Franklin and Slavery: Peter and King

When Benjamin Franklin arrived in London in 1757, he had with him two African slaves that lived and worked at 36 Craven Street. In this section, we will tell their stories based off of the information available from the letters and financial documents that survive from Franklin’s London home.

Peter (1750-?)

By 1750, the Franklins had purchased Peter and his wife Jemima. In 1757, Peter was selected to join Franklin on his transatlantic journey to London and live with him on Craven Street. In preparation for the journey, Franklin even wrote a new will that provided the manumission for Peter and Jemima in the event of his death. To find out more about Jemima, check out our page on the slaves of the Philadelphia Household here.

Once settled in London, Peter often accompanied Franklin to conduct research and tour various places, such as the English Midlands, Northern England, and Scotland. Franklin spoke highly of Peter, and often complimented his good demeanour and “few faults.” In addition, Franklin wrote of Peter’s various tasks to Margaret Stevenson, landlady of 36 Craven Street, which included anything from buying reams of paper to delivering messages. [1]

After 1762, Peter was lost to the historical record and there is no evidence to be found that determines whether or not Peter returned with Franklin to Philadelphia.

King (c.1756/7-?)

King was most likely purchased just before Franklin’s departure to England and was intended as a personal servant for his son William. The early weeks in London are documented especially well in Franklin’s account book, which details various purchases of the latest fashions, and even includes a new hat for King. It was a lavish gift that was most likely made of velvet and cost sixteen shillings [2]. It has been speculated that due to the surprisingly high cost of the gift, the hat is believed to perhaps be a form of compensation designed to secure King’s obedience and servitude whilst in London. Franklin was not a frivolous man, and King was described as mischievous and seemingly ill-behaved.

Whilst living in London, Franklin regularly writes letters to his family in America, particularly his wife Deborah in Philadelphia, to inform them of his movements and update them on his time in England. In 1760, Deborah enquires about King and Peter, and it is from Franklin’s reply that a remarkable tale emerges.

He informs his wife that King had run away “near two years ago while we were absent in the Country.” He then goes on to detail how, some time later, he came across King whilst on his travels once more. King had seemingly run away to Suffolk and in 1760 was living with a Christian woman that was teaching him to read and write. The unnamed woman sent King to school, where he was taught to read and write, and play the violin and French horn, along with other “accomplishments more useful in a servant,” according to Franklin [3].

Ultimately, Franklin, who valued such learning, decided to leave King in Suffolk. Franklin had put out an advertisement for his missing slave but this is pulled soon after the incident. After this encounter, there is no evidence that King is ever caught or pursued further by the Franklins. From this point on, King makes no further appearance in Franklin’s letters and it can only be assumed that the former African slave and companion to Benjamin Franklin lived out the rest of his years in rural Suffolk.


[1] Kevin Hayes, “New Light on Peter and King, the Two Slaves Benjamin Franklin Brought to England,” The Author (Oxford University Press, 2013): 207.

[2] Kevin Hayes, “New Light on Peter and King, the Two Slaves Benjamin Franklin Brought to England,” The Author (Oxford University Press, 2013): 206.

[3] Kevin Hayes, “New Light on Peter and King, the Two Slaves Benjamin Franklin Brought to England,” The Author (Oxford University Press, 2013): 207.


Benjamin Franklin Historical Society. “Slavery and the Abolition Society.” Benjamin Franklin Historical Society. Accessed 15 February 2023

Gladney, VanJessica. “Benjamin Franklin and Slave Ownership.” Penn and Slavery Project. Accessed 15 February 2023,

Hayes, Kevin. “New Light on Peter and King, the Two Slaves Benjamin Franklin Brought to England.” The Author. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Historic England. “Black Lives in England.” Historic England. Accessed 15 February 2023,

Nash, Gary B. “Franklin and Slavery.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 150, no. 4 (2006): 618–35,

National Archives. “Benjamin Franklin’s Anti-Slavery Petitions to Congress.” National Archives and Records Administration, accessed 15 February 2023,

Further Reading

Brands, H.W. The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Fisher, Sydney. The True Benjamin Franklin: An Illuminating Look into the Life of One of Our Greatest Founding Fathers.

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Goodwin, George. Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Waldstreicher, David. Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004.

Wood, Gordon. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.