February 24, 2021

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, A New Digital Collection Debuts Online From the Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress:

2018-04-17_10-28-34The papers of American scientist, statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin have been digitized and are now available online for the first time from the Library of Congress. The Library announced the digitization today in remembrance of the anniversary of Franklin’s death on April 17, 1790.

The Franklin papers consist of approximately 8,000 items mostly dating from the 1770s and 1780s. These include the petition that the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin, then a colonial diplomat in London, to deliver to King George III; letterbooks Franklin kept as he negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War; drafts of the treaty; notes documenting his scientific observations, and correspondence with fellow scientists.

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Collection Highlights

  • Two copies of the petition the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin to present to King George III in 1774 “to lay our grievances before the throne.”
  • Franklin’s scientific speculation on the speed of ships in 1775 while on board a vessel returning from England to America just before the Revolutionary War.
  • Correspondence with John Adams, King George III, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, among others.
  • Franklin’s Craven Street letterbook, one of the few pre-Revolutionary letterbooks from Franklin to survive, documenting his life as a colonial diplomat in London.
  • Letters exchanged with his wife, Deborah Read Franklin, and his son, loyalist William Franklin, before their estrangement.
  • Franklin’s drawing of bifocal glasses, which he is credited with inventing.
  • Franklin’s letter explaining the effects of lightning on a church steeple.

History of the Collection

The Franklin papers have been at the Library of Congress for more than 100 years but had a turbulent history. Many of Franklin’s early papers were scattered and damaged, though he accumulated many more. When he died in 1790, Franklin left his papers to his grandson, William Temple Franklin, who published some of them as the “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin” in 1817-1818. Some of the papers Temple Franklin published were later found cut up in a London tailor shop. The papers were eventually returned to the U.S., purchased by the U.S. government and kept at the U.S. State Department until the early 20thcentury, when they were transferred to the Library of Congress.

Additional Franklin papers are held by the American Philosophical Society and the University of Pennsylvania, both of which Franklin founded in Philadelphia.

Direct to the Benjamin Franklin Papers (via LC)

Additional Resources From LC

Timeline: Benjamin Franklin

Finding Aid: Benjamin Franklin Papers (Includes Links to Items in Digital Collection)
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Timeline: Benjamin Franklin

For Educators: Resource Guide – “Finding Franklin”

Essay: Provenance of the Benjamin Franklin Papers

Finding Franklin: A Resource Guide

Additional Resources Re: Benjamin Franklin (Bibliography/Webliography)

Other Digital Collections

Founders Online (via NARA)

Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Digital Edition (American Philosophical Society and Yale University)

 More New/Updated Digital Collections from LC

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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