friend. The atmosphere was still more hostile than expected because news had reached London the previous week that a bunch of savages had dumped a whole cargo of East India tea into the Boston Bay. Dumping expensive tea into cold, salty water! Not heating the teapot! That is the ultimate crime in the eyes of the English. Why would they do such a thing in Boston? As I lingered near a coffee house on my way back to school, I heard a man declare that of course the perpetrators were not real Redskins, but cowardly Bostonians disguising themselves as Indians by painting their skin a reddish brown. However that may be, it did not help the public's mood and the Solicitor ranted on for well over an hour.
What I think I understood was that Dr. Franklin had received from a mysterious source certain letters that put the Royal Governor of Massachusetts and the Lieutenant-Governor in a very bad light. Instead of keeping those letters to himself as he had been asked to do, he had made them known by sending them back to Boston where they were allowed to circulate, provoking the population to acts of violence against the Governor's house. The Governor, whose name is Hutchinson, is now in England, and very, very angry.
Just as angry, the Bostonians have entrusted Dr. Franklin to present a petition to the King in order to obtain Hutchinson's removal. As I say, I did not understand much of what was going on, but thanks to the many hours of Latin I endured, I did understand one thing. That when Solicitor Wedderburn accused Dr. Franklin of being "a man of three letters," those three letters being "f-u-r," I figured that he was not comparing him to an animal's skin, but labeling him a thief. That's what FUR means in Latin. (From which FURtive derives, as my Latin teacher would say.)
Dr. Franklin was extraordinary! He stood there all that time, erect, silent, not a muscle moving, a statue. I could not take my eyes off him. He looked handsome in a golden-brown velvet coat I had never seen before. He seemed detached, serene. My heart was beating wildly for him, as the tears were rolling down Mrs. Stevenson's cheeks, but at the same time I could not agree with what he had done and with those ever- dissatisfied colonists he represents. Didn't they take any pride in the British Empire? I felt torn.
When his friends rallied around him at the end of the ordeal, he did not speak to them. When we sat down to dinner — easy to guess, Mrs. Stevenson was serving his favorite dish — he did not eat a thing, his jaws still clamped in silent rage. This was such a far cry from the jolly figure I had known, who enchanted us all at the boarding school with his magic tricks, his magic cane containing drops of oil to calm the waves, his clever mathematical magic squares. This was another man.
Everything changed after that day. He lost his position as deputy postmaster-general for North America. The petition from Massachusetts to remove the governor was rejected, of course. Dr. Franklin seemed to be totally in disgrace. We thought he would sail right back to America — and he talked about that — but he stayed in England and spent his time visiting various lords and high-placed people, writing proposals, dashing from place to place. Mrs. Stevenson's eyes were often red. I was hardly taken out on walks, though he did continue to take an interest in my studies and to praise me for my sketching ability. The big blow in the spring was the sudden death of Polly's husband at thirty-four. They had two little boys and a few months later she gave birth to a baby girl.
Tension between our Parliament and the American colonies grew worse and, while we didn't dare say it, we had the impression that Dr. Franklin's efforts toward a reconciliation were fruitless.
The year 1775 brought no relief. In late February he heard that his wife had died the previous December. He kept his grief to himself. I wondered if he would now marry Mrs. Stevenson and I'm sure she wondered about that too, but the only decision he made was to summon me from school in late March. He told me to join him as soon as possible with no more than my most important possessions, and not to breathe a word to my schoolmates. And that is why I am here, in mid-Ocean, floating between two worlds.
I asked Dr. Franklin why he kept measuring the sea's temperature. He was delighted by my question and gave me a whole lecture on that warm current, a kind of river within the sea, that is called the Gulf Stream. For various reasons, it is extremely important for sea captains to map its course. One reason is that if a merchant ship manages to sail on it, it will move along much more quickly, at less expense, and be able to deliver its cargo sooner. The reason some ships take so much longer to cross the Ocean is that they are sailing against the Gulf Stream's current and have to struggle against its strength.
Charting it properly, he told me, is also essential for another economic reason, since whales, in order to keep comfortable in the frigid waters, swim along the edges of the Gulf Stream. Having an accurate chart thus makes it easier for the whaling captains to capture them and extract their precious oil so useful for lighting and a whole lot of other purposes. The existence of this current has been known for a long time but precise information about it is kept secret by the few who are in the know.
The big whaling center, he said, is the island of Nantucket, and since his mother came from Nantucket, he has many relatives over there who are just as eager as he is to learn more about the Gulf Stream.
Would I care to help him? Of course I would. I am becoming so bored that I even miss my French classes with all their tricky genders and irregular verbs. Apart from taking the sea's temperature at various times of day and evening, to verify that Gulf Stream water is really warmer than the sea it runs through, I have to look out for what he calls "Gulf weed" and also take notice of whether or not the water sparkles in the night. Gulf Stream water, says the Doctor, does not sparkle in the dark. And he handed me the chart which I am reproducing here. This is great fun.
|14||65||° ′||° ′|
|26||60||70||37 39||60 38||Much gulph weed; saw a whale.|
|27||60||70||S S E||W b S||37 13||62 29||Colour of water changed.|
|28||70||64||S W||W N W||37 48||64 35||No gulph weed.|
|---||6 P.M.||67||60||34||Sounded, no bottom.|
|29||8 A.M.||63||71||N||W||44||37 26||66 0||Much light in the water last night.|
|---||5 P.M.||65||72||N E||57||Water again of the usual deep sea colour, little or no light in it at night.|
|---||11 dit.||66||66||N WbN||W b S|
|30||8 A.M.||64||70||N E||W b N||69|
|---||12||62||70||E b S||24||37 20||68 53||Frequent gulph weed, water continues of sea colour, little light.|
|---||6 P.M.||64||72||E S E||W b N||43|
|---||10 dit.||65||65||S||25||Much light.|
|May||1||7 A.M.||68||63||60||Much light all last night.|
|---||12||65||56||S S W||W N W||44||38 13||72 23||Colour of water changed.|
|---||4 P.M.||64||56||W b N||21|
|---||10 dit.||64||57||S W||W N W||31||Much light.|
|2||8 A.M.||62||53||18||38 43||74 3||Much light. Thunder-gust.|
|---||12||60||53||W S W||N W||18|
|---||6 P.M.||64||55||N W||W S W||15|
|---||10 dit.||65||55||N b W||W b N||10|
|3||7 A.M.||62||54||30||38 30||75 0|
What a day! We have had at last, what Dr. Franklin called our "interesting conversation." Interesting! How could he call it just that? It was phenomenal! It was earthshaking! I'm still shaking as I write. But I want to set it down while I remember every word.
— "Sit down, Temple," he began. "I have the impression these last few days that you want to ask me something but can't quite bring yourself to do it. Am I right?"
— "Yes, Sir."
— "What is it?"
— "Could you tell me, Sir, why I am on this packetboat with you? You always said how important it is for me to finish my studies, but here we are in the middle of the school year and in the middle of the sea. Why take me to the colonies? I don't understand, Sir ..."
— "Tempy," he said — he sometimes called me that — "you don't have to call me Sir anymore." A long pause. "Just call me Grandfather." Another pause. "I am your grandfather, my boy."
What was I supposed to say now? Or do? Throw myself into his arms? I was petrified. I said nothing. I did nothing. I stared at my shoes.
"You are the son of my son William, the Royal Governor of New Jersey." More stupefied silence from the son of the governor. "You remember me mentioning my son, don't you?"
Of course, I remember. Sometimes he sounded very proud of his son and sometimes he grumbled about his son's spending habits. Extravagant spending, he would tell Mrs. Stevenson, who nodded. He was not always in a good mood after receiving a letter from his son the governor.
— "Have you lost your tongue, Billy?"
Not only my tongue, all of me was lost in a haze. The governor, I knew, had a wife named Elizabeth. She had to be my mother. Would she once, just once, tuck me in bed? So I would know what it feels like and stop thinking about it. Would she bend over and kiss me?
— "And my mother, Sir, does she live in New Jersey?"
— "No, Billy. If she is alive she must be in England. I don't know. It's up to your father to tell you about that. I'll only say that your mother, unfortunately, was not the kind of woman that one marries."
I know he saw my disappointment, but he just continued.
— "Now let me tell you about all the relatives you are going to meet once we land. Lucky boy that you are, not only will you become a Franklin, William Temple Franklin, but you will be the only young man in the entire family to bear the name. Your father and his wife, you see, have not had a child of their own all these years, and they want you as their lawful heir..."
I stopped listening. I know what he means by the kind of woman one does not marry. When Caldwell and I slipped out of school by a back window in the evening and walked the streets of London, we would see those women standing under lampposts. There was so much fog at times that you could not even see them but you could hear their voices, raspy, warm and tempting. We hastened to walk on and looked the other way, but I remember the voices and how these women coughed. My mother may have been one of them, wrapped in fog.
— "You look sad, my boy," said the old gentleman who is my grandfather. "You have no reason to be sad. Your father is most impatient to see you. Your stepmother, Elizabeth, will smother you in endearments and pastries. My daughter, your aunt Sally, will be her warm and joyous self, I'm sure, and her boys Benny and Willy, your little cousins, can you imagine how they will look up to you?"
All I could do in response was sigh. Was she alive or dead, my mother? I would never know. Would anyone care beside myself?
— "You're almost a man, Billy" he said. "It is time to look to the future. You've had an excellent education so far, and your future, if you apply yourself, is brilliant. As brilliant as that of the country we are sailing to, if the colonies have the foresight to pull together and forge their own destiny. You may ask me one more question, Temple, and then we both go to bed.
— "Who else knows about who I am, and who does not?"
— "That's simple. Your father, the headmaster and myself, we know. Nobody else. Not even Mrs. Stevenson and Polly."
— "And my grandmother, your wife Deborah, who just died? She knew, of course?"
— "No, she did not."
— "How is that possible?"
— "Because I never told her."
— "You never told her about me? Why not?"
— "Not to upset her. Family life, Billy, is not always as simple as you might imagine. Some day you'll understand all that. All I want to say now is that ever since I have come to know you, you have been a crucial part of my life. Walking beside the little boy that you were, looking down at your upturned face that reminded me of William's at your age, feeling your tiny hand resting trustfully in my big hand, that's what gave me the courage to keep working at the arduous mission I have been entrusted with."
"How else could I have endured the accusation in America, of being too British and in England, of being too American? How else could I have endured, in my solitude, the charming descriptions my Deborah gave of our other grandson, the Philadelphia one, the one she called Kingbird, the Benny, whom I have never seen? Without you at my side I would have returned home, a defeated man. With you at my side I return home, defeated, to be sure, my hopes for accommodation with England dashed, but still full of hope. You are my flesh and blood, and my strength."
After that, how could I refuse to read the heavy manuscript he thrust into my hands with a request for comments?
He was not exaggerating, my illustrious grandfather, when he warned me that this would be a long and difficult document to absorb. Long and difficult indeed! It is almost two hundred pages long, his Journal of Negotiations in London, written in the form of a letter to my father the governor. From some overheard conversations I remember, I vaguely understood that my grandfather was displeased with his son who not only spent too much, but was too obedient to the King and Parliament.
But, of course. What does he expect from a Royal Governor? What is he there for, if not to carry out instructions from London? Maybe my father is not the kind of man who rebels against authority the way grandfather has done all of his life? Is that so wrong?
When I told Dr. Franklin that I had difficulty in understanding his allusions to a whole lot of Acts I had never heard about (Tea Act, Townshend Acts, Navigation Act, Coercive Acts, Quebec Act and so on), he said not to worry.
He had learned that the Americans bunch many of them under the name of Intolerable Acts.
— "Do they really find them intolerable?"
— "More and more of them do," he replied.
He explained that the British government persisted in believing that he had been given the power to negotiate an agreement, whereas in reality all he was allowed to do was to present the grievances of the colonies whose agent he was (New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts) and to suggest the measures he thought would be acceptable to redress them. But London remained convinced that he was a kind of minister plenipotentiary, meaning one with full powers to negotiate, and they tried to bribe him, even offering a title of nobility. His anger was still so great that he turned red in the face while telling me about this offer. Just as I was pleasantly thinking: my grandfather the Baronet, my father the Governor, isn't that a nice change in my status?
I told him honestly that, of course, I would be reading his journal from the point of view of the Englishman I am. He just looked at me, shook his head, and said, "Keep an open mind."
Slowly and painfully, I'm beginning to make a little headway in that complicated Journal of Negotiations. The basic point of disagreement, I guess, is that grandfather and those restless colonies maintain that our Parliament does not have authority to legislate in their internal affairs or to alter their Charters. London feels that this is nonsense. What an idea! Those overseas people wanting to curtail the powers of Parliament!
I'm beginning to understand that grandfather is thinking the unthinkable. Since he needs me and loves me so much, I must at least try to follow his trend of thought.
Let's take the tea story, for instance. At least I know a little about the dumping of tea in the Boston Harbor. Grandfather argues that Britain had a choice: either a right to reparation — and he initially offered to pay for the damage out of his own pocket — or a right to return an equal injury, but not both. The injury Britain inflicted in response — blocking up the port of Boston — was not equal to, but ten or twenty times worse, financially speaking, than the offense.
Maybe Grandfather has a point there, but he doesn't stop at that. He wants the Tea Act, that is the imposition of duties on the importation of tea, to be repealed because the Americans, as they now call themselves, consider it unconstitutional.
They consider that the money levied on tea has been wrongfully extorted from them, and they want it given back. Out of that money they would reimburse Britain for the tea they dumped into the harbor.
I should add here that my grandfather was not planning to discuss those demands himself with the British Government, but was acting through two close friends of his, both well connected with important people. These friends are Quakers who are trying to avoid war, since the Quakers prize peace above all. Grandfather's own name was to be kept out of the negotiation at all times.
But of course his intermediaries discussed his proposals with him, one by one. In the case of the tea, they agreed that the repeal of the Tea Act might be obtained, but not the refunding he wants. They advised him to strike it out of the proposal, but grandfather would not hear of that. Not an easy man to budge, my grandfather.
Every night, now, before going to bed, I practice ten times saying "grandfather" because it does not yet roll off my tongue and he looks pained when I forget and call him "Sir." Enough for today. I'm sleepy.
If you read it a couple of times, the problem created by one of those "Intolerable Acts," the Navigation Act, is not too hard to figure out. The colonists, believe it or not, are happy with a part of it, the part that forbids the transportation of any goods on foreign ships. They want goods to be carried only on ships belonging to British subjects and manned by three quarters British or colony seamen. Since, despite their complaints, Americans are considered "British," the colonists like that part.
What they don't like is that they are not allowed to trade with foreign countries without passing through England and paying duties. The wine and fruit they buy in Spain and Portugal cannot come directly to the colonies, but have to go to England first where the duty must be paid. This makes foreign trade so expensive for American ships that they cannot compete with English ships. So far the colonists have accepted the situation as the price to pay for British protection in case of war, but now they would prefer to have the duties collected by their own officers, appointed and paid by their own governments.
My grandfather's Quaker friends thought this sounded reasonable enough, but they were alarmed by his next proposal: that the colonies be allowed to manufacture goods from what he called their "natural advantages," meaning, I suppose, their local resources. I did not know that they were forbidden to do that, and it does not seem very fair to prohibit them some industry of their own, but the advisers felt that this was a very touchy subject and that there should be no talk of repeal but only of reconsidering the situation.
And so on, and so on. The colonies don't want any English troops to be quartered in their territory without the consent of their legislatures.
Massachusetts doesn't want a certain Fort William, built at great expense to defend their port of Boston, to be used by British troops as a citadel.
The colonists want to have something to say in the affairs of Canada since they helped conquer it from the French.
They don't want their judges appointed by the King while being paid by their own assemblies. No, they want to appoint the judges themselves.
Same story with the governors of the colonies. They want the right both to choose their governors and to pay their salaries. Would my father like that, I wonder?
What I have to do, now that I have figured out the general drift of the American complaints, is to drum up my courage and tell grandfather what I really think. Because what I think is that he is too stubborn, too intransigent. He hardly leaves any space for conciliation or compromise. But how can I tell him that without hurting his feelings?
My own feelings toward him are not easy to explain, even to myself. I have grown very fond of the old gentleman since he told me how much he needed me and cared for me, yet at the same time I am in awe of him. He is so intelligent, so passionate in his convictions that he carries me along somehow, even when I want to remain myself, with my own ideas.
Our conversation went off very well! Before I could say anything, Grandfather told me that he understood my pro-English feelings. How could it be otherwise, since I was born and raised in London? He too, he said, had fallen in love with England during his visit there with my father some fifteen years ago. He loved the people, the beauty of the towns, the literature, the music. In those days he was a fervent admirer of the British Empire. Every province of the British Empire at that time was well governed because it was trusted, in a large measure, with governing itself.
I asked, "what do you think has gone wrong now?" "Now," he said, "the Empire, which I used to compare to a beautiful China vase, is governed by a set of blundering ministers open to bribes and corruption. The King has fallen totally under their influence. We gladly accepted to be the King's subjects, but why, I ask you, should we be the subjects of other subjects? Why should we accept the dictates of a Parliament that does not understand our problems, does not even pay attention to the petitions we send, but insists on treating us as rebels who have to be punished — which is the best way to turn us into real rebels. Believe me, Temple, I have worked extremely hard this past year to keep the Empire from breaking up, but now I am convinced that it is beyond saving."
He then listened to my comments without interrupting me, paying great attention, and that pleased me so much that I decided to end my little speech in a friendly manner, by quoting from his own writing. He had answered, in what I thought was a witty way, a question put to him by an English nobleman: "What would it take to satisfy the Americans?"
Using only words beginning with "RE — ," he put it this way:
call your forces,
store Castle William,
pair the Damage done to Boston,
peal your unconstitutional Acts,
nounce your pretensions to tax us,
fund the duties you have extorted; after this
ceive payment for the destroyed Tea, with the voluntary grants of the colonies, And then
joice in a happy
To which I added: "RE-ward poor Temple who has struggled through this Journal. He burst out laughing. "Billy," he said, "you have the makings of a lawyer. I have thought about it for quite some time. I even wrote so to your father last summer. And here, right in my pocket, is his answer, sent the day before Christmas. "Do you want to read it?"
I could hardly believe my ears. There I had been, feeling sorry that nobody in the world was thinking about me, just as those two busy, important men were discussing my future. For the first time in my life I saw my father's writing and read: "I am anxious to have Temple bred to the law, and wish to have him sent for a year or two to the New York College."
Bred to the law ... what a funny expression. I guess it just means to study law. I have heard about breeding dogs or horses, but breeding me? Am I a dog to be sent across the ocean in order to be bred? What if I don't care for the law?
As Grandfather excused himself for a minute, I quickly had a look at the rest of my father's letter. It was troubling. After telling Grandfather about Deborah's funeral, he practically accused him of having neglected his wife in her final illness and ignored her pleas to come home. He informed Grandfather in no uncertain terms that he, Doctor Franklin, is "looked upon with an evil eye" in England and that there is no point in tarrying there any longer at a time when his return is ardently wished for in America. My father also wrote that, whatever the madness of the English ministry, there is equal madness in America, or "On this side of the water," as he put it.
All of this, however, was expressed in such a polite way that it did not sound insulting. But I have the feeling, and I don't like this feeling, that Father really disapproves of Grandfather's conduct.
If all goes well, we should reach Philadelphia tomorrow. Grandfather is very excited. He talks and talks. Mostly about his house, a house he started to build eleven years ago, but never saw when it was finished. If I remember correctly, he decided to build it upon his return from England after the first of his two missions there.
— "When did you come back from England after your first political mission, Grandfather?"
— "In 1762" he replied.
So I was two years old when he and my father left me behind in London, to be taken care of by ... someone. I see the picture now. Father fell in love with a proper English woman, the kind one does marry, and they sailed off to their glamorous life in New Jersey, unencumbered by this unwanted baby. Like the late Deborah, my father's very proper bride may not even have been told of my existence. Father and Elizabeth would raise a proper family of their own on the other side of the Ocean, with proper little American children.
But then no child ever appeared, and the only chance to carry on the famous name was to import the little Londoner, me.
As I was figuring this out, Grandfather, ever so talkative, had been going on: "I wanted a modern house, Billy, a good house 'contrived to my mind,' as I used to say. It was going to be protected by the lightning rod that I had devised. It was going to be heated by my other brainchild, the Pennsylvania fireplace that would keep us warm during our glacial winters. For the kitchen I thought up a clever way to dispose of steam, smoke, and odors. Deborah, who had worked so hard during our years of poverty, would now have the best kitchen in Philadelphia to bake her cakes and muffins, such a good baker she is — was, my Deborah."
— "And her energy, Billy! She ran the shop where we sold every kind of dry goods you can imagine, plus our own Crown Soap, made from a recipe kept secret in the Franklin family. With her mother, Debbie concocted an ointment against the itch. Don't ask me how it worked, but it sold well. She kept the accounts, she bought old rags from which to make new paper, she stitched sheets of paper together to make notebooks, she wove and knitted all our clothes.
"The word helpmate could have been invented for her. She wanted so much for us to go up in the world that for my birthday, once, she bought me a far too expensive silver spoon to eat my porridge. I had been quite satisfied with my old wooden spoon — but no! She did not want to see her husband inferior to the neighbors..."
"And so it went on for eighteen years, Billy, us two working hard hand in hand, raising William, then little Frankie whom we lost to smallpox when he was four, and then Sally."
It seemed to me that Grandfather was dreaming as he spoke. "By our early forties, thanks to the general store, my printing shop, the newspaper and my Poor Richard's Almanack, we had plenty to live on and I decided to quit business and spend time doing what I had wanted to do all along: find out more about nature's secrets and become more involved in public life."
— "I did not think about it at the time," he sighed, "but that must have been hard on Debbie. All at once she lost her big role in my life as well as our constant companionship. She started pining for a real house, not the lodgings we had occupied here and there, and I kept promising to build her a house in which to live out our old age in contentment. She got her house, finally, but we never lived together in it, not a day ... I had to leave for London once again before it was finished."
He looked sad, he looked old. I wonder whether Mrs. Stevenson ever heard him warmly praising his Debbie who had once been so vibrant and so young. The maids in the London kitchen used to whisper that Mrs. Stevenson was patiently waiting for Debbie to die before she made a play for the Doctor. Who knows? Mrs. Stevenson asked him once, while I was in the room, what he had heard in Debbie's last letter. He sighed and said that it was full of the same old complaints and that Deborah was becoming confused. Mrs. Stevenson said nothing, she just patted his hand.
Is that the way in families, I wonder. Do they all go from being so close to being almost total strangers? I know some Latin, some French, some history, but what do I know about families, about real life? Nothing. Not a thing.
When I looked up, Grandfather had recovered his spirits in that quick, deliberate way he uses to recompose himself. "I can't wait to show you our house, Billy. It even has a music room papered in blue with an elegant flowered border. From London I explained to Deborah exactly the way I wanted it done, and of course, that's just what she did. You'll never guess all the things you'll see in that music room: a glass armonica — my favorite instrument — a spinet, a harpsichord, a glassichord, and a viola da gamba with bells. Between your aunt Sally and her husband, they can play all these instruments and I'm not bad with some. We'll have family trios, and quartets after you join us."
He does not notice, does he, that I'm not answering. I have been nervous all day, my heart is heavy. All I can do is rehearse my relatives' names, so as not to look stupid when I meet them. My future family ... how will they behave? Will they look at me in amazement and ask me who I am? Will they hug me? Will they snub me? How should I address my stepmother Elizabeth? Madam? Not mother, surely. My real mother may have died of poverty or coughed herself to death but I won't give her title to anybody else. I will not.
The truth is, I am scared. But I have no choice. London is over for me. Now comes America.
I cannot sleep. So many scenes swirling in my head at the end of this first day. Where am I to begin? Begin at the beginning, Temple.
The crush of people surrounding Grandfather. Hugs, smiles, tears, joy, huge rejoicing at seeing him again after ten years. I knew he had friends, of course, but this many, this wild! And he, over and over: "Meet my grandson Billy who grew up in London and has now come home with me." Hugs for me, handshakes, backslaps, "How are you, Billy? How was the crossing? Oh, you are going to love it here, Billy," as if they had known me all along. As if we were already the best of friends. We are surely a long way from London, where it takes years to become acquainted, and even longer to become friends.
Where is my father? I try to spot him in the crowd, tall, handsome, well dressed, looking like the governor of a colony. For the past two days I have been drilled for this moment by Grandfather. "When you meet your father, Billy, hold yourself straight, your shoulders back, head up. Don't look at your feet Billy, look him straight in the eye. Extend your hand, say 'Happy to meet you, Father'."
— "Should I not call him Sir?"
— "Sir? Maybe the first time ... No, Father is better. The main thing is to stand very straight so he sees how tall you are, he is sure to like that."
Here I am, erect as a statue, eyes straight ahead, but no father to impress. "Where is my father?"
— "I don't see him, Billy. He lives in New Jersey, not Philadelphia. He may not know we have arrived."
I slouch and contemplate my shoes.
Franklin Court, the family house, my future home. It is not set on High Street but way back in the middle of a spacious courtyard. It has so many windows, so many rooms, nothing like the narrow, high lodgings on Mrs. Stevenson's Craven Street. One would have to be awfully rich in London to own a house like this.
This is where Father will meet us, surely. He does not want to mix with the mob on the dock. But no, the people waiting on the doorstep are Aunt Sally, her pink, round face shiny with tears, Uncle Richard standing stiffly, and two little boys in their Sunday best.
We go in. Grandfather rushes upstairs, probably to that music room he is so keen about. Aunt Sally turns toward me and now starts ...
Aunt Sally's hug.
A momentous experience, surpassing any hug I've ever known. A hug well worth those six long weeks on the ocean. Crunched from head to toe inside her plump arms, against her ample bosom, I know bliss. She suddenly releases me and pushes me back, the better to examine my face. "Look at that jutting chin," she squeals ... "You are a Franklin, a real Franklin, my dear boy! Let me kiss you!" And we embrace again.
Benny Bache meanwhile, the former Kingbird, is doing his valiant best to climb up my leg while Willy, the two-year-old, has a firm grip on my ankle. That I should be called Billy while he is Willy is an unending source of babble to him: Billy, Willy, Willy, Billy.
Oh, family joys! Why was I so flustered? It is wonderful to belong, even more wonderful than the hot bath we were allowed once a month in boarding school.
Amidst all that good fellowship, yesterday, I missed the real news, which is that Philadelphia is preparing for war. At breakfast, Aunt Sally told me about the big events that happened while we were still at sea. What happened was the first battle — or the first two skirmishes — I don't know yet what to call them — between the Americans and the British. Blood was spilled and people were killed on both sides.
Here is how Aunt Sally explained it: "The colony of Massachusetts held its first provincial congress last fall in the little town of Concord a few miles from Boston, and decided in April, just a few weeks ago, to store military supplies in secret places. Learning this, the British military commander in Boston sent 700 of the 3,000 troops encamped in the city to reconnoiter the countryside and find the weapons."
— "And did he find them?"
— "No. A silversmith by the name of Paul Revere became aware of this move and, as was prearranged, he spread the alarm. He jumped on his horse near midnight and soon reached the town of Lexington, 11 miles away, where he found Sam Adams, the head of the Sons of Liberty, and the Boston merchant John Hancock. On his journey, Revere roused others, who in turn awakened even more."
"The colonies have been organizing their own militias of late and a part of the militias, roughly one third, call themselves Minutemen — ready to fight in a minute. When the British arrived at Lexington, they found nearly 80 of the militia standing on the village green with orders not to fire on the British unless they were fired on first."
"When the British officer saw them there," said Aunt Sally, "he shouted: 'Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!' but someone fired a shot."
— "Someone on which side?"
— "I don't know," she replied. "That shot may well be the starting point of a war, people say. Eight Minutemen were killed and one British soldier wounded in the ensuing fighting but things got much worse when the British pushed on to nearby Concord. An engagement that had started on the bridge became a running battle nineteen miles long. Finally, the British had to retreat, and a bloody retreat it was, with four thousand Americans firing from every direction, from every hidden spot in the land they know so well. Seventy-three English soldiers perished in that operation."
"Those poor fellows," sighed Aunt Sally who, it seems, cannot bear the thought of anyone suffering, friend or foe. "There they were in their red parade uniforms, an easy target, and wearing the wrong shoes for our muddy swamps — don't their commanders know anything?" Uncle Richard remains silent. He, like me, is an Englishman, after all. He arrived here only a few years ago. I have already observed that he is very careful not to offend Grandfather.
As for Grandfather, he is glum this morning. He took me on a tour of the house and while I was recognizing the furniture, curtains, rugs, dishes, and glasses that had been chosen by Mrs. Stevenson and sent from London, he grumbled that everything looked shopworn already, faded and soiled. What does he expect, my dear grandfather, after ten years and two little children have used the new things he sent? Luckily there soon is such a flow of visitors that they absorb all his attention.
Me? I'm struck that this battle took place on April 19, the very day that I finally learned who I was, who I am. The day that marks perhaps — who knows? — the birth of an independent America and the birth of William Temple Franklin, formerly known as Billy the Bastard.
I go for a walk in the afternoon. There is no doubt that Philadelphia feels like a city at war. The residents heard about Lexington five days after it happened and rushed by the thousands to the State House where they adopted a resolution to defend their property, liberty, and lives against all attempts to deprive them of those rights. So the cobbler who lives down our street tells me. Everywhere I turn, I see men drilling with more enthusiasm than discipline. They wear a great variety of outfits, some carry firearms, some just exercise. But still, my feeling is that, ardent as they may be, they are no match for the British Army, if it should get here in full force.
