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From Boyhood to Manhood|
I. From Old England to New England.
by Thayer, William M.
|"I am tired of so much persecution under the reign of our corrupt king,"
said a neighbor to Josiah Franklin, one day in the year 1685, in the
usually quiet village of Banbury, England, "and I believe that I shall
pull up stakes and emigrate to Boston. That is the most thriving port
"Well, I am not quite prepared for that yet," replied Franklin. "Our
king is bad enough and tyrannical enough to make us all sick of our
native land. But it is a great step to leave it forever, to live among
strangers; and I could not decide to do it without a good deal of
"Nor I; but I have reflected upon it for a whole year now, and the more
I reflect the more I am inclined to emigrate. When I can't worship God
here as my conscience dictates, I will go where I can. Besides, I think
the new country promises much more to the common people than the old in
the way of a livelihood."
"Perhaps so; I have not given the subject much attention. Dissenters
have a hard time here under Charles II, and we all have to work hard
enough for a livelihood. I do not think you can have a harder time in
Josiah Franklin was not disposed to emigrate when his neighbor first
opened the subject. He was an intelligent, enterprising, Christian
man, a dyer by trade, was born in Ecton, Leicestershire, in 1655, but
removed to Banbury in his boyhood, to learn the business of a dyer of
his brother John. He was married in Banbury at twenty-two years of age,
his wife being an excellent companion for him, whether in prosperity or
adversity, at home among kith and kin, or with strangers in New
"You better consider this matter seriously," continued the neighbor,
"for several families will go, I think, if one goes. A little colony of
us will make it comparatively easy to leave home for a new country."
"Very true; that would be quite an inducement to exchange countries,
several families going together," responded Franklin. "I should enjoy
escaping from the oppression of the Established Church as much as
you; but it is a too important step for me to take without much
consideration. It appears to me that my business could not be as good
in a new country as it is in this old country."
"I do not see why, exactly. People in a new country must have dyeing
done, perhaps not so much of it as the people of an old country; but
the population of a new place like Boston increases faster than the
older places of our country, and this fact would offset the objection
"In part, perhaps. If Benjamin could go, I should almost feel that I
must go; but I suppose it is entirely out of the question for him to
Benjamin was an older brother of Josiah, who went to learn the trade of
a dyer of his brother John before Josiah did. The Benjamin Franklin of
this volume, our young hero, was named for him. He was a very pious
man, who rendered unto God the things that are God's with full as much
care as he rendered unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. He was a
very intelligent, bright man, also quite a poet for that day, and he
invented a style of short-hand writing that he used in taking down
sermons to which he listened. In this way he accumulated several
volumes of sermons, which he held as treasures.
"I have not spoken with your brother about the matter," replied the
neighbor. "I think it would be more difficult for him to arrange to go
than for most of us, at least for the present. I intend to speak with
him about it."
"He will not want me to go if he can not," added Josiah, "and I shall
think about it a good while before I should conclude to go without him.
We have been together most of our lives, and to separate now, probably
never to meet again, would be too great a trial."
"You will experience greater trials than that if you live long, no
doubt," said the neighbor, "but I want you should think the matter
over, and see if it will not be for your interest to make this change.
I will see you again about it."
While plans are being matured, we will see what Doctor Franklin said,
in his "Autobiography," about his ancestors at Ecton:
"Some notes, which one of my uncles, who had the same curiosity in
collecting family anecdotes, once put into my hands, furnished me with
several particulars relative to our ancestors. From these notes I learned
that they lived in the same village, Ecton, in Northamptonshire, on a
freehold of about thirty acres, for at least three hundred years, and
how much longer could not be ascertained. This small estate would not
have sufficed for their maintenance without the business of a smith
[blacksmith] which had continued in the family down to my uncle's
time, the eldest son being always brought up to that employment, a
custom which he and my father followed with regard to their eldest
sons. When I searched the records in Ecton, I found an account of
their marriages and burials from the year 1555 only, as the registers
kept did not commence previous thereto. I, however, learned from it
that I was the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations
back. My grandfather, Thomas, who was born in 1598, lived in Ecton
till he was too old to continue his business, when he retired to
Banbury, Oxfordshire, to the house of his son John, with whom my
father served an apprenticeship. There my uncle died and lies buried.
We saw his grave-stone in 1758. His eldest son, Thomas, lived in the
house at Ecton, and left it with the land to his only daughter, who,
with her husband, one Fisher, of Wellingborough, sold it to Mr. Ioted,
now lord of the manor there. My grandfather had four sons, who grew
up, viz.: Thomas, John, Benjamin, and Josiah."
"I do not know how you like it, but it arouses my indignation to have
our meeting broken up, as it was last week," remarked Josiah Franklin
to the aforesaid neighbor, a short time after their previous interview.
"If anything will make me exchange Banbury for Boston it is such
"I have felt like that for a long time, and I should not have thought
of leaving my native land but for such oppression," replied the
neighbor, "and what is worse, I see no prospect of any improvement;
on the other hand, it appears to me that our rights will be infringed
more and more. I am going to New England if I emigrate alone."
"Perhaps I shall conclude to accompany you when the time comes. There
do not appear to be room in this country for Dissenters and the
Established Church. I understand there is in New England. I may
conclude to try it."
"I am glad to hear that. We shall be greatly encouraged if you decide
to go. I discussed the matter with Benjamin since I did with you, and
he would be glad to go if his business and family did not fasten him
here. I think he would rather justify your going."
"Did he say so?"
"No, not in so many words. But he did say that he would go if his
circumstances favored it as much as your circumstances favor your
"Well, that is more than I supposed he would say. I expected that he
would oppose any proposition that contemplated my removal to Boston.
The more I think of it the more I am inclined to go."
