Who is Jane Franklin Mecom?

Book of Ages

If you want to have a fascinating look at early American life, read Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore. Jane Franklin Mecom was Benjamin Franklin’s younger sister. There were 17 Franklins in all. He was the youngest son and six years older than she. Pregnant at sixteen, Jane, was forced to marry the mentally and financially unstable Edward Mecom. She spent most of her life in Boston confined to a tiny house filled with difficult children taking in boarders to make ends meet.

Ben was brilliant, startling, and adventurous. He taught himself excellent handwriting and prose composition. He moved to Philadelphia and by 1748 at the age of forty-two, was the most important paper merchant in the entire colonies. In 1751, when Benjamin’s book Experiments and Observations on Electricity was published, Jane, forty-one, was pregnant with her twelfth child.

Jane held her pen awkwardly and spelled poorly. Jane documented the births and deaths of her family in a slim handmade paper book made from rags, sewn with flax thread and written with ink made of boiled oil mixed with soot. Of her twelve children, she recorded the deaths of eleven.

As Benjamin Franklin rose further to fame and fortune, Jane sank further into poverty. In 1765, her husband died leaving her deeply in debt. His entire estate, assessed at $67, placed his family among the poorest in Boston. Jane continued to supported two daughters and two grandchildren through her boarding house.

Benjamin wrote many letters to Jane during his lifetime. Few of her letters to him survive. Yet, Lepore does a great job creating an authentic rich account of an ordinary woman’s struggle during the time of our nation’s founding. Jane had a difficult life but she was strong and despite all odds, she endured.

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