James Franklin, printer

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James Franklin, printer

Birthplace: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
Death: February 04, 1738 (41)
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, Colonial America (After a terrible illness)
Place of Burial: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Josiah Franklin and Abiah Franklin
Husband of Ann Franklin
Father of James "Jamie" Franklin, Jr; Abiah Buckmaster; Elizabeth All; Hannah “Ann” Franklin; Mary Allen and 1 other
Brother of John Franklin, postmaster of Boston; Peter Franklin; Mary Homes; Sarah Davenport; Ebenezer Franklin and 4 others
Half brother of Elizabeth Douse; Samuel Franklin; Hannah Cole; Josiah Franklin, Jr.; Ann Harris and 2 others

Occupation: Printer, publisher
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About James Franklin, printer

James Franklin ,1696-1735, and Ann Smith Franklin, 1696-1763, of Newport, were journalists and Rhode Island's first printers and newspaper publishers. In 1727 they set up Rhode Island's first printing press. In 1732 he issued the Rhode Island Gazette, Rhode Island's first newspaper. When James died in February, 1735, the printing shop was continued under the auspices of Ann Franklin, whose imprint appeared as “The Widow Franklin.” 


Son of Josiah Franklin and Abiah (Folger) Franklin; older brother of Benjamin Franklin

From The Olney Connection Rootsweb database

Married Ann Smith, daughter of Samuel & Anna Smith, on 4 February 1723 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. The Franklins relocated to Newport RI in 1727.

Their six children were

  1. James b: ABT 1724. Died unmarried
  2. Abiah b: ABT 1726. Married George Buckmaster.
  3. Elizabeth b: ABT 1728. Married Isaac All.
  4. Ann b: 1730. Died as an infant.
  5. Mary b: ABT 1732. Married William Allen.
  6. Sarah b: ABT 1734. Married Samuel Hall


Printer- trained younger brother Ben in the printing business.

Died at 41 years of age, leaving the business to his wife and son.


From The Medford Historical Register, Volumes 25-26.  "Jim Franklin, Ben's Big Brother." page 42-43.

[Read at a meeting of the Medford Historical Society, May 21. 1923.]

In 1718 James Franklin sailed for London and secured type and printing press and immediately began the printing of pamphlets and books; and soon became the printer of the Boston Gazette, the official paper of the province. In 1721 Franklin established the New England Courant. The Courant began in the midst of one of the greatest small pox epidemics Boston ever had. Doctors Increase and Cotton Mather were ardent advocates of inoculation, and strongly supported by Dr. Zabdiel Boylston. Franklin with great freedom of expression wrote of affairs which brought the wrath of the provincial officials upon him. Franklin printed an item regarding pirate vessels in the vicinity of Block Island, and that Captain Pete Papillion had raised a company and sailed against them. It was an impolitic item to print, but was a scoop on the part of an inexperienced printer. The following day he was brought before the governor on the Speakers' warrant, and spent a month in jail. His younger brother, Ben Franklin, only seventeen years old, became editor for a time, and for legal reasons his name continued as publisher for three or four years. The printshop of James Franklin was on the site of the Old Colony Trust Company. During these years Franklin printed an "Arithmetic "; a book on "Music " by Thomas Walter, stated to be the first music printed in bars; also printed astronomical books for Professors Greenwood and Robie of Harvard College, and many sermons by the Doctors Mather. Franklin printed books of superior grade, which did not meet with a sale they deserved. Bankruptcy followed, and in 1727 James Franklin removed to Newport, R. I., where he entered at once upon a more prosperous career. He obtained the printing of the plantation, and several volumes of Bishop Berkley, an annual Almanac, and conducted a short-lived newspaper. James Franklin died February 4, 1738, on his thirty-eighth birthday, leaving widow, a son, James, and at least three daughters. Ann Franklin, during her widowhood of twentynine years, conducted the official printing of Rhode Island, established the Newport Mercury, out-lived all her children, and died April 19, 1763.

While James Franklin was in Boston, 1722, he established a library of nigh one hundred volumes, which people were free to visit and read. The library contained a set of "The Spectator," by Addison, recently published, eminent histories, learned works of recent scholarship, and a copy of Shakespeare's works, said to be the first known copy in New England. This library was not a public or circulating library, was free to any one who desired to come to the print shop to read. This print shop became a gathering place for the literates of Boston of two hundred years ago, and was of the type presented by our publishers of today, who afford a quiet corner where readers can come and browse among their newest publications.

The spiritual heir of James Franklin was Samuel Hall, who, Isaiah Thomas says, married a daughter of the Franklin home. Samuel Hall entered at once upon the affairs of the printshop in Newport, and his obituary of Ann Franklin would show her to be among the queens of American womanhood. Samuel Hall afterwards established the Essex Gazette, Salem, and at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War printed newspapers and official proclamations for the army and the province. He established a bookstore, printshop and book bindery in Boston. He became the printer of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and was regarded as one of the most correct compositors and proof-readers in Boston. He died in 1807, leaving a second wife, and "next of kin," Elizabeth, wife of William Barnes of Brookfield, who was without doubt the granddaughter of James and Ann Franklin. Samuel Hall was born in Medford, 1740; he and a brother, Jonathan, were, early in childhood, orphans. The brother Jonathan died in young manhood. They were brought up among their mother's relatives, the Fowle family, who were printers.


Although only 2 girls are mentioned . Jamie of James Jr is mentioned in the literature that he did have a son that went with his Uncle Benjamin Franklin as James Sr was approaching the end of his life .

here is what is inscripted on his memorial

Printer. Older brother of Benjamin Franklin. Ben served as his apprentice from ages 12 to 17. James founded the New England Courant, for which Ben secretly wrote letters under the pen name Silence Dogood. When James learned Dogood's true identity, he was displeased with Ben, who then ran away to Philadelphia. James married Ann Smith on his 26th birthday in 1723. When the Courant was shut down 4 years later, the couple moved to Rhode Island and started a new publication, the Rhode Island Almanack. On his 38th birthday and 12th wedding anniversary, James died after a long illness. (bio by: Collins Crapo)


Later years

James was ill while living in Newport, but before his death, his brother Benjamin Franklin came for a visit. When Benjamin left for Philadelphia, he had with him his nephew, James Jr., and provided him with a printing apprenticeship thereafter.[3] After a long illness, James died in Newport in 1735, on his 38th birthday and 12th wedding anniversary.[11] He was survived by Ann, leaving her with four young children to support alone,[12] one child having preceded James in death.

Ann Smith Franklin continued to operate the printing business until her death in 1763, publishing under the imprint of "The Widow Franklin", and producing books, almanacs, pamphlets, and legal announcements.[13]

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James Franklin, printer's Timeline

February 4, 1697
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America

American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI)

Name: Abiah Franklin
Birth: 1726 - Massachusetts

Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, Colonial America
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, Colonial America
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, Colonial America
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, Colonial America
February 4, 1738
Age 41
Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, Colonial America
February 4, 1738
Age 41
Common Burying Ground, Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, United States