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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XVIII. How He Quit Boston.
by Thayer, William M.
|"I tell you how it is, John," exclaimed Benjamin, under great
excitement; "I have withstood my brother's ill treatment as long as I
am going to. I shall leave him."
"How is that, Ben? I thought your brother would treat you with more
consideration after you immortalized yourself as an editor. I knew you
had a hard time with him before the Courant was started." John
Collins knew somewhat of Benjamin's troubles, the first two years of
"He has been worse since my prominence on the Courant; that is, at
times. I think my success aroused his jealousy, so that it fretted him
to see me, his apprentice, occupy a higher position than himself. Once
in a while he has seemed to be pleased with my prominence on the
paper, and then again it annoyed him."
"I should think you had helped him out of trouble enough to stir up
his gratitude a little, even if he had no pride in possessing so
bright a brother."
"Brother! brother!" exclaimed Benjamin. "He never thought of that
relation. I was his apprentice, to be lorded over until twenty-one
years of age. I do not think he would have treated the greatest
stranger as an apprentice more unkindly than he has me. He seemed to
think that the relation of master to an apprentice obliterates all
"That is unfortunate for both of you," remarked John, "but most
unfortunate for him, whom public opinion will judge as a brother, and
not as a master. But how will you get along with your indenture if you
"I am justified by the circumstances in using the indenture, on the
back of which is his own endorsement of my freedom. He released me
from all obligations to him, that I might run the paper when he could
"But the understanding between you was, if I remember, that it was
only a formality to evade the action of the General Court. He did not
mean that you should take advantage of it and refuse to serve him."
"That is true; but I say the circumstances justify me in using it as
if he really meant to give me my freedom. He has another indenture
which I signed, designed to be kept private, but he won't dare to
bring that out to the light of day, because it may get him into
further trouble with the General Court."
"You have the advantage of him there, I see, if you see fit to avail
yourself of it. Does James know how you feel about it?"
"He ought to know, for I have told him that I should leave him if he
continued to treat me as he has done. Probably he does not believe
that I shall quit, but I am not responsible for that. He ought to see
that such treatment would cause any apprentice to leave his master."
"What does he do that is so bad?" inquired John.
"He undertook to flog me, the other day. He did strike me, but I
showed him that I believed in self-defense, and he desisted. He has
beaten me often. I did not like the looks of an elder brother licking
a younger one, and so I put myself in a position to make such a scene
"Well, I do not think that such a scene is particularly attractive,"
responded John in his droll way. "Such a scene in the theatre would be
tragedy, I think; it could not be comedy in a civilized land."
"That is no worse than other things he does. If he would get mad and
beat me, and then be kind and considerate for a while, I should be
quite well satisfied. But he is constantly domineering over me, as if
he meant I should realize all the while that he is my legal master."
"Does your father know about it?"
"Yes, and he has been decidedly in my favor until now. We have often
laid our differences before him, and in nearly every instance, he has
supported me. But for some reason, since the last trouble he has
upheld James. Perhaps it was because I did not allow James to beat me
as masters often do their apprentices."
"What do you propose to do if you leave your brother?" continued John.
"Go to New York. I can find work there. If there is nothing there for
an extra printer to do, I will turn my hand to something else. I shall
"Why not get into one of the other printing offices in town? I do not
want you should quit Boston until I do."
"For two good reasons. The first is that my connection with the
Courant stirred up the officials of the government, so that I am
obnoxious to them; and the second is, that my religious opinions have
become so well known, and have been so misrepresented, that ministers
and other good people consider me no better than an atheist. I prefer
to go among strangers, where I can have a chance to make a record for
"Better make a record here,--the best chance in the world. Here people
know who you are, or they ought to know by this time. Take my advice,
and secure a place in another printing office in Boston."
The result of this interview with John was, that Benjamin resolved to
secure a position in Boston if he could. But when he applied,
subsequently, for a situation, each printer declined to employ him.
