At the time of Franklin's arrival in Philadelphia in 1723, the city was a small town of fewer than 10,000 people. However, within 50 years, the town would grow to become the second largest city in the British Empire. As it turned out, Franklin's and Philadelphia's fortunes were inextricably linked.
Franklin's liberal mind soon developed an affinity for the Pennsylvania city. Unlike conservative Boston, with its Puritan religious orthodoxy, Philadelphia was founded on the principle of religious tolerance. The colony's founder, William Penn, opposed an official church. Thus, Philadelphia was characterized by religious as well as ethnic diversity, serving as a main entry point for Irish and German immigrants.
A youthful Benjamin
Benjamin's immediate concern, though, was to find employment and a means of sustenance. Arriving with only three cents in his pocket, he spent the money on three loaves of bread, generously sharing one of them with an old widow. At that point, the young traveler did not have a single penny to his name. Nevertheless, on the second day in town, Franklin found a position as a journeyman printer in the shop of Samuel Keimer, only one of two printers of Philadelphia. He stayed at a boardinghouse next door to the shop maintained by John Read. Interestingly, Read's daughter, Deborah, would later become Benjamin's wife.
Simultaneously laboring assiduously in Keimer's shop and getting acquainted with Deborah, Benjamin began to associate with the educated elite of the city. His first big opportunity occurred as a strange twist of fate. His brother-in-law, Robert Holmes, was a naval captain. At the behest of Franklin's family, Robert wrote the young apprentice, urging him to return to Boston. His parents were worried that their son lacked the skills to succeed independently. However, the journeyman wrote his brother-in-law back, discussing his motivations for leaving his family behind and describing his grand plans for his life in Philadelphia. By pure chance, Holmes showed Franklin's letter to one of his close acquaintances, Governor Keith of Pennsylvania.
The governor was struck by the precocity of the young apprentice. In fact, Keith paid a visit to Keimer's shop in search of the 18-year old journeyman printer. Over a glass of wine at a local tavern, the Governor, by now fully impressed with Benjamin's intelligence and mastery of words, made a proposal. Keith complained about the incompetence of the two Philadelphian printers. If Benjamin was willing to establish his own printing business, the Governor promised that he would have the lucrative privilege of printing official government documents. Benjamin was flattered by the faith the politician invested in him. However, he lacked the capital essential to initiate his enterprise. Governor Keith wrote a letter to Josiah, Franklin's father, explaining the situation and, with the letter in hand, Benjamin ventured back to his Boston home.
Nevertheless, Josiah was unconvinced and unwilling to finance his son. Returning to Philadelphia, Benjamin found Governor Keith adamant in his proposal. He now promised to provide Franklin with the funds himself and insisted that he travel to London to establish business connections and purchase a press, types, and other equipment. Meanwhile, Benjamin continued his relationship with Deborah Read. They made personal vows to each other to get married upon his return from England. By the time he prepared to venture across the Atlantic, Benjamin Franklin had already risen up the social ladder by demonstrating his enormous knowledge to the educated community of Philadelphia.