Deborah's Last Letter | Teen Ink

Deborah's Last Letter

September 16, 2013
By StarSophia GOLD, Wauwatosa, WI, Wisconsin
StarSophia GOLD, Wauwatosa, WI, Wisconsin
18 articles 0 photos 22 comments

Favorite Quote:
“But it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it'll shine the clearer." ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

"For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ~ Jeremiah 29:11

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

Dear Ben,

Where are you, my darling? Why will you not return to your dear, dying wife so I can see you one last time? I am fading, my love...and soon I will be gone. Is not our marriage more important than your politics?

I still remember the first day I saw you, passing by my back door. You looked ridiculous - devouring a great puffy roll with hands smudged with dirt, stockings sticking out of your pockets, your trousers worn and disheveled. But those eyes - those honest, deep brown eyes caught my gaze and I couldn’t look away. I thought I was mad - you were clearly a poor peasant boy with no more than a few tin coppers to buy bread. I couldn’t forget your face. But I knew I would never see you again.

I was wrong.

Do you know shocked I was when my father announced a few months later that a certain Benjamin Franklin was boarding with us, and that it was you? The filthy bumpkin I had spied in the alley was now a respectable, well-dressed printer!

It was autumn and the Philadelphian trees were changing to their brilliant hues of golden orange and brick red. I was just fifteen years old. You captivated me, Ben, and I respected you. I respected you for your ideas and your writings and your honesty.

We fell in love that year. It was the first time someone really appreciated me for who I was - intelligent but fearful, hardworking but dependent. I can still smell the fresh baked bread you bought for us on our first walk together around the city. I can feel the breeze blowing my hair while you showed off your incredible swimming tricks. I can remember our conversations deep into the night, sitting by my father’s huge fireplace, debating about God, about life’s purpose, about dieting, about values. You challenged me, Ben. You made me think outside my small world of cooking and raising a family, the duty of every colonial American woman in the 1700’s.

When you asked me to marry you, I felt as if my life couldn’t be any happier. You were what I dreamed of when my friends laughed about marriage. But my parents wouldn’t hear of it. We were too young, they said. We needed more life experience, they said - and you needed a steady job and a house. Prudently we agreed to postpone our attachment until you returned from buying printing supplies in London. You left after staying with us for a year.

But you were absent so long, my love. Too long. My parents grew weary of waiting and my friends urged me to marry the dashing young John Rodgers who clearly showed me attentions. I had no interest in him and yearned for your return, but you never came. Finally I consented - my heart broken but willing to try to start over with John.

Our wedding was cheerful and I tried my best to be optimistic. I was seventeen. Many years were ahead. He was a potter and could support a large family. That was all a woman hoped for, right?

Your eventual return two years later was uncomfortable for both of us, and I could see the disappointment in your eyes when I told you I was married. But I also saw understanding, which made me respect you even more. I felt so lost, Ben.

The two years with John were unbearably long. He was an awful man. After borrowing thousands of pounds and never paying them back, he deserted me and ran off to Barbados. I never heard from him again.

The next twenty-four months were some of the worst of my life. I was nineteen and still young enough to wed again, but since my marriage with John had never officially ended, I was considered unfit for reattachment with another man. I was shunned by the community. My parents loved me and took me back into their home, but I knew they were disappointed. After all, the purpose of a woman is to marry, run a respectable house, and bear as many children as possible. I had failed at all three.

But then you came back into the picture. You heard about John and his despicable ways, and you remembered me. With you was a son from another woman, but that hardly mattered. You were back! And you still loved me!

On September 1, 1730 we took our vows under a “common law marriage,” which meant we were attached but not completely, due to John. Your chocolate eyes smiled at me, and I smiled in return.

Our first few years together passed rapidly. I gave birth to our dear Francis in 1732. Oh, he was the apple of my eyes! You were so proud, my love - teaching him to walk and talk, dreaming about his future. Together we instructed him about faith and life.

Then the sickness came. Ravaging, horrible sickness! I still shudder, Ben, when I hear someone mention smallpox. It stole our baby. I can’t erase that day out of my memory - when Francis coughed his last, his precious face covered with bumps and oozing pus, his fragile lips cracked and bleeding. That ghastly, atrocious sickness! My baby was four years old! I cried, Ben, and you did too. We couldn’t stop crying. We couldn’t believe the bitter truth of reality.

But together, you and I, we lived on. Supporting each other and working diligently on the printing business. With your son William. And eventually, eleven years later, I gave birth to our second child - our daughter Sarah. She was the jewel of my heart, my last hope. By then I was almost forty, growing too old to safely bear children. Do you remember our fervent prayers, my dear? Our long nights of pleading to the Lord for one - just one - healthy baby? And He granted our request.

Then life was happier, for a while. Sarah blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Your newspapers experienced great success and the almanac made me so proud. But you traveled so often! If there’s one thing I hated about you, my love, it was your traveling!

You knew my fear of the ocean - my inability to venture with you into the world. But you went anyways - you and your wanderlust and political ambitions. Why, Ben? Why couldn’t you stay at home with your newspapers and your family?

But no, you had to enlist in the military. You had to speak to important world leaders and dine at their fine homes. You had to be absent months at a time. Even years.

I grew used to you not being around, but there was always that hole in my heart. That hole which only you could fill. Sarah barely knew her father when she was a young adult. And dear William - bless his heart - had no father to show him how to be a man. I know how it pains you that William took the opposite political side than us, but it’s not his fault. You weren’t here to mentor him, Ben! You weren’t here!

You’ve been gone now for nine years. I don’t know if you’re ever coming back. Do you still love me? Do you miss me at all? Do you wish to see William and Sarah and their beautiful families? When you first left we kept up regular correspondence. Yes, I wrote you a letter almost every week. But then it grew less and less...your responses were so delayed. Last month I wrote to you and told you that I am ill. I am ill because the stress of not seeing you in my life has overcome me. Do you know hold old I am, Ben? I will turn sixty-six tomorrow. I am an old woman. And dying.

Do you care that I am dying, Ben?

I still love you.

Your forgotten wife,


~ Deborah Read Franklin died from a stroke in 1774, without a visit from her husband Benjamin for over ten years. He, however, continued a politically successful and active life until 1790, when he died at age 84. They were buried side by side in their home state, Pennsylvania. ~

The author's comments:
I'm reading "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" for school and I got to thinking about his wife, Deborah, whom not many people hear about. After a little bit of research, I wrote this piece to document HER side of the story of one of the most brilliant men in history.

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