Wednesday, March 23, 2016

William Franklin: Loyalist Son of Benjamin Franklin

William Franklin was the last Royal Governor of New Jersey. He was also the illegitimate son of famous statesman and inventor, Benjamin Franklin. He spent most of his life under the watchful eye of his caring father. However, he and Benjamin parted ways when William remained loyal to the crown while his father became one of the most active participants in the political side the American Revolution.

William Franklin was presumably born in 1730. No one is quite sure who is mother was, but Benjamin and his common-law wife, Deborah Reed, raised him. Deborah Reed was made Benjamin Franklin’s common-law wife in September of 1730. There is some speculation that William was actually her son, but that Benjamin wanted to spare Deborah the embarrassment of having mothered a child out of wedlock. There is also the possibility that William was the son of one of Ben’s servants or a prostitute. His father was known to have had relations with these types of women.

His father cared for William as if he were a legitimate son, which seems normal enough now, but wasn't necessary then. There is no reason to believe that William was treated any differently when Deborah gave birth to a son in 1732, either. William’s younger brother died of smallpox in 1736. In 1742 William became an older brother again when his sister Sarah was born. There have been rumors that Deborah treated her husband’s son with contempt, but this may not have been true. Either way, there appear to have been few problems in the Franklin household with regard to the young man.

William grew up in a home where it was commonplace for brilliant men to come and meet with his father and discuss all sorts of interesting topics. Without a doubt, William Franklin spent his childhood immersed in the issues of the day and surrounded by the ideas and philosophies of great men. He spent a lot of time with his father and was quite like him, in many ways. In fact, when William was fifteen-years-old, he tried to run away and go out to sea. His father had done the very same thing. He also managed to stop William, but there was no keeping the boy from having an adventure.

In June of his fifteenth year, William Franklin joined the military. He spent roughly two years in the military and even became a captain. He subsequently spent more time on a brief expedition before coming home and leading a very social life before settling into more responsible roles. William Franklin was like his father in that he liked to run in groups of like-minded and forward-thinking men. He became a mason, like his father. He also was a member of New Junto and the American Philosophical Society.

At the age of 24, William Franklin became engaged to the seventeen-year-old daughter of Doctor Thomas Graeme. Her name was Elizabeth. Not long after their engagement, Benjamin asked his son to accompany him to England while he was on business there. He told William that he would fund his education in law if he did. William accepted. Benjamin also named him his heir when the decision was made for him to come. That would change later in their lives, when the close pair became estranged.

While in England, William studied law and became more involved in politics while meeting his father’s contemporaries there. He maintained correspondence with his fiancĂ© for a while, but the love seems to have fizzled out for him in the six years that they were apart because on September 4, 1762, William married a woman named Elizabeth Downes. Not before he was presented with an illegitimate son of his own, however. The boy’s name was William Temple Franklin. His father left him in England when he was sworn in as Governor of New Jersey in 1962 and sent back to America. His son would not come to America until 1775 and the two were never close in the way Benjamin and William had been.

William Franklin was the Royal Governor of New Jersey during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. Colonial resistance to British rule peaked during his years in office. Because William remained loyal to the crown, he became a target for rebels. His father tried to convince him to change sides, but William felt a strong sense of loyalty and duty. It was admirable, really, but it destroyed his relationship with his father and caused William to be arrested and deposed in 1776. He was allowed to stay in private homes under the stipulation that he could not leave town and he could not contact any other loyalists. He broke those rules in June of 1776 and was officially jailed. He was not freed until October of 1778. His wife had died while he was incarcerated.

William returned to England in the early 1780's. He hadn’t spoken to his once beloved father in more than five years. His father had once overseen his career and gave him positions as a postmaster in Philadelphia and later the comptroller of the North American Postal System when William was in his twenties. Benjamin had helped his son to become a politician by funding his schooling and introducing him to all the right people. William had even been with his father during the famous ‘kite experiment’ and is thought to have been holding the kite. However, none of these memories of fondness were enough to reunite father and son. Benjamin and William Franklin saw each other briefly one last time in 1885. By the time Benjamin died, he had removed William as his primary heir.

William Franklin died in 1813, after having remarried and losing a second wife. He never did return to America and if he ever knew whom his real mother was, his secret died with him.


William Franklin: New Jersey’s Last Royal Governor, retrieved 3/7/10,

William Franklin and Elizabeth Graeme, retrieved 3/7/10,

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tycho Brahe: A Brilliant Astronomer Who Died From Holding His Pee

Tycho Brahe studied the stars
with the help of his epic mustache
Tycho Brahe was a Danish astronomer that spent his life developing new tools for his trade and disproving the calculations of famed astronomers who came before him. He also botched a few calculations of his own. He spent most of his life studying astronomy and building a reputation as a skilled mathematician. He was also rumored to be a heavy drinker and a man who threw really crazy parties.

Tycho Brahe was born into a noble Danish family in 1546. He was one of a set of twins, but his twin died during infancy. When he was very young, his uncle Jorgen took Tycho to live with he and his wife. The reason for this is unknown and difficult to discern. Both of his parents were alive and they were very wealthy. It seems strange that they would just hand their eldest son over, but that is what they did. Tycho resided in Tostrup Castle with his aunt and uncle until he was six years old. At that time, the boy and his foster parents moved to Vordingborg Castle.