James had been to them, anticipating that he might take this step, and
warned them against making any bargain with him. He assured them that
he should take legal steps, under the indenture of apprenticeship, to
maintain his rights if they employed him. Besides, he told them that
Benjamin did not believe the Christian religion, and he had no respect
for those who did; that, in short, he was "no better than an atheist."
James meant to compel Benjamin to continue to work for him; and he
thought if no other printer would hire him, that would end the
trouble. But the opposite effect was produced. It determined Benjamin
to quit Boston as soon as he could arrange for the change, though he
did not make known his decision to his brother. Probably his brother
did not dream of his leaving Boston for New York, or any other place.
However, Benjamin embraced the first opportunity to announce to him
that he should quit.
"I am my own man from this time," he cried, holding up his indenture
which his brother had returned to him. "This paper makes me free, and
I shall take advantage of it to leave you," and he shook the document
in James' face.
"You know that I never gave up the indenture because I relinquished
the bargain we had made. If you use it to assert and establish your
freedom, you will be guilty of a mean, contemptible act."
"I shall so use it!" and Benjamin was very defiant when he said it. "I
have borne your abuse long enough, and I will bear it no longer."
"We shall see about that. Father will have a word to say about it, you
will find. You are not of age yet." James spoke with remarkable
coolness for him, in the circumstances. He probably realized that
Benjamin had the advantage of him.
"Neither father nor any other man can force me to work for you any
longer. You have even been around to other printers, to influence them
not to employ me; and you have lied about me, telling them that I am
an atheist, and other things as bad."
"I told them nothing but the truth," replied James. "You know as well
as I do, that you believe Shaftesbury instead of the Bible."
"Well, no matter what I believe. I shall not work for you another day.
I will resort to the most menial employment for my bread and butter
before I will serve a man who will treat his own brother like a
slave." And again Benjamin flourished his indenture before the eyes of
It was not fair in Benjamin to take this advantage of his brother, and
he knew it; but his resentment triumphed over his regard for right at
the time. James returned his indenture only that he might be able to
publish the Courant unmolested. It was a deceitful arrangement in
the first place, and Benjamin's use of the indenture to assert his
liberty was no more unfair and sinful than was James' device to make
him the proprietor of the paper, and thus evade the law. James was
paid in his own coin. He laid a plan to cheat the government, and he
got cheated himself. He was snared in the work of his own hands. This,
however, did not justify Benjamin in his course, as he afterwards saw
and frankly confessed. In his "Autobiography" he said:
"At length, a fresh difference arising between my brother and me, I
took upon me to assert my freedom, presuming that he would not venture
to produce the new indentures. It was not fair in me to take this
advantage, and this I therefore reckon one of the first errata of my
life; but the unfairness of it weighed little with me when under the
impressions of resentment for the blows his passion too often urged
him to bestow upon me, though he was otherwise not an ill-natured man.
Perhaps I was too saucy and provoking."
There is no doubt that Benjamin erred in the matter. He was by nature
headstrong and independent; and, perhaps, he was more self-willed on
account of his success in the business. But, after all allowances are
made, James must be regarded as the chief offender in the troubles,
and on him the responsibility for it rests in a large measure.
Benjamin lost no time in reporting his decision to John.
"I am going to New York as soon as I can get away," he said. "What do
you suppose that fellow has done? He has been around to the other
printers and threatened to enforce his claim to my services if they
hire me; and he lied about me, also. It is settled that I shall go to
New York. I am not going to be banged about any more."
"Well, it seems rather necessary for you to go somewhere if you can't
get work here," answered John. "But how am I going to get along
without you, Ben? Couldn't you turn your hand to something else?"
"I could, but I won't. I am fully resolved to quit Boston soon, and I
am satisfied that I must leave clandestinely, or I shall not get
"How is that? Expect that your brother will lay violent hands upon you
"I expect that he and father together will prevent my leaving, if
"Have you spoken with your father about it?"
"No, I have not; nor do I intend to. He sides with James now, and that
is enough for me. I shall say nothing to him about the matter."
