Archive for the ‘Franklin, Benjamin’ Category

“Encrease and Multiply” says Polly Baker

In 1747 the following purported to be the plea of a woman accused of having multiple children out of wedlock before a Connecticut court, making the case that she should not be fined or otherwise punished. It appeared in publications in Scotland, London, then in Boston and New York. No one knew if Polly Baker was real or who had written the speech. Nevertheless, the piece circulated far and wide, generating discussions of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, divorce, and the punishment due offenders. Abbé Raynal, a French ex-cleric and writer included it in his work Histoire Philosophique et Politique, 1770, questioning the severity of New England laws.

The Speech of MISS POLLY BAKER, before a Court of Judicature, at Connecticut near Boston in New-England; where she was prosecuted the Fifth Time, for having a Bastard Child: Which influenced the Court to dispense with her Punishment, and induced one of her Judges to marry her the next Day.

May it please the Honourable Bench to indulge me in a few Words: I am a poor unhappy Woman, who have no Money to fee Lawyers to plead for me, being hard put to it to get a tolerable Living. I shall not trouble your Honours with long Speeches; for I have not the Presumption to expect, that you may, by any Means, be prevailed on to deviate in your Sentence from the Law, in my Favour. All I humbly hope is, That your Honours would charitably move the Governor’s Goodness on my Behalf, that my Fine may be remitted. This is the Fifth Time, Gentlemen, that I have been dragg’d before your Court on the same Account; twice I have paid heavy Fines, and twice have been brought to Publick Punishment, for want of Money to pay those Fines. This may have been agreeable to the Laws, and I don’t dispute it; but since Laws are sometimes unreasonable in themselves, and therefore repealed, and others bear too hard on the Subject in particular Circumstances; and therefore there is left a Power somewhat to dispense with the Execution of them; I take the Liberty to say, That I think this Law, by which I am punished, is both unreasonable in itself, and particularly severe with regard to me, who have always lived an inoffensive Life in the Neighbourhood where I was born, and defy my Enemies (if I have any) to say I ever wrong’d Man, Woman, or Child. Abstracted from the Law, I cannot conceive (may it please your Honours) what the Nature of my Offence is. I have brought Five fine Children into the World, at the Risque of my Life; I have maintain’d them well by my own Industry, without burthening the Township, and would have done it better, if it had not been for the heavy Charges and Fines I have paid. Can it be a Crime (in the Nature of Things I mean) to add to the Number of the King’s Subjects, in a new Country that really wants People? I own it, I should think it a Praise-worthy, rather than a punishable Action. I have debauched no other Woman’s Husband, nor enticed any Youth; these Things I never was charg’d with, nor has any one the least Cause of Complaint against me, unless, perhaps, the Minister, or Justice, because I have had Children without being married, by which they have missed a Wedding Fee. But, can ever this be a Fault of mine? I appeal to your Honours. You are pleased to allow I don’t want Sense; but I must be stupified to the last Degree, not to prefer the Honourable State of Wedlock, to the Condition I have lived in. I always was, and still am willing to enter into it; and doubt not my behaving well in it, having all the Industry, Frugality, Fertility, and Skill in Oeconomy, appertaining to a good Wife’s Character. I defy any Person to say, I ever refused an Offer of that Sort: On the contrary, I readily consented to the only Proposal of Marriage that ever was made me, which was when I was a Virgin; but too easily confiding in the Person’s Sincerity that made it, I unhappily lost my own Honour, by trusting to his; for he got me with Child, and then forsook me: That very Person you all know; he is now become a Magistrate of this Country; and I had Hopes he would have appeared this Day on the Bench, and have endeavoured to moderate the Court in my Favour; then I should have scorn’d to have mention’d it; but I must now complain of it, as unjust and unequal, That my Betrayer and Undoer, the first Cause of all my Faults and Miscarriages (if they must be deemed such) should be advanc’d to Honour and Power in the Government, that punishes my Misfortunes with Stripes and Infamy. I should be told, ’tis like, That were there no Act of Assembly in the Case, the Precepts of Religion are violated by my Transgressions. If mine, then, is a religious Offence, leave it to religious Punishments. You have already excluded me from the Comforts of your Church-Communion. Is not that sufficient? You believe I have offended Heaven, and must suffer eternal Fire: Will not that be sufficient? What Need is there, then, of your additional Fines and Whipping? I own, I do not think as you do; for, if I thought what you call a Sin, was really such, I could not presumptuously commit it. But, how can it be believed, that Heaven is angry at my having Children, when to the little done by me towards it, God has been pleased to add his Divine Skill and admirable Workmanship in the Formation of their Bodies, and crown’d it, by furnishing them with rational and immortal Souls. Forgive me, Gentlemen, if I talk a little extravagantly on these Matters; I am no Divine, but if you, Gentlemen, must be making Laws, do not turn natural and useful Actions into Crimes, by your Prohibitions. But take into your wise Consideration, the great and growing Number of Batchelors in the Country, many of whom from the mean Fear of the Expences of a Family, have never sincerely and honourably courted a Woman in their Lives; and by their Manner of Living, leave unproduced (which is little better than Murder) Hundreds of their Posterity to the Thousandth Generation. Is not this a greater Offence against the Publick Good, than mine? Compel them, then, by Law, either to Marriage, or to pay double the Fine of Fornication every Year. What must poor young Women do, whom Custom have forbid to solicit the Men, and who cannot force themselves upon Husbands, when the Laws take no Care to provide them any; and yet severely punish them if they do their Duty without them; the Duty of the first and great Command of Nature, and of Nature’s God, Encrease and Multiply. A Duty, from the steady Performance of which, nothing has been able to deter me; but for its Sake, I have hazarded the Loss of the Publick Esteem, and have frequently endured Publick Disgrace and Punishment; and therefore ought, in my humble Opinion, instead of a Whipping, to have a Statue erected to my Memory.

