Franklin's Sister Finds Refuge from British in Warwick

Article excerpt

What happened on April 19, 1775, in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord may have later been labeled "the shot heard round the world" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but it was really a "shot" that American colonists and the British military command in Boston had been expecting for some time. Bostonians had been on edge for months.

In this revolutionary, chaotic situation, ordinary working-class colonists, both male and female, struggled to make sense of what was happening. Though their experiences are often lost to history, historian Jill Lepore has managed to recreate the life of Boston resident Jane Franklin Mecom in her magisterial new work, "The Book of Ages" (2013). Students of Rhode Island history will be particularly interested in Jane Mecom's story, because her survival during the Revolution depended upon the Greene family of Rhode Island.

In a letter relating the fateful events of that April day, Jane reported to her older brother, the statesman Benjamin Franklin, that British Gen. Thomas Gage, who was also serving as the military governor of Massachusetts, "sent out a party to creep out in the night and slaughter our dear brethren for endeavoring to defend our own property."

Jane, who often struggled to make ends meet, understood that the colonists were fighting to protect what they considered their constitutional rights. "God appeared for us and drove them back with much greater loss than they are willing to own," wrote Jane. The "confusion" of the British soldiers showed that they were "much mistaken in the people they had to deal with." If she was on the fence before, Jane was now thoroughly on the side of the Patriots.

Jane, who was 63 at the time, was fully aware of the valiant efforts of the minutemen as they battled the British Regulars back to Charlestown. Days later, the British ferried troops across the river to the safety of Boston. Jane described to her brother the subsequent "general shutting up" of the city. No one was allowed to "pass out but through such great difficulties as were almost insupportable."

She eventually managed to pack up what she "expected to have liberty to carry out" and went to Rhode Island. She had received word from Catharine Ray Greene, a close friend of her brother, that she would be safe in the land of Roger Williams.

Jane left Boston with her granddaughter Jenny Flagg, whom "she could not leave," for if she had "it would have been her death." They went first to Providence and then to the home of Catharine and William Greene Jr., in the Cowesett section of Warwick. Other visitors to the small but elegant home on a hill above East Greenwich included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Comte de Rochambeau and the Marquis de Lafayette. …