From Catherine Meed
ALS: American Philosophical Society
This letter is the first appearance of a niece whose existence Franklin seems to have forgotten. He had doubtless not seen her for many years, and she lived in a remote part of Pennsylvania. All we know of her first brief effort to refresh her uncle’s recollection of her is in the present letter and another below, December 16. She had written him on his return from England, with no response; here she is trying again. The second attempt elicited a reply. Although it has disappeared, it was clearly a baffled one: who was she? In December she explained, and then the extant correspondence breaks off for a decade.8
She was unquestionably a niece of sorts. Her father was John Croker, who was the second husband of Deborah Franklin’s sister Frances. Three children of that marriage are recorded, and Catherine was not among them.9 After Frances’ death in 1740 the widower remarried and moved to Staten Island; in 1745 he and his new wife sold to Franklin their interest in some Philadelphia property left by Deborah’s mother.1 Thereafter the whole family disappeared from view except for Joseph Croker, Catherine’s brother or uncle, who died in 1758.2 We are inclined to think that Catherine herself was her father’s daughter by his second wife rather than by Deborah’s sister, in which case her relationship with Franklin was tenuous enough to explain his bafflement. Where she grew up, whom she married, and why she moved to the frontier are questions without answers. She exists only in four brief notes, two of them in 1775 and the other two ten years later.3
Sunbury Shemokin4 Nov the 28 [1775?]
When I heard of your arrival nothing Ever made me So happy. I wrote Directly to you, but when I was not Honored with A line from you, I Could not help Crying, for your all the uncle I have in the world by my Poor Father. I thought you would not write to A Poor little Country Girle, but Every body Says you have no more Pride than A Child and that has incouraged me to write to you again. I often think if Could See you and Cousin Sally I would be the Happiest woman in the world, but I live A great way off.
Pleas to Give my [love?] to Cousin Sally and Except the Same from your Affectionate Cousin
Addressed: Honl. Benj Franclin / in / Philadelphia
Endorsed: Catherine Meed
8. This reconstruction has to be conjectural because the present letter is not dated by year. It has been assigned to 1785: I. Minnis Hays, Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin. . . (5 vols., Philadelphia, 1908), III, 287. But all the small signs associate it with the letter of December, 1775: both are addressed to “Dear Uncle” and signed “Affectionate Cousin” and ask to be remembered to Sally, whereas the two letters of 1785 and 1786, cited below, are addressed to “Honored Uncle” and signed “Affectionate Niece” and say nothing of Sally.
9. PMHB, XV (1891), 356.
1. Above, III, 44 n; see also the White genealogical chart above, VIII, .
2. BF’s “Cousin Josey” seems to have been quite young when he died. He was a stone mason and carved the epitaph to Josiah and Abiah Franklin; BF tried to get him to England to ply his trade, but he was killed by Indians. Above, VII, 218 n, 229, 367. Our predecessors never fully identified him, and we can only conjecture. He could scarcely have been a son of John Croker’s second marriage, unless he developed his stone-carving skill at a startlingly early age. He might have been an unrecorded child of John and Frances Croker, but it seems more likely that he was John’s younger brother.
3. On BF’s second return, from France in 1785, she wrote him a letter similar to this one; he apparently answered as before by asking who she was, and again she told him: to BF, Oct. 27, 1785; Feb. 14, 1786, APS.
4. Sunbury had been laid out in 1772 on the site of the Indian village of Shamokin, at the confluence of Shamokin Creek and the upper Susquehanna. See Herbert C. Bell, History of Northumberland County. . . (Chicago, 1891), pp. 444–5.