"All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."
Abiah Folger Franklin may not be a household name like that of her renowned son Benjamin, but her impact on colonial America and the man who would become a Founding Father merits deep study by historians.
Born in rural England in 1667, Abiah came of age in a time of great upheaval for Puritans seeking religious freedom in the New World. After an arranged marriage, she and husband Josiah Franklin embarked on the arduous journey across the Atlantic with their young children to forge a new life in Boston.
As a mother of seventeen in pioneer society, Abiah faced constant hardship and loss with steadfast faith and resolution.
Most critically, she molded her brilliant son Benjamin from an impressionable child into a paragon of the American enlightenment through her devotion to both moral grounding and intellectual curiosity.
The full breadth of Abiah’s influence becomes clear through accounts of her tenacity, her central role in Benjamin’s upbringing, and her shaping of early colonial culture as wife, mother, and community leader.
Though abstraction has obscured her legacy over two centuries, the contributions of this woman were indispensable in setting the stage for the American revolution. Any telling of our founding era would be incomplete without acknowledging Abiah Folger Franklin’s imprint upon it.
Abiah Folger came into this world in the village of Ecton, Northamptonshire in 1667.
She was born into the large, bustling household of Peter and Mary Folger, two devout Puritans who would go on to have 17 children in total, of which Abiah was but one.
The Folger clan made their humble living as candle and soap makers, working tirelessly to earn their daily bread.
Young Abiah would have grown up observing her parents' steadfast work ethic, Puritan values, and devotion to family. Surrounded by so many siblings, she likely had to fight for her fair share of food, clothing, and parental affection.
The crowded family home would have had a certain chaotic warmth to it, full of rambunctious children, bubbling pots of soap, and puritan sermons.
From her parents, Abiah would gain a pious, prudent and principled outlook that would guide her throughout her life. By the time she reached maturity at 16, Abiah was conditioned through her upbringing to face life's trials and make her own way in the world.
Little did she know, her world was about to expand dramatically when her family decided to embark on a perilous journey across the Atlantic to seek religious freedom.
In the year 1683, at the tender age of 16, Abiah was wed to an enterprising young candle and soap maker by the name of Josiah Franklin.
Though certainly nervous and apprehensive about leaving her childhood home, Abiah was ready to embark on this new chapter of her life as Josiah's wife. The couple were united in the Puritan faith and in their skilled trades, both coming from hardworking families of candle makers.
While still in her teens, Abiah rose to the difficult task of running a household and helping Josiah's business thrive. She became well-versed in the soap boiling and candle dipping trade.
The early years of marriage saw Abiah standing dutifully by her husband's side, establishing their name and livelihood in the village.
By the time she turned 20, Abiah was already a mother several times over. Bearing child after child, she became a pro at managing a bustling home and caring for little ones.
Her greatest pride and joy came in 1706 at the birth of her 15th child, a boy named Benjamin.
Though Abiah could not know Benjamin's destiny at the time, she sensed he was special, and doted on him amongst her many other offspring.
Benjamin would be the child that inherited Abiah's intellect and curiosity, going on to make the Franklin name known not just in England, but across the Atlantic as a founding father of America.
As devout Puritans, the Franklin family grew increasingly distressed by the religious persecution they faced under England's Restoration monarchy in the late 17th century.
They decried the lack of liberty to practice their faith and follow their conscience.
After much prayer and debate, Josiah and Abiah made the monumental decision to take their household to the New World in search of the religious freedom denied them in the motherland.
It was a grave risk, but their steadfast Puritan beliefs compelled them to make the perilous Atlantic crossing to Boston in 1685. Abiah was just 18 years old but already a mother of three small children when she endured the harsh two month sea voyage.
The Franklins arrived in Boston harbor with hope in their hearts, ready to start afresh. But the New World would prove almost as trying as the Old.
The daily life of clearing land, farming, running Josiah's candle-making trade, and childbearing taxed Abiah enormously. Resources were scarce, winters brutally cold, and the wilderness always encroaching.
Living on the very edge of civilization, Abiah had to draw on immense reserves of spiritual strength and physical stamina merely to survive. Her Old World prudent and pious wisdom would be the best possible tools for persevering and providing stable roots for her children.
The Franklins tamed the wilds of Boston through faith, fortitude and family ties.
In the absence of formal schooling in Boston during the late 1600s, the instruction of the Franklin children fell chiefly to Abiah.
Though Josiah worked long hours at his trade, Abiah made the time to impart the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic to the young ones crowding her humble home.
She took this maternal duty quite seriously, drilling her offspring relentlessly and keeping a strict, disciplined household focused on education.
Benjamin proved a particularly eager and quick study from a very young age. Abiah nurtured her son's insatiable hunger for books, guiding him through the family's small library and the Bible first and foremost.
She saw how he devoured every printed word he could get his hands on.
