Franklin and Sarah

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Sarah Franklin

Sarah Franklin, also known as Sally, was known as the fatherless daughter, but also the only child of Deborah and Franklin (since the death of Francis). Like her mother, Deborah, Sally's relationship was interrupted by the presence of another women. This woman was Polly Stevenson. Name sound familiar? Yes indeed! Polly Stevenson is the daughter of Franklin's landlady Margaret. Before we get into the London account let's look back at Sally and Franklin's relationship Pre-London.


Rock-a-bye, Sally...

Eleven years after the death of Francis Franklin (died of smallpox at age four), on September 11, 1743, Sally Franklin was born.  Less than two months after her birth, Franklin and Deborah made sure Sarah was inoculated.[i] Sally was Franklin's little princess and he was very impressed with her at such a young age. In a letter to his mother, Franklin wrote "your granddaughter is the greatest lover of her book and school of any child I ever knew."  Like a proud father he continually wrote letters about his little Sally. "Sally grows a fine girl, and is extremely industrious with her needle and delights in her books. She is of most affectionate temper, and perfectly dutiful and obliging, to her parents and to all. Perhaps I flatter myself too, much but I have hopes that she will prove an ingenious sensible, notable and worthy woman." Franklin made sure that his daughter gained the proper skills he expected her to have. When Sally was a little girl, learning how to sew a "good button hole", she was having so much trouble with it that Franklin decided to send her to learn from his tailor every day to learn how to sew button holes.[ii] When she was at a young age, Franklin began to look for a good future spouse for her.  When Sally grew much older, Franklin enjoyed playing duets together, she on the harpsichord and he on his instrument.[iii] Franklin cared for Sally greatly and wanted what was best for her. So why do many believe that this was a problem? It is commonly perceived that instead of developing Sally's intellect, he raised a dutifully woman. "In The private Franklin: The Man and His Family, it is expressed that "He did not intend to open up to her the full Pandora's Box of knowledge, but mainly the useful, the functional skills: reading and writing."[iv]


When the Bough Breaks, the Cradle Will Fall?

The situation gets even more controversial in London--of course.  During Franklin's stay in Margaret Stevenson's lodging, he was intrigued by her 18-year-old daughter, Polly Stevenson. Many have viewed Polly as the London counterpart of his daughter, much like her mother played the same to Deborah. Polly was said to be smart and eager to learn. Franklin took a likening to her and out of that grew an exceptional relationship. Some scholars believe that Franklin and Polly's relationship was also romantic; however there is not enough evidence to support that notion. Franklin wrote poems for her and sent her little notes of "tenderness." He said that she was "the most logical head of any woman he ever knew," and "a mind thirsty after knowledge and capable of receiving it."[v] He shared his ideas and new inventions with Polly, "It was a measure of their intellectual bonding that Polly would indulge this linguistic [new phonetic alphabet] as faithfully as she did."[vi] Meanwhile his contact with his own daughter became less and less. It was not like Sally was imprudent; while her father was away she wrote to him letters containing political news and descriptions of social and family life.[vii] To Franklin's defense he did not forget his daughter; he sent her many elegant gifts from London. Moreover, Franklin did ask for Sally, but Deborah chose not send her to him.  Finally, when Sally became of age" he took her on his tour--served as her coming-out party."[viii] So was Franklin simply admiring in Polly a young person full of potential?

            Whether it was tensional or unintentional, Sally received the short end of the stick in this situation. Her father left her to lead a fatherless lifestyle, while he enveloped another young girl and played her father.  The enigma of this situation is that everything that Franklin loved and appreciated about Polly is the very opposite of what he instilled in his daughter, Sally. He loved that Polly was smart and intellectually stimulating, but he cultivated Sally to be this literate-domestic figure.  Were these values even important to Franklin? Some argue that when Franklin wrote "I promise myself much comfort in her [Sally] when I grow old" that he was foreseeing her as a woman who would take care of him.[ix] This statement articulates that Franklin was prepping Sally to eventually cater and take care of him in his old age. Is this true? This statement is quite an argument, but if we were to consider it, we must also consider the milieu of the time.  In the time of Franklin there was no woman suffrage or any wave of feminism. It was the norm and culturally encouraged for women to take on the domestic role (there are still remnants of this ideology today--the 21st century) Franklin could have been prepping his daughter to be an upright and valuable woman and most importantly (for the time) to be someone's wife.  Franklin tried relentlessly to arrange the marriage of Sarah and Billy Stranhan (son of William Stranhan), but that was an unsuccessful mission.  His passion for Polly could have been because she was different. Franklin certainly did stand by his "domestication of women belief." We are able to see this when Polly seemed to be taking her studies too seriously; he lectured her about the "duty of a woman to raise a family." [x] For that reason, we can reason that Franklin did not hold different opinions on the manner when it came to Polly.

