Love Letter from the Past: My Dear Child

February 13, 2020

Yesterday I was in author heaven. I spent the day in Philadelphia for several reasons: to gather more research for book signings I have coming up for The Power to Deny; to visit the Betsy Ross House for my grad course research; and to visit The Rosenbach Museum and Library for the first time and attend an event there.

Over the course of the day a theme was emerging: letters about love, and unrequited love. When I realized tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a blog post was calling my name.

An exciting discovery: a letter I found in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Ann Graeme wrote to her daughter after William Franklin (Ben Franklin’s son) jilted Elizabeth and married someone else in London. Elizabeth had waited for him in Philadelphia for five long years. Years without email, texts, FaceTime, telegrams, telegraphs, radio communication, landlines, or cell phones. Hard to believe, isn’t it? All they had was letters sent by boat that took weeks to arrive and often went missing. [Continued by clinking the link below]

A page from Ann Graeme's letter to her jilted daughter, 1762

One of the hardest parts of peering into history from today’s modern vantage point is trying to understand why people did what they did. It’s almost unfathomable today to understand why a beautiful young woman from a wealthy family would have waited five years for a man to return. Letters from the last three years of the Graeme-Franklin alliance no longer exist. Elizabeth was intellectually brilliant, so we can believe she must have had good reason to believe her courtship was unbroken, most likely from the letters William wrote her. We’ll probably never know. Whatever the reason, she believed she was engaged to William Franklin until word came that he had married someone else and was about to return to the colonies with his new wife. (He had also fathered an illegitimate child with a third woman, but that’s a story for another day.)

Elizabeth was gutted. She left to stay with friends in New Jersey for several weeks to recuperate from the stunning loss. Ann Graeme felt tremendous anguish for her daughter’s heartbreak and wrote a six-page letter to her. The letter began My Dear Child. This is an excerpt from it:

“You say I look grave and am uneasy, but my dear Betsy, can I be otherwise when I see your heart torn to pieces by so many different emotions? If I am so happy to see you regain your natural serenity, you will find I shall be very cheerful, for I am very sure I can meet with nothing that will effect [sic] me like what I feel for you, but it is not the cause but the effect I grieve for.” In other words, she didn’t regret the loss of William, but her daughter’s suffering over him. The letter is dated December 1762.

It was an incredible feeling to hold this original 257-year-old letter in my bare hands (no gloves required). The ink is remarkably well preserved, the paper perfect. Elizabeth’s handwriting, by the way, is a hot mess compared to the clean neat script of her mother.

If you haven’t yet visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I highly recommend going. It’s only $8 to visit and anyone can do research or admire the sweeping architecture of the building. Once you pay to enter, you can stay for hours. 

Please check back for my thoughts on the Betsy Ross house (did Betsy Ross sew the first Star Spangled Banner in collaboration with George Washington, as legend says? Did Elizabeth Graeme know Betsy Ross?) and the amazing Rosenbach Museum and Library.

More to come on love letters from the past.

Thanks for hanging with me!


Plaque in the HSP

Elizabeth's grave at Christ Church, February 2020

Her grave is next to one of the doors. You walk past her to enter.