In late 1777 or early 1778 Abbé Raynal visited Benjamin Franklin, who was in Paris seeking French aid for the American Revolution, and found him in the company of Silas Deane, an American diplomat. Raynal and Deane entered into a discussion of the veracity of the Baker plea. After listening to the debate for some time, Franklin broke in addressing Raynal: “M. l’Abbé, I am going to set you straight. When I was young and printed a newspaper, it sometimes happened, when I was short of material to fill my sheet, that I amused myself by making up stories, and that of Polly Baker is one of the number.” This anecdote made the rounds and the plea’s authorship was confirmed by several people close to Franklin. The piece, though humorous, had the effect of supporting the movement for social reforms.

When Franklin was a teenager he worked for his brother James who published a weekly newspaper in Boston. Young Benjamin, for fun, began secretly submitting articles, fourteen in all, as “Silence Dogood,” a fictitious widow. Her musings were hugely popular, and she received several marriage proposals. When brother James found out that Benjamin was the author he was furious leading Franklin to leave Boston the next year and strike out on his own in Philadelphia.

The Speech of Miss Polly Baker, 15 April 1747,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-03-02-0057. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 3, January 1, 1745, through June 30, 1750, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961, pp. 120–125.] Image of Franklin in his “frontiersman” attire by Johann Martin Will (1777), The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

posted October 14th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Deane, Silas,Franklin, Benjamin

“a Lad . . . engaged in the sea service”

CATHARINE LIVINGSTON undertook the responsibility of contacting Benjamin Franklin, at the time Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to France, concerning the fate of her brother John Lawrence. Catharine was the daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, and the elder sister of Sarah Livingston Jay. The Livingston family was exceedingly concerned as they had not heard from their son/brother who was a midshipman on the Saratoga in nearly a year.

Phila. Octr 19 [17]81Not long since I had the pleasure of forwarding a letter from my Father to your Excellency, but as the casualties attending the receipt of letters in War time are many, it may not reach you Sir before this, if at all— And being furnished with a very favorable opportunity by the gentleman* who will honor me with the care of this, I hope you will excuse the liberty of my troubling you Sir, with a few lines; to which I am encouraged by the attention the American Minister has shewn to his unfortunate Countrymen, & my great anxiety for a Captive Brother; now a Prisoner in some part of England; late a Midshipman on board the Saratoga—Third & youngest Son of William Livingston’s—a Lad of about 19 years of age, inspired by the example of his fellow countrymen, engaged in the sea service, with a view to assist in humbling Americas proud Foes, & restoring peace & liberty to their Republic—

The purport of my father’s letter, was Sir, to request your interest in releiving & effecting as far as in your power his Sons exchange. It is near a twelve month since my Brother left America, & no particulars has reached his family respecting his fate, but the capture of the Ship in which he sailed; for many months we suffered much on his account, those less interested than his relatives, gave up all Idea of ever hearing of the saratoga— our hope was a remote one, & would admit only of the cruel alternative of capture— my brothers situation is particularly unfortunate to him, as he has not for a few years past enjoy’d his health except at Sea, tho naturally sound & strong constitution’d—but impaired in being often exposed in the frequent incursions of the Enemy in New Jersey the State of his residence—nor can he flatter himself that he will find friends in a country to which his father is so notoriously an Enemy to—

Any releif that he experiences in consequence of your Excellency’s exertions in his favor, will be gratefully acknowledged by his Family & Friends, & particularly so by his affectionate Sister, & your very obliged Friend & Admirer

Catharine W Livingston

P.S. My Brothers name is John Lawrence Livingston

* Matthew Ridley, whom Catharine later married.

