Benjamin Franklin

American Childhood and Apprenticeship
Franklin, one of seventeen children, was born on January 17, 1706, into a pious Puritan family in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Josiah, who had
immigrated to North America from England in 1682, was a soap and candle maker. Franklin’s mother, Josiah’s second wife, was named Abiah. Franklin
held a deep admiration and respect for both of his parents. Josiah taught the young boy how to read; considering his tenth son a tithe for the church, he
sent him at the age of 8 years old to begin his education as a minister at Boston Grammar School. The expense proved too difficult for the elder Franklin
to bear, however, and he transferred the boy to George Brownell’s school, where he studied writing and arithmetic. The young Franklin excelled in writing,
but he did poorly in math. After two years, his father could no longer afford to keep him in school, so he brought him back home to work in his soap and
candle shop.

Benjamin Franklin hated the smell of the hot wax and the boiling soap, but he obeyed his father and learned his trade. After the boy had spent two years
cutting wicks, pouring hot wax into candle molds, and running errands, his father recognized that he was unhappy and asked him what he wished to do
instead. Now 12, Franklin informed his father that he longed for a life at sea. Disapproving, his father instead set him up as an apprentice with his halfbrother
James, a printer. The young man accepted his father’s judgment and threw himself into his work. He set type and ran the press. Before long, he
mastered the printing trade. In 1721, James, with Benjamin’s help, started the weekly New England Courant, the fourth newspaper established in colonial

Benjamin Franklin read many books on a variety of subjects, but his intellect was mostly stirred by the secular views of Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke,
and other writers of the Enlightenment. Consequently, from an early age, Franklin had fused his Calvinist earnestness and work ethic with the new secular
philosophies of common sense and personal freedom. Without his brother’s knowledge, Franklin wrote clever pieces, using the pen name Mistress
Silence Dogood, sliding them under the newspaper’s door. To Franklin’s delight, his brother liked the essays and often published them. In 1722, James
was arrested for printing political criticism, which the authorities found offensive. This did not deter Franklin. The 16-year-old concealed his status as an
apprentice and ran the paper on his own.

After his incarceration, James found out that Franklin was, in fact, his mystery writer, and he refused to print any more of the articles. To make matters
worse, James became increasingly jealous of his brother’s superior talent and began to beat him. In 1723, determined to endure his brother’s abuses no
longer, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia at the age of 17. He arrived in the city with only a Dutch dollar and a copper shilling in his pocket. Before long,
he had demonstrated his skills and gained employment in Samuel Keimer’s print shop.

With his knack for making friends, Franklin befriended Sir William Keith, the governor of the province. Keith was so impressed with Franklin that he
encouraged him to start his own printing shop. Since Franklin’s father was unable to provide him with the means to do so, Keith promised to sponsor him
and sent Franklin to England to buy the necessary equipment. Unfortunately for Franklin, he arrived in London to discover that the letters of credit that
Keith had promised had not been sent. Franklin spent the next year and a half working in London printing houses and sowing some wild oats. His
indulgences were so great that he fell into debt. Thomas Denham, another of Franklin’s new friends, provided a way for him to escape his creditors and
paid for Franklin’s passage back to colonial America. Franklin’s debt to Denham was forgiven when Denham died.

As a statesman, diplomat, scientist, inventor, civic leader, writer, and printer, Benjamin Franklin portrayed here by Charles Willson Peale in 1789, the
year before his death was the voice and embodiment of the American character. (Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia/Bridgeman Art Library)
In 1726, Franklin returned to America and resumed work at Keimer’s shop. In 1728, however, he formed a business partnership with Hugh Meredith, a
fellow worker in the print shop. With financial support from Meredith’s father, the men purchased The Pennsylvania Gazette from Keimer in 1729. One
year later, the Franklin-Meredith partnership fell apart, and Franklin borrowed money from friends to buy out Meredith. In 1730, at the age of 24, he
became the sole owner of the print shop and the newspaper.

That same year, Franklin formed a common-law union with Deborah Read Rogers, who was married but had been deserted by her husband (upon her
husband’s death, she married Franklin). They had two children together: Francis Folger, who died at age 4, and Sarah. Franklin also had two illegitimate
children: an older son named William and a daughter.
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