Readers of this blog will know I love visiting churches and graveyards. Today we’re visiting Ben Franklin’s Grave and the rest of the Christ Church Burial Ground.
Home to over 4,000 members of Christ Church, including five signers of the Declaration of Independence. Also buried on these grounds are many of our nation’s early leaders, prominent lawyers, medical pioneers, military heroes, and victims of Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever epidemic.
You can see Ben Franklin’s Grave without paying the entry fee to the burial ground. Many people do, judging by the way the fence is rubbed shiny near the grave. I try not to half-ass things here on the blog, so I decided to pay up $3 and go in for a better look.
On the other side of the fence, you can walk up and touch or even throw pennies onto Ben’s grave if that’s what you want to do.
In 2016, conservators repaired a huge crack in the marble slab. You can see the filled crack very easily in the photo below. You can thank John Bon Jovi (among others) for donating toward the repair.
Why do people throw pennies on Ben Franklin’s grave? He’s the guy who coined (hah) the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned.” It’s not a fountain, so I don’t know if you get to make a wish too.
Ben is buried with his common-law wife Deborah. Their story is kind of a sad one. Ben took off to Europe in 1764. He stayed there for 10 years. In that time, they wrote to each other often until Deborah had a few strokes and eventually died in 1774. You can read their letters here, including the very last one from Ben.
Buried beside them is their only child together, Sarah, and her husband Richard.
Christ Church buried the earliest members of the congregation in the churchyard, a common Christian and European practice. When burials began to take place on the outskirts of cities (largely to prevent disease), and the churchyard became filled, Christ Church purchased two acres of land on the outskirts of town at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets.
The Burial Ground was closed to the public from 1977 through 2003. In 2002, again, the Christ Church Preservation Trust stepped in. They undertook a major program of renovation to reopen the site to the public. Projects included restoring grave marker and rebuilding parts of the exterior brick wall (first constructed in 1772). Landscapers tended the overgrown grounds, removing ivy, pruning trees, creating new paths, and installing turf.
Benjamin Rush, a personal friend of George Washington and signer of the Declaration of Independence is buried here. Dubbed “the Father of American Psychiatry” he was a physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian, and educator and the founder of Dickinson College.
Francis Hopkinson designed Continental paper money, the first United States coin, and two early versions of the American flag, one for the United States and one for the United States Navy. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as a delegate from New Jersey.
George Ross Jr was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also the uncle of the man who married Betsy Griscom in 1773, giving her her famous married name: Betsy Ross.
Joseph Hewes was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Perplexingly he was both a Quaker (who are extreme pacifists) and a supporter of the war for independence.
Charles Mason, one of the surveyors of the Mason-Dixon line is buried here. His grave remained unmarked until 2013 when an original Mason-Dixon line surveyor’s mark from 1766 was placed on-site by the Surveyors Historical Society and the Mason-Dixon Line Preservation Partnership. Mason’s burial plot was acquired by his friend Benjamin Franklin upon Mason’s death in 1786. It is unknown exactly where in the burial ground Mr. Mason is buried, but nonetheless, his marker is here.
Living in Seattle, Commodore William Bainbridge is a name I know well because of Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound. He served under six presidents beginning with John Adams and is notable for his many victories at sea. He commanded several famous naval ships, including USS Constitution (aka Old Ironsides).
Plenty of other soldiers are in the cemetery, marked with American Flags. Revolutionary War soldiers’ flags are in the Betsy Ross style. James Pickering is here along with his daughter Mary, who died at the age of 9. James does not have a marking, while Mary’s is original.
Look at those other headstones nearby and how small they are!
Many headstones ae not original, like this one for John Markland. Not uncommon in a cemetery of this age. As you can see, it sticks out like a sore thumb among the original headstones that surround it.
While the Revolution takes center stage here in Philly, there are Civil War soldiers and War of 1812 soldiers buried here, too.
The Yellow Fever pandemic swept Philadelphia in 1793 (and you’ll see MANY graves here with a death date of 1793). Benjamin Rush mentioned earlier in this blog post, worked hard to beat the disease. As did this doctor, Francis Sayre. Yellow Fever returned in 1797, 1798, 1799. His headstone tells the story.
As mentioned earlier, entrance is only a few bucks, so I think certainly worth a visit.
The Burial Ground is open weather permitting from March through November during the following times: Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., and on Sunday from 12 p.m.–4 p.m.
Guided tours are Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. –3:30 p.m., Sundays from 12:30 p.m. –3:30 p.m., and at other times with an advanced reservation.
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