Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820

Judith Sargent Murray's Letter 763

Judith Sargent Murray and John Murray arrived in Philadelphia in June 1790, shortly after the death of Benjamin Franklin. Judith met Franklin's daughter, Sally Bache, who was then living in her father's home. Judith saw Dr. Franklin's library, described it (see Letter 765), and related stories about the great man's character to her parents back home in Gloucester.

Anecdotes relative to Doctor Franklin, as is usually the case upon the demise of a great Man, are afloat — from the mouth of Miss Ellmore, many years a resident in his family, I select the following — Doctor Franklin is, as we know, a native of the Capital of New England, and it is storied that quitting Boston, for Philadelphia, his first Night’s lodging, after he had crossed the Delaware, was in a Quaker meeting house, his purse not furnishing him with sufficient cash, to answer the demands of an Inn! Be this as it may — Miss Ellmore’s account is from his own lips. Embarking for England, and arriving there, he engaged himself as a journeyman Printer — his gains were small, and his expenses greater than he wished; Accident brought him acquainted with an ancient female, the morning of whose life had been gilded by the bright sun of prosperity, but who, in the evening of her days, was reduced to the scanty pittance of only three pounds per annum — Her education, and some particular infirmities rendered it impossible for her to encrease her income by labour — and possessing a kind of decent Pride, which prevented the application to those, who might have relieved her, she contrived, by economy, so to manage her little sum, as to render it adequate to her necessities — Doctor Franklin was curious to know her plan of life, and she informed him, that her diet consisted entirely of oaten meal, which her coals prepared, without the smallest addition, except what it received from this same fire — This was her whole support, and this nourishment, appeared quite sufficient in the exigencies of her Nature — Her spirits considering her years, and her misfortunes, were good, and she was much in flesh — “Well, but” said young Franklin “although I would fain try this experiment, yet not living by myself — I have no means of preparing this frugal repast, for there is a kind of Necessity, for my accommodating myself, to those, with whom I associate[”—] The good woman soon obviated with difficulty, by informing him, that as fire, and water, were the only additions which [t]he oaten meal received, if he would purchase that article, it would be easy for her to prepare it with her own — This expedient was eagerly accepted and for a great length of time, almost the whole of the young man’s earning were redeemed — Thus did the frugality of youth lay a foundation of the ease, and affluence of succeeding life [—] Doctor Franklin was still more penurious of time, appropriating every moment to the best possible purpose — his character is, as I believe, deservedly respected — perhaps his Genius was as nearly universal as that of any mortal’s who hath yet lived, his memory is highly revered in this City, and it seems to me, beyond a doubt, that he has deserved well of Mankind [—]


Judith Sargent Murray to Winthrop Sargent and Judith Saunders Sargent (her parents), 26 June 1790

1998 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

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