Eavesdropping as best I can on their conversations (they have a funny pronunciation in Philadelphia), I hear some of them complain that Britain is strangling them economically with all her demands and restrictions. Others talk loftily of freedom and don't seem to worry about their pocketbooks. Others still are irritated by all the agitation, arguing that things should remain as they were, that differences should be quietly talked out and that all Englishmen are brothers. Others look as if they couldn't be bothered at all.
I who felt so elated last night feel sad tonight. I think of those 70-odd English lads barely older than myself, who will never play cricket again, or go to a pub for a pint of beer. I wonder if some day I shall bear arms against England in defense of my new family. I don't know where I stand. I just don't know.
While I was brooding yesterday, Grandfather was unanimously elected one of the delegates from Pennsylvania to the Congress soon to convene here. They waste no time in this country. He came back to supper tonight, looking exhausted. After he had finished eating, Aunt Sally asked timidly: "Father, what is it the upcoming Congress plans to do?"
"Oh, so much, Sally," he answered slowly. "We have to create a government, a brand new government with laws, and do it quickly. And at the same time, of course, we have to create an army. We don't have any soldiers at present. That army has to be organized; it has to be clothed, fed, supplied with war weapons that we don't have yet. We also don't have any warships. We'll have to build some. All these things take money — another thing we don't have."
After a long silence Uncle Richard ventured to ask: "You really believe it will come to that, Sir?"
And now I shall quote exactly what Grandfather said, because I remember it word for word. He said: "The greatest revolution the world will ever see is likely to be effected in a few years." And this man, who will turn 70 in a few months, seems ready to give every ounce of energy in his body and soul to that revolution.
And my father in all this? Not a sign of him, not a word from him. All I hear is that he is preparing a crucial speech to be delivered to the New Jersey Assembly on the 15th of May. I don't even know if he is aware of my presence in Philadelphia. If he is, he must be avoiding me. Is he ashamed of me?
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."
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."
— "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.
— "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. 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.
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.
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."
This is the big day, the day the second Continental Congress is to assemble in Philadelphia. They will meet at the Pennsylvania State House this time, where the legislative Assembly of the province convenes.
The building has a large, majestic chamber in which the congressional sessions will take place. Now that the Americans are not afraid to speak out publicly against the British, they feel confident enough to hold their meeting at the more spacious State House, which is British property, after all, instead of the more cramped Carpenters' Hall.
I learned yesterday that Philadelphia is the third-largest English-speaking city in the world after London and Edinburgh. And I had believed it to be some sleepy village! Its population is around 40,000 — with some surrounding districts taken into account. Still, it is no match for London. It has no theater, no concert hall, no ballet, not many of the pleasures of life.
We had a very early breakfast which gave Grandfather the time to ask Uncle Richard a few questions. He is particularly interested in the non-importation agreement that concluded the first Continental Congress. The desire for self-sufficiency is a powerful drive in Grandfather. Woe to those who disagree with him. "I don't need you. See if I care," is what the other party is likely to hear when speaking with the resolute old man.
I remember the relish with which he told me that at the time of the Stamp Act — the first of those Acts that would bring the colonists so much discontent — he had informed the House of Commons in London that America could do without English tea, without English wool, without English anything. He knew how much the British merchants counted on the American market and was certain that they would put pressure on their government to abolish the hated tax. It worked then, in 1765. I'm not sure, though, that it would work today.
Anyway, Grandfather wanted Uncle Richard to tell him how far Pennsylvania had gone on the road to economic self-sufficiency. "Well," announced Richard, "a steelworks has started in town and they produce good tools."
— "Is that the only local business?"
— "Well, to increase the output of wool, no sheep under four years old can be slaughtered anymore, and the butchers have agreed not to sell lambs coming from Britain until October, to encourage domestic production."
— "Anything else being encouraged?"
— "Yes. The cultivation of flax and hemp, the manufacture of gunpowder, woolen goods, nails, wire, steel, glass, copper in sheets, tin plates, malt liquors, paper made from rags, all of these activities are encouraged, notably by your brainchild, the American Philosophical Society." (Oh yes, another of Grandfather's grand ideas, when he brought together the best brains in town and beyond to cooperate on clever schemes and write scholarly papers, making Philadelphia, I'm told, the intellectual center of America.)
Still, all of those homegrown efforts must have seemed inadequate to our Dr. Franklin. He shrugged his shoulders sadly as he left the table and prepared to march in his freshly pressed suit with the other delegates.
"Let's hurry, Temple," says Uncle Richard, as soon as Grandfather leaves the room. "We want to be near the front of the crowd when the delegates arrive."
I like to be called Temple — I think it's more manly than Billy. And I like my uncle's accent, still so English. His accent is from the north of England. In school we used to make fun of a Yorkshire boy who had a similar twang, but now I rejoice to hear it. And then, like me, Uncle Richard sometimes says "we" when he means the British and "they" for the colonists, but he quickly catches himself and I have to repress a smile.
All this encourages me to ask him suddenly, as we are walking along, "Uncle Richard, which side are you on, deep in your heart?" He stops short and looks at me, pained and puzzled. Slowly he says:
— "That awful question. My mother and sisters, you know, still live in England. My brother who emigrated a little before me and is now a merchant in New York, is an ardent loyalist. As for me, since I entered the Franklin family, I am for the patriots, as the discontented colonists call themselves, but I hope they won't push too, too far. Your grandfather is the most intelligent man I have ever met, and also the most clear-sighted. I am deeply impressed by his fervor and I feel I should follow his lead. To tell you the truth, Temple, I am also somewhat in awe of him ..."
— "I noticed he calls you Son. Doesn't that mean he is fond of you?"
— "That was not always the case. He was extremely upset when Sally and I decided to marry. You might even say that we were married against his will."
— "How can anybody do something against his will?"
— "Well, we did. Do you want to hear the story?"
— "Of course!"
— "I was engaged to a lovely girl called Peggy Ross who was Sally's closest friend. When Peggy fell dangerously ill, I often met Sally at her bedside. When nothing could save Peggy we were both grief- stricken. We turned to each other for comfort, and gradually developed an intense affection that led me to proposing marriage. Sally's father had been in England for years by that time, and left the decision to his wife. Deborah's happiness was to see her daughter happy and she quickly consented. Unfortunately, William, as Sally's older brother, felt that he had to look into my financial situation, and what he discovered was not to his satisfaction. He related to Dr. Franklin that in his opinion I was a mere fortune hunter."
"Your grandfather promptly let us know that marriage was out of the question. Sally fell into such despair that Deborah decided, for the first time in her life, to defy her husband's wishes. The wedding took place on a beautiful October day, with all the ships in Philadelphia's harbor flying their flags in our honor. What a sight that was!"
We had been walking fast and Uncle Richard stopped to catch his breath.
— "For more than a year Dr. Franklin never so much as mentioned Sally in his letters. We named our baby Benjamin Franklin Bache in the hope of pleasing him, but it did not help. Sally must have been the most tearful young wife ever."
I tried to imagine Aunt Sally crying so much, but I couldn't.
— "Only when I went over to England to visit my family in 1771, did I meet Dr. Franklin. His attitude began to soften, and he even lent me some money for a new start in business — along with giving me prudent advice."
I don't know how successful Uncle Richard has been in his new business, but now that Grandfather is back in Philadelphia, Richard certainly tries hard to please him. Grandfather is captivated by the antics of Benny and Willy. That man is surely enchanted by children. Willy-the-Bold is the one who enchants him the most, I'd say. Grandfather compares Willy to Hercules who, while still in his crib as the legend has it, strangled two serpents sent to kill him. I think he sees the American colonies in Willy, getting ready to defy the mighty British Empire one day. When it comes to Benny, Grandfather tries to teach him things. Benny is a serious little boy, anxious to please the grown-ups.
We're in front of the State House now, ready for the spectacle. And what a spectacle!
The City Cavalry of Philadelphia, all two-hundred of them, rode six miles out of town to greet the distinguished guests and escort them to meet the excited crowd. The delegates arrive in all different types of carriages. In the first carriage, an open one, ride two of them, one short and plump, the other tall and thin. Uncle Richard whispers that the short one is Sam Adams, the famous radical from Boston whose followers call themselves the Sons of Liberty — a noisy group — and the other is John Hancock, the richest merchant in New England. He does look full of himself. Those two are the men aroused by Paul Revere during his midnight ride. In the second carriage, my uncle points out John Adams, a distinguished lawyer in Boston and one of the leaders of the patriots. This Adams, who looks deep in thought, is the second cousin of that troublemaker Sam Adams.
And so it goes. Dozens of carriages rolling along while all the bells in the city ring out, drums and fifes sing their song, and the crowd cheers its favorites — Grandfather, I think, more than anybody else. As always, I am torn between two emotions: pride in being the grandson of such an admired character, and panic when I wonder what on earth is expected from me now that the family reminds me three times a day that I am a Franklin.
Soon after Grandfather goes past, there appears a tall, very tall man in uniform, a man who truly cuts a fine figure and elicits even more thunderous cheers than Dr. Franklin — especially high-pitched huzzahs from the women. I feel almost offended.
— "And who could he be?" I ask Uncle Richard.
"A rich Virginian," he tells me, "by the name of George Washington. He owns large plantations down there, and was also a land surveyor who bought up much property. Plus, as you see, he is an officer, a veteran of the French and Indian War. And do you have any idea how he came to be so wealthy, Temple? He married the richest widow in the county. Keep that in mind my boy."
As if a rich widow would marry me!
After an announcement that all Congressional deliberations will be kept secret, the doors of the State House are closed, the crowd disperses, and we have a chance to look at the building. It is truly impressive. Glowing red bricks, a façade that must be at least a hundred feet long with arcades on each side leading to smaller wings, and beyond the wings a little shed on the left and the right. A staircase and belfry, and a large bell. In the center, a cupola that I like and shall draw some day. (Perhaps I'll be a master builder like those fellows from Carpenters' Hall.)
This edifice, where they have been conducting the affairs of the province for the last 40 years, would not look out of place in London. It has majesty, and will likely acquire still more by the time the Americans start counting in centuries, as we English do, and not in years.
But that is not their fault. William Penn arrived here less than a century ago — in 1682 I think — and what did he find? A forest. Penn-sylvania, Penn's forest. Maybe that's why so many streets bear the names of trees?
Barely arrived, I have already been pressed into action today. In view of Grandfather's return to town, the College of Philadelphia, which I am supposed to attend in the fall, decided to hold its Commencement with particular splendor in honor of the return of its founder, we-know-who. It happens that I shall be the first Franklin to attend this school — and possibly the last since I am the only young Franklin male alive.
The governor of Pennsylvania, John Penn, was there, as well as some delegates from the Continental Congress. A formal procession of town and gown, made up of the Trustees and the rich and powerful citizens of the town, slowly walked along Fourth Street until they reached the College gate, where the College's Provost, the Reverend Mr. William Smith, was waiting to greet them. I turned toward Grandfather, expecting him to introduce me, but he was in deep conversation with a friend, his back turned to us. As I stood still, not knowing what to do, the other boys propelled me forward and there I was, face to face with the local version of my faraway Mr. Elphinston.
— "And who could you be, young man?" he asked.
— "William Temple Franklin, Sir."
— "A relative of our celebrated Doctor?"
— "His grandson, Sir."
I was looking him straight in the eye, as I had been told to do, and saw him break into a grin. Not a friendly smile of welcome, it seemed. It was a sardonic smile, almost a grimace.
— "We are honored," he said, as if he meant the opposite. He did not extend his hand as he had done for the other boys. I felt ill at ease all through the ceremony. Had I done something wrong? Was it because of my "low" birth?
I have not yet related the conversation I had with Uncle Richard after we left the State House on May 10. To my surprise, he had suggested that instead of going home we repair to the City Tavern for a little refreshment. Grandfather, sorry to have so little time for me, had given Uncle Richard some money to treat me to a good time.
Quite a place, this City Tavern. My well informed companion explained that when it opened, about two years ago, it offered a combination of "club and pub." Club, because it was financed by selling shares to the upper class Philadelphians yearning for a genteel meeting place, and pub, because the atmosphere and fare were modeled on London. It is already famous for being the finest tavern in the colonies, equipped with a spacious room for balls and banquets, or even for concerts and operas. So much for my earlier remark that Philadelphia has no concert hall! This city, I must admit, is much more exciting than I expected.
We sat down and, without consulting me, my uncle ordered two everlasting syllabubs.
— "Two what?"
— "Syllabubs, the favorite treat of Philadelphians."
— "Lucky you!" interjected the waitress, a girl about my age, pretty and blonde under her frilly bonnet. "A syllabub is the best drink in the world."
— "What's in it?"
— "Everything. Lots of thick cream and Rhine wine and sack — that's white wine from Spain — and the juice of Seville oranges and the grated rinds of lemon and quantities of double-refined sugar and a spoonful of orange-flower water." She caught her breath and prepared to tell us how this marvel is put together, preferably in advance, but I stopped listening because she had dimples when she smiled, and suddenly I could think of nothing but those dimples.
She saw me gawking, looked amused, and disappeared.
— "Let's talk," said my uncle. "Is there anything you would like to know?"
— "Yes. Once again, what's happening with my father? Doesn't he want to meet me?"
— "Temple, it is time you understood that men in public life like to moan and groan that their duties keep them from their families, which is their terrible, terrible fate. But, as soon as circumstances let them go back to those beloved families, all they aspire to do is get themselves once again in the limelight while pretending to pine, of course, for the sweetness of family life. Your father is to deliver a speech on May 15 to the New Jersey Assembly, and then he has to meet with his Council for a few days, after which he will surely come for you and take you away for the summer. You will have the whole summer to get acquainted."
Although Uncle Richard spoke calmly, I thought there was a touch of bitterness in his voice. He will never be a public man; he is a merchant, and not a very successful one at that, if one is to judge by the penny-pinching practices of Aunt Sally.
— "Do you have any idea," I ask, "what my father is going to talk about when he speaks to the Assembly?"
— "He will sing the same old song about his prowess in managing to serve both the King and the Colony at the same time. He will preach reconciliation with the British Empire and probably push the Plan of Union advocated by his friend and ally, Joseph Galloway."
The girl reappeared at that moment with two large bowls and gave me the fuller one, after which she stood there, watching me. How could I bring back the dimples? What should I do? I had to make her laugh. With exaggerated expressions of surprise and delight, I inhaled the frothy top of my syllabub and emitted groans of bliss while she giggled and the dimples returned, more alluring than ever. But alas, she was promptly summoned to another table and we went back to Mr. Galloway.
My uncle explained that Galloway was born into a prominent and well-to-do family. He had met my father when they were both in their twenties. It seems that my father, who had distinguished himself in the French and Indian War and planned a military career, was in danger of becoming an idle and frivolous young man after the peace treaty was signed, a prospect that Grandfather could not stand to contemplate. Galloway, who had studied law, was entrusted with teaching its basics to William in preparation for further studies at one of the Inns of Court in London.
— "Galloway and your father remained close friends and became, so to say, the legal team employed by your grandfather in the course of his political life. They helped the older man in his fight to have the Crown take control of Pennsylvania, thus taking power away from the descendants of William Penn, those Proprietors whom Dr. Franklin had come to detest. Even though Galloway is devoid of interest in scientific matters and has a cold and haughty personality, your grandfather feels that he brought important assets to the partnership: his seriousness, his impeccable social credentials, his knowledge, and his talent as an orator. For many years, while Dr. Franklin was in England, Galloway served him well as a trusted lieutenant across the Ocean, but now..."
"But now?" Uncle Richard was searching for the right words. "But now, he is the victim of his unbending nature. He has done very well, politically speaking: member of the Pennsylvania Assembly for 20 years, its Speaker for nine — and that is a position of great power. He headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the first Continental Congress. While he recognized that the colonies had some reason to resent the restrictions imposed by England on American commerce, and also to resent the taxes imposed by Parliament, his solution for reconciliation was rejected. He is a man who cannot accept defeat, and my hunch is that any day now he may walk out of the current Congress."
(Uncle Richard was right when he predicted this on May 10; Galloway stalked out two days ago, on the 12th.)
— "And my father?"
— "In your father's eyes, both last year's Continental Congress and the one which we saw convene today are illegal. What your father would like to see is American representation in Parliament right in London. It is an attractive idea but unlikely to be adopted. Well-trained lawyers that they are, your father and Galloway see everything in legalistic terms. They are no longer in touch with the feelings of a growing part of the population; they live in a world of theory."
— "And Grandfather?"
— "I think that in his mind he understood long ago that reconciliation is a hopeless cause, but in his heart he still nurtures a tiny hope, because he has loved England so much. Unlike many other people, he believes that only stiff resistance can produce a compromise. I remember him quoting an Italian proverb: `He who turns himself into a sheep is eaten by the wolf.' And that is why all his energy these days goes into preparing the nation for war. He wants the British to understand that time is running out and that they had better wake up and negotiate in good faith. But what your grandfather has not yet grasped is how far his beloved son and his beloved Galloway have diverged from him, they who used to follow all his instructions unquestioningly. I am afraid, Temple, that he is in for a terrible disappointment."
My uncle then stood up, shook my hand, and said he had enjoyed talking to me, man to man. The thought of my grandfather possibly being so badly hurt in the near future gave me a heavy heart, but then I started thinking of ways to see the dimpled girl again, and I felt better. I am only 15, after all.
Great excitement in Philadelphia. Somewhere near the Canadian border, Fort Ticonderoga, which was in the hands of the British, has been captured without a fight by American irregulars. They are called the Green Mountain Boys, and are led by a certain Ethan Allen and a certain Benedict Arnold. Uncle Richard wrote down those names for me, because he thinks they will be much talked about.
I don't know how important this action will turn out to be, but a quantity of lead and a great number of cannon were seized there, so morale here is high now.
Benny and Willy, those great strategists, are more bellicose than ever. And me? I'm not taking sides. I'll just report what's going on.
And so, I'm reporting that this Fort Ticonderoga occupies a strategically important position on the outlet of Lake George; that is, on the line of water communication between Canada and the English colonies. There is much talk about inviting Canada to join the American provinces in their struggle, but I would be surprised if they accepted. The Canadians still view themselves as loyal British subjects. They have been suspicious of the Americans ever since the French and Indian War. Congress is pursuing its effort to organize an army — defensive, of course. Reconciliation is still the big word.
To get back to this Ethan Allen, I read somewhere (but where?) that he is "a backwoods strategist untrammeled by military pedantry." What a great way to put it!
I am now enrolled in the College for the fall. When they asked for the date of my birth, I hesitated and they left a blank. When they asked for my mother's name, I remained silent and they left another blank. Not a brilliant beginning! I had a quick look at the names of some other boys: Griffith, Witherspoon, Fox, Drummer, Mayo ... Will I find a Caldwell among them, a real good friend who likes me just as I am? Well, I have until October 4 to worry about that.
Life is funny. I thought there would be pages to write after finally meeting my father, but no. After all my imagining of the scene, after all my inner rehearsals and Grandfather's warnings, our reunion took place almost in silence, darkness, sleepiness, and embarrassment.
Supper was gloomy the night before because we were waiting for Grandfather to return from a visit to Mr. Galloway's country estate, a place named Trevose. The Baches were tense, the children grew cranky, and we finally had a quick meal and went to bed.
Aunt Sally awakened me before dawn to say that breakfast was ready and to hurry downstairs where there was a surprise for me. But she did not say it in her usual jolly way. By the light of her candle, I could see that her nose was red and her cheeks wet and shiny. Grandfather had arrived only a few hours ago, she told me, and he had gone straight to bed, too tired to talk.
The "surprise" turned out to be a man eating eggs in the semi-darkness. He stood up and shook my hand quite formally. "It's true, you really are a tall boy," he declared.
Did I look at my shoes? Did I manage to blurt out a "Good morning Father, I'm glad to meet you"? I don't remember. I remember being told again to hurry. After I gulped down some breakfast, Aunt Sally handed me the suitcase she had packed and, sniffling, gave me a quick hug, not the kind she is famous for. In my ear she also whispered something, but I was so swept up in the moment that it didn't really sink in.
Just as we settled in the carriage, the sky turned pink and I looked at my traveling companion, a handsome man, well dressed, and exhausted looking. After a few minutes, I ventured to ask: "Where are we going, Father?"
"To my new residence in Perth Amboy, New Jersey," he answered. "It's a journey of about 75 miles," he added and promptly fell asleep. I curled up in my corner and did the same.
"How long have you been there Father?" "Not very long, we moved from Burlington in October of last year, after repairs and improvements had been made." "Mrs. Franklin has exquisite taste and knew exactly what was to be done in the way of painting and wallpapering. It is called the Proprietary House because it was built on the initiative of the Board of Proprietors, back in 1761." Whereupon Father promptly fell back to sleep."
A couple of hours later the coach pulls into a small town of brick houses. The coachman calls out "Bristol. The King George Inn. One hour for breakfast." Father joins me at the river's edge and points to a rather large brick town. "That's Burlington," he says. "Do you see the big house just to the right of the wharf? That's the governor's mansion. Elizabeth and I lived there until last Autumn."
Inside the King George, as we are waiting for our food, Father explains that until 1702 New Jersey was divided into East Jersey and West Jersey. Burlington is the capital in the West, and Perth Amboy, somewhere in the vicinity of New York, the capital in the East. And why, after ten years in Burlington, did Father move to the eastern capital? I wonder, but do not ask.
As if guessing my thought, my father volunteers that his wife often has difficulty in breathing and that he hopes the change of air will do her good. Also, the governor's mansion in Perth Amboy is much nicer than the one in Burlington. Furthermore, he says, politically speaking, it is time for a change, but he does not explain why. He only informs me that Amboy is the Indian name of the place and that Perth has been added by the colonists in honor of the Earl of Perth. One of my schoolmates came from Perth in Scotland, I tell him, just to hold up my end of the conversation. I keep hoping that our talk will take a personal turn at some point, but no. Back in the carriage, Father falls asleep again.
Left to my own thoughts, I wonder if he is disappointed in me. Do I perhaps remind him of my mother? Did I use the wrong fork? Closing my eyes, I try to remember every moment of our meeting at dawn and suddenly, out of nowhere, the words Aunt Sally whispered in my ear just before we left Philadelphia come back to my mind: "There will be a new cousin for you when you return." A new cousin? A baby! So that's why she has been getting so fat! Aunt Sally wants masses of children, she says, to make up for Grandfather having had so few when he would have liked many. How dumb of me not to have understood! I hope it will be a baby girl. I would love to see a little girl growing up; maybe she will have dimples like the girl at the City Tavern. Maybe I'll learn what it is that girls like to talk about.
Hours pass in silence, I don't know how many. Father suddenly sits up and announces that we are about to arrive at Perth Amboy. I stare intently but see nothing that looks remotely like a town. There are rather nice houses scattered here and there, lots of greenery, a river called the Raritan — but no real streets, no bustle, no marketplace. Maybe we are still in the outskirts of the capital? But no, we have arrived, and the house in front of which we stop, the Proprietary House as it is called, is truly impressive.
I should change style at this point, use superlatives, noble words, all the things our headmaster Mr. Elphinston pushed us reluctant boys to do. A slender woman steps out the front door and stands there, dazzling in a rust-colored gown. Father rushes up to her, kisses her hand, and looks anxiously into her face: "How are you, dearest? Are you feeling a little better?"
— "Not too bad," she says, "but you, my dear, how tired you look."
Having glimpsed this exchange of mutual anxiety, I return to the contemplation of my muddy shoes. Father beckons me to join them: "Elizabeth my love, this is my son, Temple." A pause. Her dress is glittering in the late afternoon sun. As though correcting himself, Father says: "This is our son, Elizabeth — William Temple Franklin."
She takes a step towards me, extends both hands, holds mine in hers, and kisses me on the forehead. "Welcome to our family, Temple." I feel as if I am at the Court of St. James, or at the high altar, being anointed or inducted or something.
— "Thank you," is all I can think to say.
This morning, when I join my parents for breakfast, the first topic they raise is that I desperately need new clothes. The rest of the day is taken up with preparations for a proper wardrobe to be worn by me, now that I inhabit such splendid surroundings. Splendid they are: festooned draperies perfectly matched with the damask on the chairs, ravishing wallpaper showing the falls of a river called the Passaic, highly polished sconces, a grand painting of King George III and one of his Queen. Four floors, sixteen fireplaces, large rooms. Everything looks perfect.
When the tailor has gathered all the measurements he needs, my stepmother, who has closely supervised the operation, says cheerfully: "You'll see, Temple. We'll make a gentleman out of you."
A gentleman? Me?
Well, it's not bad, being a gentleman. I am now equipped with, among other things, a riding outfit, and this morning I went riding with my father. He is an accomplished, elegant horseman who would fit perfectly in Hyde Park, back in London. As for me, I must admit that all I can do is to sit on the animal and let him go, but Father promises to teach me all he knows. He is warming up to me, I think. After an hour I have learned to hold my back straight and my knees tight. Father thinks that in due course I'll do very well because I have the right build, his build. What a dream it would be to spend the summer this way and not hear a thing about current events!
But current events have a way of happening, whether you want them to or not. News has been seeping in from the port that British Army reinforcements are on the high seas on their way to Boston. That seems likely because the British made such a poor showing at Lexington and Concord that General Gage, their commander, wants more troops in case there should be another showdown.
What can the inexperienced, poorly armed Americans do against the disciplined men I so often watched drilling in London? Why do I pity them? Just because I have found so many Americans obliging and kind- hearted, is it possible that after only one month in this country I should feel such anguish on behalf of the rebellious colonists?
A letter from Grandfather! He is glad to learn, he says, that I am happy in my new situation. I'm not sure he is all that glad. I believe he is quite worried that my father is going to gain influence over me and maybe bring me around to his Loyalist way of thinking. Or worse, give me a taste for luxury and easy living. Don't fret about politics, Grandfather, your son never discusses any of it with me. But the easy living is another story. I love the comfort of this house, the good food, the good clothes, the good horse, the good books, the time for myself.
So what does my grandfather write about?
"You are now in that time of life which is the properest to store your mind with such knowledge as is hereafter to be ornamental and useful to you. I confide that you have too much sense to let the season slip. The ancients painted Opportunity as an old man with wings to his feet and shoulders, a great lock of hair on the fore part of his head, but bald behind; whence comes our old saying, Take Time by the Forelock as much as to say, when it is past, there is no means of pulling it back again, as there is no lock behind to take hold of for that purpose."
What I would like to tell him — but of course I won't — is something like this: Don't preach to me, please, Grandfather. I know one should not waste one's opportunity, but I am having such a good time with my father. We go out riding almost every day. We both love drawing and we sit and sketch the landscape, side by side, then we compare our handiwork. He tells me stories about his youth and they are all centered on you. What great companions you were and how much you indulged him. How he, Father, stepped into your shoes every time you left a given position for a better one, both at the post office and at the Pennsylvania Assembly. And how you two served side by side during the French and Indian War. How you traveled together when in England, looking up ancestors' tombstones or receiving honorary degrees — a big one for you, a smaller one for my father — at St. Andrews University in Scotland.
Still, all those stories leave me sad. When I hear how warm the relationship has been between my father and his father, I realize how much I have missed and I feel envious. I wonder why Father, so intent on telling me about that closeness, often looks so melancholy at the end of his story. I would be happy, in his place, if I had such memories.
But then, I tell myself, all that is in the past. What counts is that we have made a good beginning, the governor and I. He even seems proud of me — who would have believed it? Grandfather may well be right to worry, I am slipping deliciously into this new life. I must take care in my next letter to him to make it sound a little less pleasant than it is. And I don't want to sound ungrateful for my time with Aunt Sally. In fact, her pies are infinitely better than any I've had in New Jersey.
It was our best gallop so far and when we stopped to let the horses catch their breath, we sat in the sun, my father and I, in the middle of a meadow. Father, who usually keeps silent during these pauses — at least until I start pestering him with questions — opens the conversation.
— "Temple," he says, "I know you like to hear about my past expeditions with your grandfather. There is one adventure — no, I should say a dream — I have not told you about. It was our boldest idea ever, quite a joint project that would both bring more glory to the British Empire, and quite a fortune to the Franklin family for generations to come ...
— "Tell me, tell me!" (The generations to come, that's me!)
— "We were to be equal partners, he and I, joining forces with a few prosperous, enterprising Philadelphia merchants, we would go into beautiful, fabulous new territories and settle them ..."
— "But where are they, those fabulous new territories?"
— "In the West. This project started just ten years ago but I had been West long before that. When I was just a few years older than you are now, I crossed the Allegheny Mountains and entered what was called the Ohio Territory, where most of our neighbors — and they weren't very close — were Indians. My traveling companion was a German, Conrad Weiser, a man well acquainted with Indian languages and habits. He served as interpreter.
The overwhelming wish to settle there never left me after that, but there were many obstacles. No purchase of Indian land could be made without the consent of the tribal chief and approval from the Court in England. Nothing, theoretically, could be acquired west of what was called the Proclamation Line though, in fact, there were exceptions."
— "When was that Proclamation Line proclaimed and where was it?
— "It was proclaimed, as you say, in 1763 and reserved for the Indians the territories located west of the rivers that flow into the Atlantic. Temple, I cannot go into every detail of this hugely complicated topic. I'll just tell you that along with your grandfather and those partners I mentioned we formed the Illinois Company. I conceived and wrote up a plan to start a colony out there, over a million acres, if needed. England could import quantities of iron, copper, and beautiful furs. Your grandfather, in London at the time, did all he could to obtain the indispensable approval, but unfortunately there was one important nobleman, Lord Hillsborough, who consistently opposed the undertaking. Why? The best guess, I'd say, is that his own extensive holdings are in Ireland, and you know how poor Ireland is. The starving farmers would have rushed off in droves to our terrestrial paradise overseas, as I called it. Your father, Temple, might, just might have become the first governor of that vast new colony."
