This woman was once engaged to William Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's son. What is her name?

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This woman was once engaged to William Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's son. What is her name?

2013-07-18 15:53



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.

Image: Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, engraving (undated)


Submitted by Susan Detweiler (not verified) on

Enjoyed the Question of the Week and look forward to more!

Submitted by on

Thank you! It's great to know that people are reading and are interested. And we certainly enjoy putting them together as there's no shortage of interesting history round these parts!

Submitted by karan (not verified) on

Edward Thomas Davis and Kate Neal Davis are my great great grandparents. He is a decendant of the Mifflin's and Carlisle's on his father's side. Kate, his mother, is from the Cadwallader's. Katherine, Kate, his wife, is the child of Thomas Irvin and Sophia Witherspoon. Sophia is tthe child of Charles Mann and Sophia Witherspoon. Sophia is a direct decendant of Martin Luther. How do I connect that statment from "The History of Philadelphia"? They've torn down his house. I can't find my only living cousin Marion Davis after she was moved from the nursing home in Glenoldyn, Pa. She had almost all of the family history. I have wills & pictures. How could Charles be related to Frederic Mann?

Submitted by Lauri Cielo on

We would certainly welcome you to do more research in our collection. Click "Plan Your Visit" at the top of the website to learn more about how to visit HSP. You could also have an HSP expert research for you through our Research by Mail program. Click "Need Research?" above for more information. Good luck with your genealogy!

Submitted by Stephen Macrone (not verified) on

You can find Elizabeth's grave site right at Christ Church here in Philadelphia. She is buried right next to the church on the 2nd and Market St. side. You do not even have to enter their cemetery to view it. Her parents, Dr. Thomas Graeme and Mrs. Ann Graeme are located right next to her.

Submitted by Pete Choate (not verified) on

I knew this one as I live at Graeme Park in the Penrose-Strawbridge house.

Submitted by Erik L. Burro (not verified) on

Many thanks for sharing this colorful story. I wish I had known it, some years back when I hosted the London Carpenter Company at Graham Park, as William Penn,
On behalf of the Hatboro Horsham Historical Society. Her prospects would have seemed so much better, as the wife of New Jersey's last Royal Governor, but her
Early marital disappointment in not becoming Mrs Franklin, was a blessing in disguise. William Franklin, who I have portrayed in New Jersey, was sent off to prison in Connecticut during the American Revolution and his wife was left destitute
In Burlington, NJ, where she died from sickness caused in large part to her abandoned state. Tory friends provided her with burial and a handsome memorial stone at New York City's Trinity Church, near Wall Street. Shortly after the war,
William Franklin sailed back to London, England, where he had attended law school. He and his father, Benjamin, remained estranged? William would never return to his birthplace of Pennsylvania. Dear Elizabeth Graham was saved from a terrible fate.
I look forward to reading her poems at HSP. They may have some interesting insights to be discovered.

Submitted by Henry Hugh Fergusson (not verified) on

Although branded a Tory and traitor to the rebellion, I have a strenuous desire to cleanse, as best I can, my besmirched name. It was not through lowly callous that I returned to Scotland after our Royal's defeat., but solely to provide an avenue of prosperity for my dear Elizabeth to thrive in the wayward Colony of Pennsylvania. I must agree with Mr. Burro's preceding comment that a marriage to Mr Franklin …….."would have been a terrible fate"….This not only due to William's circumstance after the rebellion; but most certainly, he couldst have never provided the festive, devious and utterly delightful environment I so joyously enhanced during my moments spent at Graeme Park.

Henry Hugh Fergusson (aka James Price, Henry re-enactor @ Graeme Park)

Submitted by on

Thank you to our wonderful readers for submitting some wonderful comments about Fergusson. Hers was quite a complex and very interesting history. Both HSP and LCP are proud to be able to service our collections of Fergusson papers to anyone who wishes to view them!

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