By the time Benjamin Franklin became one of the Founding Fathers the days of his youth were well behind him. But his reputation as a ladies man remained. It was well deserved. As a young man Franklin worked for a time as a printer in London, and became well acquainted with the brothels of the English capital. Before leaving for London in 1723, Franklin proposed marriage to Deborah Read. Her mother refused to sanction the marriage. While Franklin was in London Deborah married John Rodgers, who promptly abandoned her and fled with her dowry to Barbados.
Deborah was legally married and with no knowledge of her husband’s whereabouts was not free to marry when Franklin returned. They moved in together as husband and wife in a common law marriage. Joining them was Franklin’s illegitimate son, William, whose date of birth is unknown. So is the identity of his mother, to whom Franklin never referred again. Deborah Read Franklin would bear two children during their common law marriage, which endured long separations while Franklin was in Europe or the other colonies conducting business.
Among the many documents Franklin left behind is a letter he wrote which indicates his attitude over the keeping of a mistress. Franklin advised a young acquaintance that the best way to deal with sexual desires was through marriage to “â¦a Prudent healthy wifeâ¦” but in the case of a mistress it is wiser to select an older woman over a young. His many reasons included, “â¦they are so grateful.” As a young man himself Franklin did not heed his own advice, once making advances on the mistress of a good friend, only to lose both mistress and friend.
Franklin’s appetites and freethinking over sex was evident as a youth when he was publishing his famed aphorisms in Poor Richard’s Almanac. Some of these include, “She that Paints her Face thinks of her Tail,” and “After three days men grow weary of a wenchâ¦” One of his most pithy comments under the guise of Poor Richard was, “Neither a Fortress nor a maidenhead will hold out long after they begin to parley.” In his autobiography Franklin referred to his sexual appetites as, “That hard to be governed passion of youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell into my way.”
By the time Franklin arrived in Paris during the Revolutionary War he was well into his seventies, but that did not stop the gossip over his amorous activities with several of the French noblewomen at the Royal Court. He reveled in the gossip, and did all he could encourage it, including the recitation of a poem about him referring to his tastes in women. Throughout his long life Franklin was attracted to the opposite sex, and the attraction was reciprocated. His own preference was clearly for younger women, despite the advice he famously tendered to his young friend.