Jane Franklin Mecom (1712-1794), favorite sister of Benjamin Franklin, was born in Boston, the youngest of the 17 children of Josiah Franklin, tallow chandler, and of the 10 children of his second wife, Abiah Folger.
Her father had moved to Boston from Northamptonshire, England in 1683; her mother was born in Nantucket, the youngest child of one of the island’s first settlers.
Nothing is known of Jane’s schooling, but it must have been limited at best. Six years younger than Benjamin (1706-1790), she was 11, when he ran away to Philadelphia. Although they saw each other only occasionally during the rest of their lives, their mutual affection transcended time and distance. Their surviving correspondence is more extensive than that between Franklin and almost any other private person.
On July 27, 1727, at the age of fifteen, Jane was married to Edward Mecom (1704-1765), a Boston saddler. He was a colorless individual, poor in heath and in pocket. His major contribution to the family was the fathering of 12 children: Josiah, born in 1729, Edward, (1731), Benjamin (1732), Ebenezer (1735), Sarah (1737), Peter (1739), John (1741), a second Josiah (1743), Jane (1745), James (1746), Mary (1748), and Abiah (1751).
Until the outbreak of the Revolution, Jane Mecom’s life was almost wholly that of a housewife in a tradesman’s family of low income, preoccupied with the births, marriages, and deaths of children and grandchildren, with the struggle to provide food and clothing, and with her sons’ efforts to find careers.
The family lived with or close to her parents, who owned a group of houses at Hanover and Union streets. Here she cared for her father and mother until they died, and here she continued to live for several years, taking in boarders to eke out her husband’s slender income.
Three of her children died in infancy and others seem to have inherited, apparently from their father, physical and mental defects that brought their mother deep distress. Only 3 lived beyond their 33rd birthdays and 2 of these died insane. None of her sons was really successful in his trade, and her daughters were not much luckier in the men they married. “Sorrows roll upon me like the waves of the sea,” she wrote after the death of a daughter in 1767, but “God is sovereign, and I submit.”
When the siege of Boston began in the spring of 1775, Jane Mecom, for 10 years a widow, managed to leave the city with a few clothes and household effects and took refuge with friends in Rhode Island.
That autumn her brother, returning from a mission to Washington’s army at Cambridge, escorted her to Philadelphia, where she remained in his home until the British advanced on the city in September 1777. Then she returned to Rhode Island and lived with a married granddaughter.
In 1784, she reestablished her home in Boston. There, until her death, she lived in a house her brother owned, sharing it with her one surviving daughter, Jane, and the latter’s husband, Peter Collas, a rather inept ship’s captain.
Through all these troubled years Benjamin Franklin had helped her financially, sometimes with money, sometimes with goods she and her daughters could turn into profit,. In her later years he settled on her an annual income, and in his will be bequeathed to her the Boston house and a life income of 50 pounds.
She adored her brother, but stood a little in awe of him and of his fame. She never tried to understand all his scientific or political activities, but liked to read anything he had published. Like some other members of her family, she was sensitive to slights and criticisms -and sometimes was hurt at what he said about he behavior toward other relatives. Yet his conversation when they were together, his letters when they were apart, and his constant affection appeared to be the great joys in her life.
And she in turn was the one member of his family to whom he could talk and write without restraint. Judging by their surviving letters, more than his mother, his wife Deborah Reed Franklin, or his daughter Sarah Franklin Bache, his sister Jane gave him the feminine intimacy and understanding of a family member, that his nature seemed to crave.
Franklin's 1st known letter to his sister was upon her marriage...
Philadelphia, January 6, 1727
I am highly pleased with the account captain Freeman gives me of you. I always judged by your behavior when a child that you would make a good, agreeable woman, and you know you were ever my peculiar favorite.
I have been thinking what would be a suitable present for me to make, and for you to receive, as I hear you are grown a celebrated beauty. I had almost determined on a tea table, but when I considered that the character of a good housewife was far preferable to that of being only a pretty gentlewoman, I concluded to send you a spinning wheel, which I hope you will accept as a small token of my sincere love and affection.
Sister, farewell, and remember that modesty, as it makes the most homely virgin amiable and charming, so the want of it infallibly renders the most perfect beauty disagreeable and odious. But when that brightest of female virtues shines among other perfections of body and mind in the same person, it makes the woman more lovely than an angel. Excuse this freedom, and use the same with me.
I am, dear Jenny, your loving brother, B. Franklin
A few months after her brother's death, Jane wrote to his daughter Sarah Franklin Bache,
He while living was to me every enjoyment. Whatever other pleasures were, as they mostly took their rise from him, they passed like little streams from a beautiful fountain… To make society agreeable there must be a similarity of circumstances and sentiments, as well as age. I have no such near me; my dear brother supplied all...
This posting based on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971