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The Franklin/Adams Cold Air Night

We all have been on trips where we ended up sleeping in less than ideal conditions or even failed to plan ahead.  When we think of the country’s founding fathers, it’s real easy to have a mental image of  crowd-stirring speeches or the drafting of documents that would govern our nation in its infancy.

I was reminded by, that the background stories were as colorful as the lessons in our history books. This is a story of a night in September of 1776 as recorded by the diary of John Adams; It shows the thinking and persuasion of two historical figures as well as why even the smallest of details makes for intersting historical perspective.

Just months after the thirteen American colonies announced their independence from British rule, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were sent by the Continental Congress  as part of a small delegation, to travel from Philadelphia to Staten Island for the purpose of negotiating with Admiral Richard Howe of the Royal Navy. Their hope was to bring a possible end to the Revolutionary War.Franklin Adams

According to Adams, as they passed through New Brunswick, New Jersey, the negotiators of the delegation – Frankin, Adams and South Carolina representative Edward Rutledge decided to stop for the night and find a place to sleep. Without Priceline or Expedia, they soon learned that without prior planning, all the inns and local lodging taverns were full except for one establishment that had two available rooms. Unfortunately, this left only two beds for the three men.

As described by Adams’ writings, “One bed could be procured by Dr. Franklin and me, in a chamber a little larger than the bed, without a chimney and with only one small window.” It turned out that the small window would become the bone of contention. The diary went on to describe the night’s events:


     Adams described himself as “an invalid and afraid of the air in the night,” so he closed the window before they got into bed.

“Oh!” said Franklin. “Don’t shut the window. We shall be suffocated.”

What Adams had meant by “invalid” was that he could not stand cold air. When Adams explained to Franklin that he didn’t want to catch a cold from the night air, Franklin countered that the air in their room was even worse.   “Come!” Franklin said. “Open the window and come to bed, and I will convince you: I believe you are not acquainted with my Theory of Colds.”

Contrary to the general population of that day, Franklin was convinced that no one had ever gotten a cold from cold air. Instead, it was the “frowzy corrupt air” from animals, humans and dirty clothes and beds that resulted in a cold, when they were “shut up together in small close rooms.”  It was cool, fresh night air that had many benefits.

Franklin’s opinion was inconsistent with Adams’ own experiences, Adams noted, but he was curious regarding Franklin’s theory. So, even at the risk of a cold, he opened the window again and hopped into the lone bed.

As they lay side by side, according to the diary, Franklin “began a harangue upon air and cold and respiration and perspiration.” Adams watched Franklin catch a cold.

“I was so much amused that I soon fell asleep, and left him and his philosophy together,” Adams wrote. “But I believe they were equally sound and insensible, within a few minutes after me, for the last words I heard were pronounced as if he was more than half asleep.”

Unfortunately, the ending of the trip was not a successful negotiation. Still, Adams was able to later tell others that Franklin may have understood lightning and electricity but he did not understand the components of the common cold.

DID YOU KNOW that when people are offered a new pen to try, 97% of them try it by writing their own name.

And for pic o’ day, here are two mischevious  friends that got into it:

two friends


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