Benjamin Franklin and his Mama and Daddy
God loves people so much that He commanded us to honor our fathers and mothers. When obedience to that commandment breaks down, society is in a mess.
As I continued to work on our update of America the Beautiful this week, I enjoyed learning more about Benjamin Franklin’s parents, the thoughts and feelings he had about them, and how he honored them.
Benjamin’s father, Josiah Franklin, came to New England in 1682 in search of freedom of religion. With him were his wife and three children. The couple had four more children in America. In New England, Josiah became a candlemaker and soapmaker.
After the first Mrs. Franklin died, Josiah married Abiah Folger. A few months ago I wrote to you about Thomas Mayhew Jr., who taught the Wampanoag people on Martha’s Vineyard. In 1651 Thomas Jr. began the first school on Martha’s Vineyard. Its purpose was to teach Wampanoags. Mayhew hired Peter Folger to become the first teacher. Peter Folger was Abiah’s father.
Josiah and Abiah had ten children. When Abiah gave birth to their youngest son in Boston in 1706, they named him Benjamin after Josiah’s brother. Counting the children of his first marriage, Benjamin was his father’s tenth son. In his autobiography, Benjamin said, “I was the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations back.”
When I thought about Franklin’s description of his father, I understood better how Benjamin Franklin became the amazing printer, author, inventor, scientist, and philosopher that he became.
In his autobiography, Franklin told his readers about his father’s “person and character.” He said that his father was ingenious. He said that his father “could draw prettily.” He said that he “was skilled a little in music, and had a clear pleasing voice, so that when he played psalm tunes on his violin and sung withal, as he sometimes did in an evening after the business of the day was over, it was extremely agreeable to hear.”
Franklin described his father as “very handy in the use of . . . tradesmen’s tools,” but he said that “his great excellence lay in a sound understanding and solid judgment in prudential matters, both in private and public affairs.” Franklin said, “I remember well his being frequently visited by leading people, who consulted him for his opinion in affairs of the town or of the church he belonged to, and showed a good deal of respect for his judgment and advice.”
Josiah Franklin used mealtime to educate his children. His son said his father liked to have “some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with [at mealtimes], and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life . . . .”
Franklin wrote that his parents “lie buried together at Boston, where I some years since placed a marble over their grave.” This is the inscription Franklin put on his parents’ tombstone:
Abiah his wife,
lie here interred.
They lived lovingly together in wedlock
Without an estate, or any gainful employment,
By constant labor and industry,
with God’s blessing,
They maintained a large family
and brought up thirteen children
and seven grandchildren
From this instance, reader,
Be encouraged to diligence in thy calling,
And distrust not Providence.
He was a pious and prudent man;
She, a discreet and virtuous woman.
Their youngest son,
In filial regard to their memory,
Places this stone.
Some of us can still honor our parents while they live. Others of us can honor their memory. We all can teach our children how to honor us by how we honor our own parents.
Listen to your father who begot you,
And do not despise your mother when she is old. . . .
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice,
And he who sires a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and your mother be glad,
And let her rejoice who gave birth to you.
Proverbs 23:22, 24-25
Note: From the number of children Franklin mentioned on his parents’ tomb, I assume that some of his siblings died in childhood.