Brooke C. Stoddard: When Ben Franklin Met the Battlefield

Roundup: Talking About History

[Brooke C. Stoddard is the former editor of Military Heritage.]

Weapons ready, slogging into the deserted village, the men and their commander were appalled at what they saw: dead soldiers and civilians and evidence of a hasty retreat. The commander ordered quick fortifications against further attack, then burial parties.

The orders came from an unlikely figure: Benjamin Franklin, 50 years old, already rich, retired from his printing business and notably famous for his inventions.

He had received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society of London in 1753 for his “curious Experiments and Observations on Electricity” and founded a college in Philadelphia, as well as a lending library and other civic institutions. Now the otherwise unathletic Franklin found himself in the role of military chief, leading 170 men deep into countryside overrun by Shawnee, Delaware and Frenchmen who had been attacking English settlements with abandon....

Franklin was made a military commander because of his experience in the Pennsylvania Assembly. Having lived through clashes between the French and British in the 1740s, he understood the importance of a staunch defense and wrote a bill in 1755 calling for the creation of a militia. Franklin had helped General Braddock the year before, so when news arrived of new raids by the French and Indians in the 70 mile stretch of frontier from Bethlehem to Reading, the Pennsylvania Colony’s governor, Robert Morris, felt obliged to turn to him to bolster the frontier. With scant military training, Franklin nonetheless became the most senior military leader in a critical part of British America....

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Jon Kukla - 10/14/2010

I'm not sure about "otherwise unathletic Franklin" -- wasn't he an avid swimmer?