I mentioned using Benjamin Franklin as one of the secondary characters in my current manuscript. He functions as a mentor/confidante figure to my hero. When using an actual historical figure in a fictional story, a writer must be careful to portray the person as accurately as possible. Don’t go assuming all American rebels were monolithic in their thinking. Franklin, after all, did offer to reimburse from his own pocket for the tea dumped in the Boston harbor. He was in London, trying to soothe the tensions between the colonies and England.
In fact, this is an interesting look at Franklin. By the time of the American Revolution, he was a man in his late sixties. Usually revolution is a younger man’s cause. Franklin had been a loyal subject of the king. He’d even hosted parties in honor of the king’s birthday and drank toasts in his honor. Franklin wanted to be considered a gentleman—and a revolutionary is no gentleman.
What made him change his mind so late in life?
That is the question explored by Gordon S. Wood in his book The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. As an author, I found this take to be invaluable for insight into portraying Franklin in my fictional situations. Mr. Wood researched Franklin’s letters and other writings to trace how the man’s thinking changed. The five chapter titles clearly delineate the evolution of thought in Franklin’s life.
1) Becoming a Gentleman
2) Becoming a British Imperialist
3) Becoming a Patriot
4) Becoming a Diplomat
5) Becoming an American
The third chapter (Patriot) covers until March 1775 when Franklin sailed away from England back to America. By the time he reached Philadelphia that May, the fighting at Lexington and Concord had already occurred. Because my story is set in London during December 1773 and January 1774, I used the events of this time period as background for my historical romance between the hot-headed American aide and the sister of a British duke. I also hope I am showing Franklin as he might have acted had my characters been real.
I do recommend reading Mr. Wood’s book for insight into how a person’s loyalty can change.