The Franklins, clear back to the earliest ancestors, had experienced
much persecution. Some of them could keep and read their Bible only by
concealing it and reading it in secret. The following, from Franklin's
"Autobiography," is an interesting and thrilling incident:
"They had an English Bible, and, to conceal it and place it in safety,
it was fastened open with tapes under and within the cover of a
joint-stool. When my great-grandfather wished to read it to his family,
he placed the joint-stool on his knees, and then turned over the leaves
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 turned down again upon its feet, when
the Bible remained concealed under it as before. This anecdote I had
from Uncle Benjamin."
The Dissenters from the Established Church loved their mode of worship
more, if any thing, than members of their mother church. But under
the tyrannical king, Charles II, they could not hold public meetings
at the time to which we refer. Even their secret meetings were often
disturbed, and sometimes broken up.
"It is fully settled now that we are going to New England," said the
aforesaid neighbor to Josiah Franklin subsequently, when he called upon
him with two other neighbours, who were going to remove with him; "and
we have called to persuade you to go with us; we do not see how we can
take no for an answer."
"Well, perhaps I shall not say no; I have been thinking the matter
over, and I have talked with Benjamin; and my wife is not at all averse
to going. But I can't say yes to-day; I may say it to-morrow, or
"That is good," answered one of the neighbors; "we must have one of
the Franklins with us to be well equipped. Banbury would not be well
represented in Boston without one Franklin, at least."
"You are very complimentary," replied Franklin; "even misery loves
company, though; and it would be almost carrying home with us for
several families to emigrate together. The more the merrier."
"So we think. To escape from the intolerant spirit that pursues
Dissenters here will make us merry, if nothing else does. Home is no
longer home when we can worship God as we please only in secret."
"There is much truth in that," continued Franklin. "I am much more
inclined to remove to New England than I was a month ago. The more I
reflect upon the injustice and oppression we experience, the less I
think of this country for a home. Indeed, I have mentally concluded to
go if I can arrange my affairs as I hope to."
"Then we shall be content; we shall expect to have you one of the
company. It will be necessary for us to meet often to discuss plans and
methods of emigration. We shall not find it to be a small matter to
break up here and settle there."
It was settled that Josiah Franklin would remove to New England with
his neighbors, and preparations were made for his departure with them.
These facts indicate the standing and influence of the Franklins. They
were of the common people, but leading families. Their intelligence,
industry, and Christian principle entitled them to public confidence
and respect. Not many miles away from them were the Washingtons,
ancestors of George Washington, known as "the father of his country."
The Washingtons were more aristocratic than the Franklins, and
possessed more of the world's wealth and honors. Had they been near
neighbors they would not have associated with the Franklins, as they
belonged to a different guild. Such were the customs of those times.
Thomas Franklin was a lawyer, and "became a considerable man in the
county,--was chief mover of all public-spirited enterprises for the
county or town of Northampton, as well as of his own village, of which
many instances were related of him; and he was much taken notice of
and patronized by Lord Halifax." Benjamin was very ingenious, not only
in his own trade as dyer, but in all other matters his ingenuity
frequently cropped out. He was a prolific writer of poetry, and, when
he died, "he left behind him two quarto volumes of manuscript of his
own poetry, consisting of fugitive pieces addressed to his friends." An
early ancestor, bearing the same Christian name, was imprisoned for a
whole year for writing a piece of poetry reflecting upon the character
of some great man. Note, that he was not incarcerated for writing bad
poetry, but for libelling some one by his verse, though he might have
been very properly punished for writing such stuff as he called poetry.
It is nothing to boast of, that his descendant, Uncle Benjamin, was not
sent to prison for producing "two quarto volumes of his own poetry," as
the reader would believe if compelled to read it.
Dr. Franklin said, in his "Autobiography": "My father married young,
and carried his wife with three children to New England about 1685. The
conventicles [meetings of Dissenters] being at that time forbidden by
law, and frequently disturbed in the meetings, some considerable men of
his acquaintance determined to go to that country, and he was prevailed
with to accompany them thither, where they expected to enjoy their
religion with freedom."
Boston was not then what it is now, and no one living expected that it
would ever become a city of great size and importance. It contained
less than six thousand inhabitants. The bay, with its beautiful
islands, spread out in front, where bears were often seen swimming
across it, or from one island to another. Bear-hunting on Long Wharf
was a pastime to many, and twenty were killed in a week when they were
In the rear of the town stood the primeval forests, where Red Men and
wild beasts roamed at their pleasure. It is claimed that an Indian or
pioneer might have traveled, at that time, through unbroken forests
from Boston to the Pacific coast, a distance of more than three
thousand miles, except here and there where western prairies stretched
out like an "ocean of land," as lonely and desolate as the forest
itself. That, in two hundred years, and less, sixty millions of people
would dwell upon this vast domain, in cities and towns of surprising
wealth and beauty, was not even thought of in dreams. That Boston would
ever grow into a city of three hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants,
with commerce, trade, wealth, learning, and influence to match, the
wildest enthusiast did not predict. A single fact illustrates the
prevailing opinion of that day, and even later. The town of Boston
appointed a commission to explore the country along Charles River, to
learn what prospects there were for settlers. The commissioners
attended to their duty faithfully, and reported to the town that they
had explored ten miles west, as far as settlers would ever penetrate
the forest, and found the prospects as encouraging as could be
It was to this Boston that Josiah Franklin emigrated in 1685, thinking
to enjoy liberty of conscience, while he supported his growing family
by his trade of dyer. There is no record to show that he was ever sorry
he came. On the other hand, there is much to prove that he always had
occasion to rejoice in the change. Certainly his family, and their
posterity, exerted great influence in building up the nation. Next to
Washington Josiah's son Benjamin ranked in his efforts to secure
American Independence, and all the blessings that followed.