|Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest American minds of all
time, arose from humble beginnings. Born in Boston on January 17,
1706 to a tradesman and a homemaker, it seemed unlikely that
Benjamin would succeed in becoming the embodiment of the American
Josiah Franklin, his father, a well-versed and industrious young man, was a dyer of textiles in Ecton, England. With his first wife Anne and his three children, Elizabeth, Samuel, and Hannah, Josiah emigrated to Boston in 1683, leaving behind a two-hundred year legacy of the Franklin family in England. In the infant society of Puritan Boston (population 5,000) there seldom was a need for Josiah's skill, forcing him to adopt a new trade: candle and soap making. Several years later, Anne Franklin died of complications while giving birth to her seventh child. The grieving husband soon married Abiah Folger of Nantucket, who went on to bear him ten more children, of which Benjamin was the eighth. From Benjamins accounts, Abiah was a very affectionate and caring mother, who served her family with loving devotion.
Birthplace of Benjamin Franklin: The House on Milk Street
The Franklin shop and household were situated together on Milk Street, directly opposite the Old South Church, of which the parents were members. Josiah insisted that each of his sons learned a trade. He had great dreams of Benjamin becoming a minister, consequently enrolling him in a grammar school at the age of eight. Although he grasped reading and writing with ease, the young student had difficulty mastering arithmetic. As a result, his father was forced to remove him from school, dashing all hopes of his sons future as a clergyman. Benjamin began to assist his father at his trade, but gained little satisfaction. As an alternative, Josiah decided to apprentice his son in the printing business, taking his son's voracious appetite for reading into consideration.
James, Benjamins elder brother, had already established himself as a printer by the age of twenty-one. Recognizing an opportunity, Josiah had Benjamin sign his indentures in 1718. The contract committed the apprentice to work for his brother for the next nine years, until the age of twenty-one. The new occupation opened new horizons for the young Benjamin. Through his brothers dealings with booksellers, the novice was exposed to the vast worlds of literature and philosophy.
Apprentice Franklin laboring at the presses
Benjamin Franklins precocious talent and ingenuity were instrumental in making his brothers business a success. James had a contract for the printing of the Boston Gazette. However, after ten months, the contract was transferred to a rival printer. In retaliation, the angered Franklin founded his own newspaper, the New England Courant, in August of 1721. Benjamin was assigned the task of composing the type and printing the pages. Moreover, it was his responsibility to distribute the paper and increase its readership. The New England Courants political satires on the Puritan leadership in Boston resulted in Jamess imprisonment on two occasions. During these difficult periods, Benjamin carried on the publishing and boldly refused to surrender to the pressures of political leaders. As his responsibilities mounted, the younger Franklin began to resent the overbearing authority exerted upon him by his brother. Inspired by dreams of becoming a writer, and certain that James would refuse to publish his works, Benjamin adopted the pseudonym Silence Dogood and slipped his stories underneath the door of his brothers print shop. These lively tales were published in the Franklin newspaper and received wide acclaim. No one suspected that a sixteen-year old was capable of such witty writings.
Actual press used by Benjamin and James in their print shop (1722)
When the authors true identity was revealed, James was plagued with envy and the two siblings soon came to physical blows. Quarreling constantly, the brothers could no longer maintain their roles of master and apprentice. Benjamin desperately sought to escape his brothers disapproval and the narrow-mindedness of Puritan society. In September of 1723, he got his chance. With his close friend John Collins, Franklin began an arduous journey. After a brief stay in New York, they arrived in Philadelphia on October 8th, broke, weary, and facing an uncertain future.