The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Four

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Section Four[edit]

This obscure Family of ours was early in the Reformation, and continu’d Protestants thro’ the Reign of Queen Mary, when they were sometimes in Danger of Trouble on Account of their Zeal against Popery. They had got an English Bible, & to conceal & secure it, it was fastened open with Tapes under & within the Frame of a Joint Stool. When my Great Great Grandfather read in it to his Family, he turn’d up the Joint Stool upon his Knees, turning over the Leaves then under the Tapes. One of the Children stood at the Door to give Notice if he saw the Apparitor coming, who was an Officer of the Spiritual Court. In that Case the Stool was turn’d down again upon its feet, when the Bible remain’d conceal’d under it as before. This Anecdote I had from my Uncle Benjamin. The Family continu’d all of the Church of England till about the End of Charles the 2ds Reign, when some of the Ministers that had been outed for Nonconformity, holding Conventicles in Northamptonshire, Benjamin & Josiah adher’d to them, and so continu’d all their Lives. The rest of the Family remain’d with the Episcopal Church.

Josiah, my Father, married young, and carried his Wife with three Children unto New England, about 1682. The Conventicles having been forbidden by Law, & frequently disturbed, induced some considerable Men of his Acquaintance to remove to that Country, and he was prevail’d with to accompany them thither, where they expected to enjoy their Mode of Religion with Freedom. By the same Wife he had 4 Children more born there, and by a second Wife ten more, in all 17, of which I remember 13 sitting at one time at his Table, who all grew up to be Men & Women, and married. I was the youngest Son, and the youngest Child but two, & was born in Boston, N. England. My Mother the 2d Wife was Abiah Folger, a Daughter of Peter Folger, one of the first Settlers of New England, of whom honorable mention is made by Cotton Mather, in his Church History of that Country, (entitled Magnalia Christi Americana) as a godly learned Englishman, if I remember the words rightly. I have heard that he wrote sundry small occasional Pieces, but only one of them was printed which I saw now many Years since. It was written in 1675, in the home- spun Verse of that Time & People, and address’d to those then concern’d in the Government there. It was in favor of Liberty of Conscience, & in behalf of the Baptists, Quakers, & other Sectaries, that had been under Persecution; ascribing the Indian Wars & other Distresses, that had befallen the Country to that Persecution, as so many Judgments of God, to punish so heinous an Offense; and exhorting a Repeal of those uncharitable Laws. The whole appear’d to me as written with a good deal of Decent Plainness & manly Freedom. The six last concluding Lines I remember, tho’ I have forgotten the two first of the Stanza, but the Purport of them was that his Censures proceeded from Good Will, & therefore he would be known as the Author, because to be a Libeller, (says he) I hate it with my Heart. From Sherburne Town where now I dwell, My Name I do put here, Without Offense, your real Friend, It is Peter Folgier.

My elder Brothers were all put Apprentices to different Trades. I was put to the Grammar School at Eight Years of Age, my Father intending to devote me as the Tithe of his Sons to the Service of the Church. My early Readiness in learning to read (which must have been very early, as I do not remember when I could not read) and the Opinion of all his Friends that I should certainly make a good Scholar, encourag’d him in this Purpose of his. My Uncle Benjamin too approv’d of it, and propos’d to give me all his Shorthand Volumes of Sermons, I suppose as a Stock to set up with, if I would learn his Character. I continu’d however at the Grammar School not quite one Year, tho’ in that time I had risen gradually from the Middle of the Class of that Year to be the Head of it, and farther was remov’d into the next Class above it, in order to go with that into the third at the End of the Year. But my Father in the mean time, from a View of the Expense of a College Education which, having so large a Family, he could not well afford, and the mean Living many so educated were afterwards able to obtain, Reasons that he gave to his Friends in my Hearing, altered his first Intention, took me from the Grammar School, and sent me to a School for Writing & Arithmetic kept by a then famous Man, Mr Geo. Brownell, very successful in his Profession generally, and that by mild encouraging Methods. Under him I acquired fair Writing pretty soon, but I fail’d in the Arithmetic, & made no Progress in it. At Ten Years old, I was taken home to assist my Father in his Business, which was that of a Tallow Chandler and Soap Boiler. A Business he was not bred to, but had assumed on his Arrival in New England & on finding his Dying Trade would not maintain his Family, being in little Request. Accordingly I was employed in cutting Wick for the Candles, filling the Dipping Mold, & the Molds for cast Candles, attending the Shop, going of Errands, &c. I dislik’d the Trade and had a strong Inclination for the Sea; but my Father declar’d against it; however, living near the Water, I was much in and about it, learned early to swim well, & to manage Boats, and when in a Boat or Canoe with other Boys I was commonly allow’d to govern, especially in any case of Difficulty; and upon other Occasions I was generally a Leader among the Boys, and sometimes led them into Scrapes, of which I will mention one Instance, as it shows an early projecting public Spirit, tho’not then justly conducted. There was a Salt Marsh that bounded part of the Mill Pond, on the Edge of which at Highwater, we us’d to stand to fish for Minews. By much Trampling, we had made it a mere Quagmire. My Proposal was to build a Wharf there fit for us to stand upon, and I show’d my Comrades a large Heap of Stones which were intended for a new House near the Marsh, and which would very well suit our Purpose. Accordingly in the Evening when the Workmen were gone, I assembled a Number of my Playfellows, and working with them diligently like so many Emmets, sometimes two or three to a Stone, we brought them all away and built our little Wharf. The next Morning the Workmen were surpris’d at Missing the Stones; which were found in our Wharf; Inquiry was made after the Removers; we were discovered & complain’d of; several of us were corrected by our Fathers; and tho’ I pleaded the Usefulness of the Work, mine convinc’d me that nothing was useful which was not honest.