All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
From Boyhood to Manhood|
XIX. Trials of a Runaway.
by Thayer, William M.
|On arriving at New York, Benjamin's first thought was of work. His
pocket was too near empty to remain idle long; so he called upon Mr.
William Bradford, an old printer, who removed from Philadelphia to New
York some months before.
"Can I find employment in your printing office?" he inquired.
"I am not in need of extra help, I am sorry to say," answered Mr.
Bradford. "My business is light, and will continue to be so for the
present, I think. Are you a printer?"
"Yes, sir. I have worked at the business over three years."
"You ought to understand it well by this time. I wish I had work for
you, or for any other young man who is enterprising enough to go from
Boston to New York for work."
"Do you think I should be likely to find work at some other printing
office in town?"
"I am sorry to say that I hardly think you can. Very dull times,
indeed, my son. But I think you can get work in Philadelphia. My son
runs a printing house in that city, and one of his men on whom he
relied much recently died. I think he would be glad to employ you."
"How far is it to Philadelphia?"
"About a hundred miles."
"A long distance," was Benjamin's reply, evidently disappointed to
find that he was still a hundred miles from work.
"It is only one-third as far as you have already traveled for work. If
you can find employment by traveling a hundred miles further, in these
dull times, you will be fortunate."
"Well, I suppose that is so," replied Benjamin, musing on his
situation. "What is the conveyance there?"
"You can take a boat to Amboy, and there you will find another boat to
Philadelphia. A pleasant trip, on the whole." And Mr. Bradford added,
for Benjamin's encouragement, "Philadelphia is a better place for a
printer than New York, in some respects."
Benjamin thanked him for his kindness, expressing much pleasure in
making his acquaintance, and bade him good-bye. He took the first boat
to Amboy, sending his chest by sea around to Philadelphia. The more he
reflected upon his situation, in connection with Mr. Bradford's
encouraging words, the more cheerful and hopeful he grew. If he could
get work "by going a hundred miles further" he ought to be well
satisfied, he said to himself. So he cheered up his almost desponding
heart, in Franklin fashion, as he proceeded upon the next hundred
But more trials awaited him, however, somewhat different from those
already experienced. The boat had been under way but a short time
before it was struck by a sudden squall, tearing the rotten sails to
pieces, and driving the craft pell-mell upon Long Island. It was the
first squall of that sort Benjamin had ever experienced. Other squalls
had struck him, and he was fleeing from one at that time, but this
squall of wind and rain was altogether a new experience, and he wilted
under it. The condition was made more tragic by a drunken Dutchman
"Seize him! seize him!" cried the captain; and that was what Benjamin
was waiting to do when the miserable fellow should rise to the
surface. As soon as he came up from the depths into which he had sunk,
Benjamin seized him by the hair of his head and pulled him on board.
"There, you fool," exclaimed Benjamin. "I hope that ducking will sober
you. You came within sight of eternity that time."
"He may thank you for saving his life," remarked one of the boatmen.
"He is too drunk for that," replied Benjamin. "He will never know how
near he came to his own place. Strange that any man will be so foolish
as to drink stuff that will steal away his brains."
"Don't you ever drink it?" asked the captain in reply.
"Not one drop," his young passenger replied with emphasis, as he
rolled over the Dutchman to get the water out of him. "There, are you
all right now?"
The Dutchman mumbled over something, no one could tell what. It was
probably about a book in his jacket; for he took one therefrom, and
signified to Benjamin that he wanted it dried; and then he dropped
into a sound sleep.
"I declare, if it is not my old friend, The Pilgrim's Progress,"
exclaimed Benjamin; "in Dutch, too! A queer companion for a drunken
man to have, though a good one."
"Knows more about the bottle than he does about that, I bet," said the
captain. "I don't suppose that it makes much difference to him whether
he is under the water or on top."
"Not just now," replied Benjamin; "but what chance is there for
landing on such a rocky shore?"
"Not much; we'll drop anchor, and swing out the cable towards the
shore," said the captain.