It was later learned that John Livingston was not a prisoner of war but was lost at sea with all his shipmates when the Saratoga was sunk. Such a long time to discover the truth, for a family to hope, and then to mourn. Not at all uncommon at that time.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Catharine W. Livingston, 19 October 1781,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-35-02-0464. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 35, May 1 through October 31, 1781, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999, pp. 611–612.]

posted January 9th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty"

“disorder in this part of the world”

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act, the British Parliament’s attempt to impose on its American colonies a tax on such items as newsprint, bills of lading, legal documents, playing cards, indeed on every piece of printed paper. Britain was in need of money to defray the costs of the French and Indian War which it incurred in defending its possessions in America and fighting the French abroad in what is known as the Seven Years War. Americans resented this tax: it was not a duty on imported goods but a direct tax on items used internally in the various colonies and imposed without their consent. There were many protests which often turned violent. On September 22, 1765, Deborah Read Rogers Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s wife, wrote from Philadelphia to him in London where he was representing the interests of several colonies.

I am so very poor a writer that I dont undertake to say anything about the disorder in this part of the world. But to me it seems we are very wicked and so is the people in London and other places on your side the water. I pray god mend us all.
You will see by the papers what work has happened in other places and something has been said relating to raising a mob in this place.

In October Deborah again wrote to her husband, addressing him as “My Dear Child.”

I have been to see Mr. Hughes [the designated stamp distributor] who I found a little better and able to stir himself which I know will give you pleasure and the more so as you will hear no doubt how he has been used and by men that better things might be expected from. First to have the bells muffled and send two Drums about the town to raise the mob, and send them under Mr. Hughes’ window; then send messengers to tell him that they was a Coming and would be there in a minute and almost terrify his wife and Children to death; and after this, the man who was at the head of their affair to Complement himself with the merit of preventing the mob from falling on and destroying Mr. Hughes and his whole family. . . . O how I despise such men. . . .
As ever yours till Death
D Franklin

The fact of the matter is that Franklin, out of touch with sentiment in the colonies, had at first been accepting of the Stamp Act, and had in fact sought to have some of his friends named as stamp distributors. But when he realized the anger the Act had provoked in America he changed his mind, indeed testified against the Stamp Act before Parliament in 1766, helping to secure its repeal.

The above passages can be found on page 5 of In the Words of Women. Portrait by Matthew Pratt, circa 1759.

posted November 12th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Franklin, Deborah Read Rogers,London,Philadelphia,Stamp Act

“don’t you feel quite important, I assure you I do”

I seem to be fixated on MARY WHITE MORRIS. Her story is interesting and reflects the plight of many well-to-do families in Philadelphia. Uncertain whether to stay or flee must have been hard. Mary and her children remained in Philadelphia in April 1777, awaiting evidence of the enemy’s movements. She kept her mother informed. Needless to say, rumors abounded. (See previous posts here, here, and here.)

April the first [1777]My Dear Mamma
. . . a little time Unmolest’d holding our Selfs in Readiness to fly again, if the enemy moved this way, they are not yet in motion in the Jerseys, but have sent some Ships up the north River, and Destroyd one of our magazines, many think, as I told you in my last, that their Arms will be turnd to that quarter this Spring, the Congress has appointed General Gates Commander of our northern Army, he fully expects to be visitd by them, but the Discovery of a plot last week, makes me Affraid he is mistaken, and that this is still their object, theres a fellow who is Commissioned by Lord Howe, been tampering with our Pilots, makeing them great Offers, and promises of makeing their Fortunes, if they would go with him to New York, the Honest fellows, took 50 pounds as an Earnest of their promise, but with the good intention of proveing the fact, went Immediately to the Generals and lodged their Information, Accordingly he was produced and Confessd the Charge, he is an Englishman, has Served Cucessively the late mayors of this City as a Clark, went to new York, was Introduced to Lord Howe, by your Freind Joseph Galloway for those purposes which Commission, has Ended this day with his Life. . . . Mr. Hancock intends Resigning his Seat in Congress and going home, it is Imagined he will be appointd Governor of Boston, they meant to have Complimentd Mr. Morris with the Presidentship [of Congress] but he told the Gentlemen who informed Him of it, he could not Serve, as it would Interfere intirely with his private Business, so begd it might be drop’d, any peice of Intelligence I give you that only Concern our Selfs and freinds, I hope will be confined to Mr. Halls Family. . . .
. . . . [B]y a Vessel that’s arrived at Connectigut with a very Valuable Cargo of Arms, Ammunition, Woolens, and a variety of other articles, the Congress have still a more Valuable one, Dispatches from Doctor Franklin, the French have lent us a Hundred Thousand Pounds Sterling without Interest, payable when the United States have Established Independance and peace, he is received as our Embassador, and says we have every thing to expect from the favorable Disposition of the French
[D]on’t you feel quite important, I assure you I do, and begin to be Reconsiled to Independence. . . .
your very affectionate Daughter
Mary Morris

