Deborah Read led an extraordinary life as common-law wife to founding father Benjamin Franklin and stalwart caretaker of his colonial Philadelphia household for decades.
Read's early 18th century journey took her from England to Pennsylvania, into an ill-fated first marriage, and ultimately into a pragmatic bond with Franklin that exemplified the complex social mores surrounding relationships in British America.
Deborah Read was born circa 1708, most likely in Birmingham, England.
At a young age of about three years old, she immigrated with her family to the British colony of Pennsylvania, settling in Philadelphia where she would spend the rest of her life.
This relocation in 1711 set the stage for Read's future acquaintance and common-law marriage with Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the United States.
In 1723, the approximately 15-year old Deborah Read had a fateful early encounter with 17-year-old Benjamin Franklin when he passed by her Philadelphia home.
This marked the beginning of a courtship between Read and the future U.S. founding father.
While Benjamin Franklin was away in London in 1725, Deborah Read married a man named John Rogers in Philadelphia, hoping to move on from her earlier courtship with Franklin.
However, within mere months of their marriage, Rogers abandoned Read and stole her dowry, leaving her in dire financial and social circumstances.
This abandonment paved the way for Read's eventual reunion and common-law marriage arrangement with Franklin upon his return from London in 1727.
With her previous marriage posing legal barriers to remarriage, Deborah Read made the pragmatic decision in 1730 to enter into a common-law marriage with Benjamin Franklin, having rekindled their earlier courtship.
This flexible marital arrangement reflected the complexity of Read's personal situation as well as the evolving social mores of 18th-century British America regarding relationships.
Despite its unofficial nature, Read and Franklin's union endured over decades, producing two children together and establishing Read as a lifelong partner in Franklin's Philadelphia household.
When Benjamin Franklin embarked on his many transatlantic trips to Europe starting in the 1750s, Deborah Read repeatedly declined to accompany him across the treacherous oceans.
Preferring to remain in Philadelphia, Read revealed a rooted domesticity and anxiety about seafaring travel that kept her distanced from Franklin's diplomacy abroad for years.
Though geographically separated, Read and Franklin maintained their familial ties across distance through regular correspondence while she oversaw affairs at home as her husband helped sow the seeds of revolution.
During Benjamin Franklin's nearly decade-long sojourn in Europe from the late 1750s pursuing politics and diplomacy, Deborah Read capably managed the Franklin family's households and various business interests in Philadelphia.
Though lacking her prominent husband's level of education, Read revealed savvy leadership and intelligence as she independently steered the fortunes of Franklin's printing shop, post office, real estate, and investments in his absence.
Read's skillful oversight of commercial affairs complemented Franklin's renown as an Enlightenment polymath and burgeoning Revolutionary voice abroad.
In 1768, Deborah Read suffered the first in a series of debilitating strokes that precipitously declined her health and mood in her later years.
Plagued by the grim physical and mental effects of repeated strokes, including depression, Read's final decade of life starkly contrasted with her previously vigorous oversight of family matters.
Despite Read's suffering and Franklin's continued residence in Europe, he persisted in corresponding with his ailing wife until her death in 1774 though never returning to be with her.
In December 1774, Deborah Read suffered a terminal stroke leading to her death on December 19th and burial in Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia.
She would lay in repose for over fifteen years until her famous husband, Benjamin Franklin, was interred beside her after his death in 1790.
Though divided in Read's later years, their final resting place marked an enduring union between Deborah Read and one of America's most instrumental founding fathers.