Electric ...
Ben Franklin

Temple's Diary

A Tale of Benjamin Franklin's Family

In the Days Leading up to The American Revolution

October 4, 1775
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Academy and College, Philadelphia. Sketch by Pierre Du Simitière. The college would become the University of Pennsylvania.

October 4! A day that will forever enter history as THE DAY TEMPLE BECAME A COLLEGE BOY! More than that: the day Temple and his cousin Benny set forth together, hand-in-hand, from Franklin Court on High Street to the Academy and the College of Philadelphia at Fourth and Arch Streets! It is only a 5-minute walk, but I have never seen Benny so excited and talkative. He is just bubbling with information: the building was built in 1740, he tells me, the year of a "gweat weligious wevival."

Oh yes, I've heard of that, the Great Revival launched by George Whitefield, an eloquent preacher who got the colonists all excited, including my grandfather who talked his fellow-Philadelphians into building a charity school, eventually replaced by the Academy and the College. Benny also tells me that the bills for his studies come in every three months, on the 17th. His father grumbles each time they arrive, but Aunt Sally says that one pound for learning, plus the cost of firewood in class, is not bad. Benny thinks my bill will be higher since I will learn so much more. He also says we are lucky to live so close to the College since we can enjoy his mother's cooking rather than the awful stuff they give you there.

We walk along the high brick wall on Fourth Street, arrive at the wooden gates, and enter the College yard, Benny for the first time. He takes off running across the half-acre yard toward his building, the Academy.

There are about one hundred lads milling around, I'd say, waiting for the first class. They are discussing — of course — the political situation. I hear that some of the older boys and some of the tutors have already joined the Patriot army — ready to fight the British if need be, which brings them into conflict with the trustees of the College, all of whom are Loyalists (with the exception of Grandfather). I decide to keep as quiet as possible.

One of the boys suddenly turns to me: "Are you one of the Baches?" he asks.

— "A Franklin. Temple Franklin."

Click for Ben Franklin Posters

He extends his hand and we shake. "My name is George Fox. Would you be my friend? My family has known yours for a long time."

— "I'd like that," I respond.

A friend of my age! Could this really be happening? Yes! Yes! Yes!

From History's point of view — and that's what Grandfather promised me, that we would live History — the importance of this date is not so much that Temple became a college boy but that Temple's grandfather left Philadelphia for Cambridge, near Boston, in order to meet with General Washington. Grandfather, as usual, is tight-lipped about public affairs, but Uncle Richard hears plenty of news when he is at the "Change," as he calls it, meaning, I believe, the Exchange where merchants meet and talk. It seems that General Washington is in deep trouble. The very unprofessional army that he put together is short of clothing, provisions, ammunition, and the money to buy these essentials. The officers are complaining. The privates threaten to mutiny if their wages are cut. Many of them are planning not to re-enlist when the time comes. The general cannot obtain blankets and now, as he wrote Congress, he sees "winter fast approaching upon a naked army." In several letters to the delegates in Philadelphia this past September, he laid his difficulties before them and intimated that he urgently needed a meeting with some of them if the Army was to be kept from disintegrating.

Benny had been listening to his father tell us this, his serious little face in a frown.

— "Are they going to appoint a committee?" he asked.

Aunt Sally and I chuckled. "Of course, Benny, don't they always do that?"

— "And will Gwanpapa be in it?"

— "I hope not" said Aunt Sally. "It takes at least ten days to go from here to Cambridge, and tired as he already is..."

But Grandfather was appointed, he accepted, and he set off this morning with two colleagues named Thomas Lynch and Benjamin Harrison. I'm turning into a historian! I'm writing down the details! I'm willing to bet that within three days "Gwanpapa" will be the chairman of the committee. He told us not to expect any news from him until his return.