"I see men on the shore, and there are boats there; perhaps they can
come to our rescue, though the wind is blowing a little too hard for
The captain hallooed to them, and they returned an answer, but the
wind howled so that they could not be understood.
"A boat! A boat!" shouted the captain. Others of the crew joined in
the call for aid, and made various signs indicating their need of
assistance. But neither party could understand the other.
"What now?" inquired Benjamin, when he saw the men on shore turning
their steps homeward. "A pretty dark night before us."
"Yes, dark and perilous, though I have seen a worse one," answered the
captain. "When we find ourselves in such a predicament, there is only
one thing to be done."
"What is that?" asked Benjamin, who was quite nervous and anxious.
"Do nothing but wait patiently for the wind to abate." The captain was
cool and self-reliant when he spoke.
"Then let us turn in with the Dutchman," said one of the boatmen. "I
don't want he should have all the sleep there is. He is not in
condition to appreciate it as I am."
"As you please," said the captain; "might as well improve the time by
getting a little rest. We shall be all right in the morning."
So all crowded into the hatches, including Benjamin. But the spray
broke over the head of the boat so much that the water leaked through
"A wet berth for you, friend," said one of the boatmen to Benjamin.
"You are not accustomed to sleeping in such wet blankets. You may get
as wet as the Dutchman before morning."
"There is only one thing to do in these circumstances," said Benjamin
in reply, "take things as they come, and make the best of it."
"If you can," added the boatman in a suggestive way. "If you can, I
oughter. I've been in this business longer than you have lived."
The crew slept soundly; but Benjamin found no rest in such an unusual
plight. Sleep was out of the question, and he had all the more time to
think, and his active mind improved the opportunity, so that Boston,
home, the printing office, and his parents were dwelt upon until he
began to think he was paying too dear for the whistle again. It is
not strange that runaways feel thus, sooner or later, since few of
them ever realize their anticipations.
The cold, dreary night wore away slowly, and the wind continued to
howl, and the breakers to dash and rear, until after the dawn of
morning. Benjamin was never more rejoiced to see daylight than he was
after that dismal and perilous night. It was the more pleasant to him,
because the wind began to abate, and there was a fairer prospect of
reaching their destination. As soon as the tumult of the winds and
waves had subsided, they weighed anchor, and steered for Amboy, where
they arrived just before night, "having been thirty hours on the water
without victuals, or any drink but a bottle of filthy rum."
In the evening Benjamin found himself feverish, having taken a severe
cold by the exposure of the previous night. With a hot head and a
heavy heart he retired to rest, first, however, drinking largely of
cold water, because he had somewhere read that cold water was good for
fever. This was one of the advantages he derived from his early habit
of reading. But for his taste for reading, which led him to spend his
leisure moments in poring over books, he might never have known this
important fact, that, perhaps, saved him a fit of sickness. Availing
himself of this knowledge, he drank freely of water before he retired,
and the result was a thorough sweating; and he arose in the morning
fully restored, so as to continue his journey.
A few years ago, a young man was traveling in the state of Maine,
soliciting subscribers for a newspaper. On passing a certain farm, he
observed some bricks of a peculiar color, and he traced them to their
clay-bed, and satisfied himself that the material could be applied to
a more valuable purpose than that of making bricks. He at once
purchased the farm for fifteen hundred dollars, and, on his return to
Boston, sold one-half of it for four thousand dollars. The secret of
his success lay in a bit of knowledge he acquired at school. He had
given some attention to geology and chemistry, and the little
knowledge he had gained therefrom enabled him to discover the nature
of the clay on the said farm. Thus even a little knowledge that may be
gleaned from a book in a simple leisure half-hour, will sometimes
prove the way to a valuable treasure; much more valuable than the farm
which the young man purchased. This pecuniary benefit is, after all,
the least important advantage derived from reading. The discipline of
the mind and heart, and the refined and elevated pleasure which it
secures, are far more desirable than any pecuniary advantage gained. A
little reading, also, as we have seen, sometimes gives an impulse to
the mind in the direction of learning and renown. It was the reading
of Echard's Roman History, which Gibbon met with while on a visit to
Miltshire, that opened before him the historic path to distinction.