— "And then, what happened?"
— "The worst possible thing. Lord Hillsborough, of all people, was appointed Secretary of State of the just created American Department, meaning that he had total power over our affairs here. Goodbye, Illinois Company."
— "End of story?"
— "No. We shifted to the neighboring area in the West, called Indiana, and formed the Indiana Company. We came close to being allowed to buy lots of land in the vicinity of Fort Pitt; all went well until, once again, Lord Hillsborough managed to sink the project. Still another attempt was called the Grand Ohio Company, also known as Vandalia. No luck. We had by then spent and lost huge amounts of money. Whereupon, to everybody's amazement, Hillsborough himself suggested the foundation of a colony, a really enormous one. In a last gasp, we created the Walpole Company, in the hope that the participation of that celebrated Englishman, The Honorable Thomas Walpole, a prominent London banker and politician, would be of help. But that, too, came to nothing."
Father stopped his account at this point. It was a tale of defeat — the kind Grandfather would never tell — but I felt pleased, somehow, to have been taken into his confidence. I tried to think of a brighter topic:
— "Have you ever known an Indian personally?"
— "If you mean have I invited an Indian into my house, no, but I have frequently dealt with Indians in matters of frontier security. Sometimes the English settlers would brutally massacre the Indians, and, in my capacity as governor, I had to bring them to justice. Sometimes it was the opposite.
"You have no idea of the complexity, the bewildering diversity of the Indian culture. Some of the tribes are very cruel to their captives, scalping them, torturing them; others are admirably gentle. Some have allied themselves with the French against us; others have fought the French and helped us. None of them, as far as I know, want to adopt our educational system for their young. It would, they believe, disable them for survival in their totally different way of life. On the other hand, they have offered to take some of our young boys and, as they say, 'make real men out of them.' Would you like that, Billy? Learn to fish, hunt, kill?"
— "I was really thinking I'd like to be a writer or a painter ..."
— "Good. That sounds safer. Come to think of it, I did get to know one Indian pretty well. His name was Teedyuscung, meaning 'One Who Makes the Earth Tremble.' He went by the title of King of the Delawares."
— "So the river is named after the Indians?"
— "No, as a matter of fact, it's just the opposite. The river was named for the English Lord De La Warr. Lenni Lenape is what these Indians call themselves, but the tribes who live along the river eventually took on its name.
"Teedyuscung was born a Lenni Lenape or Delaware, but he was baptized a Christian and grew up in New Jersey close to white settlements. He was taught English, but eventually he rejected living like a white man and went back to his native life and dress. He cut quite a figure on the streets when he visited Philadelphia. I remember your aunt Sally as a little girl rushing out to admire him walking by in his tribal regalia.
"A shrewd and able negotiator he was — at least when he was sober, which was not often the case. That, you know, was a terrible crime committed by the Europeans: they introduced the Indians to rum and then saw to it that many of them became drunkards. A real shame. Let's go back home, now. I'll race you to the door."
He won, of course. But I was not far behind.
When we reached the mansion, I rushed toward my room to write down all I remembered of this exotic story for Caldwell's benefit, but Father called me back:
— "Wait a minute, Temple, and tell me: when you studied European history back in London, what happened after a war, when one country was victorious and the other one vanquished?"
— "Well, they signed a peace treaty. The losers had to pay a large sum in reparations and give up a big chunk of territory. And if the inhabitants of that territory happened to belong to another religion than the victorious ones, well, too bad, they had to convert."
— "Right. And now I want to show you an end-of-war agreement between Indian tribes, written in a totally different style."
Father took me to his study and opened a drawer labeled "Indians" in a massive piece of mahogany furniture (a far cry from Aunt Sally's petticoat drawer in her dresser). The deep drawer was divided into sections and filled with folders, all neatly labeled. He pulled out a folder called "Treaty of Carlisle, 1753."
— "By the way, Temple, your grandfather was one of the three white mediators who helped to reach this agreement after a bitter struggle. Would you like to read it?"
And I read: "Brothers, the Twightweese and Shawonese, It has pleased Him who is above that we shall meet here today, and see one another. As we know that your seats at home are bloody, we wipe away the blood, and set your seats in order at your Council Fire, that you may sit and consult again in peace and comfort, as formerly." [Here a string of wampum (money) is given.] "We now understand that the blood is washed off. We jointly dig a grave for your warriors, killed in your country, and we bury their bones decently, wrapping them up in these blankets." [Here the goods are given to the Shawonese and Twightweese.] "We jointly condole with the chiefs of your towns, your women and children, for the loss you have sustained. We partake of your grief and mix our tears with yours. We wipe your tears from your eyes, that you may see the sun, and that everything may become clear and pleasant to your sight, and we desire you will mourn no more." [Here a belt is given.] I copied all this for Caldwell. If only he would run away from school, hop on a boat and arrive here!
And so it has happened, a real bloody battle, not a skirmish like Lexington and Concord, but something that will go down in history, I guess, as the Battle of Bunker Hill. It took place, as usual, in Massachusetts. That is where the revolution, if there is to be a revolution, is brewing — around Boston.
We only heard about it today because New Jersey does not have a single newspaper! One has to wait for news to come from Philadelphia. We heard about the battle just as I was about to be formally introduced to high society at a party given by Father and his wife for their wealthy friends. A tea party, I should remark, even though tea, imported from England, is forbidden these days in the Colonies.
So there I was, decked out in my new clothes, well washed, well combed, somewhat excited at the prospect of this new step up the social ladder. Father introduced me as "my son Temple who has been educated in London and is now about to pursue his studies at King's College in New York." The mention of King's College surprised me. Grandfather had once referred to it as a hotbed of Tories and has always talked of the College of Philadelphia for me, but I kept my peace and concentrated on bowing to the ladies and shaking the men's hands, looking them in the eye as I did, and standing tall. I wanted my new parents to be proud of me.
As soon as we had settled down, Father said he had an announcement to make. He looked very grave as he explained that a battle between about 2,500 British regulars and about 1,500 Massachusetts volunteers had taken place on June 17. The British commander in Boston, General Gage, had received in late May the reinforcements he had requested from London, many of them veterans from the French and Indian War. He decided to send some of his fresh troops to the north of Boston, specifically to the end of a peninsula on which rise both Bunker Hill and Breeds Hill. Gage understood that Bunker Hill was of strategic importance to the colonists who are busy organizing their forces just four miles away, in Cambridge.
When the Rebels became aware of the British general's intention, they decided to frustrate it. Under cover of darkness during the night of June 16, they managed to send their men and a few field guns to the top of Bunker Hill. The surprised British woke up to find American guns pointing down at them. General Gage felt he had to capture the hill no matter what it might cost and ordered a frontal attack, supported by artillery, by the guns of his ships, and by floating batteries on both sides of the peninsula.
Since the Bostonians had a limited supply of powder and used unreliable old muskets, their leader, General William Prescott, told them, "Don't one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes." And so they did. Waiting until just before being overrun, the Rebels delivered a fire so deadly that the British troops retreated in disorder. Soon a second wave marched up the steep hill, only to be repulsed again.
By the end of the day, however, a third wave — fighting with bayonets — managed to capture the hill, and thus the British finally commanded the whole peninsula.
As Father reached that point in his account, the roomful of tea drinkers broke into wild cheers: "Jolly good show!...Those Rebels got what they deserved... That'll teach those hotheads...They must know their place now." When the hubbub calmed down, my father continued: "The casualties are high. More than 1,000 killed and wounded on the British side, more than 400 for the Rebels. And the nearby town of Charlestown almost totally destroyed by fire on the order of General Gage."
My father's voice almost broke at that point and his face was all pain. The Franklin family is rooted in Boston, after all, even if Benjamin chose to run off to Philadelphia. Most of Grandfather's relatives, including his sister Jane, still live there. His parents are buried there, under the tombstone Grandfather erected with their names and those of his brothers and sisters who had already died. What is about to happen to that aged aunt, the cousins, their children, their homes?
While my father's face was all pain, his guests were still boisterous. "What a victory," they kept repeating, "what a wonderful victory!" "Say something, Father," I silently begged. "Tell them to stop gloating. Shut them up. Assert yourself. You are the Governor." But Father, looking both sad and perplexed, kept silent.
All of a sudden, I heard my own English voice piping up: "Still," said my voice, "you must admit that it took some courage to stand there and do nothing while being fired at from all sides. Don't you think that the Rebels, even though they lost at the end, must feel more self-confident than before? Once they are trained and have proper weapons..."
There was dead silence in the room. They were all glaring at me, eyes narrowed with anger, lips pursed in disgust. Who does he think he is, that boy? And who is he, anyway?
I avoided my father's gaze and looked down at my shoes, my highly polished, fine new shoes.
We went riding very early this morning, Father and I, to escape the heat of the day — why did I ever complain about the rain and fog in England, where it was so blissfully cool? He suddenly asked me: "Do you know anything about the Olive Branch Petition?"
Do I ever! The Olive Branch Petition came close to turning into a fight at Aunt Sally's table not long before my departure for New Jersey. Grandfather had come home looking even more tired than usual. No wonder: day after day he attends a committee from 6 to 9 in the morning. From 9 to 4 in the afternoon he sits with Congress, taking part in an awesome number of projects and after supper, at home, he writes long letters to his friends in England.
He was particularly silent that evening. When Uncle Richard suddenly asked him if the Olive Branch Petition was about to be dispatched to England, Grandfather almost choked with fury.
"How dare you bring up a confidential matter as if it were your business?" he spurted. "You know that everything discussed in Congress is kept secret. Who told you about this?"
Aunt Sally turned pale and her hands were trembling. She knows that, deep down, her father has never accepted her choice of husband. She lives in dread of an impending storm. And now, even though Richard was stammering that not every congressional delegate was as discreet as Dr. Franklin and that rumors were flying all over Philadelphia, she felt, and I did too, that a storm was about to burst.
And who, of all people, defused the atmosphere? Benny, my quiet little cousin Benny.
— "I know about the Olive Bwanch," he lisped. (Benny has been losing his baby teeth.) We all looked at him in surprise. "People were bad and God was so angwy that he dwownded them all except Noah and his family who escaped in a boat. Noah sent out a pigeon to see if the water was going down and the pigeon came back with an olive bwanch in his beak, and all the animals in the boat clapped their hands. Is that wight, Gwanpapa?"
If anything can melt my grandfather, it is the sight and sound of a child. He beamed at his clever grandson, not quite six yet and already so knowledgeable.
— "You're so right, Benny, and ever since then, that pigeon with an olive branch means that the bad times are over and we can all be friends again."
After some giggling during which Willy, desperate for his turn in the limelight, tried to attract attention by pulling the tablecloth off the table, Grandfather, by now more affable, informed us that yes, a petition by that name would be sent to England, probably in the first days of July. Had he taken part in its writing? He hesitated.
— "Well, yes, I contributed a little, even though I personally believe that it does not have the shadow of a chance to be seriously considered, let alone accepted. I have seen so many of those petitions when I was in London, some humble, some very humble, some beautifully crafted legal gems, all treated with the same contempt. Still, a few moderates in Congress want to try once again, one last time, to give diplomacy a chance to express our loyalty, if not to Parliament, at least to King and country. It can do no harm."
— "Are we offering concessions in this petition?" asked Aunt Sally.
— "No concessions offered, no concessions asked. It is polite and vague."
Grandfather then dragged himself to bed, but not without giving me some letters to copy.
Now, in Perth Amboy, I repeated all this to Father who listened attentively. I was proud to show him that I was not just a child plucked from his London school but that I was privy to some Congressional information. So proud indeed, that I betrayed our collective promise to Grandfather not to reveal a word of what he had told us about the Olive Branch Petition. Worse yet, I quoted from memory passages from two of the letters I had recently copied: "We shall give you one opportunity more of recovering our affections and retaining the connections. It now requires great wisdom on your side of the water to prevent the total separation; I hope it will be found among you." And to another friend: "I can see clearly we are on the high road to mutual enmity, hatred and detestation..."
— "Don't you think, Father, that Grandfather has a real gift for mixing endearment with threats?"
— "Yes, indeed."
We hear from Philadelphia that Grandfather has been elected to the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. It is made up of 25 members, and its function is to supply necessities for the military, encourage the manufacture of saltpeter (used to make gunpowder), and to provide for defending the province against insurrection and invasion. At their first meeting, of course, they chose Grandfather as president. As if he is not busy enough!
I can just imagine him now, seizing his chance to put into practice an idea he told us about at the dinner table last month: a contraption with the French name of chevaux-de-frise (horses from Friesland) — Friseland being a province in the north of Holland — to be installed in the Delaware south of Philadelphia in order to slow or stop the advance of British warships.
Those chevaux consist of enormous spikes strung together with barbed wire and mounted on large wooden boxes. The boxes are weighed down with tons of stones and sunk to the bottom of the river so that the sharp ends of the spikes are positioned just below the water level. Thus, the spikes are invisible to ships' captains who will sail their hulls smack into them, and puncture the bottom of their boats. Ingenious! The location of the chevaux in the river must, of course, remain top secret.
That is not all we heard from Philadelphia. On June 15, the dapper Colonel Washington whom I admired when he arrived for the second Continental Congress, was unanimously elected General and Commander in Chief of the Armies. His name was proposed by the Boston lawyer, John Adams, rather to the displeasure, we hear, of the rich John Hancock, who would have liked that position for himself. But Hancock will have to be content with the presidency of the Congress.
There was some worry about a southern general, Washington, being put in command of a mostly northern army, and my father remarked that sectional animosities and mistrust were beginning to show up in the Congress. He added that it had long been Grandfather's dream to see the colonists unite with one another, and he told me about a meeting that had taken place 21 years ago in the city of Albany in the colony of New York. In response to the threat posed by the French, who were becoming ever more invasive, Grandfather had written up a Plan of Union and proposed it, but it was way too early for the various colonies to see that far ahead where their interest lay, so the plan was not adopted.
— "Were you there with Grandfather in Albany?" I asked, knowing precisely what Father would answer.
— "Of course," he said. "Wherever he went, I went."
— "How old were you then?"
— "Let's see. In the summer of 1754, I was 24. Why do you want to know?"
— "No special reason." I am not about to tell him how jealous I feel of all the experiences he has had with his father. On the other hand, these many examples of their closeness are reassuring, for I have been surprised that Grandfather has written only to me this summer, never to his son. Dare I hope that they will be friends forever and that I will be able to live alternately with both, enjoying Grandfather's formidable intelligence and Father's charm and kindness? I'll make up for lost time if that happens.
Still more news: the colonists have decided to invade Canada "to promote the peace and security" of the people there, it is said. But, I wonder, what if the Canadians do not want to be protected?
Such a hot and hazy day... I don't even feel like riding. Anyway, my father says that I'm almost an accomplished horseman now, so I'll have "a headache" and stay in my room. I am now unpacking, finally, the trunk that arrived from London. It can only be Caldwell's production, this trunk, with funny notes tucked here and there, plus a teasing one about my hasty departure "like a thief in the night." As if it were my fault! At the very bottom I peek at an intriguing layer of papers, all mixed up. On top of them, my best friend's triumphant message: "New clues to the Temple Mystery!" Caldwell's goal in life, he used to say, was to discover my identity.
And so, not long after my departure, Caldwell took advantage of a brief trip by Headmaster Elphinston to his native Scotland and sneaked into his office through a window. He brought out a handful of letters all bearing the name Tempel, all written in Elphinston's beloved phonetic spelling. The correspondence was between our revered headmaster and his former right hand man, the Reverend Jonathan Odell, who sailed off to New Jersey eight years ago under the patronage of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. I see that Odell, too, has adopted the phonetic spelling — my Grandfather, of course, had to invent one of his own, but more of that later if I ever get to it. I opened one of the letters to see what Odell has to say about me.
"Govvernor Franklin is highly plezed widh dhe accounts yoo guiv ov dhe young Tempel; and begs dhat no expence, ov anny kind, may be spared in hiz edducacion."
"Aha!" exclaims my clever Caldwell. "And who is this 'Govvernor' who wants you so well educated? What does he know that we don' t know?" Caldwell, my old pal, I must tell you without further delay that the 'Govvernor' in question is my father, not an Arabian prince, or a maharajah, as you imagined, but the ruler of New Jersey who signs his official documents in the following manner:
"By His Excellency William Franklin, Esq, Captain General and Governor in Chief In and over the Province of Nova-Caesarea or New Jersey, and Territories there on depending in America, Chancellor and Vice-Admiral in the same, etc."
Not bad, eh? Now I am dying to know what that "etc." at the end stands for. Give me time.
Back to the trunk. Next I found a letter from 1771, from Elphinston to Odell. I must have been eleven by then. He says "Nor must I omit dhe verry successfool, and daily more promissing Tempel hoo wil doutles repay evvery pains, and proov wordhy hiz distinguished frends." This is pure Elphinston, not to be taken too seriously. He assured all parents that their child was a genius, so everybody was happy, while his Kensington School prospered. Luckily for us, the kind man did not believe in corporal punishment. Caldwell and I did our mischief in peace.
And in 1772 ... more praise! "Dear Tempel becoms daily hwat hiz wisest frends wish. Hiz understanding and temper excellent: hiz advancement dherfore ampel, widhout prematurity."
What does he mean, no prematurity? That I'm slow, retarded?
The following year: "Dear Tempel rizes a noble fellow..." Oh no, please! I wasn't noble, I broke a number of school rules. I paw through more papers... Here's a recent one, January 1774. Elphinston to Odell: "Verry real sattisfaccion doz dhe doctor expres in dhe advancement ov Tempel, nor perhaps dhe les, dhat, without prematurity (hwich seldom prommises) dhe sprightly and goodnatured littel fellow (by no means littel for his age, or littel in my eyes) bespeaks alreddy various ingenuity. He dances, plays, and draws uncommonly, he can indeed take anny likenes. Nor must you fancy him engroced by dhe ellegant arts. He haz had dhe onnor of introduccion to Cezar, Virgil, Horrace, and dhe Greek testament..."
So it pops up again, the lack of prematurity! Obviously an asset in the Headmaster's eye, or is he fooling himself in that as in so many other respects?
If he could see me now, trying to thread my way not only through what Father calls "the unnatural disputes between Britain and her colonies" but also through the rival factions in America, Grandfather's Patriots (also known as Rebels) versus Father's Loyalists! "Littel Tempel" is growing up fast-and sometimes painfully.
Elphinston, I now realize, knew perfectly who I was and so did Odell.
But I found still more in the trunk. A last, hasty scrap from Caldwell reads: "Elphinston is the brother of Mrs. Margaret Strahan." Not much on the surface but perhaps the key to my earliest childhood. William Strahan and his family were Grandfather's closest friends in London. He had corresponded with Strahan long before going to England himself, both of them being printers and doing business together. When they finally met in London, Grandfather was so taken with that whole family that he contemplated a marriage between Aunt Sally and the Strahan son. The problem was that Deborah, my non-grandmother, could not bring herself to leave Philadelphia, let alone allow their daughter to cross the Ocean, so the project was abandoned. Nobody, of course, asked Sally for her opinion. She certainly would have had a more interesting and brilliant life in London, especially after Strahan the elder became a member of Parliament.
Back to baby Temple (me!) who had to be taken care of after his father married the glamorous Elizabeth Downes, daughter of a Barbados planter, and sailed with her to America. The unwanted child by another woman must have been entrusted to the Strahan circle that included a Mrs. Woolford. That Mrs. Woolford used to visit us on Craven Street, always fussing over me, bringing me a present, calling me her darling little protégé, to my vague irritation. And now Mrs. Stevenson, in her last letter, urges me to write to Mrs. Woolford (my surrogate mother?). The pieces of the puzzle are coming together.
I lie down on my bed and try to remember my hazy life in London before boarding school. Much more vivid than Mrs. Woolford is the image of Mammy Thackeray, a loud and jolly black woman dressed in bright clothes. I think I remember her picking me up and hugging me tight. I think I remember a vivid blue necklace that I tried to put in my mouth. Or is it all a dream? Could Mammy Thackeray have been my nurse? Was I tucked into bed, after all, when I was very small?
Enough brainwork. Better take a nap. The True Conduct Of Persons of Quality that my father left beside my bed will help me doze off in no time.
My stepmother, Elizabeth. How can I describe her? In my diary, I call her just that, Elizabeth, but in real life I say Madame Elizabeth, the French way, to make it extra polite and a little sophisticated. I guess that she would like me to call her Mother, but I just cannot do that and I don't want to explain why, so in our conversation we stick to Madame Elizabeth. She calls me "dear boy" or, in formal circumstances, Temple.
Elizabeth could not be more different from my Aunt Sally. Sally laughs, sings, runs after the boys, makes a million pies, muffins, stews, soups, while trotting around in her slippers. Elizabeth is slender and frail, very pretty, every curl in place. She never lifts a finger in the house — I should say in the mansion — but calls upon one of her many servants. She is in poor health, or at least she thinks so, I don't know which. Father adores her and worries constantly about her health; his face darkens every time she coughs.
There is something about Elizabeth that makes me want to stay in whatever room she is: A delicate perfume always floats around her, but it is not always the same. Sometimes lavender, she told me, and sometimes roses. She orders the perfumes from England, and when we sit together in her parlor on a rainy day, we talk all the time about London, the streets and the shops she has not seen in so many years and misses more than ever.
In a secret drawer not far from her mirror she keeps the English tea that we are not supposed to drink because of the non-importation rules. We savor every sip, and feel like accomplices. It's delicious. Above all, I like to look at her dresses, to look at them like the painter I hope to be someday. In Aunt Sally's case, you can always tell whether a dress is blue, green, or yellow, but with Elizabeth the dress hovers between two colors, between blue and green, between pink and lilac, or — my favorite — between peach and apricot.
Now that my paintbox has arrived in the trunk from England, I try to reproduce that color, but her dress is made of silk and it shimmers, so that I never get it right. The dress matches perfectly the color of her hair and Father gasps with admiration when he sees her wearing it, glowing in the candlelight.
And then, there is that rustle when she walks, a sweet, faint sound something like Grandfather's glass armonica, but there would be no point in telling him that because I have already gathered that he is not fond of Elizabeth.
I think he feels that she has too much influence over my father and that the Governor's persistent loyalty to the Crown is due to her Englishness. But my father, I believe, has other reasons for being faithful to King George and his ministers. It is England, after all, that has lifted him from the condition of bastard son — my status — to that of Royal Governor with all the trappings that he enjoys so much. Grandfather's goals are different. He is after something more difficult to pinpoint than trappings.
Time to slide into that fabulous feather bed, the like of which I had never experienced until this luxurious summer.
Sometimes, when I cannot fall asleep, I imagine a really happy scene, and it is always more or less the same. I half-dream that we are all together in Aunt Sally's dining room, the whole family eating supper and chatting. Grandfather is at the head of the table, of course, in a jovial mood.
And Father, splendidly turned out as usual, is at his gracious best, sipping the very special French wine he contributed to the occasion. Elizabeth, rustling in one of her exquisite gowns, looks slightly out of place in these ample but somewhat bare surroundings. She smiles, but there is a slight sadness in her face. She makes me think of a princess in exile. But all the others are enjoying themselves, especially Benny and Willy, now and then popping up from under the table. Aunt Sally beams. Uncle Richard attends respectfully to his father-in- law. And me? I am really, finally, totally one of the family, no longer the unknown quantity, the young stranger, the unexpected addition.
The two men in my life are not poles apart this evening, pulling me this way and that. They are reminiscing about their joint adventures, when they were inseparable companions, more like brothers, people used to say, than like father and son.
The key and kite experiment, of course. That is the first to come to mind, that momentous second during a thunderstorm when Grandfather saw the hoped-for spark fly from the kite's string bristling with little hairs to the key held out by William. The decisive proof, at last, that lightning is electricity and not the wrath of God. Today we are all aware that if that storm had been more violent they could have ended up roasted, my future father and grandfather, but they did not know it then. They just hugged and danced in the rain.
What year was it? 1750? 1751? "No, no," exclaims Sally who appears in my daydream, and has the memory of an elephant (just as in real life). "It was 1752! And do you know, Temple, that they could have saved themselves all that trouble and danger if they had learned that the French, one month earlier, had already conducted an experiment that proved your Grandfather's theory?"
Yes, I know, because she has already told me so, but I am beginning to understand that at family gatherings the younger generation is supposed to listen to the stories of their elders as if they had never heard them before, and react each time with the appropriate response. So I say: "What about the French?"
— "Well, a Monsieur Dalibard translated your grandfather's book, Experiments and Observations, into French and, in order to capture the electrical fluid from lightning, he put up an iron rod 40 feet high, with a copper point at its tip, and connected it to a stool placed on a table in a small sentry box. Since he had to return to Paris, this Dalibard entrusted a former dragoon captain with the job of drawing sparks as soon as he heard thunder, by touching the rod with a piece of metal. Well, a storm broke out in May and the brave dragoon quickly sent for the local priest — Catholic, of course, everybody is Catholic in France — who came running. Seeing their priest in such a hurry, his parishioners surmised that the dragoon had been killed and, in spite of a furious hailstorm, they rushed after him. The priest drew abundant sparks, six times within four minutes, he said. On his way home he was met by the vicar and the schoolmaster to whom he related the happening. All of them noticed a strong sulfur smell emanating from his clothes. Something demonic, would you say, Dr. Franklin?"
Dr. Franklin, who loves this episode, is smiling broadly until Sally pushes on: "And now, tell us about the congratulations of the King of France..."
— "Well, Louis XV sent me a medal."
— "Yes, Papa. And tell us in your own words your reaction to that medal."
Grandfather covers his face in mock coyness: "Come on, Sally. Don't be a tease. Get us some pie."
But Sally, in my daydream, is not to be stopped. She turns to me: "Billy, would you believe that in a letter to a friend your Grandpapa compared himself to a little girl who has just received a pair of silk garters? 'They are hidden under her petticoats but she holds her head high because she knows they are there and is proud of them.'"
Everybody laughs while Grandfather pretends to be dreadfully embarrassed.
I generally fall asleep at this point of my reverie but sometimes I imagine one more scene, a scene involving the dimpled girl from the Philadelphia City Tavern. I cannot explain, not even to myself, how she got here, but there she is, helping Aunt Sally to carry the dishes in and out. I join her in the kitchen, she looks up and smiles, and suddenly I put my arms around her and deposit a kiss on each of her dimples. She quickly puts her hands to her cheeks.
— "What are you doing?" I ask.
— "Keeping the kisses warm," she says.
My daydream stops there. I don't know what to say next. Never in my life have I had a conversation with a girl my own age. What does one tell them?
I fall asleep.
The beauty of a daydream is that one can control it, more or less.
But my daydream of a happy family dinner is soon to confront reality. How do I know? Grandfather is about to pay us a visit and this mansion, so serene and stately when I arrived, is undergoing a frantic sweeping and polishing, carpet beating and window cleaning. New white gloves have been purchased for the butler who serves us at table, freshly starched aprons and caps await the maids. Elizabeth, usually so pleasantly languid, is bustling all over the place in a burst of housewifely energy I never would have suspected her capable of.
For Grandfather's sake all those preparations? Don't they know him at all? Of course, they haven't seen, as I did, that once he returned to America he turned back into a man of the people. In London, to be sure, he hobnobbed with His Lordship this and Her Ladyship that, because his mission required it, but here he takes delight in the company of those he calls the "leather apron men," meaning people who work with their hands, the companions of his youth. Whenever he has a little free time in Philadelphia he takes me, and sometimes Benny too, from shop to shop, chatting with the cobbler, the joiner, the ironmonger along High Street, sons and grandsons of his former neighbors. He inquires about their relatives, saying that his wife Debbie, as long as she could handle a pen, kept him well informed about their doings. Debbie, the best correspondent he ever had. Soon enough, some dozing grandfather emerges from the back room and reminisces with my grandfather about what they call the Junto — I think that is a Spanish name for a club Benjamin Franklin started when they were all young and poor and eager to better themselves. Grandfather thought in those days that they should pool whatever books they had and share information on a regular basis. Self-improvement, that's his motto, not white gloves for butlers. But who am I to tell my new parents what to do?
Still, there is one point on which I have dared to speak up: the portraits of the King and Queen of England in the dining room, right across the table from the place set for Dr. Franklin. I know he won't like that. As a true diplomat, I suggest that Grandfather is disturbed by the light in his eyes and that it might be a better idea to seat him on the other side of the table.
— "And turn his back to the King! You must be out of your mind, dear boy" exclaims Elizabeth.
Does she know that Grandfather is actually famous for having turned his back on the King, or at least the King's representative, that day in the Cockpit? Should I tell her that even outside the world of politics the King and her father-in-law do not see eye to eye on many things? Take the lightning rods, for instance. Grandfather, who should know, since he invented them, recommends pointed rods. But the King, to show his contempt for anything colonial, I guess, favors the rounded rods that a Mr. Wilson has put up on the royal palace.
A wit has even written a little epigram on the subject:
Whilst you, great George! for knowledge hunt,
and sharp Conductors change for blunt,
The Empire's out of Joint.
Franklin a wiser path pursues,
And all your Thunder heedless views
By keeping to the Point.
Oh well, I tried with the portraits. There is no point in insisting. Father says little and looks worried.
The dreaded day has come. Grandfather arrived this morning after two days in the coach. Moving around always puts him in a good mood. He was courteous in a slightly distant way to Elizabeth, rather affable with Father, all smiles to me. He even admired my new clothes.
