Thursday, May 17, 2012

Two Cousins

Can you guess these two famous cousins of mine?  Both were named “Benjamin”.

Both men grew up within twelve miles of each other, near or in Boston, Massachusetts.  They were contemporaries and lived through the American Revolution.  One was considered a patriot, and one a traitor.

Both men were scientists, and both invented household items like stoves and forms of central heating.  Both were honored by European Scientific Societies.  Both developed theories in thermodynamics.

Both men were philanthropists and endowed educational pursuits in America.

Both men had illegitimate children.  

Both men were statesmen and politicians.  Both were honored in European royal courts.  One took a title of nobility, and the other refused to take a title.  Both were also considered philosophers.

I don’t know if they ever met, and neither was related to the other, but both are my first cousins, one 6 generations removed, the other 8 generations removed.


Cousin #1, Benjamin Thompson AKA Count Rumford

If you have a can of Rumford Baking Powder on your shelf, you have seen his silhouette.  He was born in Woburn, Massachusetts on 26 March 1753, the son of Benjamin Thompson and Ruth Simonds.   Ruth was the sister to my 5x great grandfather, Caleb Simons (1720 – 1811).    At age thirteen he was apprenticed to a Salem merchant, where he learned mathematics and the physical sciences.  When the merchant lost his business due to the strained relations between Britain and the colonies, Benjamin Thompson returned home to Woburn to work in a dry goods store.  He eventually became a school teacher and took a few classes at Harvard.

In 1772 he served as a British major in a New Hampshire regiment.  When the war broke out he sided with the Loyalists.  When the British evacuated Boston in March 1776 he fled to England and left his New Hampshire wife behind.  He was elected to the Royal Society in 1779.  He returned to America briefly during the war and was knighted in 1784.  He served the Prince of Bavaria for the next 18 years (the Prince was a relative of King George of England). 

He was made a count of the Holy Roman Empire, and took the name “Count Rumford” for his former wife’s hometown (Rumford was the former name of Concord, New Hampshire). He was married to the widow of the famous chemist Lavoisier.  He wrote the theory that heat was a form of motion, and was the father of thermodynamics.  The Rumford fireplace was one of the inventions that changed chimney design forever after making rooms smoke free.  He endowed the Rumford chair of science at Harvard and the Rumford Medals of the Royal Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He is buried in the Auteuil Cemetery in Paris, France.

Cousin #2 Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is the better known of the two cousins.  He was born on 6 January 1706 on Milk Street in Boston, the son of Josiah Franklin and Abiah Folger.  Abiah was the sister of my 7x great grandmother, Bethshua Folger (born about 1650 on the island of Nantucket).   Benjamin Franklin was the youngest son of a soapmaker.   At age 12 he was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer.  At age 17 Benjamin Franklin ran away to Philadelphia to start a new life.

In Philadelphia he became a printer, and started a subscription library in 1731.  This library continues today as The Library Company, a research library with rare books and manuscripts. He became a Freemason and entered into a common-law marriage with Deborah Read.  He had an illegitimate son, William, who would become the last Loyalist governor of New Jersey.

Franklin became an author, first with Poor Richard’s Almanack, and then he became an inventor.  He never patented his creations, which included the lightning rod, the Franklin Stove, and bifocal glasses.  He became postmaster, and founded the American Philosophical Society.   He was awarded the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1753 and 1756 for his work with electricity.   In 1753 he was awarded honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale.

Politically active, he traveled to London many times as a delegate for Pennsylvania against the Stamp Act.  He became a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Following the Revolution he was Ambassador to France and minister to Sweden.   In 1787 he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. 

Benjamin Franklin died 17 April 1790 in Philadelphia and left 1,000 pounds to both Boston and Philadelphia for education to be used 200 years after his death.   Philadelphia’s portion had grown to more than $2 million and they spent it on scholarships, while Boston’s portion grew to almost $5 million which was used to found the Franklin Institute of Boston. 


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated that Sir Benjamin Thompson ( Count Rumford), Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were “the three greatest minds America has produced”.

Click here for a previous post on the "Count Rumford House" in Woburn, Massachusetts:

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. That's funny - that was serendipity! The other Benjamin that the man I met yesterday portrays is Benjamin Edes. I had to look him up. He was a colonial Boston printer.

  2. I love these sorts of historical cousin-connections and stories. I have some amazing cousin-connections too. I think one of the perks of having so many early New England ancestors is the connection to so much early American history and historical figures. I also have a Ruth "Symonds" born 1620 England and died 1670 in Salem, MA. She was my 8th great-grandmother. I have a feeling Heather that we have more cousins-connections yet to be discovered. :)

  3. These comments are so old that I doubt that this will be seen, but will write anyway. My name is Sandra Franklin and my husbands family is the Franklin family who were early in Norton and Swansea, Ma. I have looked like so many others for a Ben Franklin connection because my late husband was raised that it was a fact.Heather do you have any information on this?

    1. Start with your husband's family and work backwards in time. Each death record should name the parents before. So do marriage records. There is a strong possibility that you might find a connection since Ben Franklin had 12 brothers and sisters. Concentrate on the brothers to see if you find a match. Good luck!