The Death of Benjamin Franklin

On April 17, 1790, The Pennsylvania Gazette announced the death of its 84-year-old founder, Benjamin Franklin. More than 20,000 people attended his funeral, about 70 percent of the people who lived in Philadelphia at the time. His coffin was carried by the most important men in the State of Pennsylvania and escorted to Christ Church by a crowd of citizens that included printers and members of the American Philosophical Society, which he had founded.

An Incredible List of Accomplishments Franklin had arrived in Philadelphia harbor on October 6, 1723 as a penniless 17-year-old who had run away from home. At the time of his funeral, ships in the very same harbor flew their flags at half-mast for the man who was one of the founding fathers of the American Revolution, helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris which marked the end of the Revolutionary War. He served as Ambassador to France, organized the country’s first lending library and volunteer fire department, was a scientist who developed the lightning rod and many other inventions, extended our knowledge of electricity, mathematics and mapmaking, and was also a wealthy businessman, a writer and a social butterfly.  “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” —Benjamin Franklin

Franklin’s Final Disease After the death of his wife Deborah in 1774, Benjamin lived with his daughter Sarah’s family. Sarah nursed him as his health weakened. He had a long history of lung disease and gout. You know he had gout because of the many pictures of him signing important documents in his bare feet because his feet hurt so much.  After coughing almost continuously for many months, he became very short of breath, developed severe pain in one side of his chest that kept him in bed, and then developed a very high fever. As he became progressively more short of breath, he told his daughter that he was suffocating. The horrible pain in one side of his chest that had plagued him for many days went away. Then he got out of bed, and asked for his bed to be made properly so he could have a dignified death. His daughter, Sally, told him that she hoped he would live many years more. “I hope not,” he replied. Shortly afterward, he became short of breath, clutched his side in pain, and passed out. On April, 17, 1790, at eleven o’clock at night, he died with his grandsons William Temple and Bennie at his side. He was 84 years old.



Cause of Death Franklin was reported to have a chronic cough that was due to bronchitis, an infection in his lungs and bronchial tubes. He had pain in his side that was probably caused by an abscess, a sac of pus that had formed in his lungs from the extensive lung infection. The slight pain relief that he experienced was most likely due to the abscess bursting and releasing the pressure.  Then he would have become extremely short of breath because the infection had  spread throughout his body, causing a high fever, and finally death from the overwhelming infection in his bloodstream.

Boston Latin School Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the 15th child of Josiah Franklin, a soap and candle maker. One of the most remarkable men who have ever lived went to the same school that I did: Boston Latin School – the country’s first public school and oldest existing school, founded in 1635. The school has taken children of immigrants from poverty to the most prestigious colleges in the country and the highest positions in business, science, politics, the arts, education and government. Poor children from Boston Latin School have more Harvard degrees than the combined graduates of most of the prestigious preparatory schools founded specifically to educate the children of the wealthy and powerful. I remember staring at Benjamin Franklin’s name among all of the other famous names on the frieze in the school auditorium. List of Boston Latin School Alumni

Franklin had to leave Boston Latin School at age 10 to work making candles with his father. As you would expect from a genius, Benjamin let his father know that he hated making candles, so when he was 12, his father apprenticed him to work in his brother James’s printing shop.



He Wrote His Own Epitaph Franklin loved printing and knew at an early age that he loved writing even more. However, his brother refused to publish any of his writing. Benjamin got around his brother’s rejection by sending in manuscripts under the fictitious name of a middle-aged widow, Mrs. Silence Dogood. When James found out that Mrs. Dogood was really Benjamin, he became infuriated and told him to leave the shop. At age 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia to seek a new start.

In 1728, at age 22, he wrote his own epitaph: “The Body of B. Franklin, Printer; like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost; For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended By the Author.“

Benjamin Franklin January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790



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