— "I have good news," he announces. "Sally has been delivered of a baby girl, my first granddaughter. She is to be named Hannah, and Sally hopes you'll consent to be her godmother, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth smiles in acquiescence and we are off to a good start. Bless little Hannah for arriving at the right time to keep the conversation bland and safe! I ask every question I can think of about the baby's weight, size, coloring, and appetite. Grandfather who, in truth, does not have the answers, looks up at me in surprise, sees the royal couple staring down at him from the opposite wall, winces visibly but makes no comment.
Elizabeth had asked me what Grandfather's favorite dessert was and I told her that in London he often felt nostalgic for Indian pudding, impossible to procure there.
"You mean that horror made with yellow cornmeal?" she asked in disbelief.
"Now, now, my dear," said Father, "it can be very good when properly prepared. Our first settlers were really lucky to discover the corn that the Indians grew, but it hasn't reached England yet..."
"We feed corn to the pigs," retorted his wife in the contemptuous British way she adopts when under stress.
Anyway, the cook proclaimed he was an Indian pudding expert, we had it twice for practice, and I really liked it. Today's is the best ever, smooth and creamy. After two large helpings I decide that this visit will be pleasant, after all.
But then, just then, Grandfather, happily engaging the pudding, mildly asks his son how things are going in New Jersey.
— "Pretty well," answers Father. "New Jersey, luckily, is a conservative colony."
— "Glad to hear that" says Grandfather. "In Philadelphia they say that committees and provincial congresses are proliferating around here, and that power is rapidly slipping from your hands..."
Father interrupts him:
— "Let's go into my library if you want to talk politics. It's a topic my dear wife cannot stand and Temple is still too young to grasp..."
Too young to grasp! After excusing himself, Temple-the-still-too-young makes a beeline in the direction of his bedroom, but really toward a little annex behind the library from where he can eavesdrop in peace.
Their voices eventually rise to such a pitch that eavesdropping is hardly necessary and that, to Elizabeth's certain mortification, the neighbors cannot miss the quarrel taking place in the Governor's mansion.
Father and Grandfather are speaking at the same time, shouting, banging on the table. I cannot follow every word but I figure out that the night-long discussion with Galloway at his Trevose estate, back in May, must have been a disaster ... that the two younger men were totally at odds with the older one ... that no compromise was found, no common ground. Nothing but obstinacy all around, just as Uncle Richard had predicted that long ago day at the City Tavern.
Now I understand why Grandfather did not come down to bid us farewell when we took off for Perth Amboy, why Father had been so somber along the way, why he looked sad, later, when reminiscing about his happy adventures with Grandfather... so many alarm signals that I had missed while sliding, like a fool, into the bliss of an easy life.
At some point, this evening, Father sounds almost as if he were begging:
— "If our local Assemblies were recognized as co-equal with Parliament, wouldn't it still be possible to put an end to this unnatural dispute and join our English brothers in common loyalty to the King?"
— "You've lived in England, my son. What makes you believe that the King has a broader vision than his ministers and his Parliament? The King is a man of very modest abilities, a parochial, provincial man. We all know that. As to the members of Parliament, they don't see beyond the narrow interests of their constituents. They cannot even form a political party on a national scale."
— "What do you want the King to do, Father? To stand above Parliament? You know perfectly well that if he did that he would be immediately accused, even by the few friends of America, of returning to the days of the Stuart tyranny. Why do you think the English deposed their king in the 1640's? And again in 1688?"
— "Of course I know that" thunders Grandfather. "I also know that it is time the Americans made their break, their own revolution if they want to survive as free men."
— "If you design to set the colonies in a flame, Father, you should take care to run away by the light of it."
— "You may be the one who has to run away," says Grandfather. "William, I have come here to urge you to reconsider. Join the victorious side, my boy. Be loyal to me, to us, to your young son. It is his future as well as your own that you will jeopardize if you betray your own country and remain subservient to George III."
— "How can you urge me to abandon the King after all he has done for me?" Father's voice is low now. "Yes, done for me. You made me a bastard, fated for pain and shame. He made me Royal Governor."
— "William, the King does not care a fig about you. You know as well as I do who it was who made you a Governor and how it was obtained."
Now that is a question I have been asking myself repeatedly. Why was my father selected, still so young, for such a high position? I listen hard. All I hear is a long silence, then steps and the banging of a door.
Goodbye, daydream of a happy family dinner! I shall never summon you again. And goodbye also to my hope of discovering how Father became Governor.
A gloomy day. Elizabeth is in bed with a migraine. Grandfather stays in his room because he has work to do. Father and I go for a last ride since I am to leave tomorrow for Philadelphia. Worried about revealing that I overheard last night's discussion, I keep very quiet.
And suddenly Father starts talking. And talking. A new broom sweeps clean, as the saying goes. Well, the Governor must have decided to make up for fifteen years of non-fatherhood by becoming a superfather, deeply concerned with his son's college curriculum. The quantity of courses he urges me to take is staggering: Mathematics, Latin, and Greek in which I have been well grounded while in England have to be pursued, of course, as well as English Literature. The study of German is crucial for a future resident of Pennsylvania. I should enroll in night classes for that. And finally, any aspiring gentleman should have at least some knowledge of French.
— "Temple, don't forget about fencing, as taught by good old Thomas Pike, a veteran famous for his profane language and his wonderful teaching ability. I have already sent 40 shillings to this Pike as a first payment, and I've inquired whether he can teach you dancing, too. Dancing is important, you know."
I point out that a day has only so many waking hours, but Father is not listening.
— "Here is your allowance," he concludes, handing me an envelope. "Mind you now, it should last until Christmas."
— I say: "Yes, Father."
My mind is elsewhere. Is he really jeopardizing my future by remaining loyal to England? What future will I have, anyway? A future in public life? Who wants that?
Other thoughts are whirling in my head. Which of the two men is right, I don't mean morally right but smart enough to be on the victorious side? Father who knows so much about history, law, and political philosophy or Grandfather who understands people? I love them both in different ways. I dislike them both for being unable to agree. I wish I were back in London. I'm unhappy. And now, final blow, I have to go and pack.
Our trip back to Philadelphia yesterday started off, to say the least, in a glum mood, about as somber as my arrival in Perth Amboy three months ago, and for the same reason. But now, obviously, there is very little hope left for a reconciliation. Grandfather looks miserable.
To cheer him up a little, I ask how many committees he now belongs to. It works. He shakes himself back to my presence.
— "Let's see, the committee to establish our own postal services, the committee to draw up a petition to the King — a useless one, believe me — the committee to study the means of starting up the manufacture of saltpeter (essential, that one), the one to draft General Washington's declaration of the causes for taking up arms, the committee to supervise the issuance of paper currency with authority over all the colonies.
— "Grandfather! Just listening to your list wears me out!"
— "Quiet, Temple. I'm just beginning. On July 3, I was made president of the committee of safety, the crucial one, created to procure arms and ammunition, appoint inspectors, select the proper site for a fort at Red Bank and prepare the defense of the river. We are beginning to build gunboats of two different types and our builders are so skillful that they can complete a gunboat in 16 days."
— "Is that the whole list of your committees?"
— "Of course not. It's an overwhelming task, building a country from scratch. I'm on a committee to insure the protection of American trade and on another one to supervise Indian affairs. Then we needed a committee to consider Lord North's so-called conciliatory resolution. The report rejecting it was adopted at the very end of July. Oh, I forgot to tell you that a few days before that, I was appointed postmaster general, the post that the English deprived me of, as you may remember."
— "Yes, I remember. After the Cockpit."
— "We have also created a committee to encourage the domestic manufacture of lead and our most recent one is the Philadelphia committee of inspection and observation."
— "What do they inspect and observe?"
— "They sit all day at the London Coffee House to watch the arrival of vessels and inspect their cargoes. I'm not a part of that one."
I was about to say "too bad, that one sounds like fun," but I did not want to sound flippant — not today — so I kept quiet.
— "Those are all the committees I can think of right now," concluded my grandfather, "but a few more are to be organized later in September — to supervise the importation of arms, to consider the state of American trade, and to confer with General Washington at his headquarters. I guess I'll be appointed to all of them."
Grandfather fell silent for a while and suddenly said: "Do you happen to remember Thomas Paine?"
— "Of course, the man with the piercing eyes who visited us back on Craven Street." I was tempted to add that Mrs. Stevenson and her cook had remarked among themselves that what the man needed above all else was a hot bath with plenty of soap, but I decided not to repeat that. I'm beginning to see that it is often a good idea to keep one's mouth shut. "What about him, Grandfather?"
— "Well, he is making quite a name for himself. He arrived in Philadelphia a few months before we did, you and I, and I believe he has finally found his voice in political journalism."
— "Meaning that he has met a Scotsman, Robert Aitken, who started a journal called The Pennsylvania Magazine. Paine is contributing to it in his direct, forceful way, and the readership has gone up a lot since he joined."
I close my eyes and bring myself back to those happy days in London.
A strange bird, that Paine. He told us he was the son of a poor Quaker corset-maker. "A corset-maker, Sir?" I whispered. "Yes, sonny, a corset is some kind of torture undergarment, full of whalebones, that ladies wear to make themselves more shapely."
Paine was taken out of school at thirteen and apprenticed to his father's trade, but when he reached nineteen he shipped out on the privateer King of Prussia. I listened to his story, fascinated as he told us about his moving from town to town, making those famous corsets, working for the customs service, teaching school, running a tobacco store, eventually a grocery. He married twice during those wanderings; his first wife died and he eventually separated from the second one. No children. He was free. He always felt that, although he had received so little formal education, he could contribute something to the world if he had a chance. Finally he had made his way to London where he wanted to plead the cause of the customs officers whose pay was so low that they were inevitably open to bribery. A friend gave him a letter of introduction to Dr. Franklin.
The Doctor, who had listened to Paine most attentively, asked "Would you like to emigrate to the American colonies?" Yes, he would like nothing better was the answer.
Later, when we were at supper, Mrs. Stevenson asked , "What do you see in him?"
Dr. Franklin thought for a moment. "I see a brilliant mind and, more than that, I see a flame that will be smothered if he remains in this country but may burn bright if he settles in Pennsylvania. I'm planning to give him letters of introduction to my son and my son-in-law."
Mrs. Stevenson, who would rather defy God than disagree with Dr. Franklin, said: "Good idea."
This morning, I screwed up my courage to ask my grandfather a personal question about education, given that he loves education in general and mine in particular.
— "Grandfather," I said, "I am as you know enrolled in the College of Philadelphia, but Provost Smith, I thought, looked at me in a funny way when he heard I was your grandson. You did not see it, you were talking to someone, but I have been wondering about that. Do you know him?"
— "I do indeed. I have known him almost since he arrived from Scotland, as a young man, a very intelligent and ambitious young man. He had some interesting ideas about education and explained them in a short book entitled A General Idea of the College of Mirania. Like me, he proposed that education be practical and prepare the students for earning their living, while giving them sound moral values. To get through life, a man needs much more than a thorough knowledge of Scripture, Greek, Latin, Hebrew and so on. He must know how to use his hands. I liked Smith's plan so much that I decided he would make a good head for the Philadelphia Academy that we were preparing to launch in the mid-1750's, the one Benny is attending now. The college you'll be attending next month came later."
— "So he must be much obliged to you!" I said. "I'm glad to hear that."
— "No" said Grandfather. "Unfortunately, he insisted on going back to London to be ordained in the Anglican Church before taking up his post at the Academy. While there, he made friends with Thomas Penn, the unworthy son of the wonderful William Penn who founded Pennsylvania. Thomas had become Proprietor of Pennsylvania about ten years earlier, inheriting most of the land in the colony, yet paying no taxes, and precious little attention to the welfare of the inhabitants. The Reverend Smith came back to Philadelphia as Penn's man, and has been meddling in politics since then. We're not on speaking terms anymore."
Before I could say anything, Grandfather asks me to let him rest. He's had a very hard time these last few days, he explains. (As if I didn't know!). He will tell me some day about his dispute with Smith, but not now. Then he changes the subject. He puts his hand on my shoulder and says: "Whatever happens, Temple, you must always obey and respect your father. He loves you very much."
How strange. Those were almost the very words my father addressed to me as we parted: "Temple," he said, "you must never forget all you owe to your Grandfather. He has been a kind and attentive parent to you. Honor him as long as he lives."
Easy to say, all that. Those adults expect from us young ones what they are unable to do themselves. It is allright for them to give way to their passions, to quarrel, to be unforgiving. But from us, stranded in the middle, they expect perfect loyalty to both sides. As if that were possible!
I need a pleasant thought to go to sleep with. It will be good to see Aunt Sally and her baby Hannah. And with the allowance that Father gave me ("to last until Christmas, mind you!"), I might even buy a present for the dimpled girl ...
I am now the owner of an elegant blue diary with a tricky clasp. After handing it to me, Grandfather wrote on the first page: "I hope this is filled with good news and good cheer."
I wish I could oblige but the atmosphere around Franklin Court is somber, to say the least. I knew something was wrong the minute Aunt Sally greeted me — affectionately, to be sure, but with a hug that could be called tepid, compared to what she is capable of. Aunt Sally looks much thinner than when I left three months ago, and her eyes are swollen. The problem is baby Hannah, pink and chubby when she was born, but now unable to keep down most of her food, the doctor does not know why.
The victim of the situation is Willy who cannot accept that his mother's attention is not centered on him anymore. He spends his time fussing and whining, is threatened with a spanking if he does not stop, whines even louder, receives said spanking, howls still louder, and ends up sobbing himself to sleep. Benny is withdrawing into himself and hardly speaks.
Consequently, I go out on long walks alone, as college is still one month away. Even Philadelphia, so welcoming at first, seems to have gone sour during my absence.
Yesterday, for instance, I witnessed a shocking episode. My attention was attracted by a loud tune I never heard before. Walking towards the music, I saw it was performed by a drum and fife almost drowned out by a jeering crowd. "What's that tune?" I asked a young man. "Don't you know the Rogues' March?" he snapped. I mumbled something to the effect that I had just arrived. Somewhat softened, he explained that the Rogues' March is the musical accompaniment of the parade and punishment of Loyalists who disobey the rules of the Committee of Inspection. In this case, the man being roughly mounted on a cart, his hand bleeding from a bayonet wound, is a well-known citizen, a Dr. Kearsley, who became so enraged at the sight of a certain Loyalist made to apologize over and over in the most abject manner, that he opened his window, drew his pistol and fired in the air above the crowd. And now it is his turn to be insulted and possibly tarred-and-feathered, a form of torture that can sometimes lead to death.
My informant, highly excited by the crowd's anger, asks where I came from. The first faraway place I can think of is Vermont. That explains my funny accent, he says, and promptly invites me to move on with him, not to miss a minute of the grim proceedings. I thank him, but remain in place. Seeing someone thus humiliated, a middle-aged man who could have been one of my father's friends, is a dreadful thing. It is as if the humiliation splashes over onto you yourself. When Grandfather was insulted in the Cockpit back in London, a year and a half ago, it was different. He had stood erect. He kept his dignity. He was not at the mercy of a furious mob. But this Dr. Kearsley, what will they do to him? What will they do to my own father, some day, if he stands in opposition to the Patriots?
I hurry all the way home and sit down to write a long letter to Father and Elizabeth, thanking them for the lovely summer they have given me, what with my own horse and my own dog — have I forgotten to mention him earlier, my wonderful Scott? Back in school I often won the prize for English composition. "You show great promise, dear boy," Mr. Elphinston would purr. "Your use of our sublime language is most elegant."
I feel much better after writing my letter and am relieved to hear from Uncle Richard at supper that when Dr. Kearsley's noisy parade reached the State House, the very people who had seized him became worried by the mob's frenzy and brought him back home. But as soon as they left, some of the unruly crowd threw stones through the Doctor's windows and vandalized his belongings. Throughout his ordeal, he never apologized. Aunt Sally explains sadly that Dr. Kearsley is a brilliant man who has done research on the yellow fever that devastated Philadelphia in 1762. As to Uncle Richard, he mutters that the Doctor had better learn to watch his temper if he wants to survive.
As he was leaving the house, Grandfather pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me: "Look at this, Temple, since you remember meeting Tom Paine in London."
"This" turns out to be a letter sent by Paine to Grandfather on March 4 of this year, from Philadelphia. Let's see, when was that? Just a couple of weeks before we left England (I should say "fled" from England), Grandfather and myself, so fast and so mysteriously. And what kind of crossing did the fascinating Mr. Paine have? A dreadful crossing.
"A putrid fever broke out among the servants, of which we had 120 on board," I read. By servants, he must have in mind the poor who emigrate from England as indentured servants. In order to obtain their freedom they must work seven years for the person who pays for their passage to the Colonies. "We buried five," he goes on, "and not more than five escaped the disease. Two cabin passengers escaped the illness owing, I believe, to their being almost constantly seasick for the first three weeks. I had no seasickness but suffered dreadfully with the fever. I had very little hope that I would live to see America."
At this point, Paine mentions a name that gives me a start: "Dr. Kearsley, of Philadelphia, attended the ship on her arrival, and when he understood that I was traveling on your recommendation, he provided a lodging for me and sent two of his men with a chaise to bring me on shore, for I could not at that time turn in my bed without help."
Dr. Kearsley! The very one who was almost tarred and feathered! The Loyalist! For six weeks, as I see by the following paragraph, he nursed the anti-royalist, anti-English, the revolutionary Tom Paine! He did not know Paine's character, of course. He only knew that Paine had come under Grandfather's sponsorship, and he also knew that when a doctor sees a very sick person, he tries to help that person, no matter what. Does he know at present that Grandfather is a leader among the Patriots? Of course he must. All of Philadelphia is watching Dr. Franklin. Which means that the Dr. Kearsley, whose fate moved me so much, surely dislikes and despises us. Father against son, friend against friend. Where are we going?
Another brainchild of Grandfather is making its appearance!!
It is in the shape of a snake, this brainchild, and it saw the light of day twenty-one years ago at the time of the Albany Congress when Grandfather was trying — in vain — to convince the colonies to unite against the French and Indians. To make his point, he published in the Pennsylvania Gazette what we now call a political cartoon showing a snake cut into many parts, each representing a colony. The caption simply said: JOIN OR DIE.
Now this snake has been made the masthead of the Pennsylvania Journal and it reminded Grandfather of an amusing moment in his life. This one occurred even earlier, in 1751, when the colonies were protesting the habit the English government had fallen into of exporting its criminal prisoners to the New World. To the official explanation that England just needed to get rid of them, Grandfather retorted by asking how England would appreciate a massive shipment of America's extra rattlesnakes.
I wake up in a sweat: only three more weeks before College begins and I still don't know what happened between the Reverend William Smith, our Provost, and my Grandfather, but I have a hunch that something bad did happen. This is the day to find out. Grandfather won't be back until late. My aunt and uncle are in:
— "Uncle Richard, I know about the early days of friendship between Grandfather and Provost Smith, but what happened in England after his ordination?"
— "For quite some time after the brilliant young Scot's return, your Grandfather was not aware that he was already in the pay of Thomas Penn. Indeed, Smith had become the unofficial agent in charge of keeping the Proprietor informed of any political opposition over here, while Penn remained in England enjoying the income of his American province."
— "Father did begin to wonder about Smith during the French and Indian War," Aunt Sally adds. "Around 1755, you see, there appeared an anonymous pamphlet called A Brief State of the Province of Pennsylvania. It launched a vicious attack against our Assembly, the Quakers, and the German newspapers of the province. Word soon spread that the pamphlet was the work of Smith."
— "Why would he do that?" I ask.
— "Because the Quakers, although they made up only one fifth of the population, dominated the Assembly," replies Uncle Richard. "And they were dead-set against fighting any war, even a defensive one against our traditional enemies, the French — allied in this case with some Indian tribes. According to Smith, the Germans were 'a body of ignorant, proud, stubborn clowns' who could be counted on to vote always for Quaker Party candidates. Consequently, while the Proprietor, represented locally by the Governor, demanded more and more money, the Assembly firmly refused to grant him any more than the usual sum."
— "And Grandfather in all that?"
My aunt sighs. "For a while Father tried to reconcile the Governor and the Assembly, but then he became, as he said, heartily sick of the situation and annoyed with both. Though still more with the Governor than with the Assembly. Hearing about the horrors perpetrated by the Shawnee Indians against the peaceful settlements along Pennsylvania's frontiers, he decided to help the British commander, General Braddock, by furnishing him, through his own efforts, the wagons and teams needed to move the troops through the woods. As you know, your father and grandfather fought side by side during that war, while I helped Mamma to send them good home-cooked food. I was eleven at the time."
— "When did Smith turn nasty?"
Now my uncle speaks: "As I heard it told, he remained for some time an admirer of Franklin, at least when speaking in public. Your grandfather believed in Smith's friendship. But in late 1755, when Benjamin Franklin fostered the creation of a militia for the province's defense, and openly approved a bill to tax Penn's estates along with everybody else's, Smith started mocking him in his writings."
My aunt and uncle become excited at this point, speaking at the same time, interrupting each other so much that I take only brief notes:
Round 1. Smith publishes a virulent pamphlet in 1756, accusing the Quakers of being the enemies of their own country. He, in turn, is suspected of trying to become the first bishop of the Church of England in America and of inciting violence against the Quakers, a group pledged to pacifism.
Round 2. Franklin's allies counterattack Smith's mockeries and, by the end of the year, the two men are no longer on speaking terms.
Round 3. In 1758, the Assembly orders Smith's arrest on the charge of libel. He is put in jail. My grandfather at that point is already in England with the impossible mission of trying to change Thomas Penn's mind and getting him to loosen his grip on power. Smith, meanwhile, is living in relative comfort in jail and teaching his classes at the Academy. He justifies himself in front of the Assembly in his own supremely arrogant manner. Over in England, he is vigorously defended on the libel charge by Penn's best lawyers, while Grandfather hires someone to present the Assembly's case. The Assembly loses.
What? I can't believe it! Grandfather losing Round 3 just like that! His inveterate enemy gloating! What's going on?
Round 4 takes place years later. Richard wants to tell me about Grandfather's unsuccessful efforts to put Pennsylvania directly under the control of the King, away from the Penns, while Sally wants to pursue the story of the Reverend Smith. When I catch up with her, the year is 1764, Smith has been out of jail for quite some time, and the elections to the Assembly are about to take place. Smith has now acquired a powerful ally in the person of one John Dickinson, and together they run a campaign that drags our whole family through the mud. Father's illegitimate birth is trumpeted all over the place and his natural mother's allegedly miserable status as an exploited maid is described in grim detail.
I lose track for a minute, thinking of my father, so dignified, so reserved, just starting out on his career as Royal Governor, exposed to such shame for something that was not his fault ... And when I catch up, it is to hear that Grandfather suffered a crushing defeat in the election, he who had been re-elected to the Assembly every year for thirteen years. A miserable end to Round 4 ...
But ... Round 5 opens less than six weeks later with Dr. Franklin sailing to England once again as Pennsylvania's agent, expected once again to rid the province of the Penns — which, as we know now, he never managed to do.
While he was at sea, an anonymous pamphlet — by all accounts the work of the Reverend Mr. William Smith — accused my grandfather of being "a wicked and virulent spirit ... crafty, inflammatory, full of slander and scurrility ... a very bad man, delirious with rage, disappointment and malice," etc., etc. Aunt Sally was crying as she read us parts of that piece, pulled out, as usual, from her petticoat drawer.
Lost in horror about the venom of politics, I have a quick little thought about myself. It must have been then, when Grandfather reached London in March 1765, that he had the inestimable honor and great privilege of meeting, just in time for his fifth birthday, an adorable grandson: ME!
Another, less pleasant thought: and now, ten years later, shall I become embroiled in the duel of those two men? And why do I have to attend that particular school? Wouldn't I be better off with those Tories at King's College in New York? They might appreciate my English ways and accent ...
It seems that I cannot do anything right these days. My beautiful letter to my parents provoked the following ironic passage from stepmother Elizabeth: "I am much obliged for your very polite letter, and would answer it in as high a stile was I capable, but I have no talent for such sort of epistolary writing, therefore you must be content to receive a plain, simple letter in return, without one brilliant flight of fancy." And my father chimes in, advising me to avoid too Elphinstonic a style. "You should consider yourself as conversing with the person to whom you write," he says, "and that all attempts at the sublime, all quaint words and phrases are to be as carefully avoided in letters as in conversation." How, I wonder, would Headmaster Elphinston appreciate that comment?
Allright, Father, my messages henceforth will be brief and to the point. I shall remind Aunt Sally, on behalf of your wife, to procure a certain mantua she desires — whatever a mantua may mean — as well as ruffles and edging "fit to trim the ruffles" and asthmatic elixir. Does Elizabeth know that Sally is taking care of a sick baby, day and night? Does she care?
Those two sisters-in-law could not be more different. Aunt Sally spends all her time and energy making other people happy; Elizabeth concentrates on her personal appearance, her health, her comfort. And yet Elizabeth is the one who holds sway over every man in the room, making each of them eager to please her, to help her. Is it the rustle of her dresses? Her perfume? Her beauty? I don't know, but I feel that pull myself and I find it, what shall I say, troubling?
All this business between men and women, how complicated it is! My big question: How can I go about meeting the dimpled girl again? Would they allow an unaccompanied boy my age into the City Tavern? Or should I wait for her at the door? Let's try the door.
— "Master Franklin!" she shrieked. "You're home! You're back from New Jersey, aren't you? From visiting your father the governor in his big, big house?"
There she was, stepping out of the City Tavern, eyes sparkling, dimples dancing... And me? A clod, looking down. After catching a glimpse of her through the window, I had spent more than an hour walking back and forth, preparing my greeting if she should appear, making sure the word "syllabub" was in it, to help her remember who I am, making it sound casual, you know, just a boy taking a walk on a late afternoon of late summer. But when she burst out all in smiles, calling me by my name, I was stunned. "How do you know my name?" I muttered. Sullen, stupid clod. My father the governor, the celebrated Dr. Franklin my grandfather. How else would she know my name?
She took my hand. "Did you really like that syllabub all that much?" She was giggling. Come on, Temple. You know what you should say. You should say: "No, it was you I liked." But all that came out was a grouchy, "yes."
We walked in the sunshine. There was a yellow leaf here and there. I noticed that her hair, what I saw of it outside her bonnet, had more russet in it than I remembered. She chatted gaily, enjoying the cool breeze, telling me how tiring it had been to carry those heavy trays through the hot and humid summer. But then, as the second oldest of seven children, she had to help out her family, didn't she? Suddenly it was over. Her father was very strict, she said, and she had better get home quickly.
— "Goodbye, what's your first name, Master Franklin?"
— "William. Or Temple. Or Billy."
— "I'll choose Billy. Goodbye, Billy. My name is Abigail."
Uncle Richard is elated today, not even fussing at his wife because the baby never leaves her arms. No, he caresses Hannah's blond head and whispers that she will soon be as well as every other little girl.
— "Temple," he says, "listen to my news. Today, this very day, I am to be certified as secretary and comptroller of the Post Office at a salary of 340 dollars a year. Three hundred and forty dollars, my boy! This has been in the works for some time but we did not want to tell you until we were sure."
— "What's a comptroller?"
— "The man who checks the accounts. I'm good at that, having been in business for so long."
— "Congratulations, Uncle Richard! Is this happening because of the postmastership that Grandfather assumed last July?"
— "Yes, but let me tell you that the colonies had begun running their own postal system well before your grandfather was dismissed by mother-England. As early as 1773, some enterprising postriders in New England started establishing routes of their own in defiance of the law. The colonists wanted to communicate among themselves without fear of their letters being intercepted and read by the King's officials. Pretty soon, independent post offices were making their appearance all over New England ..."
— "How could they get away with that?"
— "The official supervisors felt powerless to stop them. A postmaster who tried to interfere with this practice would surely have been branded the friend of oppression, an enemy of America, and might have found himself in serious danger."
Aunt Sally interrupted: "And now my poor Papa who had spent so much time and energy in reorganizing the earlier postal system back in the 1750s has to start all over again in a different way."
— "I know how much he likes to rearrange things. But don't tell me, Aunt Sally, that England had no experience in running a postal system. They've been at it for centuries."
— "No need to bristle. Papa only reformed the part that was not working here. He soon found out that the system was not paying for itself because a number of postriders were privately delivering the letters and keeping the payments. So he printed up detailed rules and regulations, and anybody connected with the postal service had to take an oath of obedience to them.
"Also, the postmaster had to keep very detailed accounts since it was the person who received the letter who had to pay. There was not much small change in those days, so people did not pay right away — they sometimes ran up debts that went on for a very long time. All those transactions were recorded in seven ledgers that I have right here at home, in a drawer..."
— "The drawer in which she keeps her petticoats" interposed Uncle Richard, always one for precision.
Aunt Sally further informed me that once Grandfather's reforms had been put in place, the postal system finally started paying for itself, meaning that the postmasters were able at last to earn some income. Grandfather appointed his brother John to take charge of the Boston office; his brother Peter was also provided with a well-paying occupation. My own father, she said, became involved in postal business when Grandfather was called on to travel far and wide to design and establish new routes. Even grandmother Deborah was called upon to serve as postmistress during her husband's absences!
— "A Franklin family affair" I muttered. "Isn't that what is called nepotism, from the Latin nepos, nephew?" (I like to show off my Latin on occasion).
— "Nothing wrong with that" exclaimed Sally. "Especially now that my dear Richard is about to become such a good comptroller. And one day you might too, Billy."
