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13th March 2018

This month I am on the trail of one of Northamptonshire's most illustrious grandsons, Benjamin Franklin. One of the seven Founding Fathers of the USA, Franklin helped to draft both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Like many others, he also delighted in visiting Northamptonshire in search of his family history.

Benjamin Franklin's gene pool was from humble but hardworking Northamptonshire stock. His father was one of four brothers, all 'encouraged in learning' by the local gentry. The younger brothers were trained as dyers, but the oldest brother Thomas was first trained as a blacksmith in the family smithy at Ecton. He went on to become a pillar of Northamptonshire society after his time studying law. Thomas had a keen interest in music, and even built himself an organ to play. He was also a partner in a bell casting foundry, and invented a method of connecting the Ecton church bells to the clock mechanism which played a tune every four hours. Benjamin seems to have inherited his ingenuity and scholarly aptitude from his Uncle Thomas, rather than his father Josiah.

Josiah Franklin had been working with his brother as a dyer in Banbury, but struggled to make ends meet with his growing family. However, in 1683 he changed the fate of his family forever when he set sail for the New World. Benjamin was born in Boston to Josiah's second wife, the youngest of seventeen children. He was obviously a bright child, and was given a brief education before joining the family tallow business. However, Benjamin was not satisfied with making candles for long, and at twelve became apprenticed to his brother's printing business. This began a long career in literacy and publishing which led to financial security, more opportunities, and a spectacular political career.

Politics eventually took him back to London, where in 1758 he decided to explore his family connections in Northamptonshire. Perhaps he identified with his illustrious Uncle Thomas, as he travelled to Ecton Church to pay his respects at his grave. Legend also suggests he visited the old smithy, now the Three Horseshoes public house. Perhaps he enjoyed listening to the church bells chiming thanks to Uncle Thomas's mechanism. He was much taken with his visit, and in a letter to his sister he wrote of his thoughts of re-purchasing the little (estate) in Northamptonshire that was our Grandfathers.

There is much still to see in Ecton today which Benjamin would have enjoyed on his visit: charming toffee coloured stone houses, thatched cottages, two pubs, and the 13th century church dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. This church welcomes visitors seeking the Franklin connection. Look carefully at the gravestones belonging to the Franklin family, and a keen eyed visitor might discover a few US coins left as a tribute by the many American visitors and Franklin descendants who have come to pay their respects. Inside the church there is a bronze tablet, unveiled by the American Consul-General in 1910, recalling Benjamin Franklin's connection with Ecton. It includes a quotation from one of Franklin's speeches when the new Constitution of the United States was drawn up and signed at Philadelphia; 'The longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men'.

For more information about Benjamin Franklin and his connection with Northamptonshire, visit

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