Jane Franklin Mecom
Born on March 27, 1712, Jane Franklin was the youngest sister of Benjamin Franklin, who referred to her as his favorite sibling. The sister and brother corresponded regularly during their lives, and Jane eagerly followed her brother’s scientific and political career through his writings and their correspondence.
At age fifteen, Jane married Edward Mecom, a saddle maker from Boston, and moved to her husband’s hometown. She had twelve children, three dying in infancy. Sorrow and difficulties crowded Jane’s life; she cared for her aging parents, her family struggled financially, and by 1766, she and her brother Benjamin were the only members of their immediate family still living. Though the siblings saw each other infrequently, they wrote regularly. Many of Jane’s letters have been lost, but those that survive offer insight the life of an older woman living through the days of the American Revolution.
Jane was devoutly religious, read an array of books, and collected the books, articles, and pamphlets that her brother wrote. The Stamp Act in 1765 added to the taxation imposed on the British Colonies in North America, and Jane strongly disapproved of the Stamp Act while also disapproving of the disorderly protests that rocked Boston society.
In September 1765, Edward Mecom died, leaving Jane without financial support or protection. She managed a respectable boarding house where members of the Massachusetts Assembly stayed and made plans to open a small business with two of her daughters to support herself. In 1766, she placed orders for fabric, millinery goods, and fashion papers from England. It was bad timing to open a shop stocked with British imports. By 1767, many colonists in Boston practiced nonimporting to protest the taxes in the Townshend Acts. Still, Jane carried on—placing advertisements in the local newspapers for her imported fabrics and fashionable caps. She wrote to her brother, “It Proves a Little unlucky for me that our People have taken it in there Heads to be so Exsesive Frugal at this Time as you will see by the News papers.”
Jane Mecom approved of the principle of nonimportation, but it made it nearly impossible for her to do business and have a way to support herself. When the Massachusetts Assembly was prevented from meeting and dissolved, her income from good boarders also disappeared. She wanted peace and security in Boston, but that seemed far away, especially as British soldiers arrived to quarter in the town and she found reasons to complain about their profanities.
For a short time, Jane left Boston and stayed in Philadelphia with Deborah Read (Benjamin Franklin’s wife through common law). Eventually, Jane returned to Boston in 1770 and tried to reopen her millinery shop in 1774.
Letters from the siblings crossed the Atlantic, and Jane worried about some of the things she saw written in the papers about her brother. He continually assured her that it was just politics in print and that he continued to act with character. Benjamin Franklin wrote to his sister about the political difficulties he faced in England as he tried to advocate for the colonies. In several letters, Franklin instructed Jane to keep “All this to yourself, therefore, my dear Sister, show this to no body,” reflecting his trust in her.
The closure of Boston Port also meant the closing of Jane’s second fledging business. Her brother helped her cover some of her business debts, and Jane wrote that she was “as Happy as the Present state of affairs will Premit owing to yr Bounty without which I must have been distrest as much as many others.” Jane reluctance toward the Patriot Cause had dissolved, and she began to follow events and discussions with more enthusiasm. She wrote about hearing a minister talking about uniting the colonies to resist British taxation and also about the continuing difficulties with British soldiers in Boston. She also favored the idea of a Continental Congress to help the government leaders in Britian understand the frustrations of the colonies. She told her brother that she did not feel discouraged but also thought that might be “only foolhardy, for many of our people are alarmed at the news of more ships and soldiers coming, but the only way, as you have observed, is to keep on in the way of duty and put our trust in God.”
Following the fighting at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, defeated British soldiers returned to Boston, following by hundreds of militiamen who would form the Continental Army. Jane Mecom fled from Boston and briefly settled in Rhode Island. John Adams or Samuel Adams may have helped her move out of Boston because of the Adams men assured Franklin that his sister had reached safety. At 63 years old, she was refugeeing from war and caught in the conflict. To her joy, her brother, Benjamin Franklin, returned to America, and he came to Rhode Island and moved her Philadelphia to stay with his family.
When Franklin departed for France on a diplomatic mission, it was the last time the siblings saw each other in-person, but their correspondence continued through the war and founding days of the United States. Forced to flee from Philadelphia when the British threatened and then occupied that city, Jane moved back to Rhode Island. Even there, the British caused “frequent alarmes they have come & taken of the stock about 3 quarters of a mile distant & burnt houses a few miles from us, but hitherto we are preserved.” Franklin wrote his sister about the alliance he had helped to negotiate with France and she responded: “thank God I hope now we may be restored to Peace on our own Ecqutable terms of Established Independance.” During part of the Revolutionary War years, Jane sewed clothing and uniforms for the American soldiers and wished she could financially support the cause but lacked the means to do so. In 1781, she celebrated “the Glorious News we have now recd from the southard” and the surrender of a British Army at Yorktown, Virginia.
After the end of the Revolutionary War, Jane moved back to Boston in 1784 and resided in a house near the Old North Church. She enjoyed reading and sewing, and in 1787 closely followed the reports of the Constitutional Convention where her brother served as a delegate. After Benjamin Franklin’s death in 1790, Jane’s letter writing to family ceased or at least no further letters have survived. She died in May 1794 at the age of 82 and is buried in an unknown grave.