I understand what they are doing. They are trying to introduce me to every facet of the family, past and present, to make up for those fifteen years of my non-being, to make me feel that I belong. It is very kind of them but the topic of the post office and its endless accounting bores me to death. I'm trying not to yawn. And suddenly Uncle Richard's voice, a little louder: "What you have not grasped, Temple, is that it is not just money we are talking about, but power."
— "Yes, the power to decide what kind of mail goes free. Many years ago, when your grandfather was launching his Pennsylvania Gazette and his Poor Richard's Almanack, he had a rival in the person of one Andrew Bradford who published The American Weekly Mercury.
Well, this Bradford who was then postmaster of Philadelphia forbade the postriders to carry the Gazette. Your grandfather had to bribe them secretly to get them to do so. Eventually he appealed to his superior in England and won his case."
It is hard to imagine Grandfather so venerated around here having had to battle that way to establish his turf. And yet I have been told so many stories about his difficult beginnings: no more than three pennies in his pocket when he first landed in Philadelphia, no money at all when, at 18, he arrived in London after the governor of Pennsylvania had promised him so much and delivered nothing, no money for his return trip until he had earned it over many months, no money to start his own printing press for a number of years, not enough money to impress the parents of eligible girls, those who come with a dowry, and yet...
I got out of my daydreaming just in time to hear Uncle Richard and his wife marvel at Grandfather's generosity. Offered a salary of one thousand pounds a year for his new postal employment, he declared that all of it would go to help disabled veterans and their families. Money, power, prestige, all of that goes with the post office, as I can see now, but I still don't want any part of it. All those columns of figures, all those dull ledgers that Sally has picked out of her petticoats ... I don't want to have anything to do with them.
— "Does the postal system have any relation to history?" I ask. "I promised Grandfather that I'd keep an account of the historic events of our time. I mean History with a capital H."
— "Yes, Billy," said Uncle Richard, "you are living History this very minute. The most historic thing taking place is the making of a new country from the ground up. And communication is one of the big pillars of a country's foundations.
— "What do you mean by foundations?"
— "The underlying systems and institutions necessary for a country to sustain an independent existence."
— "What about the other pillars?"
— "An army. It is beginning to take shape under General Washington. That is why your grandfather is about to set off to confer with him in his camp on the Cambridge Common in Massachusetts. Another crucial pillar is a tax system but we are still far away from that. Our own currency should make its appearance soon. And don't forget the navy, we desperately need a navy to fight off the blockade."
— "Are we to have a navy pretty soon?"
Suddenly we look at each other, Richard and I, with what I would call a wink, a wink of complicity and surrender. We both said "we" when discussing this new country, we both, born and bred in England, have unconsciously identified with the other side.
Will someone tell me where I stand? History, will you tell me?
October 4! A day that will forever enter history as THE DAY TEMPLE BECAME A COLLEGE BOY! More than that: the day Temple and his cousin Benny set forth together, hand-in-hand, from Franklin Court on High Street to the Academy and the College of Philadelphia at Fourth and Arch Streets! It is only a 5-minute walk, but I have never seen Benny so excited and talkative. He is just bubbling with information: the building was built in 1740, he tells me, the year of a "gweat weligious wevival."
Oh yes, I've heard of that, the Great Revival launched by George Whitefield, an eloquent preacher who got the colonists all excited, including my grandfather who talked his fellow-Philadelphians into building a charity school, eventually replaced by the Academy and the College. Benny also tells me that the bills for his studies come in every three months, on the 17th. His father grumbles each time they arrive, but Aunt Sally says that one pound for learning, plus the cost of firewood in class, is not bad. Benny thinks my bill will be higher since I will learn so much more. He also says we are lucky to live so close to the College since we can enjoy his mother's cooking rather than the awful stuff they give you there.
We walk along the high brick wall on Fourth Street, arrive at the wooden gates, and enter the College yard, Benny for the first time. He takes off running across the half-acre yard toward his building, the Academy.
There are about one hundred lads milling around, I'd say, waiting for the first class. They are discussing — of course — the political situation. I hear that some of the older boys and some of the tutors have already joined the Patriot army — ready to fight the British if need be, which brings them into conflict with the trustees of the College, all of whom are Loyalists (with the exception of Grandfather). I decide to keep as quiet as possible.
One of the boys suddenly turns to me: "Are you one of the Baches?" he asks.
— "A Franklin. Temple Franklin."
He extends his hand and we shake. "My name is George Fox. Would you be my friend? My family has known yours for a long time."
— "I'd like that," I respond.
A friend of my age! Could this really be happening? Yes! Yes! Yes!
From History's point of view — and that's what Grandfather promised me, that we would live History — the importance of this date is not so much that Temple became a college boy but that Temple's grandfather left Philadelphia for Cambridge, near Boston, in order to meet with General Washington. Grandfather, as usual, is tight-lipped about public affairs, but Uncle Richard hears plenty of news when he is at the "Change," as he calls it, meaning, I believe, the Exchange where merchants meet and talk. It seems that General Washington is in deep trouble. The very unprofessional army that he put together is short of clothing, provisions, ammunition, and the money to buy these essentials. The officers are complaining. The privates threaten to mutiny if their wages are cut. Many of them are planning not to re-enlist when the time comes. The general cannot obtain blankets and now, as he wrote Congress, he sees "winter fast approaching upon a naked army." In several letters to the delegates in Philadelphia this past September, he laid his difficulties before them and intimated that he urgently needed a meeting with some of them if the Army was to be kept from disintegrating.
Benny had been listening to his father tell us this, his serious little face in a frown.
— "Are they going to appoint a committee?" he asked.
Aunt Sally and I chuckled. "Of course, Benny, don't they always do that?"
— "And will Gwanpapa be in it?"
— "I hope not" said Aunt Sally. "It takes at least ten days to go from here to Cambridge, and tired as he already is..."
But Grandfather was appointed, he accepted, and he set off this morning with two colleagues named Thomas Lynch and Benjamin Harrison. I'm turning into a historian! I'm writing down the details! I'm willing to bet that within three days "Gwanpapa" will be the chairman of the committee. He told us not to expect any news from him until his return.
George Fox turns out to be a fabulous friend. He is a born Philadelphian, knows the people and politics of this city, has a relative in Congress who — unlike Grandfather — keeps his family advised of what is going on there, gossip and all. Most importantly George does not look down on me even though I am more than a year younger than he is.
His relative, he tells me, is an admirer of my grandfather and likes to hold forth on what he refers to as "the Franklinian system."
And what could that be? I wonder.
George explains that the way his relative sees it, the system is something like the carrot and the stick. First Dr. Franklin makes a bold demand: for instance, he tells the British government that they should end all trade restrictions. That's the stick. But then he immediately offers a pledge that the colonies will pay the mother-country one hundred thousand pounds a year for the next century if Britain agrees to his suggestions. Does that work? In this case, no. Britain answers by extending the New England Restraining Act. (Am I glad that I made my way through that tiresome Journal of Negotiations on board ship last spring! At least I know about those trade restrictions and don't have to interrupt George with stupid questions.)
So what does Dr. Franklin do after Britain turns him down? He tries it another way. Along with his Congressional colleague, Richard Henry Lee, he drafts a new proposal: we'll open American commerce to the whole world outside the British Empire. But not right away. We'll wait one year to give you a chance to repeal the Restraining Act. If you do not, we shall open our ports for two years at least, come what may.
So? So for the present his fellow delegates are not ready to commit themselves to a declaration of commercial independence, even in the future. They have lived so long with the closed system of the Navigation Act that most of them cannot imagine how to do without it. The resolution is shelved.
And then? "And then," says George, "we witness another facet of the Franklin system. He does not try to convince the other delegates, he just leaves his draft on the table for all to see and think about but does not mention it anymore." George confides that his relative feels sure that by spring Franklin's plan will be adopted by Congress. Somebody else may take credit for it but Grandfather won't mind, he says.
I remark that all of this has to do with trade. Does George's relative also have insights into other aspects of my Grandfather's position?
Indeed, yes. "Your Grandfather," George says, "is far ahead of most of the delegates in his readiness to separate from Britain. This can easily be seen in the Articles of Confederation he proposed at the beginning of last summer: rather than thirteen colonies competing and squabbling with each other, why not unite and be stronger? His project has not been implemented yet, but it may well have sown a seed that will germinate some day. Only those delegates who have abandoned hope for a reconciliation would agree with him now; for the rest, we'll have to wait and see. Dr. Franklin believes that the United Colonies should be given the power to amend their individual constitutions; that there should be a common treasury to administer the funds raised by proportional taxation; that Congress should have the authority to settle disputes between the colonies; to create new colonies; to negotiate with the Indians; to make war and peace; send and receive ambassadors. What would you call that degree of autonomy, Temple?"
I hesitate. "Independence?"
— "Good boy! You're a born politician. And now for the other side of the Franklin system, what can we expect?"
— "A tasty carrot?"
— "Yes! None of this will happen, he predicts, if Britain concedes all the disputed points and makes reparations for damages. In that case, the colonies will return to their 'former connection,' as he puts it, and rejoin the British Empire."
— "Do you think this is likely to happen?"
— "No, I don't, although I would like it to..."
Very interesting, all that, but is it History? Will it become History?
What a horrendous shock! What a hideous fright! How could they do that to us just three days after we have entered College?
"Take a sheet of paper, your ink bottle and your pen," announces a teacher whose name I did not catch, "and write down all you know about the Boston Massacre." The instructor continues, "I want to know the massacre's date, who did the shooting, who the victims were, and what the consequences were. I shall collect your answers in half an hour."
Half an hour! I don't know enough to fill three seconds, I have never heard about this massacre. He cannot possibly mean the Battle of Bunker Hill last July, he must be talking about something in the past, some hideous slaughter connected with the Boston Tea Party, maybe, but I can't remember anything of the kind.
Oh dear, I shall be summoned by Provost Smith, he will stare at me with his cold blue eyes, his sarcastic smile, and before expelling me he'll say something like, "Well, young Franklin, don't you really know anything? Are you pretending to be a scholar?" All this with the emphasis on 'Franklin,' of course. Settling old debts with Grandfather.
And when Grandfather returns from Cambridge in a couple of weeks and finds me expelled, he'll be so disappointed. He may have to send me to King's College in New York, that hotbed of Tories, as he calls it. Come to think of it, it might not be so bad. I'd like to see New York. I could become a Tory. My grandfather would not like it, of course, but it would bring me closer to my father. In New York, I'd be much nearer to Perth Amboy, my dog, my horse...
A slight pressure on my foot makes me turn toward George, busily writing. A bit of paper bearing a large "70" is aimed in my direction. Seventy what? Seventy victims? Eyes wide, shoulders helplessly raised in the manner of all schoolboys in distress, I point at the 70 and slide a finger across my throat.
"No, no, no," signals George's slightly shaking head. He takes back the paper and writes a 17 before the 70. 1770! That must be the date of the massacre. And the victims? In answer to my repeated gesture of throat slashing, George spreads out his left hand on his desk.
Seeing what must be a dumb look on my face, he raises those fingers one by one. All right George, you've got five fingers. Can he possibly mean five victims? Does that qualify as a proper massacre? He nods "yes" in the tiniest way.
Finding out about the circumstances and consequences is, of course, hopeless. George, I think, is ready to share the rest of his knowledge but the risk is too great and I start writing as slowly as possible, while the others are scribbling furiously:
"I'm afraid that my knowledge of this Massacre is very limited because I was only ten when it happened — around l770, I believe, and I was in Mr. Elphinston's boarding school at that time, in faraway London. If I remember correctly, there were about half a dozen victims. That is all I know at present but I shall be glad to learn more about it."
There! How could they expel me after that pathetic little piece?
George is upset when we meet outside. If I had been ready to pay attention, he would have conveyed more information, he says. He was just trying to figure out the best way to do it. But I didn't want to get him in trouble, I say. He shrugs.
We walk in silence for a bit and then he asks me to come over to his house the following day. I'll meet his family that way and between his father and his grandfather they'll tell me more than I want to know about the Boston Massacre.
— "Do you have a large family, George?"
— "Two older sisters and one older brother, one younger brother and one younger sister. My parents had seven more children but they died as babies. Four baby girls called Elizabeth already died, but now we have a fifth Elizabeth who is turning four this month and we hope she will live, she seems quite healthy. So, you see, I am in the middle of this rather small family."
Small family! How can he say that? Thirteen children born in that family, but only six of them alive. Seven times already they have known the anguish we are now feeling for little Hannah, and they have gone through the final heartbreak seven times. Does one get accustomed to that? Is that Aunt Sally's future?
When I reach George's house, there is a wonderful smell of freshly baked muffins and a fire roaring in the library. His father and grandfather are comfortably seated and George's two brothers, Joseph who is 17, and Samuel who is 13 pass out mugs of warm milk. Unlike my stepmother, this family is serious about observing the non-importation of tea.
The grandfather — obviously a teacher in his younger days — cannot wait to begin his narrative. He does not start in 1770 when the Boston Massacre happened, but in 1765 when the chain of events that provoked it was set in motion. Of course, he feels that one should really go back somewhat further, to the French and Indian War and to England's claim that the colonies should help pay for the expense of that war since it was fought to protect the American settlers against their enemies.
George's father interrupts to proclaim that there was no reason to reimburse the mother country since England profited by the elimination of the French and since her acquisition of Canada was certainly worth all the expenses of the war, not to mention the opening of the western lands to English speculators. That would have been the time for an open-minded revision of the relationship between Britain and the colonies, he asserts.
— "You forget," snorts the grandfather, "that in British eyes Boston was no more than an insignificant provincial town in 1765, with its 15,000 inhabitants. Compare this to Edinburgh, which had over 50,000 and London, which had over 700,000."
I am beginning to get the picture. "Gramps," as I call him in my mind, enjoys the glory of belonging to the British Empire, while Mr. Fox, his son, admires the rebellious spirit of those commercially oriented Bostonians. There is a rift between the generations somewhat like the one in my family, but in reverse. In our case it is the grandfather who is, let's say, revolutionary, and the father conservative; in George's family it is the grandfather who is conservative and wants to stick with England, while George's father favors independence.
Brother Joseph speaks up a little impatiently: "Fine, 1765, we're at the Stamp Act." Turning to his younger siblings, George and Samuel, he asks, "What do you know about that?"
Samuel eagerly replies: "That was when THEY, over in England, decided that WE over here, had to buy pre-stamped paper for just about anything that required some sort of document. We had to pay for college diplomas, for going to court, for being appointed to public office, for the right to sell liquor, for anchoring our ships, for the privilege of buying playing cards, for obtaining an attorney's license. Some of those stamps cost as much as ten pounds..."
All that in one breath. He must have just studied it in school. "Yes, and to make it worse, the distributors of those awful stamps are paid three hundred dollars a year for that mean job. Did I forget anything?"
— "You did very well, Sammy," says George in his serious way. "We should add that it was at that point, during the spring and summer of l765, that a new element came into play: the power of ordinary people who have become enraged, what is now called a mob."
— "A bunch of intoxicated bully boys manipulated by a faction of radicals for their own political purpose," grumbles Gramps. "Samuel Adams and his Sons of Liberty introduced violence in Boston. Tarring and feathering, humiliating their opponents, sacking and destroying the house of the Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, creating an atmosphere of terror, even among the judges who were supposed to defend law and order..."
Young Sammy pipes up again: "Temple, the Stamp Act, that's when your grandmother had her hour of glory."
— "My grandmother? But we're talking about Boston!" (It does not seem like the right time to tell them that Mrs. Deborah Franklin was not my grandmother since she was not my father's mother; maybe they know it, maybe they don't, the point is what did SHE have to do with the Stamp Act?)
— "There was disturbance in Philadelphia, too," says Mr. Fox. "That was one of the rare occasions when your grandfather, away in London, misjudged the situation here. He suggested the name of one of his friends as possible distributor of those stamps and that led to the belief that he was in favor of the Act. In no time at all, a Philadelphia mob was threatening to destroy the Franklin house."
— "And what did my grandmother do?"
— "She amazed everybody by being so brave. First, she announced that she would be mightily "affronted" if anybody touched her house. She sent your Aunt Sally to the governor's mansion in New Jersey. Then, with the help of her brother, the baker, she stored some guns upstairs and stood her ground, waiting. Her friends started patrolling the streets and the mob went away. Let me add that as soon as your grandfather grasped the situation, he knew just what to do: he rallied the London merchants who were engaged in commerce with the colonies and got them to petition the government against the Stamp Act. Dr. Franklin eventually testified before Parliament and stressed the economic importance of good relations. You know, Temple, when all is said and done, international commerce is very often the key to peace. The Stamp Act was repealed. The news of that repeal reached Boston in May 1766."
We still had four years to cover before reaching the massacre and fortified ourselves with a new round of muffins. It was Joseph's turn to talk: "Our beloved English cousins were not about to take their defeat peacefully," he said, with more than a little sarcasm in his voice. "Since their view was that the chief purpose of the colonies was to provide the mother country with income, they decided to put an end to the customs system such as it existed, you know, a system that showed flexibility, the capacity for closing an eye now and then when the ship's captain was about to smuggle a little..."
— "You mean a system of corruption," interrupted his grandfather.
— "Call it what you want," said Joseph, "even the governor participated in it. But then, as of 1767, London determined to tighten control through vigorous customs enforcement. They raised the duties and sent five commissioners to our ports to oversee the unloading of ships. The whole operation was put under the orders of a newly appointed Secretary of the Colonies, Lord Hillsborough, a man of, shall we say, limited intelligence, and not your grandfather's best friend, I guess."
Yes, I remember Grandfather and even my father talking of Hillsborough with distaste. I nodded. I loved the way Joseph was telling the story.
— "What they did not understand in London," he said, "was that the governor of Massachusetts was in a tight spot. Samuel Adams and his Sons of Liberty were growing bolder by the day. Boston had no police force to maintain order. The only way to do that was to use the British troops under General Gage. But using troops could only happen by the command of a civilian, meaning the governor. And the governor in turn was in deadly fear of the fury of the populace. A very vicious circle, as you see."
— "And then, Joseph? Hurry up!" That was young Sammy, as impatient as I was to hear more.
— "And then, as the governor was wavering and thinking only about himself, the population began organizing resistance. They agreed on non-importation of British goods and broke the windows of merchants who did not observe it; they would not accept the new Townshend Acts imposing duties on paper, on lead, on glass, on tea; they roughed up the new Customs Commissioners under various pretexts.
"Everything led to more disputes. Finally, Lord Hillsborough decided to send three Irish regiments to Boston to restore obedience to English law. As soon as those troops arrived in the fall of 1768, the tension rose to new heights: problems over lodging the men, numerous incidents provoked by both sides. It was rumored, Temple, that your grandfather said, about those soldiers being sent to America, 'They will not find a rebellion; they may indeed make one.' How true that proved to be!"
I sensed that we had arrived at the big moment and all eyes turned toward Gramps, who, as I was told, happened to be in Boston on the night of the Massacre and had witnessed it from a window right near the scene.
— "What I remember as if it were yesterday," he said, "is the incredible noise of the crowd, the moonlight, the snow on the street, and then those shots, the blood on the snow, a moment of unbelievable silence. Howls after that, people running off in all directions, the bodies lying there, the moon shining down on them."
I realize that, unlike Philadelphia, Boston had no street lighting. "What started the shooting?" I ask.
— "What started it? As if one knew... So many people were there and no two witnesses told the same story. It started with a lonely sentinel standing near a small sentry box not far from the Customs House. Angry words were exchanged with a passerby who suffered a blow, a crowd gathered and taunted the soldier with words like, 'Damned rascally scoundrel lobsterback son of a bitch!' You'll pardon me, but that's what they said. Because of their red coats the British were referred to as lobsterbacks."
"The sentinel grew very frightened but he had nowhere to go. Church bells began ringing, not, as was generally the case, because of a fire, but as a way of spreading the alarm. The crowd started throwing chunks of ice at the soldier, mocking him, daring him to fire."
"After a while Captain Preston, the officer in charge that night of March 5, heard about the endangered sentinel and decided he had to rescue him. He promptly organized a relief party of one corporal and six enlisted men — very tall grenadiers wearing huge bearskin caps — and pushed his way with them through the crowd to the sentinel. The soldiers had bayonets affixed to their still unloaded muskets; they spread out in a semi-circle since the crowd had become too dense and frantic for them to rejoin their barracks. Captain Preston tried in vain to convince the people to disperse."
"The people knew that the soldiers were not allowed to fire unless ordered to do so by a civilian authority, as I said, but there was no civilian authority to be seen, they were all in hiding, including the judges and justices of the peace. What the people did not know or chose to ignore is that anybody has the right to kill in self-defense, soldier or not."
"With the crowd only inches away and daring them to fire, the soldiers loaded their muskets. Someone threw something at one of the grenadiers, who fell. As he was scrambling back to his feet he was hit again and he fired. The others followed suit."
"Five people were shot. The captain would later maintain that he had NOT given the order to fire, but because of the ringing of the church bells there was great confusion. People assumed that the city was in flames, and kept rushing out of their houses shouting: 'Fire!' to alert their neighbors. I don't know, all was chaos and confusion, I'm not even sure that my account is correct..."
We sat around in stunned silence. George spoke up: "What you must also know, Temple, is that when calm returned the captain and his men were locked up from March to November, at which point a trial took place. Meanwhile, right after the event, Paul Revere published a supposed drawing of the soldiers, standing in a straight line, shooting at the unarmed crowd, like executioners. A great piece of political fiction!"
When I asked what happened to the soldiers, the members of the Fox family looked at each other in puzzlement. The amazing answer was that Captain Preston and his men had gone free, but how? Why? Among the variety of reasons I was offered, I only remember that Governor Hutchinson had managed to delay the trial long enough to give time for tempers to cool off, that the judges were in no hurry to proceed, and especially that John Adams, the radical Samuel Adams' second cousin, had defended Preston and his men in such a brilliant fashion that he won their acquittal.
Certainly not a Loyalist, John Adams felt that as a lawyer it was his duty to represent people in desperate danger. He pleaded eloquently that, given the circumstances of that dramatic night, the soldiers had acted in self-defense, and — at great risk to himself — he won the case.
I thanked one and all and walked home, my head spinning. I had suddenly discovered what a fascinating, complicated business History can be. What they taught us in school under the name of history was a tedious series of battles followed by treaties, followed by the breaking of those treaties, and new battles followed by new treaties, all of that run by kings who married carefully chosen princesses that they had never seen but who were guaranteed to bring them new territories and more power. You only had to remember which king and what battlefield, and that was it.
But today! Look at all you have to take into account — it is staggering: the power of the mob (who inflames them? for what purpose?), the loyalty to old traditions, the make-up of a jury, the steadfastness — if any — of the courts, the incidental event that turns out to have huge consequences ... And I'm a part of all that, I who had been seeing it in family terms, in my trying to keep neutral between Father and Grandfather, I'm right in the middle of this whirlwind.
It feels good to arrive home just in time to see Aunt Sally putting the finishing touches to her soup. I watch the vegetables bubbling in the big pot, rubbing against each other as they swirl around. Do they ever quarrel the way we humans do? Does the carrot snarl at the beet, telling the beet to "get out of my way, you ugly redback creature"? Does the beet call the carrot a yellow coward? Do the peas try to mediate? Are the potatoes forming into a mob?
— "Billy, stop daydreaming and eat your soup while it's hot," says Aunt Sally.
I learned so much yesterday that I did not have time to put it all down. Now I want to record for History (yes, History) what Gramps Fox told me during our intermission for the second round of muffins. He beckoned me to sit beside him. I guessed that he had really wanted to give a more detailed account of the French and Indian War but his grandsons, impatient creatures, would not let him. Now he leaned toward me and asked if I knew that he had taken part in that war right next to my grandfather.
No, I had not heard that.
Well, Gramps in his early years had been both a Quaker and a member of the Assembly. But when the war began in late 1755 with its brutal massacres along the frontier and the threat of seeing Pennsylvania invaded, he felt that the moment had come to take up arms in self-defense, no matter how noble the Quaker principle of not taking part in wars. He lost many friends because of making this decision and was expelled from the Assembly, but he knew in his heart that Benjamin Franklin was right when he called for resistance. And so they found themselves side by side on the road to Gnadenhütten, site of the present Weisport.
With a mischievous smile, Gramps pulled out of his pocket a yellowed piece of paper bearing my grandfather's handwriting. It was dated January 25, 1756 and began with the words "My Dear Child."
Very perplexing. Was that a letter to his son?
— "No, no," he said, "in their correspondence your grandfather and his Deborah always addressed each other that way. I don't know whether they also did it at home. Anyway, he showed me his letter to her and I copied it because I thought it so amusing, written as it was right in the middle of our difficulties. Here is the original, Temple, you may keep it."
And now I'm copying it.
"Dear Child, We all continue well, thanks be to God. We have been hindered with bad weather, yet our fort is in a good defensible condition, and we have every day more convenient living. Two more forts are to be built, one on each side of this, at about fifteen miles distance. I hope both will be done in a week or ten days."
"We have enjoyed your roast beef, and this day began on the roast veal; all agree that they are both the best that ever were of the kind. Your citizens, that have their dinners hot and hot, know nothing of good eating; we find it in much greater perfection when the kitchen is four score miles from the dining room.
"The apples are extremely welcome, and do bravely to eat after our salt pork; the minced pies are not yet come to hand, but I suppose we shall find them among the things expected from Bethlehem on Tuesday.
"As to our lodging, it is much more comfortable than when we lodged at our inn the first night after we left home, for the woman being about to put very damp sheets on the bed we desired her to air them first; half an hour afterwards, she told us the bed was ready, and the sheets well aired. I got into bed but jumped out immediately, finding them as cold as death, and partly frozen, She had aired them indeed, but it was out upon the hedge. I was forced to wrap myself up in my great coat and woollen trousers, everything else about the bed was shockingly dirty.
"As I hope in a little time to be with you and my family, and chat things over, I now only add that I am, dear Debby, your affectionate husband
Gramps patted my hand while I was reading the letter and when I'd finished he told me that it had been such an honor to ride next to Benjamin Franklin through pine forests. "When his son, your father, joined us in his crisp uniform, your grandfather, in his civilian clothes, was just beaming. He did cut a fine figure, William Franklin, he had military experience, he was of great help to us. I was so happy for him when he was made Governor of New Jersey. Did you know, Temple, that your father was the first governor, ever, to come from outside the ranks of British aristocracy, the first to be born on American soil?"
— "Well, no, I was not aware of that."
— "Oh, yes. His was the very first appointment made by George III while the King was still quite young. That explains, I believe, William's deep devotion to the Crown. I understand that the circle of his friends is diminishing these days but still he vows to remain on the job until it is taken from him. Could you warn him, Temple, not to send so much political information to England, since his correspondence is opened and read by the censors?"
I sighed and answered in a whisper that Father would pay no attention to my warnings; he still sees me as a child and will talk only about my studies.
When the muffins were all gone, yesterday, Gramps explained to us how the three forts mentioned by Grandfather were built, but I kept that part of the story for Benny on our way to school since my little cousin is currently enamored of battles and military strategy.
— "Our grandfather, yours and mine" I told him "brought seventy axes with him on this expedition. First his men felled many trees, removed their branches and then each pine trunk was cut into three pieces about eighteen feet long. One end was pointed with the axes; the other was pushed into a trench three feet deep that served as the foundation of the stockade. It took 450 timbers to make a round fortress large enough to shelter a number of people in danger. A platform several feet high was constructed on the inside and loopholes prepared so that the men might fire at the attackers. Indeed, a round was fired immediately so that any spies hiding in the forest would report that the colonists were now ready to defend themselves."
Benny listened to all this as only Benny can listen: with every inch of his body.
I had hoped that the Reverend Mr. William Smith had not seen me as I walked down a corridor, but he had.
— "Yes, Sir?"
— "I heard that you were planning to learn something about the Boston Massacre. Have you?"
— "Yes, Sir."
— "How many victims?"
— Five, Sir."
— "And the name of the commanding officer?"
— "Captain Preston, Sir."
— "Do you see any consequences of the episode that might come into play these days?"
Oh, dear, there we go. Careful, Temple.
— "I would say, Sir, that mobs have gained consciousness of their potential power and that a lot will depend on the quality of their leaders."
— "Not bad. How old are you?"
— "I'll turn sixteen in March, Sir."
— "You are the Governor's son, aren't you?"
— "Yes, Sir." A pause. "His natural son, Sir."
There, I said it, looking him straight in the eye. Do I see a shadow of a smile flickering across his face? Will he remark sarcastically that I am in the family tradition? Does he think I should have said "illegitimate" rather than the more polite "natural"?
— "Have you met your father yet?"
— "I spent the summer with him and his wife in Perth Amboy, Sir."
— "And what did you do there?"
— "We went riding, Sir, my father and I, and when in the countryside we sketched side by side."
— "No political talk?"
— "No, Sir, but I know my father's stand."
— "A courageous stand, young man. You may well be proud of him."
— "Thank you, Sir."
We parted with a nod. Come to think of it, life can be so strange. I have been lamenting the discord between my father and his own father but now, just now, it was an asset for me that my father is a Loyalist, like the Provost himself. Temple, you have a foot in each camp. You can't lose!!!
Moonstone. That's it! That's what I have been searching for, from shop to shop. A stone that reflects the pale slate blue of her eyes, along with tiny specks of moon. Earrings that will be close to her eyes, enhancing them, dancing in the light with them.
I never thought I'd find what I wanted among all those semi-precious stones whose names and colors, aquamarine, coral, amethyst, I get all mixed up. But I did find that glorious moonstone!
