Friday, March 6, 2009

Franklin a Fleming?

Thomas Paine came to America largely through his connection to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin provided Paine a critical letter of introduction which Paine presented in Philadelphia upon his arrival in 1774. The stories of these founders are tightly woven and many works attributed to one or the other may have been the result of conversations between the two. While Paine was the son of a staymaker (one who crafts corsets), Franklin was the son of a candle and soap maker. But the threads of their philosophical connection coalesce further as Franklin's ancestry is uncovered by modern historians. The Belgian paper Flanders Today reveals Franklin's ancestors were of Belgian (more specifically Flemish) descent. Franklin's DNA meandered to America from Flanders by way of England’s second largest city at the time - Norwich. This city is situated close to the North Sea and a "historic hotbed of religious dissent." The city was flooded with Flemish emigrants in the 1560s - mostly protestant weavers. They were fleeing persecution by a Spanish duke. Among these sartorial religious refugees were Benjamin Franklin's maternal great-great-grandparents. Though his grandfather Peter died 16 years before his birth, Franklin's writings reflect how he came to embody the "decent plainness and manly freedom" exemplified by his grandfather. The connection between clothes making and the ancestral trade of Franklin and Paine is more than serendipitous. Perhaps during the post-Renaissance middle class outgrowth crafting cloths for common people bound makers to their market and helped foster the memetic roots that would eventually rip arbitrary authority from the throne of England and place it squarely in the hands of the people. It might do the America of 2009 some good to once again start making clothes and furniture and all the myriad consumables that constitute CULTURE.

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