"Perhaps he thinks you will leave Boston if you leave James,"
suggested John. "He may think that you will clear out and go to sea.
He has not forgotten your old hankering for a life on the wave."
"Possibly; but I have no desire now to go to sea. I have a trade that
I like, and I shall stick to it until I am forced out of it."
"How do you propose to get to New York? Got any plans ahead?"
"Yes, a plan is all that I have got. It remains to be seen how I can
carry it out. I do not think I can accomplish my purpose without your
"I am at your service now, Ben, as ever before; only I would like to
understand just what I can do."
"That is what I want to talk with you about. I am not yet clear as to
my best way of escape. If I go by land, on foot, they may send
officers after me, and overtake me before I get half way there."
"Of course it would be poor policy for you to go by land, if you can
possibly go by water. There is a New York sloop in the harbor, and no
doubt it will return soon."
"But how can I get aboard? The captain will want to know who I am, and
if he knows that I am a runaway apprentice, he will refuse me a
"I can manage that," said John. "I know the captain, and I think I can
arrange with him to take you."
"Yes, but he will want large pay for it. Of course he will not take me
to New York without some money arrangement, and I have precious little
money to give him."
"You can sell some of your books," suggested John. "You will not take
them to New York with you, and you can sell them readily."
"That is a good idea, John; I will reduce it to practice at once. I
shall not want much money anyway. But suppose the captain is very
inquisitive about me, how will you get along with the case? He must be
somewhat suspicious when a Boston boy wants to be taken to New York on
"You leave that to me; I have no doubt that I can smuggle you through.
He shall not know even that your name is Franklin."
"Well, then, I will commit myself to your care. See that you manage
adroitly, even if you have to make a package of me for transportation.
I am going to New York if I am obliged to walk there."
"I will go to see the captain at once, Ben; and I will be back with my
report in two hours. Be on hand, and see if I do not make a good
bargain for your passage. You always have succeeded, and I think you
will succeed now."
"Be off, then, in a jiffy, and I will run out to see where I can
dispose of my books. I will be back in two hours, and meet you here."
They parted, and John hurried away to see the captain. He found him on
board his sloop.
"Can you take a friend of mine to New York?" he asked.
"That depends on circumstances," replied the captain. "Who is your
friend? Can't take a pauper or a criminal, you know."
"He is neither one nor the other. He is a young man about my age, a
printer by trade, and he is going to New York to find work."
"Why doesn't he find work in Boston? There are more printers in Boston
than there are in New York."
"That may be; but he prefers to work in New York. He's tired of
"Perhaps Boston is tired of him--is that so? I want to accommodate,
but I don't want to get anybody into trouble, nor get there myself."
John saw that there was no evading the captain's questions, and so he
resolved to tell the false story he had thought of on his way to the
"Well," said John, "if I must tell you the whole story, the case is
this: He is a young fellow who has been flirting with a girl, who
wants to marry him, and now her parents are determined that he shall
marry her, and he is as determined that he will not; and he proposes
to remove secretly to New York. He would have come to see you himself,
but his coming might awaken suspicion on the part of some one
acquainted with the affair, who might see him and know him. So I came
to do the business for him."
"He is in a fix, sure," answered the captain; "if there is any man in
the world I would help, it is the man who is trying to escape from the
girl he don't want to marry. How much will he pay for his passage?"
"He will pay your price if it is reasonable. He is not a pauper,
though he has not much of a money surplus. He will satisfy you as to
"Send him along, then; this sloop will sail on Saturday at two
o'clock, P.M. He better not come aboard until just before we sail, or
somebody may upset his plans, and the girl get him, after all."
"All right; he will be here on the mark, and I shall be with him to
see him off," answered John, as he turned upon his heels to report his
success to Benjamin.
