Benjamin Franklin’s obituary, details of his death & the epitaph he wrote (1790)

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Below, you can see what the newspapers of the era published when Founding Father Benjamin Franklin died at age 85 in 1790. The first article published after his passing included a short but vivid account of his last illness.

In addition to a detailed obituary/biography, you can also see the epitaph he had written for himself back in 1728, when Franklin was just 22 years old.

Benjamin Franklin’s obituary & biographical notes (1790)

Excerpts from “Anecdotes, and Sketch of the Character of Doctor Franklin”
Published in The Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) May 1, 1790

Dr. Franklin was one of these extraordinary persons who, coming into the world without the advantages of great connections or great estate [wealth], are destined to arrive to the first ranks of eminence in life from their own efforts and the force of their own abilities.

Report says that the earlier part of his life was spent in a printing office in Boston, in the station of apprentice to a man of that profession, with whom, however, it has been said, he did not remain till the term of his apprenticeship had expired. Upon some misunderstanding with this person, he bade adieu to his native town (Boston) and emigrated at the age of eighteen, with little more than the clothes upon his back, to Philadelphia…

The business of printing was at that time confined to a very few hands in Philadelphia. His knowledge, however, in this art soon procured him employment, as compositor, in one of their printing houses. This must have been about the year 1725 or 1726.

His understanding seems to have been uncommonly clear, solid and mature, as well as the pursuits of the most manly and substantial kind, at a period of life when extravagance, whim, and frivolity have too great an influence upon the minds of young men in general who prefer pleasure to business, and pasttime to the improvement of the understanding.

His unremitting assiduity in pursuit of, at least, a competency, soon placed him on level with the person who had employed him in the humble capacitor of compositor.

From this time his abilities grew rapidly into reputation, and it was not long before a sense of his own superiority soon induced him to consider the press only as a secondary object in his career to the Temple of Fame.

Vintage portrait of Benjamin Franklin

When about the age of 35, he appeared as a Representative in Philadelphia Assembly, and it is still remembered that the option of Mr Franklin were always particularly attended to in the political and proprietary questions of those times.

Amidst perpetual avocations, he nevertheless found time to publish a variety of original productions, and could defend even to the compilation of almanacs and magazines.

His almanacs, besides the more essential matters, were ever a fund of good natured entertainment to his readers, being interspersed with useful as well as amusing remarks on men, manners, and things all of a cast truly original and possessing much of that naivete, or archness of satire which pleases without offending

His magazine did not possess much variety, he having limited his subjects for the most part to local politics, agriculture, and his favorite incense, natural philosophy. THey were, in other respects, a neat publication in duodecime, and are still to be seen in the libraries of the curious.

It was his ambition to pursue Nature to its inmost recesses and lay open to the human view the secrets of that stupendous machinery which surrounds us on all sides and of which we ourselves make a part.

If he did not wholly succeed in all his attempts, it may be justly said that he has thrown a light upon the natural or material world which may greatly assist future philosophers in unfolding the mysterious scene. His manners were plain and unaffected. He was a lover of good humor, conviviality, and pleasantry in conversation, and not at all of a reserved or an austere demeanor. Ever easy of access he possessed that true politeness which forbids all restraint in company by a rigid attachment to trifling punctilios of ceremony.

In religious matters, his opinions are said to have been very liberal and generous, equally an enemy to persecution, fanatical grimace, hypocritical austerity, and strictly one who look’d thro’ nature up to nature’s God.

His numerous acquaintance never suffered from the pride of superiority or the insolence of triumph, and in every respect the goodness of his heart was fully equal to the greatness of his understanding.

No doubt the death of a man of so much eminence will draw forth abundance of particulars relative to him.

It is said he has left a manuscript volume giving a full account of the particulars of his life, which, when published, must be equally interesting and in demand in Europe and America, as there will be no room to doubt of the authenticity of what is related.

