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Franklin, Ann, 1695?-1763 | State Archives Catalog

Name: Franklin, Ann, 1695?-1763
Variant Name: Widow Franklin
Fuller Form: Ann Smith Franklin

Historical Note:

Ann Smith Franklin (October 2, 1696 – April 16, 1763) was an American colonial newspaper printer and publisher. She inherited the business from her husband, James Franklin, brother of Benjamin Franklin.  Ann was born in Boston to Samuel and Anna Smith. She married James Franklin in Boston on February 4, 1723.  She published the Newport, Rhode Island Mercury, printed an almanac series, and printed Rhode Island paper currency. Ann was the country’s first female newspaper editor, the first woman to write an almanac, and the first woman inducted into the University of Rhode Island's Journalism Hall of Fame.

Ann Smith Franklin was the wife of the printer James Franklin and sister-in-law to Benjamin Franklin. After experiencing harsh censorship in Boston—including a jail term—for the supposedly "wicked" articles he published in The New England Courant, James decamped for the freer atmosphere of the colony of Rhode Island. He and Ann brought the first printing press to the colony and published its first newspaper, The Rhode Island Gazette. When James died in 1735, Ann was left a widow, with five young children to support, at the age of thirty-nine.

They had five children while in Newport, including daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and son James Jr. (c.1730-1762). James Jr. attended Philadelphia Academy with; his cousin William, Benjamin's son, before James Jr. apprenticed in the printing trade with his Uncle Benjamin. After a long illness, James died in Newport in 1735, leaving Ann a widow, aged 39, with three young children to support, one child having preceded him in death.

In 1736, Ann petitioned the General Assembly of Rhode Island, seeking printing work in order to support her family. She was awarded the contract, becoming the General Assembly's official printer to the colony, a position she held until she died. In this official capacity, she printed the colony's charter granted by Charles II of England. To supplement her income, she printed sermons for ministers, advertisements for merchants, as well as popular British novels. Ann's most notable work was compiling and publishing five editions of the Rhode Island Almanack, for the years 1737-1741. In 1741, she began selling her brother-in-law Benjamin's almanac, Poor Richard's Almanack, and in 1745, she printed 500 copies of the Acts and Laws of Rhode Island as a folio edition, her largest commission.

She seems to have learned printing soon after her marriage in 1723. Although she did only commercial job work in her first year of widowhood, she soon expanded her repertoire, reviving the profitable Rhode Island Almanack and becoming official printer to the colony. In 1745 she undertook her largest commission, five hundred copies of a folio edition of the Acts and Laws of Rhode Island. The volume also includes another item printed in her official capacity, the colony's charter granted by Charles II. Acts and Laws, of his Majesty's Colony of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, in New-England, in America, Newport, Rhode-Island: Printed by the Widow Franklin, and to be Sold at the Town-School-House [sic], 1745.

Though a second child died young, Mary, Elizabeth, and James Jr. worked in the family business. The daughters performed typesetting. While James Jr. ran the business, now called "Ann and James Franklin", with his mother. During this time, however, some of Ann's imprints continued to bear the name "Widow Franklin". In 1758, they published the Newport Mercury, Rhode Island's first newspaper.

As Ann grew older, she turned over many business responsibilities to son James Jr. But after the deaths of her remaining children, Ann, now age 65, returned to the printing press. She took on the printer Samuel Hall, who had been her son-in-law, as her business partner in 1761, forming "Franklin & Hall". Under this imprint, they printed a folio of Rhode Island schedules.

Ann Smith Franklin died in Newport in 1763.

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