A youth who can fabricate a falsehood so unblushingly as John did the
foregoing is already on the road to ruin. The reader will not be
surprised to learn, before the whole story is told, that he became a
miserable, reckless sort of a man. This lie proved that he was
destitute of moral principle and would do almost any thing to carry
That the captain should have been taken in by such a ruse is
inexplicable. But, no doubt, the thought of receiving good pay for his
passage led him to receive the passenger. It was so much gain to
receive a few dollars from an unexpected source.
"The bargain is made, and your passage to New York is assured,"
exclaimed John to Benjamin, when they met, at the end of two hours.
"Have any trouble to accomplish it? You did not awaken his suspicion,
did you?" replied Benjamin, evidently relieved of considerable anxiety
by the announcement.
"No trouble, of course; I did not mean to have any, if lying would
"Then you had to resort to falsehood to carry your point, did you? How
was that, John?"
"Well, you see, he questioned me pretty closely, and seemed to be
suspicious that you might be a pauper or criminal. He wouldn't want to
carry you if you were a pauper, for he would get no pay for it; and he
would not carry a criminal, for fear of getting into trouble with the
authorities. So I had to originate a little love story, in which you
are represented as fleeing from a girl and her parents, who are
determined that you shall marry her."
"You are more original than I thought you were, John. You might write
a novel out of the affair."
"Yes; and it would be no worse than half the novels that are written,"
rejoined John. "I had a plot to get you to New York, and the novel
writer often has a plot that is not half so important, nor half so
much truth in it."
"How soon will the sloop sail?"
"Next Saturday, at two o'clock in the afternoon, so you will not have
to wait long. You must not go aboard until just before the sloop
sails; for the girl might get wind of it, and be after you. The
captain will be on the lookout for her; he evidently don't want you to
fall into her hands."
Benjamin laughed at this way of putting the matter; and, in the
circumstances, was not disposed to criticise John's method. But he
"How about the price to be paid for the passage?"
"That is left for you and him to adjust," replied John. "I told him
that you was not over-burdened with money, but had enough to pay him
for your passage. How about your books--can you sell them?"
"Yes, and quite as favorably as I had supposed. I see nothing why I
shall not be all ready for the sloop on Saturday. I will send my chest
of clothes down just before I go myself."
"I will be on hand to go to the sloop with you," said John, as they
parted, each with a clear understanding as to the future.
The plan was carried out to the letter, and Benjamin and John were on
their way to the sloop in due time.
"Tell no tales out of school," remarked Benjamin. "I prefer that no
one should know my whereabouts at present."
"They will find out nothing from me; I shall be profoundly ignorant of
your movements," answered John. "Perhaps I shall be the most
astonished person in Boston over your sudden departure; there's no
telling. But I shall want to hear from you, Ben,--can't you write?"
"Sha'n't make any pledges. I shall want to hear from you as much as
you will from me, and a little more, I guess. For I shall want to hear
what is said and done about my unauthorized departure. I suppose that
a runaway can not expect many favorable remarks."
"Perhaps the Gazette will say that the editor of the Courant has
run away," suggested John, in a vein of pleasantry. "There will be
considerable more truth in that than I told the captain. It is rather
of a singular occurrence, however, Ben, that so popular an editor as
you have been should be running away from the editorial chair."
By this time the sloop was boarded, and the captain was almost ready
"My friend," said John to the captain, presenting Benjamin. "You will
find him good company; he is no fool or knave."
"He might be a goner if that girl should be after him before we get
under way," suggested the captain. "However, we'll soon be off."
"Good luck to you, old friend," said John, as he shook hands with
Benjamin. "We shall be nigh each other, though three hundred miles
"Good-bye, John; a thousand thanks for what you have done for me,"
replied Benjamin, with a heavy heart, just beginning to feel that he
was going away from home. "Good-bye."
Thus they parted, and the sloop sailed for New York. Benjamin avoided
conversation with the captain as much as was possible, lest he might
ask questions it would be embarrassing to answer. The captain, too,
refrained from too much freedom with his youthful passenger, lest he
might make it painful for him, now that he was running away from a
The sloop was becalmed off Block Island for several hours, when the
sailors resorted to catching cod for a pastime, and slapping them down
one after another on the deck.
