Benjamin Franklin, one of the most famous of our Founding Fathers and a signer of the United States Constitution, was born January 17, 1706, on Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts.
Benjamin’s father, Josiah Franklin, was born at Ecton, Northamptonshire, England, on December 23, 1657, the son of Jane White and Thomas Franklin, a blacksmith-farmer. Benjamin’s mother, Abiah Folger, was born on August 15, 1667, in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the daughter of Peter Folger, a miller and schoolteacher, and his wife Mary Morrill, a former indentured servant.
Josiah Franklin had a large family of seventeen children. He married Anne Child, in about 1677 in Ecton and immigrated with her to Boston in 1683 with their three children; they had four children after arriving in America. After Anne’s death, Josiah married Abiah Folger on July 9, 1689, in the Old South Meeting House by Samuel Willard. Benjamin was the eighth child of Abiah and Josiah; however, he was Josiah’s fifteenth child and tenth and last son.
Abiah Folger Franklin was born into one of the Puritan families that fled from England when King Charles I began persecuting Puritans. They immigrated to Massachusetts in 1635 in order to establish a purified Congregationalist Christianity there. Abiah’s father was “the sort of rebel destined to transform colonial America.” He was clerk of the court when he was jailed for defending middle-class shopkeepers and artisans who were in conflict with wealthy landowners and disobeying the local magistrate in doing so. Benjamin Franklin followed in his grandfather’s footsteps while battling the wealthy Penn family that owned the Pennsylvania Colony.
Benjamin was never ashamed of his roots in the working class and became famous due to his willingness to work and try new things. He became a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. Franklin was a “major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass `armonica’. He facilitated many civic organizations, including a fire department and a university.”
Benjamin Franklin is known as “The First American” for his early and tireless campaign for colonial unity and as an author and spokesman for several colonies while in London. While serving as the “first United States Ambassador to France, he exemplified the emerging American nation. Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. In the words of historian Henry Steele Commager, `In a Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat.” To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin, `the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.’”
As the British postmaster in the colonies for many years, Franklin set up the first national communications network. He was also active in affairs and politics on the community, colonial, state, national, and international levels. He served as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788. He became “one of the most prominent abolitionists” when he freed his slaves toward the end of his life.
Franklin is “one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers” because of his colorful life as well as his legacy of scientific and political achievement. He is honored on coinage, money, warships, names of many towns, counties, educational institutions, namesakes, and companies. Even two centuries after his death, he is honored in countless cultural references.