I'll wait for Abigail to come out of the City Tavern; I'll be half-hidden somewhere as I usually do. I enjoy watching her turn her head this way and that, looking worried as she scans the street. And when I step out — from a different place each time — I love to see the way she lights up, all smiles and dimples, her eyelashes batting. We hasten toward the bank of the Delaware, walking a little distance from each other. I like to walk behind her to see the wind playing with the folds of her long skirt. When we get near the river we make sure there is nobody around and then we hold hands and we amble along, slowly.
I've spent my whole "mind-it-has-to-last-until-Christmas" allowance on this, but I don't care. Her joy, her arms around my neck, her stuttering "Billy...how could you..." That's all I want. For the first time in my life I have done what I wanted to do, not what I was told to do. It is a fantastic feeling. Let my father grumble if he finds out, I don't care. I'll just listen politely and savor again, behind a contrite look, this moment on the bank of the Delaware.
My apologies, History. This has nothing to do with you, my happiness with Abigail, but I just have to write it, to keep it forever. Moonstone.
History strikes back. Mentioning my father has suddenly brought back to mind what Uncle Richard told me yesterday: "Your father told a friend that the best he can do at present is to keep up the appearance of government." Father, if you could only see which way the wind is blowing. You see it, of course, but you'll keep rowing against the tide until ... until what?
The College is buzzing today about Dr. Kearsley, the old gentleman I saw being paraded and humiliated along the street. It seems that he was arrested yesterday and thrown into jail. And why? Because he sent a letter to England describing the abuse he suffered. The letter was intercepted and judged treasonable. Is that the use that the famous new postal system I just heard described is put to? To spy on people? Weren't Kearsley's complaints justified, anyway?
Some of my fellow students feel sorry for him because he is old, because he has played a great role in the history of Christ Church, in medical education, and in medical research. But the most ardent among the Patriots proclaim that he only got what he deserved. How will they treat him, those zealots? I keep silent and once again I wonder about my father's fate.
Dr. Kearsley has died in jail. Was he roughly handled or just broken-hearted? I'll never know. I still hear the crowd's jeers and that awful music, the Rogues' March. I can see the blood on his hand and his head held high, angry, contemptuous, ready for the worst. I feel sad, I can't eat, I can't talk. There are days like that when you just cannot bring out the words, and the people who insist on finding out what's the matter only make you feel worse.
A messenger knocked on our door this morning. He was sent by Mr. Benjamin Harrison, one of the Congressmen who accompanied Grandfather to Cambridge and has just returned. Grandfather will arrive a little later, we hear, because he is making a detour in order to pick up his sister Jane who has fled British- occupied Boston and taken refuge with friends in Rhode Island. She shall now live with us.
Hearing this, Aunt Sally jumped from her chair as if she had received an electric shock. Almost dropping Hannah, she rushed towards the door, muttering "I must get going immediately," whereupon Uncle Richard, peacefully smoking his pipe, said to me: "When you grow to manhood, Temple, you'll see that every woman believes the first thing a guest will do is look for dust under the bed."
— "That's a mean thing to say, Richard, especially when you don't know what you are talking about" shouted Aunt Sally.
I had never heard them squabble before. I ran after Sally and offered to hold the baby while she attacked this new task, whatever it was. Hannah gave me her usual, angelic little toothless smile. Fearing Aunt Sally might turn her annoyance against me if I started asking questions too soon, I just hummed a tune to the baby's upturned face. Pretty soon, my aunt turned around with a pile of sheets in her arms and said: "What is it you want to know, Billy?
— "Why is the arrival of this sister Jane upsetting you? Where does she fit in the family?
— "Jane Mecom is the youngest of the 17 children in that generation of the Franklin family, and the only surviving female, just as your grandfather, number 15, is the last surviving male. Benjamin, almost seventy now, and Jane six years younger."
— "And what about number 16?"
— "Her name was Lydia. She must have been quite dull, poor Lydia, nobody seems to know much about her, only that she married at some point and died in her forties. Come to think about it, she may have been crushed ever since childhood between those two larger-than-life personalities, Benjamin and Jane. Two of the boys born just before them had died, so that they were a little trio by themselves at the tail end of the family.
— "So this Jane Mecom, your aunt Jane and my great-aunt Jane, is larger-than-life you say?
— "This may sound strange to you, Billy, but the almost incredible amount of pain in her life, the way she has lived so far through the deaths of nine of her twelve children, all that tragedy gives her a heroic dimension. ...I don't know how to explain it properly. Let me show you one of her letters and you'll see how, in the midst of her grief, she could still write so beautifully in what I would call a biblical way."
From under the bed she was making, Aunt Sally pulled out a black lacquer box and handed me the topmost letter in it. And I read:
"Sorrows roll upon me like the waves of the sea. I am hardly allowed time to fetch my breath. I am broken with breach upon breach, and I have now, in the first flow of my grief, been almost ready to say 'What have I more?' But God forbid that I should indulge that thought, though I have just lost another child. God is the sovereign and I submit."
— "Yes," I mumbled, "I see what you mean."
— "And that, mind you, from a woman who has never gone to school. She was married off at fifteen to Edward Mecom, a saddler who could neither read nor sign his name. They lived in poverty, squeezed in her parents' house, then taking in lodgers when they finally had their own place. But all that time Jane kept reading, learning, stretching her mind, making herself as similar as she could to her hero, her brother Benjamin."
— "Did her children die in infancy?"
— "Only two did. The others died in their late teens and twenties, of a mysterious malady. Nobody has been able to explain it."
— "A terrible life, yes, but I still don't understand why the news of her arrival should make you so tense, Aunt Sally."
— "I don't want to sound critical, but I must tell you, Billy, that Jane is a difficult person to live with. Your grandfather used to describe her as miffy."
— "Meaning thin-skinned, quick to take offense. One has to walk on eggs when dealing with her. And she likes to show off her superior culture. That upset my mother when Jane spent some time with us here seven or eight years ago while your grandfather was away in London. Our door, you see, was the place the neighbors always ran to when they were in trouble and Mother always rushed out to help. She thought nothing of spending the night with a young woman in labor. She brought hot soup to the sick, she baked for the poor. Sure, she lost her temper sometimes, quite noisily, but she had the best of hearts, everybody knew that. And then, out of the blue, Aunt Jane asks her: 'Deborah, what's your favorite Shakespeare play?' When I went to kiss Mother good night, she was in tears. 'Jane makes me feel so inferior' she sobbed. To comfort her, I pointed out that Aunt Jane must feel miserable when she sees William, the governor of a colony, or even me, in perfect health, playing the harp, when she admires our good clothes, when she compares our comfortable house with hers. What does she have to brag about? Shakespeare. And I said: 'Don't worry, Mother. She won't be here forever.'"
But today, as I think back on our conversation, I realize that the miffy Jane may well be here forever if the British stay in Boston. Aunt Sally no longer has her mother around to share the burden with. Grandfather will be off to Congress, Uncle Richard busy in town. Who's left to help her? ME!
Aunt Sally is like a mother to me, always trying to keep me happy. I must think of a way to get through to that difficult Jane. There has to be a key to her goodwill. What was that cry of pain at the end of the letter that Aunt Sally pulled from the black lacquer box? It was "God is sovereign and I submit" ... "I submit." ... Where have I seen those words? I try and I try but nothing comes. I'm too tired. Maybe I'll remember tomorrow. Let's submit to sleep.
Hurrah, my brain must have been working while I slept! It was in our poetry class, back in London. I have it now, clear as the breaking day. It was not "I submit," but just "Submit." It has to be somewhere in an Alexander Pope poem, parts of which we memorized. Did good old Elphinston ever worship Alexander Pope! (Personally, I preferred Jonathan Swift, but that's beside the point). Quickly, let's pull my book of English poetry out of my trunk. Here we are! Alexander Pope ... Eloïsa to Abelard, no ... The Rape of the Lock, no ... The Essay on Man, that's it. That's the very, very long poem where he says that we humans should not try to understand too much but show absolute submission to Providence. That is exactly Jane's point of view. And here is "Submit," ten lines before the end!
"Submit. — In this, or any other sphere;
Secure to be as blessed as thou can bear,
Safe in the hand of one disposing Power..."
Aunt Jane, here I come, armed with all the right quotations. I'll dazzle you with my insight into your soul, I'll lead you to appreciate Aunt Sally, I'll turn you into a ... PUSSYCAT!
(Dear Descendants, If, by the time you'll be reading this, nobody cares anymore about Alexander Pope and believes he's some pope in the Vatican, I'll tell you quickly that he was born in 1688, died in 1744, and wrote some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language.)
Alas, here's Benny knocking on my door, telling me it's time to go off to school. No breakfast for poor Temple.
They have arrived. While Grandfather is trying rather clumsily to help his sister out of the carriage, I step forth, lift her in my arms, set her down gently and give her a big hug accompanied by a "How good to meet you, Aunt Jane!" — all of this scenario having been carefully rehearsed with Aunt Sally.
— "You mean Great-Aunt Jane," she says, a little acidly.
— "Aunt feels closer than Great-Aunt" I reply, "and I mean to love you just as much as I love Aunt Sally, which is quite a bit." There, how can she be miffed after that? I had prepared myself to add: "I've waited fifteen years to hug an aunt or two," but I figured that enough is enough.
Why had I imagined that she would be large and formidable? She is a tiny woman with shiny eyes and a half-smile on her face in response to my huge grin. I carefully lead her up the steps.
Aunt Sally has out-cooked herself: hot vegetable soup, roast chicken dressed with apples, a pie overflowing with last summer's peach preserves ... a feast.
And this much-dreaded Jane Mecom is animated, flushed, I'd almost say bubbling. She describes their passage through Connecticut and the wonderful people that her brother introduced her to along the way, she chuckles in telling us that they were having such an interesting conversation, the two of them in the carriage, that they went way beyond their stopping place for the night and had to seek another. When describing my father's mansion in Perth Amboy, where they spent a day, she grows ecstatic: so spacious! So beautifully furnished! Such an elegant wife! I glance at Grandfather who, tight-lipped, is resolutely looking at his plate. Is he thinking of all the money the Governor and Elizabeth owe him and will never pay back? Or more probably, of the widening political gap between them? He remains silent.
Washed and brushed, the boys, previously fed, make their appearance at the end of the meal. Benny, a little stiffly, delivers the greeting to Jane that he has been rehearsing. Willy, as usual, tries to steal the show and is, as usual, dispatched to bed in disgrace.
For my part, after Uncle Richard and Aunt Sally have retired, I am busy courting Aunt Jane, while Grandfather relaxes and looks at her fondly. She wants to know about my life at the College of Philadelphia, not forgetting to remind me, of course, that it was started by we-know-whom.
I tell her that we are divided into two classes, Senior and Junior. I'm a Junior supposed to graduate in two years. "At 8 in the morning," I say, "all students, whether of the English School, the Latin School, or College assemble in the Hall where the first thing is the calling of the roll."
"Whoever is absent has a cross put to his name for which he pays a fine of two coppers, but the English School and the Latin School have the privilege of choosing whether they will pay the fine or be 'ferruled.' That privilege is not allowed in the College. If it was, I don't believe it would be much embraced. This tax of either paying the fine or receiving the ferruling is settled every Thursday."
(Dear Descendants, in case this barbaric custom has disappeared from your enlightened days, the ferrule is a flat piece of leather or wood with which the unfortunate scholars are beaten.)
Prayers are then read by some of the masters, after which we proceed to business.
In the morning, that is until eleven o'clock, we are with Dr Ellison, the Latin and Greek master of the College who, after he has inspected our exercises, hears us construe a lesson in Livy's Roman History which we are supposed to have looked over the night before in our lodgings, as we have no time for learning it in the College.
Three mornings a week Dr. Ellison teaches us geography. Saturday evening we write an English theme for Monday morning.
Monday evening we turn the English theme into Latin for Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening we write an English description for Wednesday morning, such as virtue, honor, etc.
Wednesday evening, we translate a piece of Latin out of the Selecta Profanis for Thursday morning; Thursday evening we make Latin verses for Friday morning; Friday evening we write an English letter for Saturday morning.
In the afternoons, that is from 3 to 5, we are with Dr Smith, the Provost, who instructs us in mathematics, of which I'm beginning to understand something.
At 5 we again assemble in the Hall where the roll is called and prayers read, after which, having nothing more to do at the College, I go home and write one of the exercises according to the day of the week it is.
"Now, Aunt Jane and Grandfather, you may perhaps be wondering about what I'm doing from 11 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon? Be reassured. During that time I'm learning my Euclid math which is sent to me by Dr. Smith the afternoon before, and which I have to recite when I go to the College at three.
"So when do I find the time for the dancing and fencing lessons with the good old Thomas Pike that my Father had so strongly recommended? I might go to Dancing School on Saturday afternoon if Dr Ellison consents to release me from my Saturday's task, for I shall not be able to dance with much spirit when the thought of writing a Latin theme is sticking in my stomach."
Grandfather and Aunt Jane listen attentively to this long speech of mine, Grandfather nodding in appreciation and Aunt Jane, what shall I say? In awe of all that knowledge her own twelve children never acquired.
— "You must tell me more," she says. "I want to know about what you learned in your English boarding school."
Here is my chance!
— "Remember, Aunt Jane," I say: "THAT A LITTLE LEARNING IS A DANGEROUS THING."
— "You know him!" she squeals. "You have read Alexander Pope, my hero!"
— "But of course" I proclaim, resisting the impulse to tell her how we, naughty boys, whispered that a lot of learning had to be still more dangerous. "And we also memorized another great line: One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT."
She hugs me. Grandfather announces he is going to bed and asks me to join him for an early walk tomorrow morning.
A knock on my door. It's not even dawn, it's pre-dawn. I ignore that stupid knock and the next ones. I grunt loudly. My locked door is shaken. "Come on, Temple," shouts Grandfather. "Don't pretend you're asleep. Let's go." I pull on some clothes and meet him downstairs. For the first time in my life, I'm angry with him. I don't know exactly why. Because I'm here, I guess, and no longer in London where life was simple — and because he wrote only to Uncle Richard from Cambridge, not to me, — and because I don't want to be treated as if I were still a little boy.
And that's exactly what I tell him as we walk out the front door. I add that my classmates at the College taunt me by saying that it's well worth having a "Franklin" in their midst in order to always hear him answer the questions by a dumb I don't know. "They wonder if their own parents were right, in the early days, to suspect that we were both English spies, you and I."
HE (calmly): "That's ridiculous, Temple. You certainly could say a loud 'NO' to that."
ME (at my grumpiest): "They also said you are dozing in your chair most of the time."
HE (amused): "If those talkative parents had to listen to all the mind-numbing speeches in Congress that I am subjected to, they would also fall asleep."
ME (reproachfully): "They say Mr. John Adams makes wonderful fiery speeches, while you never open your mouth."
HE (conciliatory): "Yes, Mr. Adams is a well-informed and eloquent speaker. But keep in mind, Billy, that he had a father who could afford to send him to Harvard by selling some land, while I was taken out of school at ten. I taught myself all I could, but never mastered oratory. I communicate my ideas in writing. My suggestions for a federation of the colonies are there for anybody to read, but I don't speak in public. I'm a poor orator. Next attack?"
ME (somewhat deflated): "I'm not attacking you."
HE (smiling): "Oh yes, you are, and I understand why. As I was listening to you, I suddenly heard myself at your age snapping at my brother James, at the Boston Puritan establishment, at anybody in authority over me, and you know what? That's normal. I don't know about girls that age, but boys around fifteen feel a need to rebel and you're entering that phase, my ever-so-normal grandson."
I say nothing. I look at my unlaced boots. It's dawn now. We're almost back at the house.
HE (almost tender): "Remember our walks through London, Temple? You expected your little bag of sweets at the end but did not dare ask for it? (By the way, have you noticed that they say candy here, not sweets?) I have something better than sweets to give you to appease your schoolmates' curiosity." He fumbles through his pockets. "Here, read this."
And I read: MEMORANDUM OF DECISIONS TAKEN IN CONCERT BY GENERAL WASHINGTON AND THE COMMITTEE OF THREE CONGRESSMEN (BENJAMIN FRANKLIN OF PENNSYLVANIA, THOMAS LYNCH OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND BENJAMIN HARRISON OF VIRGINIA.) The most urgent need is the creation of an officer corps that will teach and train the troops. 1. Discipline. For mutiny or incitement to mutiny: death. For drunken officers: expulsion from the army with infamy. For sentries caught asleep: no less than 20 lashes, no more than 29. For an officer absent without leave: one month's pay canceled. For an enlisted man absent without leave: 7 days confinement on bread and water. 2. Food and other rations. For every man, per day one pound of beef or salt fish or 3/4 pound of pork, one pound of bread or flour, one pint of milk, one quart of spruce beer or cider per week, 1/2 pint of rice or cornmeal. 3. Arms. Firelocks with barrels 3/4 of an inch in bore and 44 inches in length. The colonies should import all that can be procured. 4. The Army. Its size should be increased to 20,372, comprising regiments of 728 men (including officers), with each regiment divided into 8 companies consisting of one captain, 2 lieutenants, 1 ensign, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 2 drums or fifes, and 76 privates. 5. Pay of the Troops. 40 shillings per month. Not to be diminished, whatever Congress says.
He interrupts me here: "What a debate that was! The officers wanted a pay raise coupled with a cut in pay for the privates. The privates threatened to mutiny if their wages were cut, and this at a time when enlistments are about to expire. And you know, Temple, General Washington has to enlist as many people as possible before the rigor of winter sets in ..."
— "Talking about the troops," I ask, "are Negroes allowed to enlist?"
— "No" says Grandfather. "We all agreed that they be rejected altogether, both the slaves and the free ones."
— "But why?"
— "Fear of an uprising against their masters once they are armed — a situation the British are trying to provoke, while also encouraging the Indians to attack the settlers on the frontier. Anyway, Temple, I don't have time to discuss that now. Why don't you ask your friend George Fox? He comes from a Quaker family. They are keenly interested in the Negro problem."
I hand him the document I have been reading, but he gives it back to me.
— "Bring it to the College and be the first to give your classmates the latest information on our war preparations. And they'll be the ones to tell their parents what's going on."
— "But don't you need it for Congress?"
— "I have another copy and must rush off now." And with a little pat on my shoulder: "See you this evening, my no-longer-little-boy."
My quarreling mood dissipates in a flash. What kind of magician is he, our patriarch, our Benjamin Franklin? Oh well, if he figured out the way to send lightning quietly and politely down into the earth, calming his grandson can't be a big problem.
Indeed, sharing that memorandum with the other boys has suddenly made me popular. I'm no longer "the English one, with his foreign accent, the possible spy," the one who only talks to George Fox. I am good old Billy who knows a thing or two. I really feel great.
Don't rejoice too long, Billy. The latest news is that, as Grandfather predicted, King George III has refused to receive, let alone answer the Olive Branch Petition. He has proclaimed the colonies in rebellion and started to take the "appropriate" measures. And this while we keep receiving optimistic letters from London, detailing reconciliation plans that save face for everybody — but in the next mail we hear that Parliament has taken no note of them. Some Congressmen still hold out hope for peace but England, alas, is in an obstinate mood. Shall I find myself facing Caldwell, someday, in a battle?
I'm planning to spend a little time every day with Aunt Jane, reading English poetry. On my advice, Aunt Sally is diligently reading or re-reading some Shakespeare, and casually drops a quote from Romeo and Juliet now and then. Jane and Sally now collaborate in the kitchen and have produced, to Grandfather's delight, a dish called "New England boiled dinner" (a mixture of corned beef, cabbage, turnips and potatoes) which brings him right back to his long ago childhood, but horrifies Willy. In the midst of Willy's screaming that he will have none of it, Benny suggests that we should all put on happy faces and say "What luck Willy won't eat it, we can feast on his portion." As soon as his plate is shared amid groans of satisfaction, Willy remembers that he is hungry and looks pathetically around the table. We all eat and keep talking. All except Grandfather who sneaks a piece under the table to the baby rebel. And a second piece, and a third.
— "We see you, Ben" declares Aunt Jane. "You have never changed. You are still dead set against observing the rules."
— "Who? Me? What rules?" He is the picture of innocence.
— "Yes, you. I don't remember the episode myself because I was too young, but my parents would often talk about the time when Father was salting the winter's provisions and calling for God's blessing over each layer, you said, with your usual impertinence, that if he were to say grace over the whole cask, once and for all, it would be a vast saving of time."
There bursts a more or less suppressed laughter around the table while Grandfather mumbles, not really to the point, that he has always hated wasting time. He is intently watching Willy.
— "Sally," he says, "I believe that children should be treated the same way as people who come from a faraway country, people whom one has to ease gently into our own customs. Once he has acquired learning, Willy will do great things because he stands his ground — and Benny because he thinks before he talks. You are to be congratulated, you and Richard, on the brains of your boys. Let them spread their wings."
After the four Baches retire to bed, I understand that Benjamin and Jane are still engaged in what must have been a life-long theological dispute: Is one's soul to be saved, as Jane maintains, only by submission to Providence, prayers, and strict observance of Puritanism, or is it enough, as Grandfather maintains, "to serve God by doing good to men"? Grandfather tries to joke his way out of this rather painful conversation by assuring his sister that when she gets to Heaven — a few years after him, of course — she'll find him asking God how He managed to put electricity into the clouds in the first place. Just a friendly talk, scientist to scientist, since God kindly revealed to him the way to help mankind through the lightning rod. Jane, who has no sense of humor at all, just frowns. But their devotion to each other remains intact, I'd say.
History, wake up! I have news for you! This is the day when a new committee has been created. "So what?" you say. "Aren't there a whole lot of committees already?"
— "Yes, but this one is different. It carries a whole new possibility, the possibility that the not-yet-quite- united colonies, or not-yet-created states want to join in an appeal to their foreign friends abroad, in Great Britain and elsewhere. History, do you want to know the name of this new committee? It's The Committee of Secret Correspondence — a dull name, I admit, but some day, I believe, it will turn into the American foreign service, and I bet that if they send diplomats abroad Grandfather will be one of them, maybe the first. This committee is made up of five members, Grandfather being one. I don't know who the others are.
The idea of this committee makes me so happy because foreign service means diplomacy, and diplomacy might just lead to peace.
Enough of this. Back to my homework.
Good morning, History. I wrote you a few days ago that a new committee, the Committee of Secret Correspondence, has been created and that in my humble opinion it may turn out to be the most important one of all — with my apologies to the Committee of Correspondence, the Committee of Inspection, the Committee of Inspection and Observation, the Committee of Safety, to name only a few. And now, to my excitement, that new committee has already jumped into action.
I know this because of a long letter Grandfather has just asked me to copy, after telling me that my handwriting is so clear and beautiful (I know it is very much like his); while handing it to me, he put his finger to his lips. Of course, I won't tell anybody about it. We are engaged, he and I, in the first wobbly steps of the foreign service!
The letter is addressed to a Mr. Charles Dumas, who lives in The Hague, Holland. Grandfather, who met M. Dumas some ten years ago when he was traveling in Holland, told me that he was a man interested in literature, international law, and politics, with whom he has cordially exchanged books over the years. Indeed, the letter I'm copying opens with profuse thanks for a treatise on international law "which came to us in good season, when the circumstance of a rising state made it necessary frequently to consult the law of nations."
And now, getting to his real purpose, Grandfather writes:
"We are threatened from England with a very powerful force, to come next year against us. We are making all the provision in our power here to oppose that force, and we hope we shall be able to defend ourselves. But as the events of war are always uncertain, possibly, after another campaign, we may find it necessary to ask aid of some foreign power."
How painful it must have been for Grandfather, always so self-confident, to even admit the possibility of defeat! He pursues:
"It gives us great pleasure to hear from you that all of Europe wishes success in keeping our freedom. But we wish to know whether any of them, from principles of humanity, is disposed magnanimously to step in for the relief of an oppressed people, or whether if, as it seems likely to happen, we should be obliged to break off all connection with Britain, and declare ourselves an independent people, there is any state or power in Europe, who would be willing to enter into an alliance with us for the benefit of our commerce, which amounted, before the war, to nearly seven millions sterling per annum, and must continually increase most rapidly."
He has now stated his case, his country's case. What does he want M. Dumas to do? I resume my copying. I haven't even started my homework, but I don't care.
"Confiding, my dear friend, in your good will to us and our cause, and in your sagacity and abilities for business, the committee of Congress appointed for the purpose of establishing and conducting a correspondence with our friends in Europe have directed me to request of you, that as you are situated in The Hague, where ambassadors from all the courts reside, you would make use of the opportunity that situation affords you, of discovering, if possible, the disposition of the several courts with respect to such assistance or alliance, if we should apply for the one, or propose the other."
How well he writes! Clearly, concisely, just right. And nobody ever taught him. He had to figure it out by himself, reading The Tatler and The Spectator during the night. What a difference with the way Mr. Elphinston wanted us to write ... I read on: Grandfather warns Dumas, in ultra-polite terms, to keep the English ambassador in the dark, of course, and to entrust his outgoing mail to reliable people. But then, regaining his spirits, he paints a rosy picture of the American situation for the benefit of the influential people Dumas might contact:
"The whole continent is very firmly united ... the party in favor of the British ministry is very small and much dispersed ... during the last campaign we have had on foot an army of near twenty-five thousand men, wherewith we have been able to block up the king's army in Boston ... we purpose greatly to increase our force ... and hope, with the assistance of a well disciplined militia, to be able to defend our coast, notwithstanding its great extent ... we already have a small squadron of armed vessels to protect our coastal trade ... we are using the utmost industry in endeavouring to make saltpeter ..."
Yes, all that is very nice, Grandfather, but how can those home-made enterprises hold up against the might of the British Empire? "Tell him about our (your) needs, Gwanpapa," as Benny would say. Good, here they come, our requests:
"Both arms and ammunition are much wanted. Any merchants who would venture to send ships laden with those articles might make great profit. ... We are in great want of good engineers, and wish you could engage and send us two able ones, one acquainted with field service, sieges, etc. and the other with fortifying of sea-ports."
Finally, he sends Dumas 100 pounds sterling for his initial expenses. I'm sure that Dumas will accept to be the first American agent abroad. How could he refuse?
As I'm copying this letter, I'm thinking of the ironies of History. France, the big, bad enemy during the French and Indian War, is now the focus of Grandfather's hope for independence. As to my own future, it seems more nebulous than ever. I've just received a letter from Caldwell, telling me that Mr. Elphinston plans to close our school for good at Christmas. And Mrs. Stevenson, we hear, is no longer living on Craven Street. My two London homes are fading away. England of the daffodils, shall I ever see you again?
Oh bliss, I've discovered the wonder of having a grandmother! How could I have lived all these years without a grandmother? Aunt Sally is fine as a surrogate mother, but she does find fault (rightly?) with my socks lying under the bed — always three by three, she says — with my room in disorder, my hair not properly combed, etc., the way, I guess, all mothers feel they have to reprimand their 15-year-old sons. Of course I promise to reform ... in due course.
But Great-Aunt Jane! She thinks I'm PERFECT! She discovers a new perfect side of me every day. Yes, the miffy Jane. She and Uncle Richard are (silently) at daggers drawn, I don't know why; she controls her tongue when dealing with Aunt Sally but looks reprovingly at Sally's housekeeping methods and still more at the little boys' behavior, "never properly disciplined," she mutters. But when it comes to me, she beams. In a moment of honesty, I tell her some of my faults.
— "I procrastinate, you know ..."
— "You what?"
— "Procrastinate. That's a verb that comes from the Latin word cras, meaning tomorrow. Putting things off until tomorrow, that's what I do, and it is bad."
— "Not so bad at your age. And now that you've taught me a word of Latin, I'm happy. To me, a new word is like a piece of chocolate to a child."
Me, flippant: "First good use of Latin I've encountered." And turning serious, "Aunt Jane, I would like you to teach me something I know nothing about: what a large family feels like. How the brothers act among themselves — is squabbling the word one uses for that? And how they behave toward their sisters? I've grown up alone, as you know."
— "I have certainly not!" she exclaims. "Sixteen brothers and sisters ahead of me. Seven of them born to Anne, my father's first wife, who emigrated with him from England. Her sixth and seventh babies died at birth and she died too, poor woman, exhausted. The surviving five were so much older than the rest of us from the second marriage that they felt more like aunts and uncles.
"Among the ten children born to my mother Abiah, a sturdy girl from the island of Nantucket, it was a lively story. Rivalry, teasing, fighting among the boys, you name it. But there were limits: never at the table. At table we were hardly allowed to talk. We were strictly forbidden to comment in any way about the food or bring up any frivolous topic. Mainly, we listened to what our father Josiah had to say, and as he was deeply involved in the affairs of the Church and often consulted by members of the community because of his good sense, it was interesting.
By Anne Child (born Ecton, England; died Boston, 1689)
By Abiah Folger (born Nantucket, August 15, 1667; died Boston, May 8, 1752) Married Josiah Franklin on November 25, 1689.
For more details, see Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Volume I,
"The girls were all kept busy helping Mother or preparing their hope chest in view of marriage some day. No schooling for them beyond reading and writing. Once married, they had a crowd of children and hardly any time for themselves."
It is impossible not to notice the bitterness in Jane's voice, but she goes on:
"With the passing of time, the boys became protective of their sisters. For instance, when sister Elizabeth Douse, the oldest of the first batch, fell into poverty and was about to be put into a rather miserable retirement home, Benjamin stepped in and told his brothers that old people, like old trees, die if they are transplanted. They absolutely had to provide their aging sister with a comfortable little house to live out her days, he said, and they did."
— "That was thoughtful of Grandfather ..."
— "Yes. Having been a pest as a youngster, he turned out to be the one who helped whichever one of us was in need."
