Benjamin Franklin Marries Deborah Read
At the age of 17, Franklin proposed to 15-year-old Deborah Read while a boarder in the Read home.
At that time, the mother was wary of allowing her young daughter to marry Franklin, who was on his way to London at Governor Sir William Keith's request, and also because of his financial instability. Her own husband had recently died, and Mrs. Read declined Franklin's request to marry her daughter.
While Franklin was in London, his trip was extended, and there were problems concerning with Sir William's promises of support. Perhaps because of the circumstances of this delay, Deborah married a man named John Rodgers. This proved to be a regrettable decision. Rodgers shortly avoided his debts and prosecution by fleeing to Barbados with her dowry, leaving Deborah behind. Rodgers' fate was unknown, and because of bigamy laws, Deborah was not free to remarry.
Franklin established a common-law marriage with Deborah Read on September 1, 1730, and besides taking in young William, together they had two children. The first, Francis Folger Franklin, born October 1732, died of smallpox in 1736. Sarah Franklin, nicknamed Sally, was born in 1743. She eventually married Richard Bache, had seven children, and cared for her father in his old age.
Deborah's fear of the sea meant that she never accompanied Franklin on any of his extended trips to Europe, despite his repeated requests. However, Franklin did not leave London to visit Deborah even after she wrote to him in November 1769 saying her illness was due to “dissatisfied distress” because of his prolonged absence. Deborah Read Franklin died of a stroke in 1774, while Benjamin was on an extended trip to England.
Franklin saw his wife-to-be the first day he arrived in Philadelphia in 1723. He was walking down the street eating a fresh-baked bun when he spied Debbie in her father’s doorway. The couple never went through a formal wedding ceremony, but had a common-law marriage that lasted 44 years. She died in 1774 while Franklin was in England.