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Robert Franklin

He later died on 12-30-1813.
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Robert Franklin was a free African American of advanced age living in a log cabin with his family on Niagara Street, near present-day Columbus Parkway. At the time, the location was within the boundaries of the Village of Black Rock, but was later incorporated into the City of Buffalo. It is not know when Robert Franklin moved to Buffalo/Black Rock but he is among those residents recorded in the 1810 Buffalo census. His household included himself and two other people, so it is possible that he has living descendents among us. Little is known about Mr. Franklin, but recollections about him recorded that he was known as â??Frankieâ? and was a stutterer.

During the First Battle of Black Rock (July 11, 1813) the British invaded Black Rock and intended to invade Buffalo. After the U.S. Army was notified of the invasion 60 U.S. troops came to meet the British and stopped at Franklinâ??s house to determine their strategy. There, the officer commanding concluded it was not prudent to attack the enemy with so small a force, so they turned back for Buffalo.

During the same battle, General Peter B. Porter narrowly escaped being taken a prisoner by the British when his house at the corner of Niagara Street at Auburn Avenue was invaded. Porter, clad in only a nightshirt, ran south on Niagara Street to Franklinâ??s house where he obtained an old gray horse from Franklin to ride. Porter rode the horse to Buffalo where, despite the Armyâ??s reticence to attack the British, he worked to mount a response. Porter was able to rally a force of regular Army troops, militia and Seneca Indians (it was the first time that the Senecas were allied with the Americans, thanks in part, to previous negotiations made by Erastus Granger). Together, they were able to successfully repel the British.

Robert Franklin died five months later during the burning of Buffalo and Black Rock (December 30, 1813). It is not know what exactly took place on that fateful day, or what happened to his family, but it was recorded that Franklin was killed and scalped. A tomahawk was left in his skull as a macabre reminder of the conflict.

A few days later, his frozen, lifeless body was carried to Reesâ?? blacksmith shop in Buffalo, along with Buffaloâ??s other dead. Pascal P. Pratt, who was at the shop when Robert Franklinâ??s body was brought here, said that it appeared â??as though he had died with a stuttered sentence frozen in his mouth.â? Franklinâ??s body, with the other dead, was buried in a single large grave in the Franklin Square burying ground (present site of Erie County Hall). Decades later, the remains of citizens buried there were moved to Forest Lawn cemetery.

Why Mr. Franklin chose to remain in Buffalo is a mystery and a testament to his courage. Most African Americans fled to Canada during the time of the War for their safety. Even though Mr. Franklin and his family were free African Americans, they were at risk for being kidnapped and being taken to a southern slave state where they would have lost their freedom.

Reprinted with permission of author: Chris Brown

Note: Mr. Brown is working with others to establish a commemorative marker on the historic site of Robert Franklinâ??s home. Plans are to have this marker erected in time for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 in 2012.