As he grew older, she made sure to discuss and debate aspects of religion, philosophy, and the natural sciences that captivated Benjamin. His abundant questions about the world and its workings did not go unanswered thanks to Abiah's teachings.
She spurred his experimental side as well, letting him dabble in inventing and improvements around the house. Abiah understood early on that Benjamin had a brilliant and restless mind.
She did her utmost to ground him in Puritan faith while fueling his desire for knowledge in all forms.
Though Josiah thought Benjamin should train as a clergyman, Abiah assured her husband the boy was destined for other pursuits.
By all accounts, it was Abiah who took the most hands-on role in raising and nurturing Benjamin from infancy through adolescence, far more so than the boy's father Josiah.
Ever the busy businessman and breadwinner, Josiah was rather absent in his parenting, completely consumed by his candle and soap making concerns.
Young Benjamin instead turned to his mother Abiah for affection, instruction, and support in his many intellectual pursuits. Mother and son shared a profoundly close bond.
Abiah was Benjamin's teacher, mentor, and champion early on.
In his later published autobiography, Benjamin would pay warm tribute to Abiah's instrumental influence, crediting her for his love of reading and thirst for knowledge. He affectionately recalled sitting by her side as she went about her household duties, sharing stories from the Bible or testing his spelling.
Abiah made sure her busy, brilliant son was looked after, keeping him on a wholesome path and encouraging him to develop his gifts. She recognized his potential and subtly molded him into both a pious Puritan and an inquisitive thinker.
When Benjamin reached adulthood and found success, he always remembered the mother who made his ascent possible through her faith in him. More so than any other family member, Abiah deserves credit for nurturing Benjamin Franklin's genius.
Contemporary accounts of Abiah Franklin paint a picture of a woman who was as mentally sharp as she was physically resilient.
Though burdened with the endless tasks of raising children, keeping house, and helping her husband's business, Abiah maintained an engaged and active mind.
She took a keen interest in theological matters, educating her children in Puritan teachings as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Abiah engaged meaningfully with her bright son Benjamin in conversations about morals, science, philosophy, and religion, helping to nurture his budding genius.
She displayed cleverness and wit even as she went about her daily chores and child-rearing.
Beyond her intellectual talents, Abiah possessed legendary stamina and fortitude.
Despite giving birth to a whopping seventeen children, she maintained the energy and strength of someone half her age.
Friends marveled at how she could work from dawn to dusk, accomplishing in one day what most people could not do in a week. Her physical vitality was mentioned by many who knew Abiah.
She appeared to thrive on hard work and have unlimited reserves of strength to draw from.
Whether tending the home and family, assisting Josiah with his business, or joining in with parish activities, Abiah attacked every task with an almost supernatural vigor while maintaining her warm, virtuous spirit.
After more than six decades living in the colony of Boston, Abiah found herself an elderly widow and matriarch in the mid-18th century.
Though she had survived her husband Josiah and buried ten of her seventeen children, Abiah remained in decent health and sound mind into her 80s.
Her prodigal son Benjamin had long since moved away to Philadelphia and become one of the American colonies' most prominent statesmen, scientists, and thinkers. Despite the distance between mother and son, they kept up a regular correspondence.
In 1752, at the venerable age of 85, Abiah Franklin finally passed away, having outlived almost all her contemporaries.
It was said she retained her intellectual faculties till the very end.
Unfortunately, news traveled slowly in those days.
By the time word reached Benjamin of his mother's death, she had already been laid to rest.
Regretting that he could not pay his last respects in person, Benjamin wrote movingly of feeling Abiah's loss deeply. Though she had led a long and fulfilled life, he lamented being absent at the time of her death.
For the rest of his days, Benjamin would remember Abiah Franklin as the mother who, more than anyone else, cultivated his curious mind and made him the historic figure he became.
Though she lived a humble colonial life as wife and mother, Abiah Franklin had an outsized impact on history through the influence she wielded over her son Benjamin.
As Benjamin Franklin went on to become one of the most acclaimed Founding Fathers, a leading author, scientist, inventor, and statesman of the Revolutionary era, Abiah's role as his primary educator and moral guide cannot be understated.
She set the course of his intellectual development from the very start by nurturing his insatiable curiosity and providing the tools to mold him into an eminent thinker.
Had Abiah discouraged Benjamin's scientific tinkering or stifled his independent spirit, the world may have been deprived of his invaluable contributions to physics, engineering, political philosophy, literature and more.
The thirst for knowledge, drive for discovery, and ethic of self-improvement that Abiah instilled in her son were the seeds that sprouted into a paradigm-shifting career improving society across many fronts.
Though she did not live to see the American Revolution won—Abiah directly influenced the man who helped bring the nation into being through his diplomacy, scientific advancements, and progressive values.
Every life she touched as wife, mother, and stalwart Puritan woman strengthened the fledgling society around her. But it was through Benjamin Franklin that Abiah Franklin left her greatest mark on history.