"Cruel! Inhumanity!" cried Benjamin, who entertained the singular idea
that it was murder to take the life of any harmless creature; and for
this reason he would not touch animal food.
"What is cruel?" inquired one of the crew.
"Taking the life of codfish that never did you any harm."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed the captain; "how you goin' to eat 'em before you
"Don't eat them, and then there will be no need of catching them,"
responded Benjamin. "They are in their native element now; let them
stay there, and you keep in yours. They are in as great misery on this
deck as you would be down there in the water."
"What put such a queer notion as that into your head?" said the
captain, who was surprised that a sane man should hold such an
opinion. "Don't you eat fish?"
"No, nor any other kind of meat; I have not touched a particle for
more than two years."
"Because you think it is wicked to kill harmless animals of any kind?"
remarked another sailor, who had been listening in utter astonishment.
"Yes, that is the principal reason, though I do not think that man
needs flesh for a diet."
"You think that God made beasts, birds, and fish to look at, and not
to eat," suggested the captain. "In my opinion, the world would be
overrun with dumb animals in time if none were killed for food."
"And I think the human family would perish for want of food, if flesh
were denied them," added one of the crew.
While this conversation was going on, the cook was frying fresh cod,
and the sailors were enjoying the odor therefrom.
"Don't they smell good?" said one, addressing Benjamin; "I shouldn't
want to risk you with one of those fellows if there was no more than I
"I once ate fish, and had a special liking for them, and they smell
well enough now in the frying-pan," replied Benjamin. "But I have my
own opinions about killing such animals."
"I should think you had," responded one of the sailors, laughing; "no
one else would ever think of such a thing."
Soon the whole crew were eating cod, and in the jolliest manner making
remarks at Benjamin's expense.
"Look here, my friend," said the cook; "when these fish were opened, I
found smaller ones in their stomachs; now, if they can eat one
another, I don't see why we can't eat them; do you?"
"You must be joking, young man," continued the captain; "better send
all such notions adrift and sit down with us to dine on fish; they are
One and another remarked, keeping up a continual fire at Benjamin,
with jokes and arguments and ridicule, until he sat down and went to
devouring a cod with the rest of them. That was the end of his queer
notion about killing fish; it was buried there in the sea; and
Benjamin never again resurrected it, but ate what other people did.
But the episode furnished sport for the sailors all the way from Block
Island to New York, where they arrived in about three days from the
time the sloop left Boston.
Benjamin did not know a person in the city of New York, nor had he a
single letter of recommendation to any one, and the money in his
pocket but a trifle. It was in October, 1723, that he arrived in New
York, a youth of seventeen years, a runaway in a city, without a
solitary acquaintance, and scarcely money enough to pay a week's
board! Perhaps, with all the rest, he carried an upbraiding conscience
under his jacket, more discomforting than to be a stranger in a
At this crisis of Benjamin's life, he appeared to be on the highway to
ruin. There is scarcely one similar case in ten, where the runaway
escapes the vortex of degradation. Benjamin would have been no
exception, but for his early religious training and his love of books.
The case of William Hutton, who was the son of very poor parents, is
very similar to that of Benjamin Franklin. He was bound to his uncle
for a series of years, but he was treated so harshly that he ran away,
at seventeen years of age. The record is, that "on the 12th day of
July, 1741, the ill-treatment he received from his uncle in the shape
of a brutal flogging, with a birch-broom handle of white hazel, which
almost killed him, caused him to run away." A dark prospect was before
him, since "he had only twopence in his pocket, a spacious world
before him, and no plan of operation." Yet he became an author of much
celebrity, and a most exemplary and influential man. He lived to the
age of ninety, his last days being gladdened by the reflection of
having lived a useful life, and the consciousness of sharing the
confidence of his fellow-men.
This description of Hutton would apply almost equally well to