Benjamin Franklin’s Wife: Deborah Read

Benjamin Franklin is often remembered as one of America’s founding fathers and a renowned inventor, but behind every great man is a great woman. Franklin’s wife, Deborah Read, was an important part of his life and helped him achieve his many accomplishments. Deborah was a strong and independent woman who supported her husband’s work and helped him become one of the most famous Americans of all time. Their story is a great example of how a strong relationship can help someone achieve their goals.

Family Background

Deborah Read (1708-1774) was born around 1708 in Birmingham, England. The family immigrated to British America, settling in Philadelphia, in 1711. Her parents, John Read and Sarah White Read, were Quakers; so Deborah was raised in that faith. John was a carpenter and building contractor. She had two brothers and one sister: John, James, and Frances respectively. Not much else is known about her early life.

Meeting Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706. When he was 10 years old, his father pulled him out of school to work in the family business. Two years later, he became an apprentice to his brother James who founded The New England Courant, a newspaper that was known for its witty and controversial content. In 1722, James was imprisoned for publishing material that was critical of the governor. Benjamin took over James’ printing business for a while before leaving his apprenticeship without his brother’s permission. He ended up in Philadelphia, where he was looking for work as a printer. It was here that he met Deborah Read for the first time.

When Deborah was 15, she met Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who was just two years her senior. Benjamin was carrying three puffy rolls. He had no bag or pockets, so he carried one roll under each arm while eating the third. Deborah was standing by the doorway of their house when Benjamin walked by. They locked eyes for a moment, and Deborah was amused by the young man with the unusual rolls. They soon began courting, and when Benjamin was not able to find living accommodations near his workplace, Deborah’s father allowed him to rent a room in their family home.

Marrying John Rogers

Benjamin and Deborah’s courtship continued, and he proposed marriage in 1724. However, Deborah’s mother did not agree to the marriage because of Franklin’s planned trip to London and his financial instability. The couple postponed their marriage plans and Franklin traveled to England. Upon arriving in London, Franklin sent a letter to Deborah informing her that he had decided to end the relationship. In the letter, he stated his intention of not returning to Philadelphia. He was stranded in London after Sir William Keith failed to follow through on promises of financial support.

Since their relationship ended, Deborah’s mother was able to convince her to marry John Rogers from England. They got married on August 5, 1725, at Christ Church, Philadelphia. The marriage quickly fell apart after only four months because Rogers could not hold a job and had acquired a considerable amount of debt before they even married. The last straw for Deborah was when a friend of Rogers visiting from England told her that he already had a wife back in his home country. They eventually separated and Rogers stole a slave before he disappeared. There were reports that Rogers made his way to the British West Indies and was killed in a fight, but the news was never confirmed.

Marrying Benjamin Franklin

Two years later, Franklin returned to Philadelphia despite his initial plan of staying in London. He and Deborah Read resumed their relationship and decided to finally marry. The problem was that, at the time, Pennsylvania law would not grant a divorce on the grounds of desertion. Deborah considered her marriage to Rogers to be over, but she was not able to legally remarry. If she did legally marry Franklin regardless, she would face a charge of bigamy with a penalty of thirty-nine lashings and life imprisonment with hard labor if Rogers were to return.

The couple decided to pursue a common-law marriage on September 1, 1730, instead to avoid these penalties. Benjamin had an illegitimate son named William and the couple raised him in their household. They also had their own children together: Francis Folger Franklin, born in October 1732 and Sarah “Sally” Franklin, born in 1743.

Final Years and Death

In 1757, Benjamin had to constantly travel to Europe for work. Deborah was afraid of the ocean, so she decided to stay in Philadelphia. She cared for their children, maintained their homes, and ran her husband’s businesses while he was away. Benjamin returned to Philadelphia in November 1762 and tried to convince Deborah to come with him to Europe. However, she still refused. When Benjamin had to go back to Europe two years later, he remained there for ten years. They did not realize that it would have been their last physical goodbye. In 1768, Deborah suffered from a series of strokes that damaged her speech and memory.

For the final years of her life, she experienced depression caused by his prolonged absence. They communicated over letters, but Benjamin never returned to Philadelphia despite finishing his work in Europe. She passed away on December 19, 1774, at the age of 66 from a stroke. Benjamin was in London when he received the news and was unable to return home for her funeral.