Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume II by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume II by  Mara L. Pratt


Benjamin Franklin

One of the wisest men of the times was Benjamin Franklin. You have all heard about him I presume; there are so many stories of his boyhood, which no doubt, you have read in your reading book.

He was a very poor boy; that is, as far as money goes, but he had something in his little head that made him richer than the richest boy that ever scampered with him across Boston Common.

At ten years old he was taken from school to assist his father in his business of tallow-candler and soap-boiler.

"I was employed," he says, "in cutting wicks for the candles, attending the shop and going of errands."

Not liking this trade, however, Benjamin was apprenticed, at the age of twelve, to his brother James, a printer.

Here he stayed for five years, but as he did not get along very well with his brother, he determined to start out and "seek his fortune."

Here is an account of his journey as told by himself:—

"My friend Collins agreed with the captain of a New York sloop for my passage to that city. So I sold some of my books to raise a little money, and as we had a fair wind, in three days I found myself in New York, near three hundred miles from home, a boy of but seventeen, without the least knowledge of any person in the place, and with very little money in my pocket.

"I offered my service to the printer in the place, old Mr. William Bradfod. He could give me no employment, having little to do, but says he, 'my son at Philadelphia has lately lost his principal man; if you go there, I believe he may employ you.'

"Philadelphia was a hundred miles further; I set out, however, in a boat for Amboy leaving my chest and things to follow me round by sea.

"From there I proceeded on foot, fifty miles to Burlington, where I was told I should find boats that would carry me the rest of the way to Philadelphia.

"It rained very hard all day. I was thoroughly soaked, and by noon a good deal tired: so I stopped at a poor inn, where I stayed all night, beginning now to wish that I had never left home.

"I cut so miserable a figure, too, that I found by the questions asked me, I was suspected to be some runaway servant, and in danger of being taken up on that suspicion. However, I proceded the next day and got in the evening to Burlington.

"Walking there by the side of the river a boat came by, which I found was going towards Philadelphia. They took me in, and, as there was no wind, we rowed all the way.

"We arrived at Philadelphia about nine o,clock on Sunday morning, and landed at the Market Street wharf.

"I have been the more particular in this description of my journey to Philadelphia, and shall be so of my first entry into that city, that you may in your mind compare such unlikely beginnings with the figures I have since made there. I was in my working dress, my best clothes being to come round by sea. I was dirty from my journey; my pockets were stuffed out with shirts and stockings, and I knew no soul, or where to look for lodging.

"I was fatigued with travelling, rowing, and want of rest; I was very hungry; and my whole stock of cash consisted of a Dutch dollar, and about a shilling in copper.

"I walked up a street, gazing about, till, near the market-house I met a boy with bread.

"I had made many a meal on bread, and, inquiring where he had bought it, I went immediately to the baker's he directed me to, in Second Street, and asked for a biscuit, intending such as we had in Boston; but they, it seems, were not made in Philadelphia.

"Then I asked for a threepenny loaf, and was told they had none such. So, not knowing the difcrene of money, or the greater cheapness or the names of his bread, I bade him give me threepenny-worth of any sort.

"He gave me, accordingly, three great, puffy rolls. I was surprised at the quantity, but took it, and, having no room in my pockets, walked off with a roll under each arm, and eating the other.

"Thus I went up Market Street as far as Fourth Street, passing by the door of Mr. Reed, my future wife's father; when she, standing at the door, saw me, and thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward and ridiculous appearance.

"I then turned and went down Chestnut Street, and part of Walnut Street, eating my roll all the way. Coming round, I found myself again at Market Street Wharf, near the boat I came in, to which I went for a draught of the river water; and being filled with one of my rolls, I gave the other two to a woman and her child who came down the river in the boat with us, and were waiting to go farther.

"Thus refreshed, I walked again up the street, which by this time had many clean-dressed people in it who were all walking the same way. I joined them, and thereby was led into a great meeting-house of the Quakers, near the market.

"I sat down among them, and, after looking round awhile, and hearing nothing said, being very drowsy through labor and want of rest the preceding night, I fell fast asleep, and continued so till the meeting broke up, when one was kind enough to rouse me. This was, therefore, the first house I was in, or slept in, in Philadelphia."

It was this Franklin that made the wonderful first discoveries in electricity; and he made them by means of a kite with a small thread, by which he found that he could "bring down the lightning."

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