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Benjamin Franklin ruminates

The name of Benjamin Franklin is nearly synonymous with that of Philadelphia, but for nearly two hundred years no one had known the precise date of Franklin's arrival in the city. Most historians believed that it was a Sunday in October of 1723, but they did not realize that Franklin himself had written the date on the reverse side of a letter written on November 29, 1783.

Franklin's notes to himself on the verso of a letter from Ferdinand Grand, Nov. 29, 1783Although many scholars had known of the letter from Ferdinand Grand, Franklin's banker in France, none ascribed great importance to the memo on the reverse -- until the letter reached the eyes of Claude-Anne Lopez, a Franklin scholar. Lopez noticed that the memo appeared to be a list of dates along with ports that corresponded with Franklin's itinerary of his trip to Philadelphia. She realized that this previously ignored memo revealed the date of Franklin's arrival in Philadelphia.

Lopez believed that Franklin wrote the memo in a thoughtful moment as he reflected on his life during the late autumn of 1783. The tumultuous period of the revolutionary era and its immediate aftermath had passed, his diplomatic mission was nearing an end, and the treaty of Paris had been signed two months earlier. Perhaps during a moment of quiet reflection, he had a fleeting image of how he had appeared on the day of his arrival in Philadelphia: a scruffy 17-year-old runaway, wandering down the street munching a roll from the bag slung over his shoulder.

The day would have been memorable to him because it was his first in a city with whose history his name would become inextricably intertwined. However, it was also significant to him for another reason: one highly amused observer of the rather disheveled young man was a young woman named Deborah Read, who seven years later would become his wife.

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