poor Tom has been under Doctor Shippens Hands
ever since we got home it was a great misfortune
he had not the attendance of a good Surgeon before,
as it would have save[d] him a good deal of Pain.

Mary wrote again on April 8 urging her parents to come to Philaldephia.

[I]t is well worth the Ride to see how Confident every one now seems of Success, Except the Torys, theres no Other news from the Camp, than that Deserters are comeing in Constantly, who all agree, that the Enemy are very Sickly, and a general Defection between the Hessian and British Soldiery, these accounts joind to the Curcumstances of their not moveing yet, all this fine weather, Joind the good News from France, has given Life and Spirit to every body who wishes us Success. . . . we have reason to think, there will be a Bank Established in France, for the Support of our Continentall money. . . .

Joseph Galloway, mentioned by Mary, became a Loyalist during the Revolution. His wife Grace Growden Galloway was unhappy in her marriage and remained in Philadelphia after the British evacuated to try to prevent the property she brought to the marriage from being confiscated by the Patriots. She was unsuccessful. Her husband took their only surviving child Elizabeth with him when he fled to New York. After the war, Galloway lived out his days in England.
When Mary says “I . . . begin to be Reconsiled to Independence,” she indicates that she as well as her husband were not initially in favor of independence, although they resented the actions of the British. Her husband in fact absented himself from the Congress when it voted for independence so that Pennsylvania’s vote would not be divided. He later signed the Declaration of Independence placing his signature right beneath that of John Hancock and committed himself to the American cause.

The letters come from the Robert Morris Collection at the Huntington Library, Lists No. 5, pages 53-55, transcribed by Louise North. [Microfilm, courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Nuxoll].

posted June 11th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Galloway, Joseph,Hancock, John,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert,Philadelphia

“Favorable . . . that you can forgit you are grown old”

In the last post Jane Mecom mentions that her brother, Benjamin Franklin, was building a new house. Benjamin Franklin expected to retire upon his return from Europe in 1785, but he was drawn into politics and elected “president” of Pennsylvania, in effect the governor, the following year. In this letter Jane rather playfully remarks that the construction will give his life a focus and make him forget that he is getting old. Jane is such a character, lively and witty, always fun to read.

Boston Oct. 12 1786Dear Brother
I am sorry you are Pesterd with Law disputes in your old Age but as that is the case it is well you have Plenty of Ground to Inlarge your Present Dwelling. It will not only be an Amusement but in all Probebilety a sample of many Ingenious contrivances for others to Profit by in Future. I Imagin Part of your Plan will be to have a Front Dore, Entry and Starecase, to go all the way up to your Lodging Rooms and garretts; besides a Pasage from the mane Hous as I sopose thro won of your best chamber closets which will be saifer in case of Fier. I shall Expect Mrs. Bache to Inform me how it is Decorated when Finished if I live so long which it is Proble Enouf I may not. It is a Favourable circumstance that you can sometimes forgit you are grown old otherwise it might chick you in many Useful Discoveries you are makeing for yer fellow men, I wish our Poor Distracted State would atend to the many good Lesons which have been frequently Publishd for there Instruction, but we seem to want Wisdon to Giued, and honesty to comply with our Duty, and so keep allways in a Flame. . . .
Jane MecomMy love to your children and Grandchildren

Don’t you like the notion of an escape route in case of fire through a door inside a closet?

The letter can be found online in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, The Digital Edition maintained by the The Packard Humanities Institute in the unpublished letters for the years 1786-87.

posted March 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Mecom, Jane

next page

   Copyright © 2017 In the Words of Women.