On October 30, 1785, American statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote a letter to Catherine Shipley. Known as “Kitty,” Catherine was the youngest of five daughters of Jonathan Shipley, an Anglican bishop in St. Asaph in Wales. Shipley spent most of his time in London or at his country estate, Twyford, located near Winchester.
Bishop Shipley was one of Franklin’s closest friends in Great Britain. Franklin visited Bishop Shipley in 1771 and enjoyed conversing with his daughters. During his visit, Franklin, encouraged by the Shipley family, began writing his memoirs. At that time, Kitty was 11 years old.
In this particular letter, sent from Philadelphia in 1785, Franklin mentioned to Kitty that he was very busy at work as a member of the executive council of Pennsylvania, a position he held from 1785 to 1788. He informed her that he was enjoying time with his grandsons and his nephew Jonathan Williams, and he extended his best wishes to Kitty’s family at Twyford. Although Franklin had misplaced a letter from Kitty, he promised to write her once he found it. She was about 25 years old at the date of this letter. She never married. In 1786, Franklin wrote "The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams" in honor of Kitty.
Franklin served as a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, at the age of 81. He died in 1790 in Philadelphia.
Part of this letter is included in the online Papers of Benjamin Franklin, sponsored by the American Philosophical Society and Yale University. Only the first paragraph, ending with "Love to all the dear family at Twyford" is included in the online transcription. The bottom portion of the letter, starting with "I have received a kind letter from you," is not posted.
This letter was donated to the Booth Family Center for Special Collections by Mary Fearey in December, 2001.The document is preserved in box 7 folder 10 of the Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection.
Scott Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist
May 13, 2016