Question of the Week
This woman was once engaged to William Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's son. What is her name?
Answer: Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson
Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s life was one of heartbreak and intrigue. Born in Philadelphia in 1737, Elizabeth was the daughter of prominent physician Dr. Thomas Graeme and Anne Diggs. She lived with her family at their estate, Graeme Park, located in Horsham, Pennsylvania. In the 1750s, Elizabeth made her societal debut, and she became engaged to William Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s son. Benjamin Franklin and Graeme’s father were business acquaintances until political differences formed a rift between the two men. Neither wanted their children associated with one another. In the late 1750s, William decided to accompany his father on a trip to England, and when he returned, it was with another woman as his wife.
Afterward, Elizabeth’s parents recommended that she visit England, where she met with members of the Penn family, King George III, and other notable figures of the time. But during her stay overseas, in 1765, Elizabeth received word that both her mother and sister had died. She returned to the Philadelphia area shortly thereafter. Back at Graeme Park, Elizabeth invited the city’s cultural and social leaders to discussion gatherings she called “Attic Evenings.” It was at one of these meetings in 1771 that she met Scottish immigrant and British sympathizer Henry Fergusson. Although her father did not approve, the couple married in 1772. That same year, Elizabeth’s father died, and the newly married couple inherited Graeme Park.
During the Revolutionary War, Henry asked Elizabeth to ferry letters between British and American military personnel. Henry was later labeled a traitor and Graeme Park was confiscated. It took Elizabeth three years to regain control of the property. She lived at Graeme Park for the remainder of her life with good friend Eliza Stedman, and she continued her work as a published poet and writer. Due to her ill health, Elizabeth sold Graeme Park in the 1790s. She died in Horsham in 1801.
Some of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson's writing are available at HSP (Am .067), and the Library Company of Philadelphia's collection of her works can be accessed here as well.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.