            However, the situation gets even stickier. When word gets to Franklin that his daughter had fallen in love and wanted to get married, he asked William to look into this guy's character and financial security. Shortly after, Franklin found some disturbing news about Richard Bache (her fiancĂ©).  Franklin had found out that Bache faced some financial difficulties and because of this Franklin expressed his disapproval of the pending marriage. He suggests that Sally comes to England instead, where she could meet other men. But Sally loved Bache.  In Shelia Skemp book, Benjamin Franklin and William Franklin: Father and son, patriot and loyalist, she actually credits Williams "special attentions" of the interest of Sally and Deborah.[xi] This supports the idea that Franklin was very detached from his family by "distance" and "emotionally". In regards to the wedding, Franklin sent Deborah a letter about saving money and not having an "expensive feasting wedding." In Isaacson's  Benjamin Franklin biography, he conveys this idea that instead of Franklin going home to deal with the crisis of his daughters pending marriage, he decides to go on vacation in France. Franklin ultimately misses his only daughter's wedding. There are no signs that Franklin ever expressed regret for missing the wedding, but he later replied to a letter from his sister about the new union of his daughter saying, "she has pleased herself and her mother, and I hope she will do well; but I think they should have seen some better prospect than they have, before they married, how the family was to be maintained." However, when it was time for Polly to get married to William Hewson, he gave his blessing and walk Polly down the aisle. Fascinatingly enough, Polly got married in the midsummer, which is said to be a time when Franklin "usually traveled abroad."[xii]

On That Note...

Although Franklin relationship seemed strenuous, Franklin is famous for seeking redemption for his past errata's. Despite his reservations of Bache, Franklin became more accepting and started to refer to him in his letters as "loving son" and sending him best wishes. Moreover, once Franklin finally returned to permanently live in Philadelphia, he decided to add additional rooms in the house to accommodate his daughters growing family.  After Franklin died he left Sally and Bache, "The Houses built on Market Street, the printing office, a goodly number of lots and buildings here and there in Philadelphia, all the silver plate, pictures, and household goods."[xiii] Also, for Sally only, he left "one-half of whatever funds were deposited with Franklin's bankers in Paris and London, in income of some shares in the Bank of North America, ....the miniature of Louis XIV, and the a lesion in frugality."[xiv] On the portrait, he stipulated that the 408 diamonds that surrounded it were not to be made into ornaments either for herself or her daughters, in order not to introduce the 'expensive, vain, and useless fashion of wearing jewels in this country."[xv]Although, Sally experienced the absence of her father growing up, Franklin made sure that they lived underneath the same roof when he retired in Philadelphia and entrusted all of the things he earn while being incognito in her life to her.  Whether it made up for his absence or not, in the end Franklin did not forget about his beloved Sally.


Image: Sarah Franklin

[i] Lemay, 314.

[ii] Lemay, 314.

[iii] Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Eugenia W. Herbert, 97.

[iv] Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Eugenia W. Herbert, 71.

[v] Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Eugenia W. Herbert, 83.

[vi] Isaacson,220.

[vii] Baetjer, Katherine. "Benjamin Franklin's Daughter." Metropolitan Museum Journal 38 (2003).JSTOR. Web, 169.

[viii] Isaacson, 208.

[ix] Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Eugenia W. Herbert, 71.

[x] Isaacson, 178

[xi] Skemp, Sheila L. Benjamin and William Franklin: Father and Son, Patriot and Loyalist. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin's, 1994. Print. 66.

[xii] Isaacson, 241.

[xiii] Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Eugenia W. Herbert, 306.

[xiv] ibid

[xv] Baetjer, Katherine. "Benjamin Franklin's Daughter." Metropolitan Museum Journal 38 (2003).JSTOR. Web,171.

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