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Sarah (Franklin) Bache 1744 ~ 1808


Sarah (Franklin) Bache

Perhaps the best estimate of a woman who might otherwise shine only m the reflected glory of a distinguished father, may be obtained by a private view of her and her work through the eyes of a contemporary. The Marquis de Chastellux in a letter wrote the following description of Mrs. Bache, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin: "After a slight repast, we went to visit the ladies, agreeable to the Philadelphia custom, where morning is the most proper hour for paying visits.

We began by Mrs. Bache. She merited all the anxiety we had to see her, for she is the daughter of Dr. Franklin. Simple in her manners, like her respected father she also possesses his benevolence. She conducted us into a room filled with work, lately finished by the ladies of Philadelphia. This work consisted neither of embroidered tambour waistcoats nor of artwork edging, nor gold and silver brocade. It was a quantity of shirts for the soldiers of Pennsylvania. The ladies bought the linen from their own private purses, and took a pleasure in cutting them out and sewing them themselves. On each shirt was the name of the married or unmarried lady who made it and they amounted to twenty-two hundred." To this picture illustrating how a woman of Mrs. Bache's standing found means to aid the struggling country may be added the commendatory words of Marquis de Marbois to Dr. Franklin, in the succeeding year, who speaks thus of the distinguished man's daughter: "If there are in Europe any women who need a model of attachment to domestic duties and love for their country, Mrs. Bache may be pointed out to them as such. She passed a part of the last year in exertions to rouse the zeal of the Pennsylvania ladies, and she made on this occasion such a happy use of the eloquence which you know she possesses, that a large part of the American army was provided with shirts, bought with their money or made by their hands. In her applications for this purpose, she showed the most indefatigable zeal, the most unwearied perseverance, and a courage in asking which surpassed even the obstinate reluctance of the Quakers in refusing."

Such is the outside impression of the worthy and charming daughter of Benjamin Franklin. Her own letters to her father and others show much force of character and an ardent, generous and impulsive nature. When in 1764 her father was sent to Europe in a representative capacity, she writes girlish, light hearted observations and clever chatter, but in 1777, when the British arm's approach had driven her and her young husband from their Philadelphia home, her letters to Dr. Franklin, then sent to France by the American Congress, are strong accounts of events, sound philosophy, and even some correct prophecy on the Nation's future, letters which must have been really helpful to the statesman abroad.

Mrs. Bache lived through stirring experiences, for the Revolution did not spare those of gentle breeding or station. On the 17th of September, 1777, four days after the birth of her second daughter, Mrs. Bache left town, taking refuge at first in the home of a friend near Philadelphia but afterward going up into the state, where they remained until the evacuation of the Quaker City by the British forces. The letters written to her father after her return to the Franklin house which had been used in the meantime as headquarters for Captain Andre, give a splendid picture of the prohibitive prices that existed in the Colonies at this time. "There is hardly such a thing as living in town, everything is so high," she writes. "If I was to mention the prices of the common necessaries of life, they would astonish you. I have been all amazement since my return; such an odds have two years made, that I can scarcely believe that I am in Philadelphia. They really ask me six dollars for a pair of gloves, and I have been obliged to pay fifteen pounds for a common calamanco petticoat without quilting that I once could have got for fifteen shillings."

These prices were owing to the depreciation of the Continental money; it subsequently was much greater. The time came when Mrs. Bache's domestics were obliged to take two baskets with them to market one empty, to contain the provisions they purchased, the other full of Continental money to pay for them.

It has been said that every woman is a brief for womankind, and surely Mrs. Bache may be considered a composite reflection of the fate of the sheltered woman during the Revolution, and of how they bore their unaccustomed hardships and turned their talents to the benefit of the humble defenders of the nation.

The brilliant Sallie Franklin was born on the nth of September, 1744. It was on the 29th of October, 1767, that she was married to Richard Bache, a merchant of Philadelphia, and a native of Seattle, in Yorkshire, England; 1807 marks the sad date when the still charming woman was attacked by cancer and removed to the city once more for the benefit of medical attendance. Her disease proved incurable, and on the 5th of October, 1808, she died in the historic house in Franklin Square, where Dr. Franklin had spent his last years.

In person Mrs. Bache was rather above the middle height, and in the latter years of her life she became very stout. Her complexion was uncommonly fair, with much color; her hair brown and her eyes blue like those of her father. Strong good sense, and a ready flow of wit, were among the most striking features of her mind. Her benevolence was very great and her generosity and liberality were apparently limitless. Her friends ever cherished a warm affection for her. It has been related that her father, with a view to accustoming her to bear disappointments with patience, was given to requesting her to remain at home and spend the evening over the chess-board, when she was on the point of going out to some meeting of her young friends. The cheerfulness which she displayed in every turn of fortune proves that this discipline was not without its good effect, so that Benjamin Franklin could teach his own family as well as the public, which has not always been demonstrated in the lives of statesmen.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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