Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706, the youngest son in a family of 17 children. Jane Franklin Mecom was born in 1712, the youngest daughter. These two siblings shared a special bond that continued throughout their lives. Their faithful correspondence continued throughout their lives. Both were autodidacts filled with curiosity and a love of learning. Benjamin was expected to make his way in the world; Jane was expected to marry, and she did. At 15 years of age she married Edward Mecom, and she raised 12 children and outlived them all except for one. She loved her children; they and her grandchildren consumed her days.
Life in colonial America was harsh and difficult. Money was scarce, and Edward Mecom spend a good deal of time in debtors prison. Jane soldiered on working from light to dusk. Besides the full time job of raising 12 children, she made and sold a popular soap called Crown Soap; she sewed fine silks and hats for ladies. But, she never was able to lift herself out of poverty. She had no help except for the children when they became old enough to work. Jane had no formal education. With the help of Ben, she taught herself to read and write, and she became a voracious reader. Through her letters, we learn of Jane's everyday trials and tribulations. Her husband was mentally ill, and two of her sons were unable to hold jobs being similarly afflicted. We learn of the occupation of Boston by the British, and how the citizens coped with food shortages. We witness the start of the Revolution though her eyes. Ben cared deeply for his sister and made sure she had money, housing and plenty of books.
Jane died in 1794. Lepore did a tremendous amount of research into Jane's life and what it was like to be female in colonial days. There are thorough notes and appendices at the end of the book that are helpful and add to the interest of the book. As she completes her research, Lepore tells us:
"Sorrows rolled upon Jane Franklin like waves of the sea. She left in their wake these gifts, her remains: needles and pens, letters and books, politics and opinions, this history this archive, a quiet story of a quiet life of quiet sorrow and quieter beauty."
I highly recommend this book to all who love history; it is an excellent book for a reading group.