— "What do you mean, a pest?"
— "He was a born rebel, just like this little Willy he admires so much. At twelve, he refused to stay in the family business of soap and candles. He would have nothing to do with the other trades proposed to him, be it the cutler's, the carpenter's, or the bricklayer's.
"When it seemed that he had finally found his vocation in the printing business, he made life difficult for our brother James, to whom he was apprenticed. And yet it was James who opened up to him the world of literature, of ideas, of London. When Benjamin ran off to Philadelphia at seventeen, he never sent word back home to tell us he was safe. He used to call me his favorite little sister Jenny — I was eleven when he fled — but did he ever think of my anguish when we were left without news for almost six months? I cried in bed every night.
"And when he did reappear, he was full of himself, wearing new clothes, flaunting his new watch and the silver coins in his pocket. After that, he caused our parents great concern because of the liberties he took with our traditional religion. At some point, they even felt that he was falling into some heresy or other."
How different, this tale of family desolation, from the glorious escape story Grandfather had told me as we walked, hand in hand, along the streets of London! Could it be that every family tale has its reverse?
— "But now, Aunt Jane, you seem very fond of him?"
— "He grew up. He decided to leave all that nonsense behind and to aim at nothing less than 'moral perfection,' — an impossible goal, if you ask me. But I must say that he worked at it very hard. He drew up a list of thirteen virtues and systematically practiced each one for a week, noting his progress or failures in a little book. Eventually, he admitted that he had never conquered the virtues of Order and Humility. He was proud of being humble, you see."
— "Do you remember the other eleven virtues?"
— "I'm not sure. At the head of the list was Temperance (don't eat too much, don't drink too much), followed by Silence (avoid small talk). He also mentioned Industry and Frugality (make good use of your time and don't waste anything). Resolution was in there, too (decide to do something and DO IT!) Cleanliness, of course. Justice and Sincerity. Moderation. How many do we have?
— "That's all I remember. Are you planning to attain perfection, Billy?"
— "Why should I, Aunt Jane, when you consider me perfect already?"
— "Watch out for Humility," she says. We laugh. "There is one more thing I want to say about Benjamin once he turned into a man. No matter how famous he became, he always went out of his way to make the rest of us feel how important we were to him. He figured out a flexible catheter for our brother John who suffered from bladder trouble. He procured a supposedly miraculous cup of special wood for our sister Mary who had breast cancer — it didn't work, but he tried. He sent money for Mother and me to go to church in a comfortable carriage and he also chose a variety of eyeglasses in London for us to try out, to be better able to follow the service. He saw to it that I always had enough flour and firewood in my house. And a few years ago, he set me up in business.
— "You opened a shop?"
— "Yes, a tiny one. Do you know what millinery means?"
— "It has to do with the making of pretty hats. Your grandfather enrolled good Mrs. Stevenson's help, and soon she was sending me from London boxes of ribbons of all colors, artificial flowers, bunches of fake cherries, feathers, and what not for the ladies of Boston. At first, that fancy stuff did not sell very well because Boston ladies thought the colors too bright, but when a brave one among them decided to wear her new hat to church, others soon followed suit. Two of my daughters helped me, we were doing well and having fun, but in my life fun never lasts for long. The colonies proclaimed a decree against the importation of British goods, and we had to close the shop."
Her voice broke at that point and I quickly changed the subject:
— "Aunt Jane, before I run off to afternoon school, tell me what you meant when you said that there is a difference between a mother and a grandmother."
— "There is a big difference. A mother believes she has to be fair and never show her preference for a given child. A grandmother feels free. She allows herself to love uncritically, just because that child is what it is, and no reason given. That's how I love you, Billy, and don't ask me why."
— "No, I won't ask. I'll just enjoy it." And I go off.
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?
Another family mystery: Bob. Bob is a black man whom I meet occasionally around the house or in the garden. I have tried several times to talk with him, but he barely answers me and soon walks away. I'd really like to be friendly but I don't know how. Sometimes he goes to the market with Aunt Sally and carries back the baskets, and sometimes he goes by himself. Back home, he peels and washes the vegetables, and leaves them beside the sink, neatly stacked. He never eats with us and I think he sleeps in a little shack at the end of the garden.
— "Is Bob a slave?" I ask Aunt Sally. She turns red, she is flustered.
— "What a crude way to put it," she says. "I would rather say that Bob is a part of our extended family. He helps with the heavy work, inside and out. I don't know what I would do without Bob, running after the children as I do ..."
Uncle Richard interrupts: "In other words, Temple, Bob is an unpaid servant who is not supposed to run away. That's how we like to see the situation, here in Pennsylvania. We don't like to think of ourselves as owning other people. So we avoid both the word and the subject, as your aunt is doing." (Uncle Richard is often sarcastic these days; I think it is because Aunt Jane gets on his nerves, but he does not dare criticize her, given Grandfather's affection for his sister, so he takes out his ill humor on his wife.)
— "We don't have slaves in Massachusetts," declares Aunt Jane.
— "I beg your pardon, Aunt Jane, but you do," replies Uncle Richard carefully. "Just last year, the legislature tried to abolish slavery, but your governor refused to sign the bill into law."
— "Well, I don't know anybody who owns slaves."
Uncle Richard shrugs his shoulders and turns to me: "Like Massachusetts, slavery seems to be on its way out in Pennsylvania. But in the southern colonies, the situation is much more brutal. Without tightly controlled and exploited slaves, the planters could never grow the cotton, the tobacco, and the rice on which their fortunes and splendid mansions depend. I don't see how that system could break down in the foreseeable future."
And then, my inevitable question: "How does Grandfather view all this? He advised me to talk to George Fox about slavery, but I would like to be better informed before I do. For instance, did Grandfather and Deborah ever own slaves?"
— "Oh yes, they did," says Uncle Richard. "First of all, your grandfather made some money by advertising the sale of slaves in his Pennsylvania Gazette. Then ..."
It is Aunt Sally's turn to interrupt: "Richard, you were not even in the country at the time you are talking about. Yes, they employed Negroes, a married couple, George and Jemima. Father was uneasy with them, he doubted their honesty. Mother, on the contrary, saw them as human beings and had emotional links with them. She loved their little boy, Othello, almost as if he were her own child. She wanted him to receive a good education because she believed that, given a chance, black children could do just as well as the white ones. Your Grandfather was away in London at the time and Mother was so glad when she heard that her husband had accepted to advise a group called The Associates of Dr. Bray. These good people were trying, against heavy opposition, to open schools for Negro children. Eventually — I think it was in the mid-1750s — your grandfather wrote up a detailed proposal on how to finance such a school in Philadelphia in the hope that the idea might spread to the other colonies.
— "Did it spread?"
"Other black schools did open, in Williamsburg, Newport, and New York, each with his help and advice. When he visited one of them after his return to America, he was pleasantly surprised and conceived, he said, a higher opinion of the capacities of the black race than he had ever before entertained.
"Unfortunately, poor little Othello died too soon for his education to begin, and Mother could not stop crying."
Aunt Sally, at this point, seems on the verge of tears herself and Uncle Richard seizes his chance:
— "You know how much I admire and respect your grandfather, Temple, but we must face the fact that on the question of slavery, he behaved exactly like the majority of his contemporaries. Not only did he advertise the sale of slaves, as the other newspapers did, but he also advertised, like the others, the description of runaways.
"When he sailed to England with your father, they each brought along a slave to take care of their personal needs. Your father's slave, King, ran away while there, and was taken under the wing of a lady who had him learn to read and write, and even play the violin. Your grandfather's slave, Peter, stayed with Dr. Franklin and William. He accompanied them on their trips and scrubbed moss off the gravestones of the Franklin ancestors in northern England, while your father copied the inscriptions."
Uncle Richard is going on, but I've lost him. I'm thinking about that African, pelted by the cold wind and cold rain of northern England, scrubbing the tombstones of someone's English ancestors, while dreaming perhaps of his own ancestors' tombstones (do they have tombstones in Africa?) baking in the sun, so far away.
And now, about to go to bed, I'm upset.
Why didn't Grandfather, some years ago, do something to stop that awful slavery? The man who could persuade Philadelphians to light up their streets at night and to have someone sweep those streets, following London's example, who could talk them into providing insurance for widows, organize fire brigades, open a free public library, build a hospital, create Benny's Academy and my College, why didn't that man do anything to rid Pennsylvania of slaves, even in the sweetened version that Aunt Sally, always keen to put the family in a good light, presented to us?
Today, I know, he is haunted by the fear of a British-provoked slave insurrection, but then? He would have had the Quakers on his side. That reminds me that I must talk to George Fox, as Grandfather advised. I'll ask Aunt Sally to invite him.
And here is George, with a nice bouquet of Christmas holly for Aunt Sally and one for Aunt Jane, each with a proper compliment: "Mrs. Mecom, with my mother's best wishes. Welcome to Philadelphia," and "Mrs. Bache, with greetings from our family." George should really enter the Diplomatic Service some day, he looks so neat, wearing his glasses and freshly pressed clothes. He is on a mission of enlightenment.
I open the conversation: "George," I say, "I remember that about three years before I left England — I would have been about twelve — there was much to-do about a black man called Somersett, but I must admit that my memory is hazy ..."
— "Hazy or not, you have come up with the perfect starting point," answers the always-tactful George. "Before Somersett, any slave who tried to escape his awful fate in the West Indies by coming to Britain was immediately sent back to his master, to face some dreadful punishment. But on June 12, 1772 (remember that date, Billy!), Lord Mansfield, of the King's Bench, decreed that as soon as a slave set foot on the soil of the British Isles, he became free. That did not mean the abolishment of all slavery, but it was a step forward."
— "It seems to me," I say — trying to show I know a little bit about that topic — "that there are more people in England than here who take an interest in the problem. The Associates of Dr. Bray, for instance ..."
— "Oh yes," says George. "Indeed, the impetus for the abolition of slavery was given, a whole century before the Somersett case, by the founder of the Society of Friends, George Fox, a man whose name I am proud to bear, though I am not a descendant. You will be glad to hear, Mrs. Bache, that the Pennsylvania Quakers were taking action against slavery still earlier than those in England. I am certain that pretty soon we will hear that all slaveholders who refuse to emancipate their slaves will be excluded from our membership."
Aunt Sally nods and smiles politely.
— "We have no slaves in Massachusetts," repeats Aunt Jane. Aunt Sally almost drops her knitting, but says nothing. Contradicting Aunt Jane, as we all know, is a risky business.
George turns to me: "Temple, do you know what is the proportion of blacks to whites in the colonies, taken as a whole?"
I have no idea.
— "One out of five at this time. Can you imagine the amount of misery that represents?"
— "George, don't you think my grandfather should do something about it?"
Both aunts gasp. Telling Dr. Franklin what to do! The poor boy must be out of his senses!
— "I don't think that at present he is ready for such a move," answers George calmly. "But we all feel sure in my family that the day will come."
— "What makes you so sure?"
— "I'll tell you. My father is convinced that sooner or later Dr. Franklin will be sent to some European country to talk that country, probably France, into giving us help against England. And Europe, at this point, is embracing a new way of looking at the world, a more humane and generous way. In England, says my father, the movement is called 'The Enlightenment,' in France they say 'Les Lumières,' 'The Lights.' The power of human reason is more appreciated now, even if it goes against tradition. By the way, that is why your grandfather received such a hero's welcome when he visited Paris: it was because of his idea of installing lightning rods on buildings instead of ringing church bells during a storm.
"Your grandfather is the kind of man who learns new things when he travels. He will see that the French are turning against slavery — not yet in the West Indies, where the sugar planters will put up a big fight to keep their slaves — but in France itself. They are about to pass a law over there, forbidding the slave traders to land Africans anywhere in the country. Dr. Franklin's attitude toward slavery will have changed by the time he comes back, you'll see."
All I can say is: "I certainly hope so."
Today, Aunt Jane wants me to tell her what I learned in my London boarding school. I dig out Mr. Elphinston's letter in phonetic spelling, the one Caldwell sent me last summer, and — giggling all along — she reads that "Tempel dances, plays, and draws uncommonly, he can indeed take anny likeness. Nor must you fancy him engrosed by dhe ellegant arts. He haz had dhe onnor of introduccion to Cezar, Virgil, Horrace, and dhe Greek testament."
— "Who are those people you have been introduced to?" she wants to know.
— "Julius Caesar, who wrote about war in his day, and two wonderful poets, Virgil who sang the beauty of Nature, and Horace who made fun of Roman society. All of them lived in the 1st century before Christ."
— "Ah, so this is the Caesar in the Bible. 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's; render unto God that which is God's.' "
— "Do you mean to say there were poets before Christ?"
— "Excellent ones, as well as playwrights, engineers, architects, sculptors, a brilliant civilization that flourished first in Greece and later in Italy."
She looks so taken aback that I see myself dropping out of the "perfect" category.
— "Aunt Jane, it is not my fault or theirs if they died a few years before Christ was born ..."
She frowns and I quickly produce my other Elphinston document: his bill for my last semester before we embarked for Philadelphia: 15 pounds for board and education, 5 shillings for books, 6 shillings for my seat in church, 10 shillings for the servants, and various sums for mending, dancing, drawing, music, plus ... "a whole year of tea in the parlor."
— "Tea in the parlor! What on earth did they teach you?"
— "How to drink my tea like a gentleman. How to balance the fine china cup and saucer. How to hold them up for the lady of the house to pour a little cold milk first — not to crack the china when the boiling tea arrives — how to behave in a genteel manner for the next ten minutes."
Aunt Jane is grinning. She pulls a green box from under her bed and triumphantly holds out a fairly large bag of tea. I put on a horrified face.
— "Aunt Jane! The crime of crimes! Don't you know that ..."
— "Of course I know. But I bought this well before the non-importation law. Quick, Temple, let's have some."
And off she goes, to heat water in Aunt Sally's empty kitchen. As we start sipping from our sturdy mugs, I decide not to tell her about my father's tea parties in his fancy parlor. Instead, I remark that there is a lot to be said for those practical American mugs that keep the tea hot while they warm your hands.
As we empty our mugs, I tell Aunt Jane that I think baby Hannah's health is improving. She has been crying much less these last few days.
— "No, no." she replies. "It means she is getting weaker. Believe me, I know about sick babies."
Aunt Jane was right. Hannah left us. We were all crying, even Grandfather, when Bob tiptoed into the room, with Willy in his arms, the little pink face nestling against the brown cheek. And for once Willy kept quiet.
Christmas has come and gone in a daze. A daze of lost hope. A dead baby seems to take up more space in your mind, in your heart, that the live baby did. I keep seeing her little smile, her outstretched arms, the wide eyes that seemed to beg for help. We did not know how to help. Some day in the future, maybe we'll know, but too late for Hannah.
I stay in my room as much as possible. "Boys don't cry" could have been the motto of the Elphinston school. All I know is that sometimes boys would like to cry.
Now I know what happened. Once again, through the channel of Drummer.
One week ago, on January 2, the Continental Congress demanded that "all unworthy Americans" (meaning the Loyalists) be disarmed or, if needed, arrested. Official mail has been intercepted and read. Alas, that was precisely the moment Father had chosen to send two bundles of confidential documents to Lord Dartmouth, the Colonial Secretary who succeeded Lord Hillsborough. Rather than being shipped across the Atlantic, the compromising package was immediately delivered to the Earl of Stirling in East Jersey, a one-time friend of my father, in whose house I met him last summer (when he still went by the name William Alexander). The Earl must have recently joined the rebel cause, for he wasted no time in forwarding the documents in question to the Congress in Philadelphia.
Worse yet, without waiting for congressional orders, Stirling, now a colonel, dispatched soldiers to Perth Amboy. At two in the morning, on January 6, my father and Elizabeth were awakened by violent knocking on the front door. I can see the scene in my mind's eye: Elizabeth sobbing, Father rushing to calm her down, worrying about the impact of this shock on her fragile health, while a servant, shaking all over, opens the front door. He has been handed a letter and told to carry it up to the master's bedroom. He knocks gently and presents to Father — not on a silver tray, for once — Stirling's letter. My father learns from it that he is rumored to be about to flee, something he is forbidden to do without congressional permission. In other words, he is under house arrest.
How does he react? I don't know. Haughtily, I would guess. He probably expresses indignation at the thought that an officer of the Crown like himself should be treated that way by what he considers the illegal government of New Jersey. Intelligent and educated as he is, he is incapable of adjusting to changing events. Now that his mansion, as this latest piece of information tells me, is surrounded by soldiers guarding every issue, let us hope that he has no choice, no possibility of making another wrong move.
At dinner, I am unable to swallow my food, in spite of Aunt Sally's repeated efforts to make me eat. And it strikes me again that nobody has mentioned my father in days.
"Mamma, Mamma, come quick, Gwanpapa is dancing! Quick, Mamma!
Watching from the window where he always waits for Grandfather's return, Benny is beside himself. Aunt Sally grabs my arm, whispering "Did he stop at some tavern?" and shaking. And what do we see? The cane on which the Doctor generally leans heavily is twirling over his head and he is, yes, doing something like a dance in the falling snow.
We rush to open the front door and he rushes in, along with a gust of wind, all smiles, all pink in the face, all snowflakes. He speaks directly to me:
"Temple, this is it! This is the day that will change history! This is the pamphlet that will electrify public opinion! Here, help me unbutton my coat, my hands are frozen ..."
Five or six pamphlets are scattered on the floor. I read Common Sense, but no author's name. "Who wrote this?"
"It's anonymous," he says, "but I'm almost sure that the author is Tom Paine. Only he could write that way, with such zest, such biting humor, such fire, and such deep knowledge of our situation."
Benny pipes up: "Are we going to have a wevolution?"
Grandfather, surprised: "Bennyboy, what do you know about revolutions?"
Benny: I don't know what a wevolution is. But at morning bweak, I go to where the big boys are standing, and I listen to them. They talk about a wevolution, they say they want one and they hope you, Gwanpapa, will start it, but their papas and mammas are not sure they want one.
Grandfather: "And the big boys don't mind you listening to them?"
Benny: "No. They say I will be a... a... news... paper... man some day, always poking my nose into things. And they laugh."
Grandfather: "If you decide to be a newspaperman, Benny, I'll be right there to help you. That's what I did when I was young, you know. Meanwhile, ask your mamma to bring me a cup of hot soup. I'm freezing."
And to me, he says: "Temple, read this pamphlet before going to sleep. Your whole school will be buzzing about it pretty soon, but do not reveal that Tom Paine is probably the author. It is less than fifty pages long, but what power it packs! I told you we would be living History, didn't I?"
Could I, should I tell him that my father, having been put under house arrest a few days ago, is also History? That my heart is heavy, that I wish he would talk to me about his son's fate? But that would take more courage than I have. As for History, all it has done for me so far is to push me around.
And so, up in my room after supper, I start reading Common Sense. Right or wrong, I've decided that the author has to be Paine.
The pamphlet is not published by Paine's regular editor, who may have judged it too blunt, but by a Mr. Bell, a Scot. That makes sense: England and Scotland have been at daggers drawn for a long time.
And now, honorable descendants, I have a problem. Should this brewing revolution not take place, or should it fail, Common Sense and its author will disappear from History and you'll wonder why I'm spending so much time discussing it. On the other hand, should the colonies, carried away by this flamboyant appeal, throw themselves into a war that will win them their independence, the text will become a classic, you'll have to study it in school, and maybe you'll feel some affection for your fifteen-year-old ancestor who is about to tell you about it, as best he can.
The author starts with a frontal attack against the British royal government, coupled with an attack against monarchy in general, and hereditary monarchy in particular. Monarchy, he says, is a perverse, illegitimate, absurd system that flies in the face of God's will. Paine does not only demolish the sacred aspect of the British monarchy, but of any monarchy, of any political system that puts an entire people at the mercy of a single human being, the King.
The last thing I remember before falling asleep last night is that Paine calls the King, our King, a "crowned ruffian." Not sure about what is meant by ruffian, I decided to look it up, but turned around in the bed instead. Now I know that it means "a brutal person." "Our noble King, our gracious King, our glorious King," the one we hoped "long to reign over us" when we sang the national anthem in my boarding school ... a ruffian? How could Grandfather tolerate that?
Because I must tell you, descendants, my grandfather was quite impressed by Kings when I was growing up in England. He once told Caldwell and me that his father, a regular Bible-reader, used to quote a Proverb of Solomon saying that if a man is diligent in his work, "he shall stand before Kings, he shall not stand before mere men." And Grandfather had added proudly that he, indeed, had stood before four Kings, and even sat down to dinner with one.
— "Which Kings?" we wanted to know.
— "Well, I've been present at Court in London various times, and stood before George II and George III. And then, when I visited Paris in 1767, I was invited to watch Louis XV and the royal family at a formal dinner, known as the Grand Couvert. The King, the Queen and their relatives sat in a semi-circle, with waiters at the center, filling their gold plates and their glasses. The honored visitors stood around, without food, at their assigned posts, and made polite conversation with royalty.
— "With which King did you have dinner? Did you invite him? Did he invite you?"
— "It was Christian VII, King of Norway and Denmark, who spent two months in England during the summer of 1768. He invited me, of course — a private person does not invite a King. He asked me many interesting questions during the course of the meal and said he would like to see me again."
Grandfather was so proud of the occasion that he even sent my father a sketch of the seating arrangement.
Now, to give you an idea of Paine's style. Talking about the colonies, he writes in the introduction:
"The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected. ...
"The laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against all the natural rights of mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom Nature has given the power of feeling."
It is, as you see, the style of an orator, not always easy to follow, but powerful and convincing when one makes the effort. Personally, I'm not sure that I qualify as a defender of mankind, since my thoughts, so far, have not gone beyond Abigail and my new family, but who knows? I might speak up for mankind some day.
I have just sent off a letter to my father, alluding ever so tactfully to certain rumors I have heard concerning his office and expressing the hope that they are unfounded. I also wrote about my affectionate concern for my stepmother. (No elegant prose this time! All very matter-of-fact.) In truth, I cannot bear this silence any longer.
Grandfather turns seventy today. At first I thought that there would be no celebration, given the lingering sadness about Hannah, but the boys have been looking forward to this day with such excitement that the family decided to invite a few friends. Life goes on, as people say, and Aunt Sally has just informed us that a new little life is to appear in late October. A baby girl, we hope.
What could please Grandfather today more than Indian pudding, punch, and music, right here in his freshly re-papered music room? I must admit that I hardly ever set foot in that room because it has been discovered with surprise, by one and all, that I have absolutely no musical ability. I sing out of tune, I cannot tell one melody from another, my aunt and uncle's efforts to teach me a little something have been totally frustrated, while all of them delight in performing solo or together.
And so, I am put in charge of pouring the refreshments and was shown the family's precious recipe of:
ORANGE SHRUB "To a gallon of rum, add two quarts of orange juice and two pounds of sugar. Dissolve the sugar in the juice before you mix it with the rum. Put all together in a cask and shake it well. Let it stand 3 or 4 weeks and it will be very fine, fit for bottling. When you have boiled off the fine, pass the thick thro' a philtering paper put into a funnel, that not a drop may be lost."
(Between us, I must confess that I filled a little glass with this fragrant brew and swallowed it when no one was looking. It was AWFUL! It burned my tongue, my throat, my stomach, and all the way down to my feet. Horrible! Don't try it, descendants!)
The platter of choice for the festive table would have been Grandfather's favorite cheese, a big wheel of English Stilton. Impossible, these days of non-importation. So Aunt Jane and Aunt Sally outcooked each other in a stupendous variety of muffins, biscuits, cakes and, of course, Indian pudding — each aunt producing her own recipe.
Grandfather, not about to miss his morning committees, comes back in the afternoon and proceeds straight to the music room to tidy up the scores and lyrics of the songs he brought back from England: the catch songs, about which Mrs. Stevenson once told me with a wink that they are always humorous and often use naughty words (all sung by male voices, of course) and the glee songs, vocalized by at least three men. These have more to do with romance and are all the rage in present-day London. (I bet Willy will catch on to the naughty words before anybody else in the room.) Grandfather belonged to several singing clubs in London and it should give him great pleasure to hear them sung by American voices this afternoon.
But the real object of his pride will be, as always, his latest brainchild, his glass armonica. I am spelling it his way, without the initial h.
— "Why no h, Grandfather? It looks funny."
— "Because it is my tribute to the Italians who have done so much for music and have no h in their alphabet. The glass armonica is my favorite invention."
— "More than the lightning rod? More than the stove? More than ..."
— "More than any other, I tell you. Because it gives me and a whole lot of other people — including the ladies — a great amount of pleasure. Some well-known musicians have already started to compose for it. To be honest, Temple, I must tell you that it is not entirely my invention. People have known for centuries that you can produce melodious sounds by rubbing a moistened finger around the rim of a glass, and also that you can modify that sound by using more or less liquid inside the glass, or by experimenting with its size and thickness. No, I was not the first inventor, but I made big improvements, for instance by replacing the early system of drinking glasses arranged on a table. I use instead a rotating spindle on which nesting glass bowls of increasing size can each produce a specific note. People rave about the sound coming out of that instrument: they call it warbling, they call it celestial. I'm still tinkering with it in my few spare moments. Your aunt Sally already plays it quite well, but her real talent, as we know, is for the harpsichord."
Why, oh why did I have to fall into such a musical family, I wonder.
When the guests arrive, they are taken on a guided tour of the music room. They marvel at the armonica, of course, and at the elegant harpsichord, after which they admire a viola da gamba, a harp, a Welsh harp (smaller model), a set of tuned bells, a spinet, and a splendid Chinese gong.
We hear solos, duets, trios, with Uncle Richard revealing an unexpected talent on the viola da gamba. Warmed up by the orange shrub I am liberally passing around, the guests join in many a drinking song, some of them going back to the youth of this aging group, some just imported from London. Surrounded by his old friends, Grandfather is beaming. I think that what he particularly loves about music is the conviviality it creates, a glowing comradeship in which he basks.
And to top it off, after the candles have been lit, they sing Grandfather's absolute favorites, the traditional Scottish songs, so sad and so moving in their simplicity. The grand climax is Sae Merry As We Twa Hae Been (So Merry We Two Have Been), at which point Aunt Jane joins in, with tears running down her wrinkles.
Forgetting for a moment her duties as a hostess, aunt Sally asks that they sing My Plain Country Joan ("It's Father's love song to my mother," she whispers in my ear.) And they all raise their voices:
Of all the Chloes and Philisses Poets may prate
I sing my plain Country Joan
Now twelve years my wife, Still the joy of my life,
Bless'd day that I made her my own.
Not a word of her face, her shape, or her eyes,
Of flames or of darts shall you hear,
Tho' I beauty admire, 'tis virtue I prize,
That fades not in seventy years.
In health a companion, delightful and dear,
Still easy, engaging and free,
In sickness no less than the faithfullest nurse
As tender as tender can be.
In peace and good order my household she keeps
Right careful to save what I gain
Yet cheerfully spends and smiles on the friends
I've the pleasure to entertain.
Am I laden with care, she takes off a large share,
That the burden never makes me to reel
Does good fortune arrive, the joy of my wife
Quite doubles the pleasure I feel.
Were the fairest young princess, with millions in purse
To be had in exchange for my Joan,
She could not be a better wife, might be a worse,
So I'll cling to my lovely old Joan!
Here, descendants, this poem is my gift to you. If, unlike me, you have a good singing voice, you'll be able to delight your wife with this song on your wedding anniversary. The music, says Aunt Sally, is to be found in The Musical Century, or One Hundred English Ballads, published by Henry Carey in London, 1737.
My father's answer to my cautious enquiry has arrived. Will it be as I imagined: little or nothing about his own situation, but all about his concern for Elizabeth's health? Yes, exactly. He does not have the leisure to acquaint me with the particulars of his situation. "Suffice it to say we have been abominably ill-used." He has kept an exact diary of all that happened and may send it to me sometime. Elizabeth has not yet recovered from her fright, her anxiety has nearly deprived her of life, the least sudden noise throws her into hysterics. He has tried in vain to prevail on her to go to Barbados or England, "where she has friends and relations who will treat her with that kindness and respect with which she has always treated mine," but she is not willing to go off by herself while he, obviously, cannot accompany her. Finally, the expected reproach: "She has no relations of her own in this country to whom she can resort, or from whom she can receive any comfort in a time of distress; and she cannot but take notice that mine do not at present seem disposed to give themselves any concern about her, omitting even those enquiries and outward forms of complaisance and civility which she daily receives from strangers."
As to me, he enjoins me not to concern myself with politics (as if that were possible!), to acquire as much useful learning as I can (meaning Latin?), and to enroll in the fencing school, even though it is extravagantly expensive. He also wants me to send "a new Pamphlet published by Bell, entitled Common Sense."
How will he react to that? He'll hate it, surely.
What, I wonder, goes on in the heads of our parents and educators? How can they imagine that we boys remain placidly unconcerned by current events when this revolution is brewing, this war in which we will have to fight, maybe die?
Dear unborn descendants,
Pity your poor ancestor Temple, not yet sixteen and already supposed to write an essay on the subject of SPACE: IS IT A REAL BEING, OR NOT? As if I knew ... as if I cared at a time when we may be on the verge, as my grandfather predicted, of "the greatest revolution the world has ever seen." A revolution that is already tearing apart my freshly discovered family and tearing me apart, too.
But I have no choice. I have to fill a number of pages with whatever pompous nonsense I can conjure up. The proper way to begin, says the teacher, is to announce the subject and the sources one proposes to use. Here goes:
"Gentlemen, Various have been the Opinions concerning a subject which at present demands our attention, namely whether Space is a Real Being or not. Many great and learned men have disputed this subject, among which are Watts, Clarke, Jackson, Doddridge and many others; some of these Gentlemen have been of a different way of thinking from the Rest, but the greater part of them strongly assert that Space is not a Real Being, but a mere abstract Idea, which opinion seems to me the most Natural."