While living in Vordingsburg Castle, Tycho Brahe attended a local school. At the age of twelve, he began attending the University of Copenhagen, where he studied law and developed his love of astronomy. He graduated from the University of Copenhagen in 1562 and left Denmark to travel in Germany.While in Germany, Tycho studied at various universities, including, Leipzig, Rostock and Wittenberg. During his school years, Tycho Brahe began studying astronomy in earnest. Before he was even seventeen years old, he had predicted the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter with more accuracy than both Ptolemy and Copernicus.

In 1565 Tycho Brahe’s living situation changed when his uncle died and his parents decided to assume responsibility for their son again. Nonetheless, Tycho continued his schooling. In 1566, while at Rostock, Tycho got into a duel with a classmate. A portion of his nose was lost in the fight. He had a prosthetic made the following year. He wore one from then on.

Tycho Brahe fell in love with a commoner by the name of Kirsten Jorgensdatter in 1572. The couple could not marry because of Kirsten’s lack of noble blood. However, Tycho had her come live with him. They eventually had six surviving children together. Unfortunately, none of them were able to inherit any of Brahe’s property, despite his protestations, because they were illegitimate.

Four years after Tycho Brahe met Kirsten Jorgensdatter, King Frederick II offered Tycho a fief on Hven Island and he took it. Brahe built an observatory there, which he named Uraniborg. He developed many tools for his craft and made many brilliant observations over the course of his career. He also published various accounts, catalogs and theories. He built a second observatory adjacent to Uraniborg in 1584as he had run out of room for his tools.

Tycho Brahe left Denmark and moved to a location near Prague when he was given a position as the Imperial Mathematician by Emperor Rudolph III. Johannes Kepler became his assistant there the following year. Tycho died not long after his appointment. He got uraemia as a result of holding his urine too long at the dinner table after drinking a great deal in 1601.


Tycho Brahe, retrieved 12/6/09,

O’Connor, J.J & Robertson, E.F., Tycho Brahe, retrieved 12/6/09,

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Thomas Robert Malthus: The First Professional Economist

Thomas Malthus
Thomas Robert Malthus
Thomas Robert Malthus was a minister/economist who is best known for his theories regarding population growth versus sustainability. He was the first person to hold a professional position in the field of economics and he was a member of several clubs and societies for intellectuals like himself. Malthus' ideas were well ahead of their time during his life and some of them led to a lot of criticism for Thomas. However, many of his most controversial ideas are now regarded as correct.

Thomas Robert Malthus was born in 1766 on an estate in Dorking, Surrey. He was one of eight children. He had one older brother and six sisters. His father was a gentleman by the name of Daniel Malthus. Daniel seems to have been the guiding influence in Thomas' life. He did not attend school in his youth, but was taught by his father and some tutors until he was eighteen. Thomas Malthus then began attending Jesus College in Cambridge. Four years later, in 1788, he became an ordained minister of the Church of England. He continued his studies until 1791, when he received his M.A.

Two years after Thomas Malthus received his degree, he became a Fellow of Jesus College. A few years after that, he became a curate in the town of Albury. He lived close to his father, with whom he seems to have conducted conversations about his burgeoning ideas about economics and population growth. For years, Thomas mulled over the issue of population growth versus sustainability. It was his belief that unfettered population growth was detrimental to a society's success. He was not the first man to have such ideas, but they did go against mainstream thinking of the time.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus anonymously published a pamphlet titled "Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers." This pamphlet and subsequent related works would become his legacy, despite the fact that his work was hardly relegated to his theories on this subject.

Within the pamphlet, Thomas Malthus discusses his belief that population is capable of increasing much faster than food supplies. He also mentioned that natural occurrences, such as disaster, war, famine and disease are not enough to keep the human population from multiplying. Thomas Malthus also believed that humans are doomed to procreate constantly; he viewed it as a 'vice.' Taking all of these beliefs into account, Thomas concluded that population growth is doomed to outpace the growth of food on the planet. Popular belief at the time was that increasing populations was a good sign for a society's economy; so many people viewed Malthus as something of a doomsayer and disregarded his theories. We know now that what he theorized is possible.

In 1803, a renamed and heavily revised version of Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population was published. In his new version, Malthus suggested that the only way to keep people from overpopulating the planet they would need to initiate their own means of population control, such as voluntary abstinence. He also included possible links between population growth, class and education. He suggested that if poor people were educated and given better job opportunities, this would prevent them from procreating early in life, thus inhibiting population growth.

One year after he published his revision, Thomas Malthus got married. In doing so, he lost his fellowship at the Jesus College. He was 38-years-old, at the time. He and his wife went on to have a happy marriage and produce three children together. In 1800, Malthus became interested in various other aspects of the economy. He published many more works on his economical theories, some of which were received as well as his theories on population.

In 1805, Thomas Malthus accepted a position as Professor of Modern History and Political Economy at the East India College in Hailebury. He kept that position until his death on December 23, 1834. This was the first professional position in economics ever held.


Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), retrieved 3/30/10,

Thomas Malthus Biography, retrieved 3/30/10,

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), retrieved 3/30/10,