Altho’ few can hope to arrive to an equal degree of extensive usefulness in the world, still the life of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ought to teach everyone that it is unworthy of a man to live for himself only, and that in proportion as we lay aside all narrow and selfish considerations, so much the more real service shall we be able to render to mankind, and by that means arrogate to ourselves a greater share of their affection and gratitude.

Benjamin Franklin (1976)

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790)

Epitaph as published abroad in The Derby Mercury (Derbyshire, England) June 3, 1790

The following is Dr. FRANKLIN’s EPITAPH on himself, which he wrote when he was a printer, in the early part of his life, and which is now to be inscribed, by his own desire, on his tombstone.

The Body
of
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Printer,
(Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents torn out,
And stript of its lettering and gilding)
Lies food for worms :
Yet the work itself shall not be lost,
For it will (as he believed) appear once more,
In a new
And more beautiful edition,
Corrected and amended
By
The Author.

Benjamin Franklin epitaph - handwritten


Benjamin Franklin dies: Obituary & account of his passing

The Freeman’s Journal or The North American Intelligencer (Phildelphia, Pennsylvania) April 21, 1790

Philadelphia, April 21 [1790]: On Saturday night last departed this life, in the 85th year of age, Dr Benjamin Franklin, of this city.

His remains will be interred this afternoon at four o’clock, in Christ Church burial ground.

Benjamin Franklin’s death and final illness

We are favored with the following short account of Doctor Franklin’s last illness, by his friend and physician, Dr [John] Jones.

The stone, with which he had been afflicted for several years, had for the last twelve months confined him chiefly to his bed; and during the extreme painful paroxysms, he was obliged to take large doses of laudanum to mitigate his tortures — still, in the intervals of pain, he not only amused himself with reading and conversing cheerfully with his family, and a few friends who visited him, but was often employed in doing business of a public as well as private nature, with various persons who waited on him for that purpose; and in every instance displayed, not only that readiness and disposition of doing good, which was the distinguishing characteristic of his life, but the fullest and clearest possession of his uncommon mental abilities; and not unfrequently indulged himself in those jeux d’esprit and entertaining anecdotes, which were the delight of all who heard him.

Benjamin Franklin

About sixteen days before his death, he was seized with a feverish indisposition, without any particular symptoms attending it, till the third or fourth day, when he complained of a pain in the left breast, which increased till it became extremely acute, attended with a cough and laborious breathing.

During this state, when the severity of his pains sometimes drew forth a groan of complaint, he would observe — that he was afraid he did not bear them as he ought — acknowledged his grateful sense of the many blessings he had received from that Supreme Being, who had raised him from small and low beginnings to such high rank and consideration among men and made no doubt but his present afflictions were kindly intended to wean him from a world, in which he was no longer fit to act the part assigned him.

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Founding Father Benjamin Franklin's death

In this frame of body and mind, he continued till five days before his death, when his pain and difficulty of breathing entirely left him, and his family were flattering themselves with the hopes of his recovery, when an imposthumation, which had formed itself in his lungs, suddenly burst, and discharged a great quantity of matter, which he continued to throw up while he had sufficient strength to do it, but, as that failed, the organs of respiration became gradually oppressed — a calm lethargic state succeeded — and, on the 17th of April 1790, about eleven o’clock at night, he quietly expired, closing a long and useful life of eighty-four years and three months.

DON’T MISS: Get Benjamin Franklin’s advice for better sleep

It may not be amiss to add to the above account, that Dr Franklin, in the year 1735, had a severe pleurisy, which terminated in an abscess of the left lobe of his lungs, and he was then almost suffocated with the quantity and suddenness of the discharge. A second attack of a similar nature happened some years after this, from which he soon recovered, and did not appear to suffer any inconvenience in his respiration from these diseases.


Benjamin Franklin dies: Burial account – Clipping from April 24, 1790

“In short, every possible mark of respect was paid to the mains of this venerable and illustrious citizen and philosopher.”

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin obituary

ANOTHER FOUNDING FATHER: The death of President George Washington (1799)

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