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Benjamin Franklin and the Quaker Murders



How could two women be found dead with bruise marks to their throats on the same man’s property, one of them in his bed, and he not be guilty of murder? Everyone in Philadelphia in September 1785 thinks Jacob Maul, the Quaker stonecutter, is a murderer. But Benjamin Franklin disagrees.

Because of his age, 79, and because he does not want to acquire a reputation for solving his neighbors’ most vexing problems, Franklin must recruit a younger man to collect information that could prove the Quaker’s innocence. But first, he must convince the maimed Revolutionary War veteran Captain James Jamison, his chosen assistant, of the accused man’s innocence. He succeeds in this, and makes Captain Jamison pledge not to reveal Franklin’s part in the inquiries Jamison is to make under his direction. Genius though Benjamin Franklin was in taming the destructive power of lightning, his powers of judgment and persuasion spectacularly fail him in the story’s climactic showdown.

The investigation of the Quaker Murders is rich in details about Franklin’s life and 18th-century Philadelphia, then the world’s second largest English-speaking city, still recovering from the war for independence.