Are you impressed, descendants? So many words to say so little! And how do I know those imposing names? Because last year, back in my London school, I received as a prize a big book by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), "English theologian and hymn writer" says the front page. Indeed, under the direction of Mr. Elphinston, we sang Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past, a hymn composed by Watts, and it was my favorite one. Needless to say, I never read his book until now.
As to Samuel Clarke (1675-1729), his Being and Attributes of God was the prize that Caldwell had received. He slipped it into my trunk with a note expressing the wish that it would be good for my soul, so much in need of improvement.
Now, Temple, after this magnificent opening you should come up with a thought of your own, preferably a deep-sounding thought. Yes.
"It may not be amiss, before I proceed, to mention where we get the Idea of Space. We get the Idea of Space both by our Sight and touch, which I think is so evident that it would be as needless to prove that Men perceive by their Sight a Distance between two Bodies of Different Colours or between the parts of the Same Body, as that they see Colours themselves."
Oh dear, I'm no good at philosophy. I'm getting lost. I must try another angle.
"If Space is a Substance it must be God: for those who assert its Reality maintain (as they needs must do) that it is Self-existant, infinite & immutable; & it is well known that God is the only Self-existant, Infinite and immutable Being. — Space cannot be God, since mere Space has neither Wisdom nor Power, and every one that acknowledges there is a God allows him to be both Omniscient & Omnipotent."
I don't know what you will think of this rambling, you future people of the nineteenth and maybe twentieth century. I'm sure you'll know all about Space in your day. I don't.
People who thought at first that Grandfather had to be the author of Common Sense have heard him deny it so categorically that they are now inclined to believe that it may be the work of Tom Paine. And when they meet him in the various taverns he loves to frequent, they shout: "Hello, Common Sense, who wrote it? Is it you or John Adams?" Paine answers by quoting his own text:
"Who the author is, is wholly unnecessary to the public, as the object for attention is the doctrine itself, not the man. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say that he is unconnected with any party, and under no sort of influence, public or private, but the influence of reason and principle." And in the same breath, Paine asks: "Now, who buys me a beer?" Many — too many — hands are raised.
After a couple of beers, he volunteers another quotation:
"Let the names of Whigs and Tories be extinct! And let none other be heard among us than those of a good citizen, a virtuous supporter of the RIGHTS OF MANKIND, and of the FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA!"
The information about the taverns, needless to say, comes from Uncle Richard. I would never be allowed into a tavern.
Incredible but true: more than 100,000 copies of Common Sense have already been sold! One has never seen anything like that!
Still more incredible but equally true: my father's reaction. He professed to be happy about that incendiary publication. He thinks it will help the King's cause because it will backfire. "Now," he says, "the people of sense and property will understand the true intentions of this rabble rouser and see the real danger." All this, as usual, through Drummer. Oh yes, my father also believes that now, finally, the tide is turning and the right moment has come for England to send peace commissioners to America. My poor, deluded father.
Ever since we landed in Philadelphia, Grandfather has been repeating that among the first things a new country needs is its own, new currency. This has been happening over the last months with various denominations of the dollar making their appearances, but this morning he came down brandishing a sheet on which he had been drawing sketches for half a dollar, one third, two thirds, and one sixth of a dollar. He even inserted some Latin words which I shall not attempt to translate. They have to do with the power of the wind, I think.
History, being History you must remember that a little while ago I told you about a new committee: the Committee of Secret Correspondence (not to be confused with the Secret Committee!), a committee of five people headed, as usual, by Grandfather. Their first enterprise was to get a Monsieur Dumas involved in helping the cause of the colonies. As I was transcribing Grandfather's letter to Dumas, I was wondering how a private citizen, living in Holland, might be able to help. But this new letter that Grandfather has just thrust into my hands, asking me to copy it, is quite different. It is an American, this time, who is being sent to France. A man named Silas Deane.
— "Do you know this Silas Deane, Grandfather?"
— "Somewhat. He grew up in Connecticut, became a teacher, then turned to law and graduated from Yale, America's best center of learning along with Harvard. He has served as one of Connecticut's delegates to the Continental Congress for the last two years but has not been re-elected, so that he is free to travel. He is also experienced in business."
— "Is he fluent in French?"
— "Hardly anybody is around here, but the French Court has excellent interpreters. Of course, we'll have to equip him with the best possible set of instructions, now about to be diligently transcribed by you, Temple. And once again, PLEASE, NOT A WORD TO ANYBODY."
I sigh: "Why hasn't somebody invented a copying machine? It should be easier to invent than a printing press, no?"
— "If someone invents one, I'll be the first to buy it, I promise you."
Whereupon he pats me on the shoulder and departs.
Poor Silas Deane! Poor Temple! This is a long document.
First of all, Mr. Deane is to pretend for the whole length of his stay in France that he is just a merchant engaged in the business of providing goods for our Indian trade — the Indians, it seems, are fascinated by the European use of metal and they want lots of iron cooking pots as well as iron heads for their tomahawks. They also yearn for warm woollens since they do not have sheep.
However, Mr. Deane's main object would be to perform a delicate diplomatic mission. Under the guidance of Grandfather's pro-American friends, he is to contact the Comte de Vergennes, France's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and obtain a meeting with him. In the course of that meeting, he should reveal that he has been dispatched by Congress to apply to some European power for a supply of military equipment. France is the country of choice for such an application. Given the wealth that England has accumulated from its trade with the American colonies, France stands to have much to gain from replacing England and benefiting from commercial relations with a part of the world whose population is increasing at a rapid pace.
Should Mr. Deane find the Foreign Minister not inclined to engage in free conversation, he should shorten his visit, leave his memorandum for consideration, as well as his address, and mention that he will remain in Paris for some time.
Should he be summoned to a later visit, he should try to find out whether, in case the colonies were forced to reform themselves into an independent state, France would acknowledge them as such, receive their ambassadors, enter into any treaty or alliance with them, for commerce, or defense, or both.
On top of all that, Mr. Deane should — of course! — keep a daily Journal of all his material transactions, record his conversations with important people, keep Congress informed, visit Mr. Dumas in Holland and obtain credit for purchases of war supplies if the French government refuses to get involved.
This, dear descendants, is a mere summary of the Congressional instructions.
All I can say is: Good luck, Silas Deane!
I can almost hear you protesting, dear descendants: what's the matter with Temple? After dating all his entries so carefully, he is now skipping from March 2 to June 12? Has he sailed back to England? Has he been expelled from school and felt too ashamed to tell us? Has he run off with Abigail?
No, no, none of the above, though the last of those guesses would have been bliss. In fact, it has been a tumultuous and devastating period. Like the rest of the family, I thought Grandfather would not survive it — and then what would happen to me in a world at war and a father on the "wrong" side of the conflict? I lost all interest in my studies and my grades plummeted to the point that the school compelled me to spend all my time trying to catch up. (I have, almost.)
But today, as some of those dark clouds are lifting, I will fill you in on the lives of the Franklin family as it approaches the country's momentous hour.
First of all, a look back at one of the principal actors — as always, Grandfather.
One morning in early March, I was sleepily copying a letter he wrote to General Charles Lee, an expatriate Englishman now serving under General Washington. Tom Paine, who is to deliver that letter to Lee, asked Grandfather for a line of introduction, and Grandfather wrote that Paine, in his view, is the author of Common Sense. A few lines down, to my surprise, Grandfather tells Lee: "I hope for the pleasure of conferring with you face to face in Canada."
CANADA? At his age? At this time of year? Grandfather must have been sleepy, too, when he wrote this. Proud to have spotted a mistake, I asked him at breakfast what he really meant. All I got for my pains was a curt summons to join him in his room. Yet Canada was plainly legible in his manuscript. Was our Dr. Franklin wrapping himself once more in secretiveness?
— "You've clearly written Canada," I declared coldly.
— "Of course I did. But I don't want Jane and Sally to know. Not yet. Women always feel it is their duty to stop their man in any new enterprise, even when they know he'll go anyway. Now they'll implore and cry and pester me to stay home. Good thing they don't know that I myself don't feel like going..."
— "So why are you going?"
— "I have no choice, Billy. It is the usual story: Congress wants me to head the commission they are sending to plead with the Canadians to join our fight for independence. I'm sure it is a hopeless mission."
— "Can't you tell them that in Congress?"
— "No. I have pledged my life — whatever is left of it — to independence. I cannot back away." A pause. He opens his desk and hands me a sealed envelope. "You are to turn sixteen very soon. This is my birthday present. Don't open it right away."
As we reached the door to the breakfast room, he whispered: "Quick, think of a place beginning with a C!"
— "Well," exclaimed Aunt Jane, "what was the mystery word?"
— "Congress," I said. Disbelief could be seen all over her face.
As I passed Uncle Richard, smoking his post-breakfast pipe, he whispered: "Come to my room during your midday break."
And so I did.
— "Here I am, Uncle Richard. Tell me, why is Grandfather acting so strangely?"
— "Billy, how much do you know about Canada?"
— "I remember vaguely that when I was in New Jersey last summer the colonists invaded Canada to promote, they said, the peace and security of the people living there, but I was having so much fun at the time, learning to ride, that I never enquired any further."
— "Indeed. First of all, let me point out that history is full of ironies. By the time people finally obtain what they want, they discover that, alas, it is no longer what they want."
— "Did that happen to Grandfather?"
— "And how! Let us go back to the days of the French and Indian War. France and England, as you know, have been fighting each other for centuries. On the battlefields of Europe. When the New World was discovered, it became a new stage for their rivalry. As the English colonies settled along the coast, the French occupied vast tracts of what is now Canada and even pushed south all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi. A confrontation was inevitable. It took place around Quebec, with the French garrison entrenched behind formidable cliffs, and the British attacking from below. The British finally won, but at a heavy price in lost lives."
— "But that was long ago..."
— "Wait a minute, Temple. A problem arose in 1762, when the peace negotiations were taking place. It was difficult for the diplomats to decide whether to give Canada to Britain and let the French have the sugar islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, or vice- versa. This has to do with what is called the balance of power, the principle of not letting one country grow much stronger than the others.
"Your Grandfather, at that time a great admirer of the British Empire, and of King George III, published article upon article in the newspapers in favor of keeping Canada English. When it did happen that way, he was elated."
— "Now I understand his problem! He must wish the French were in power in Canada these days, now that France is America's best hope for independence."
— "Exactly. That is why he is in low spirits and feels that he has to compensate for his past error in judgment, even at the risk of his life."
— "And do you believe, Uncle Richard, that this is really a hopeless mission?"
— "It looks that way. The Americans are getting nowhere in their siege of Montreal. Their army is freezing, hungry, desperate, out of funds. Why would the Canadians want to abandon their allegiance to England at this point, no matter how well Dr. Franklin pleads the colonies' cause?"
I told Uncle Richard how grateful I was that he should take time to explain things to me and he answered that he was grateful to have someone to talk to. What did he mean by that?
— "I mean that since Mrs. Jane Mecom has honored us with her presence, my wife has been so busy living up to Bostonian standards that she has no time for me anymore."
— "Are Bostonian standards different from Philadelphia standards?"
— "They are the very opposite. Boston is rigid; I lived there, I know. Philadelphia is tolerant. Bostonians are almost all Anglo-Saxon and Puritan. Philadelphians come from many countries, a wonderful diversity. No wonder your grandfather ran off from Boston at seventeen."
We let it go at that. I had to get back to school. I related this conversation to George Fox and he agreed with Uncle Richard.
Looking pale and drawn, Grandfather departed for Canada in late March. As he was finally stepping away from the family wails and ultimate recommendations, Aunt Jane shouted after him: "Give my love to William and Elizabeth!" He turned around and replied icily: "I'm avoiding Perth Amboy."
I still had in my pocket my father's last letter lamenting Grandfather's plan to undertake this journey. Nothing, he wrote, had ever given him more pain. Would there be a way to dissuade Dr. Franklin, he asks.
Of course not, Father, no more than there is a way to dissuade you. I just heard that of all the royal governors you are the one who has been serving the longest. Wouldn't it be time to quit? And give me, your son, a normal life, finally?
News of the Canada-bound commissioners arrived only in dribbles. We heard that after sailing up the Hudson they had to pause in Saratoga because Lake George was frozen. Grandfather wrote from there to a friend: "I have undertaken a fatigue that at my time of life may prove too much for me. So I sit down to write to a few friends by way of farewell." Farewell? He's giving up on life? Panic grips Franklin Court.
We learn a little later that at St. John's he spent two nights sleeping on the floor of a house destroyed in battle and vandalized after that ... but he carried on.
It took the commission one month to reach Montreal, and once there, they realized the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen an expedition launched so far from home without adequate money, supplies, and reinforcements. After discussing the situation with the gravely wounded Colonel Benedict Arnold, my grandfather wrote to Congress: "If money cannot be had to support your army here with honor, so as to be respected instead of hated by the people, we repeat it as our firm and unanimous opinion that it is better immediately to withdraw it." Whereupon he decided to go home.
He reached us in June, more dead than alive and was immediately put to bed. The doctor mentioned the names of various illnesses of which I only understood "boils" and "gout." There was also something that began with pso — and had to do, I believe, with his skin, but I decided not to ask. The aunts are frantic enough as it is and my role is to keep the little boys fed, washed and quiet.
I'll use this relative quiet to relate what has been going on in Perth Amboy, not that the news from there is either happy or glamorous. My father sends me his usual list of errands, to be promptly fulfilled, of course, while urging me to improve my French and my Latin, along with my fencing and horsemanship.
I don't seem to do anything right these days. Thinking my father and Elizabeth would enjoy some youthful company, I accepted their invitation to spend the Easter holiday in Perth Amboy. What a mistake! All I accomplished was to get on their nerves. Money is the bone of contention. Now that Uncle Richard, for reasons unknown, refuses to advance me my allowance, in spite of Father's promise to reimburse him, that modest sum has become a sore point. Allright, allright, I spend it too fast even though I have been shown the proper way to establish a budget, I'm disorderly, I always seem to be in one place while my socks and shirts are in another, I forget half the stupid errands they entrust me with, I forget to send the issues of the newspapers they want, and so on. The list of my sins is long, and I don't even pretend to care.
Yes, I know, Father's dream of a fortune in Vandalia, out West, has been crushed; he is even unsure of his future salary as a governor, my allowance is more than what he received at my age and he refuses to see me indulge in excesses that will "ruin my constitution, hinder my growth, and make me miserable thereafter." (Can't he see that I am healthy and tall?)
Meanwhile, momentous events are happening. The Provincial Congress of New Jersey assumes more and more authority in the colony. It holds elections and appoints its own delegates to the Continental Congress. Father is totally by-passed.
Back in Philadelphia, I opened the envelope Grandfather had given me and found myself with more money than I'd ever held in my hand. I rushed to the shop where I'd seen the ruby-red shawl. Upon hearing my name, the old lady who runs it gave me a nice discount in honor of Dr. Franklin, her hero. My plan was to have Abigail wear the shawl during our walks, after which I would stuff it in a bag and hide it somewhere in my room. Brilliant!
No, not so brilliant. As I was hovering near the City Tavern with the precious shawl in its bag, a man hailed me: "Billy Franklin!"
— "Yes, Sir?"
— "Pay close attention. I have a message for you. Don't you ever come here again and wait for Abigail. That's what her father wants me to tell you, and he means it."
— "What harm have we done? We only walked..."
— "I don't care what you did. Abigail has been slapped and locked up in her room until she promises to obey. As to you, if you don't want a black eye or two, keep away. What's in that bag?"
He snatched it from me before I could answer. "I will give it to her mother. Be on your way, now. I want to see you disappear."
So that's why Abigail looked so anxious on our last walks. She must have guessed that a spy was lurking somewhere.
I'll never kiss her dimples again. Goodbye, first love. I can't write more than that.
— "Good morning, Grandfather. Are you feeling better?"
A grunt. He is in bed, face turned towards the wall. Only the top of his skull is showing.
— "I'm bringing you a cup of nice warm broth."
— "As a matter of fact, you have a choice between two kinds of broth: a Philadelphia one and a Boston-style one.
— "I don't want broth. I'm full of broth."
— "What would you like, Grandfather?"
— "To be left in peace."
— "Allright. But I have to tell you an important thing. Yesterday, my father was arrested 'as an enemy of the liberties of this country' because of his attempt to convene his Assembly against the will of the new Provincial Congress in New Jersey. His salary has been stopped. He is given the chance to escape confinement by signing a parole declaring his promise to reside from now on in Princeton or on his farm in Rancocas. I know in my bones that he will refuse. If he refuses, he'll be led under strong guard to Burlington where his fate will be decided on June 21st."
— "Isn't there anything you can do to help him?"
— "One last question. Since you told me that I should always honor my father, don't you agree that I should join him in Burlington to show some support and solidarity?"
He turns around, finally, in a great upheaval of sheets and blankets, and shouts: "You are out of your mind, Temple. That is the stupidest, the worst thing you can do. Just stay at home, quietly, don't make yourself conspicuous."
Now that he is looking straight at me, I can see how sick he is. His face is feverish, very red, swollen, covered with blotches. He looks at me standing there, the son of the governor, a boy who sees his father in disgrace and has to watch, helpless, after so many years of not even knowing who his father was.
— "I tried to save him from himself," says Grandfather, "but it was impossible, he would not listen."
— "Yes, I know."
— "How would you know?"
— "I overheard your discussion when you picked me up in Perth Amboy last summer."
— "Yes, we were very angry, very loud. Listen, Temple, I know I'm being cranky, but I must tell you that the thing I hate most in life is being fussed over and that is exactly what your aunts are doing, all the time. My only chance for recovery is to get out of the house, out of Philadelphia, into the country, staying with my old friend the clockmaker, Mr. Duffield. Can you arrange for a carriage to take me there?"
— "I'll do my best. Right now I want to tell you something that happened in May while you were away and that will please you, I'm sure."
— "Something political?"
— "Yes. On May 10, the New Jersey Congress resolved that it was absolutely out of the question for Americans to swear allegiance to any government under the crown of Great Britain, or words to that effect. Things are moving quickly now in the direction you want."
And that was our disappointing conversation. When I went downstairs to my aunts bustling in the kitchen, I explained as gently as I could that Grandfather desperately needed fresh air and a change of scenery ... as if getting to Montreal and back had not been scenery enough!
Drummer knocked on our door this morning, the bearer of a little piece of paper he thought might put our minds at ease. When the new leaders of New Jersey decided to arrest my father, they ordered the Colonel entrusted with that mission to act with "all the delicacy and tenderness which the nature of the business can possibly admit." Those are the words that my kind friend had copied. They brought tears of relief from Aunt Sally.
I haven't mentioned Aunt Sally lately. She is getting heavy with the new baby and has frequent backaches. And this after months of not being able to keep her food down, especially in the morning. Uncle Richard explained calmly that this is a common condition, nothing to worry about, it only lasts a few months. As for me, I wonder how women ever have the courage to have a second child, let alone half a dozen or more. As to Aunt Jane, she is less exuberant than when she arrived, but still discovering new beauties in the poetry of Alexander Pope. They both accepted with good grace Grandfather's wish to move out. I think I know why: Sally and Jane have been whispering to each other these last few days and I finally discovered that they were planning to be in Burlington on the day of my father's trial.
— "To blow a kiss to my brother," said Sally. "He has always been such a kind brother."
— "To show support to my favorite nephew," said Aunt Jane.
But they gave up their plan. The carriage drive would have been too hard on Aunt Sally in her present condition and their plan would have infuriated Uncle Richard who feels that we should all keep out of his brother-in-law's predicament.
Lord Admiral Richard Howe, the Peace Commissioner from England, has finally arrived and sent a circular letter to all colonial governors promising pardon to those who help to restore order. Too late, alas. Those conciliatory words, I fear, won't do any good.
Grandfather writes to General Washington that he has been ill and out of touch, but he knows that a Declaration of Independence is in the works.
The awesome day has come and gone. Father made the proposed "tenderness and delicacy" impossible. In no uncertain terms, he told the Provincial Congress that they were an illegal body, definitely not representative of the population of New Jersey. He called them "pretended patriots," "insidious malcontents bent on replacing British liberty with Republican tyranny." He refused to answer the questions asked by the President of Congress. At some point, Mr. Witherspoon, President of Princeton College, lost his temper and alluded sarcastically to Father's "exalted birth." It was finally decided, with the approval of the Philadelphia Continental Congress, that the governor should be removed from New Jersey and sent under guard to the custody of Governor Trumbull in Connecticut. Exactly what Father had predicted!
As my aunts shed copious tears, I wondered whether this was Father at his worst — unbearably arrogant — or at his best — true to himself, whatever the cost. "To thine own self be true..." a nice Shakespeare quotation that might comfort Aunt Jane in a calmer moment.
On the very day of Father's trial, Grandfather, now back home and feeling much better, was looking over Mr. Jefferson's draft of a Declaration of Independence. Mr. Thomas Jefferson, a tall, lanky man with reddish hair, lives only a couple of blocks from us on Market street. The motion for such a Declaration was proposed some time ago by a fellow Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, but is acted upon only now. Known to be an excellent writer, Mr. Jefferson, also a Virginian, was quite upset by the many changes to his text suggested by various congressional colleagues. Grandfather told me that he had recommended only one important change. In the introductory sentence, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable..." Grandfather suggested replacing those two qualifiers by the word self-evident, and Jefferson agreed.
Congress has voted for independence! To my surprise, Pennsylvania was reluctant but Grandfather eventually carried the day. He was highly excited when he came home. "Let's have our own celebration right here, around the dining table," he said. "We could do it the day after tomorrow, July 4th. Jane and Sally, get us a really good dinner, please, and I'll work on a plan I'm devising for all of us to read it aloud, in turn, this extraordinary document. Something we'll remember to our last day."
— "What about Willy?" I asked. "He cannot read yet and he won't give us a minute's peace if he feels excluded."
We had to find a way to keep the three-year-old busy, and Benny came up with an idea:
— "Grandpapa could cut up into pieces this thing we'll be reading, one piece for each person, and Willy can hand out the pieces to us. He knows the numbers up to 5, so all we have to do is mark them." With his new teeth, Benny's lisp has almost gone. I miss it.
Aunt Sally, too, had an idea. "I have a big red sash in my drawer. With a piece of chalk I'll write on it Independence. Then I'll wrap it around Willy and pin it tightly. He'll love it."
The great day! The aunts have produced gastronomic marvels, Grandfather ate them heartily and he is about to start the family ceremony:
Grandfather: "I shall read you first the reasons for which this Declaration of Independence has to be made:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation.
"And now, son-in-law Richard will read the fundamental principles upon which the Declaration is based."
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT:
That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Grandfather: "This should not be done lightly, of course. People will often accept some suffering rather than abolish the form of government to which they are accustomed. Temple, will you read the passage explaining under what circumstances revolting is the right thing to do?"
Me, a little shaky:
When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, shows a design to reduce the people under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
Grandfather: "And now, Sally and Benny, will you take turns in reading the list of bad things the King has done to us in America? There are so many of them that I have had to skip some."
He has obstructed the administration of justice by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
He has rendered the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
He has given his assent to acts of pretended legislation.
Benny, who has been rehearsing all afternoon:
Acts of legislation for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;
For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;
For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;
For imposing taxes on us without our consent;
For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering the forms of our governments.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny.
He has excited domestic insurrection among us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
Uncle Richard: "And now I'll read about the Americans' efforts at reconciliation."
We have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.
Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our British brothers. We have warned them of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity. They, too, have been deaf to the voice of justice. We must therefore accept the necessity of our separation.
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is totally dissolved; and that these independent states have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts which independent states may do.
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
There was a round of applause. Willy had behaved magnificently, handing out the papers in proper order and standing at attention the rest of the time, holding hands with Bob. He refused to take off his sash at bedtime and proclaimed loudly that he was Independence. Benny wore his usual serious expression. Aunt Jane only listened because she could not find her reading glasses, but she nodded vigorously through the performance. Uncle Richard, who has a good reading voice, delivered his pieces in an unemotional manner, with only his clenched fists betraying the inner turmoil.
Aunt Sally was fighting off her tears for all the dead, on both sides. Grandfather was glowing.
I'm sure I was the worst. My hands were shaking and my voice going up and down. All I could think of was my father in jail and the long and bloody war ahead of us — a war so long, predicted Grandfather, that he would not see the end of it, but he felt quite certain it would end in an American victory.
Everybody has gone to bed and here I am, unable to sleep, looking at the moon. I would like to send you an exciting, vibrant message, but I don't know what to say, I don't know who you'll be. If, as rumors have it, Grandfather is sent to France this coming fall to help Silas Deane who has not been very successful so far, he will certainly take me along. Should we lose this war, I may have to spend my life over there, so you may turn out to be French — possibly unable to understand what I have written? If my father eventually goes to England in exile, I may well end there, too, so you'll be English, perhaps, none too happy to have this "rebel" in your ancestry. But then, you may not come into existence at all. What proper girl would marry the twice illegitimate offspring of a colonial family?
On whose side am I in this terrifying conflict? When I arrived here, I felt intensely English, but now I think the King and Parliament showed so little understanding of the situation, so much arrogance...
Once again, as in my first diary, I feel that my destiny is completely out of my hands. No choice.
Still, I have become so fond of you during these months of writing that I'll cling to the hope of your appearance somewhere in the world, and even of your affection for
WILLIAM TEMPLE FRANKLIN,
also known as Billy
*** END OF DIARY ***
Is Temple's Diary fact or fiction? I wish to stress that as far as historical events are concerned — the battles, the political developments, Franklin's roles — I have taken no liberties. With one exception, the characters in this story were real people, given their real names and personalities — an easy task since, in collaboration with Eugenia Herbert, I wrote The Private Franklin: The Man and his Family (WW. Norton, 1976). The one exception is Abigail, invented in fond memory of my sons' romantic longings when they were fifteen.
George Fox, who became a doctor, remained a life-long friend of Temple, despite the fact that they never met again after Temple went off to Europe in 1791, after his grandfather's death, and died in Paris in 1823.
The Elphinston school in the Kensington part of London really existed, and the Provost of the College of Philadelphia — to become eventually the University of Pennsylvania — was really the Reverend William Smith, Franklin's arch-enemy.
The fiction appears only in the presentation of the material, often taking the form of dialogue rather than straight narrative. I have tried to offer as many facets as I could of eighteenth-century life, but made no attempt to reproduce the style of those days; it appears only in a few direct quotations.
And finally, Temple himself. He came into my editorial life at a time when one of my sons was going through the difficult process of detachment known as adolescence, as identity crisis. Temple, in contrast, did not know his identity, and was keener on attaching himself to a family rather than pulling away. I became fond of that motherless boy.
I thought that American students his own age would relate to him and relate to history while reading about him, caught between the opposite sides of the Revolution, somewhat like the children of divorced parents. When I showed my work in progress to a few kids his age, they liked it but said that to make it really cool, Temple should have adventures. Adventures? A boy living at home and going daily to school? That would imply fiction, or the world of magic. But Temple lived in the real world, and his great adventure was of another kind. It was emotional.
Which is why, finally, I created Temple's Diary, the diary HE could and should have written himself, but then, as he told his great-aunt Jane, he tended "to put off things until tomorrow." And I have, of course, inserted the illustrations.
I grew up in Belgium. In my late teens, when the Germans invaded my country, I underwent a transplantation to the U.S. — somewhat like Temple! — having to adapt to a different language and culture. I met my husband in New York while we were both working at the Office of War Information. When Yale offered him a position in its History Department in 1946, we moved to New Haven and had two sons.
In the mid-1950s, President Harry Truman decided that every document relevant to the founding of the Republic should be made available to the public, along with introductions, footnotes, and illustrations. Yale was chosen to publish Benjamin Franklin, in collaboration with the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, where the originals are kept. Thirty-seven volumes of the Franklin Papers have already been published by the Yale University Press — both letters to him and from him and eight more volumes will bring the project to completion.
It was my good fortune to be chosen as transcriber of the letters in French, my native language. I did that for a number of years, after which I became restless and eager to join my colleagues in editing the material. The way to promotion was publication — and I began to write.
By retirement, I was a happy and regular member of the Franklin team!
Since nature has obviously created me as a cross between a dinosaur and a dodo — genetically incapable of handling modern technology, I am ever so grateful to Douglas Heller for having assumed this horrific task and done it brilliantly.
The idea for this "Diary" came from a conversation I had, years ago, with Mark Biddle, then-President of the Independence Hall Association. His enthusiasm for my work never flagged as long as he lived. I was helped along the way by Marty Mangold, one of the most ardent "Friends of Franklin," as well as by Jonathan Parker and Ed Lawler. Nancy Gilboy, who now runs the IHA plus the International Visitors Council, has been warmly supportive. As always in my writing life, I enjoyed the wholehearted cooperation of my former colleagues, busy as they are with the publication of the 38th volume of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin, at Yale.
On November 16, 2005, Claude-Anne Lopez, author of "Temple's Diary," joined Ben Franklin (Ralph Archbold), historians, and other Franklinphiles at historic Christ Church in Philadelphia. At the invitation of the Independence Hall Association (owners of ushistory.org), Ms. Lopez traveled from her home in New Haven to introduce this new work, created exclusively for this website. She started by providing a fascinating background to her interest in Benjamin Franklin, and then read selections of the "Diary," followed by a question and answer period. Click on these links to listen to Claude-Anne Lopez.