US Founding Fathers records could return

Benjamin FranklinImage copyright
Library of Congress

Image caption

Benjamin Franklin’s father Josiah was born in Ecton, Northamptonshire

Papers revealing the family links of a Founding Father of the United States to a village church in Northamptonshire could be returned after 250 years.

It was thought Benjamin Franklin took the records from Ecton, the birthplace of his father, in the 1750s.

Massachusetts Historical Society’s Peter Drummey said they first went to London and then the US in the 1800s.

He said they would “appropriately address” the return of the records which date from 1646.

Benjamin Franklin

  • Born 1706, Boston, Massachusetts; died 1790 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Described as a Founding Father for his role in the American Revolution which secured independence from Britain
  • He was a signatory of the four major documents of the founding of the US – the Declaration of Independence, Treaty of Alliance with France, Treaty of Paris and the US Constitution
  • He was also variously an author, inventor, diplomat and slave owner who later campaigned for the abolition of slavery

BBC History: Benjamin Franklin

Mr Drummey, whose society currently holds the records, said that Franklin was “very interested” in his family links to Ecton and in the summer of 1758 he made a trip to the village to meet his extended family.

He said from reading letters Franklin sent to his wife, he “seemed to take pride” in his roots and the “connection was very real”.

It was believed that during the trip Franklin took that tithe records from St Mary Magdalene church.

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Members of Benjamin Franklin’s family are buried in the churchyard in Ecton, which is halfway between Northampton and Wellingborough

Tithe records contained details about landowners and tenants and the taxes they paid to support the local church.

Mr Drummey said they were “not sure” how the records left the church, but they showed up in London in the 1800s.

He said an engineer called Wake bought them from an antiquarian dealer in 1850 and sent them to the US thinking the Franklin connection would spark interest.

“It would be impossible to trace how they ended up in the US,” he added.

“I don’t think you can assign any blame to Benjamin Franklin for them leaving Ecton.”

Image copyright

Image caption

The Tithe records were originally at St Mary Magdalene in Ecton

Currently, St Mary Magdalene has a copy of the front cover.

Mr Drummey said they would now “explore” either returning the records or providing a full copy.

Sally Bresnahan, chairwoman of Ecton Parish Council, hoped the records would help track down the “Franklin House” in the village.

The house is referred to in Franklin’s letters, but Ms Bresnahan said they were “not absolutely sure” where the house was, but the records should show what property or properties the Franklins owned.

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