World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Francis Folger Franklin


Francis Folger Franklin

Francis Folger Franklin
Posthumous portrait of Francis, possibly by Samuel Johnson, a neighbor of B. Franklin ,[1] c. 1736–37.[2]
Born (1732-10-20)October 20, 1732
Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania
Died November 21, 1736(1736-11-21) (aged 4)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting place Christ Church Burial Ground
Religion Anglican

Francis Folger Franklin (October 20, 1732 – November 21, 1736)[1] was the eldest son of Founding Father of the United States Benjamin Franklin by Deborah Read.

In 1736, four-year-old Francis contracted the smallpox virus and died shortly thereafter.

Benjamin Franklin, who had been inoculated earlier in his own life, had intended for his son to be inoculated as well. However, due to an illness affecting Francis at the time planned for his inoculation, the procedure was postponed.

His death devastated both his parents, who doted upon Francis, and after this incident, Franklin became "the most eloquent advocate of smallpox inoculation."[4]


  • Life 1
  • Death and aftermath 2
  • References 3
    • Footnotes 3.1
    • Notes 3.2
    • Bibliography 3.3
  • External links 4


Abiah Folger Franklin, Francis' grandmother and namesake.

Francis Folger Franklin was born on October 20, 1732,[2] in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (then a colony in British America). He was the eldest legitimate son of Benjamin Franklin, then the publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette, and Deborah Read. Franklin also had an illegitimate son, William (born c. 1730–31),[5] whose mother may have been a maid in the household,[6] perhaps a woman named Barbara,[7] or even Deborah Read herself. It has been suggested that William was Franklin's son by Deborah, but was acknowledged as illegitimate because he had been conceived before the marriage of his parents.[8] Some accounts argue that William's birth was legitimized sometime after Francis' death, possibly due to the lack of an heir.[9]

The baby's middle name, Folger, was the maiden name of Franklin's mother, Abiah. Franklin was proud of his maternal family (one of the first settlers of New England)[10] and thus, in an era when a middle name was unusual for ordinary people to receive, Francis was baptized as Francis Folger.[11] Francis' baptism took place on September 16, 1733, while Franklin was away, at the Anglican Christ Church in Philadelphia, which Deborah attended.[12][13][14]

Francis, affectionately called "Franky" by his parents,[15] was described as a "precocious, curious and special" child by Franklin,[16] "a golden child, his smiles brighter, his babblings more telling and his tricks more magical than all the other infants in the colonies combined" by historian of medicine Howard Markel[4] and as "a most engaging child, of singular beauty and wonderful knowingness" by biographer James Parton.[17] Given that Franklin considered Francis to be a "healthy child who thrived from the start,"[18] and "very clever," he advertised for a tutor for his two sons in December 1734.[19][17] By all accounts, Francis was doted on by his parents; his portrait was painted while he was still a baby.[20] By 1734, Franklin's business as a writer, publisher and founder of the Library Company of Philadelphia was going well enough that he was able to build a house for his family of four, at 318 Market Street.[21][3]

Death and aftermath

An illustration showing the effects of smallpox inoculation.

Franklin and his brother, James, criticized smallpox inoculation, which was performed by drawing a string, previously in contact with the pustules of a smallpox victim, through a small incision on the person being inoculated. At the time, inoculation offered a mortality chance of 2%, while smallpox contracted naturally was fatal to 15% of the infected.[23] Later, while James still opposed inoculation, Franklin came to support it,[24] believing it was a "safe and beneficial practice."[19] In 1736, however, Francis contracted smallpox and died on November 21 of that year, without having been inoculated. Both Franklin and Deborah were devastated,[25] and their devastation was compounded because they were unsure they could have another child.[26] Ironically, Franklin had written his paper, "On the Death of Infants", while Francis was still alive, and was inspired by his youngest son when writing about the beauty of babies.[16] Francis was buried on the same day he died,[14] his tombstone reading "The delight of all who knew him."[27]

Rumors quickly surfaced that Francis had died after being inoculated,[23] and so, Franklin wrote in the Pennsylvania Gazette, on December 30, that "[he] intended to get [Francis] inoculated as soon as he should have recovered sufficient strength from a flux with which he had been long afflicted,"[24] and that the boy "received the distemper in the common way of infection."[25] However, the choice of having his son inoculated was a difficult one for Franklin, as Francis could die either way. Inoculation would become a real choice only if there was a high chance of smallpox being contracted naturally. In this case, the choice of having Francis inoculated was justified, even with its 2% mortality rate.[23]

After Francis' death, Franklin became involved in promoting inoculation in Philadelphia: he published many studies on its value, working with several physicians, including the famed William Heberden at the Pennsylvania Hospital, which he helped found. In 1774, he founded the "Society for Inoculating the Poor Gratis", in order to help the poor people of Philadelphia afford inoculation.[4] In his autobiography, Franklin writes:
"In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen."[28]

Seven years after Francis' death, Deborah gave birth to Sarah, who was Franklin's only surviving, legitimate child.[29][30] In 1772, Franklin's sister Jane Franklin Mecom, wrote him with news of his grandsons. Franklin replied that it "brings often afresh to my mind the idea of my son Franky, though now dead thirty-six years, whom I have seldom since seemed equaled in everything, and whom to this day I cannot think of without a sigh."[16]



  1. ^ Note that the British Empire, including colonial America, used the Julian calendar prior to September 14, 1752.[3] For more information, see Old Style and New Style dates.
  2. ^ Some biographers give Francis' date of birth simply as October 1732 (Skemp 1994, p. 185), while most offer October 20th as a birthdate (Conn 2011, p. 173; Lemay 2013, p. xi; Bouffard 2007, p. 95; Anderson 2000, p. 111). However, the inscription on Francis' tombstone reads "Aged 4 years 1 month 4 days," meaning Francis was born on October 17th, instead of October 20th.
  3. ^ The original brick house was torn down in the 1800s, but the steel outline of house is replicated at the site, now known as Franklin Court.[22]


  1. ^ Lemay 2013, p. 24.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ Lemay 2013, p. 4.
  6. ^ Skemp 1994, p. 4.
  7. ^ Currey 1968, p. 13.
  8. ^ Hart 1911, pp. 1–7.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Thayer 2012, p. 36.
  11. ^ Chaplin 2007, p. 14.
  12. ^ Lemay 1987, p. 1474.
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c Isaacson 2005, p. 97.
  17. ^ a b Parton 1867, p. 247.
  18. ^ Benge 2005, p. 82.
  19. ^ a b Gessler 2013, p. 39.
  20. ^ Isaacson 2003, p. 82.
  21. ^ Srodes 2013, p. 66.
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b c Best, Katamba & Neuhauser 2007, p. 478.
  24. ^ a b Waldstreicher 2011, p. 35.
  25. ^ a b Marcovitz 2009, p. 10.
  26. ^ Finger 2011, p. 49.
  27. ^ Wright 1996, p. 282.
  28. ^ Franklin 1950, pp. 113–14.
  29. ^ Jordan 2004, p. 701.
  30. ^ Franklin 1977, p. 17.


External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.