Ben Franklin visits Wareham

Nov 9, 2019

“Last time I was in this area was probably about two hundred years ago,” said Ben Franklin, or his impersonator, Robert DeVitis, who came to Wareham on Friday night to tell the history of one of America’s Founding Fathers.

Franklin told the audience a number of anecdotes from his life. Traveling in the 1700’s was a challenge: travelers had to overcome mother nature, hungry horses, and the lack of roads. As postmaster general, Franklin would ride from town to town in charge of the post offices throughout the Colonies. One especially rainy and cold night he stopped at the inn for the night. 

Franklin went inside the inn to warm up by the fire, only to find a packed room. All guests staying there that night had taken every available spot by the fire. Franklin called out a stable boy working at the inn. 

“Stable boy, could you please prepare a bucket of oysters so that a driver could feed his horse,” said Franklin. 

All the guests left their seats by the fire and hurried to watch Franklin’s horse eat oysters. The stable boy tried to feed an oyster to Franklin’s horse, who was not interested at all. When the guests returned inside, they found Franklin sitting in the best spot by the fire.

Franklin talked about his life, his family, job, and abusive brother, who he ran away from at age 17. He ran away from Boston and sailed to New York to live his own life. Soon after he sailed to Philadelphia, a city he made his home. 

Franklin also debunked some common misconceptions. Despite popular belief, Franklin never said: “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Rather, he said, “a penny saved is two pence clear.”

“If I was to write this today, I would have written ‘a penny saved is government oversight,” said Franklin. 

Franklin also clarified that he did not start the first fire department, which actually had its roots in Boston. Rather, Franklin started the first volunteer fire department in Philadelphia in 1736. 

Driven by his desire to serve people, Franklin went on to create America’s first hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital, in 1751 and the first public library, Franklin Public Library, in 1790. 

“We had no school system, books were scarce, and they were also very expensive,” said Franklin. “I thought every man and child has a right to learn so I pulled all of mine and my fellow merchants' books together and I started the first library so people could read and learn without purchasing the books.”

After numerous life stories and his memories of signing all three documents that freed America from Britain and drafting the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, he concluded with his success of convincing Founding Fathers to prioritize English over Latin.

Franklin valued education and schooling and established a plan for an English-language grammar school in Philadelphia in 1949. The school would teach English, rather than Latin, and devise a curriculum that taught scientific and practical skills.

“I begged, I said that we are not very good with our language now, please keep it to English,” said Franklin to the audience. “And you can thank me that we do not have Latin today.”

After the presentation, Howard Smith, a member of the Wareham Minutemen and Militia, and Town Moderator Claire Smith drew three raffle tickets to determine who would enjoy a Saturday dinner with Ben Franklin.

“I think he is a great historical figure and the actor was so real and so convincing,” said one of the real winners, Nina Cummings. “The idea of having a true colonial meal in the presence of such an important historical figure sounds fabulous and unusual. I love keeping history alive. It is so important, especially nowadays when you can draw so many parallels with the present situation.”