300 Years of Ben Franklin as a Philadelphian: A Commemoration of the Founding Fathers’ Arrival in Philadelphia
On a warm October morning in 2023, dozens of people gathered to watch as a young man arrived on a boat from the Delaware River. The man proceeded up the dock in his long coat, trousers, and buckled shoes. He stopped to look around him and the crowd witnessed an amazing sight: a reenactment of Benjamin Franklin’s first arrival in Philadelphia.
October 6th marked 300 years since Ben Franklin journeyed from Boston to Philadelphia as a 17-year-old. In honor of this anniversary, government offices and Franklin-affiliated institutions organized a commemoration that was open to the public so that all could participate in the recognition of a great Founding Father.
After arriving at the Independence Seaport Museum dock, Ben led a procession towards Independence National Historical Park. He amicably answered questions about his travels and carried his three famous puffy rolls in his arms as he walked; Franklin had arrived with very little money left after his travels, yet the price of food was considerably cheaper in Philadelphia than in Boston at the time, so the three cents he gave to a bakery yielded three whole loaves of bread instead of just one. He carried these around as he journeyed through the city for the first time. As the sun shone and the streets filled with passersby, the crowd experienced history first hand as they walked with the historical figure through the streets of Philadelphia.
Ben Franklin’s path then came upon the park, where an audience was assembled in expectation of the event. On the steps of the Second Bank of the United States stood the Philadelphia Boys’ Choir, greeting the attendees with renditions of American songs amidst the buzz of excited discussions.
As the speeches commenced, they expressed a collective passion for Philadelphia history and all that Franklin had contributed. His influence on the city was evident by the number of Franklin-affiliated organizations that were represented, including the Carpenters’ Company, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania National Guard, formerly known as The Associators. Franklin himself established The Associators as a militia group during the French and Indian War and they later became the first unit of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
GPA is proud to be partners with the Carpenters’ Company, which is led by Executive Director Michael Norris, one of GPA’s 2023 Globy Awards honorees. Norris spoke at the commemoration ceremony and highlighted Ben Franklin’s historical connection to the organization. Although he was not a carpenter, Franklin often frequented Carpenters’ Hall to make political and social connections. Additionally, it hosted the First Continental Congress and acted as a secret meeting spot for Franklin and French representatives to discuss France becoming an ally in the American revolution.
Other community organizations and GPA members took on important roles in the event. The Independence Seaport Museum hosted the reenactment of Franklin’s arrival at the port and a representative of the American Philosophical Society spoke of the many institutions that Franklin founded and the work he did with the society.
Philadelphia legend Jim Gardner emceed the event and other speakers included Mary Isaacson of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, City Council Member Mark Squilla, and Sheila Hess, Philadelphia City Representative of the Mayor’s Office. Both the Office of Governor Shapiro and the Office of Mayor Kenney proclaimed the date to be a government-recognized anniversary, calling it The Anniversary of Ben Franklin’s Arrival Day, or Ben Franklin’s Day.
Throughout the event, speakers mentioned common sites in Philadelphia that were significant places in Franklin’s life and journeys, showing just how ingrained he is in the city’s history. Along with his many inventions and personal achievements, he contributed to the city by establishing the first library to be owned by the public, founding the Pennsylvania Hospital in the historic Society Hill district, spearheading the creation of the Academy of Philadelphia, which is now the University of Pennsylvania, and leading many other efforts that grew the city and helped communities. Ben Franklin continues to be remembered as an integral leader in the founding of the United States, as well as a true Philadelphian.
Photo credit: American Philosphical Society