Sir Walter Scott warned the young against under valuing the knowledge
to be acquired at odd moments by reading and study. He wrote:
"If it should ever fall to the lot of youth to peruse these pages, let
such readers remember that it is with the deepest regret that I
recollect, in my manhood, the opportunities of learning which I
neglected in my youth; that through every part of my literary career I
have felt pinched and hampered by my own ignorance; and I would this
moment give half the reputation I have had the good fortune to
acquire, if by so doing I could rest the remaining part upon a sound
foundation of learning and science."
But we have lost sight of Benjamin. We left him at the "tavern" in
Amboy, after having spent the night in a cold-water sweat, about ready
to start on his journey. Burlington was fifty miles from Amboy, and
there was no public conveyance, so that he was obliged to go on foot,
expecting to find a boat there bound for Philadelphia.
"Rather a tough day for walking," remarked the landlord, as Benjamin
was leaving his house. "Better stay unless your business is driving."
"Rain or shine, I must push on," responded Benjamin cheerfully. "I
want to be in Philadelphia as soon as possible. Can't melt, as I am
neither sugar nor salt."
"Well, that is a very encouraging view to take of the situation, and
it is a sensible one, too," said the landlord. "There's nothing like
taking things as they come."
"I have lived long enough to find that out, young as I am," replied
Benjamin; "and I expect to find constant use of that spirit in future.
"Good luck to you, wherever you go," added the landlord in a friendly
Benjamin was wet through before he had traveled a mile, and he began
to wish that he had never left Boston; still he hastened on until he
reached a "poor inn" about noon. His own description of that day is as
"It rained very hard all the day; I was thoroughly soaked, and by noon
a good deal tired; so I stopped at a poor inn, where I staid all
night, beginning now to wish I had never left home. I made so
miserable a figure, too, that I found, by the questions asked me, I
was suspected to be some runaway indentured servant, and in danger of
being taken up on that suspicion."
"Where are you from, young man?"
"From Boston, sir."
"Ah! you are a long way from home for such a youngster. What is your
"My name is Benjamin Franklin, and I am going to Philadelphia after
"No work in Boston, I s'pose, hey? How long since you left?"
"About a week. I did not expect to come further this way than New
York, but I could find no work there."
"No work in New York, hey? What sort of work do you do, that you find
it so scarce?"
"I am a printer by trade, and I hope to get into a printing office in
"Wall, you are a pretty young one to take such a trip; I should hardly
be willing my son should go so far from home, printer or no printer."
"I can afford to make such a trip, and even a longer one, if I can
find steady work," suggested Benjamin.
"Your father and mother living?"
"How did they feel about your going so far from home?"
"A father who loves to work as well as my father does always wants his
sons to have enough to do," Benjamin replied, shrewdly evading the
close question. "Nothing my father hates so much as idleness."
"We all ought to hate it; but many men do not. In these times, can't
keep above water without work." The landlord's last words indicated
that his suspicions were somewhat allayed.
Benjamin managed to answer all the questions of the innkeeper without
increasing his suspicions. He ate and slept there, and on the
following morning proceeded on his journey, and by night was within
eight or ten miles of Burlington. Here he stopped at an inn kept by
one Doctor Brown, "an ambulating quack-doctor" and a very social man.
"How much further you going?" he inquired of Benjamin.
"I am going to Philadelphia."
"Where are you from?"
"Ah! I would like to see Boston; I never did. I have been in South
America, England, and some other countries, but I was never in
"It is a good town, and has many educated, intelligent citizens; it is
a thriving place," said Benjamin. "I should like to see as much of the
world as you have."
"I enjoyed it, though my knocking about subjected me to many
hardships," replied the doctor. "You would like to see London, and
Paris, and Rome; I have seen them all. They are marvellous cities."
"I suppose so. My father came from England to Boston less than forty
years ago," continued Benjamin. "He enjoys this country more than he
did his own."
Benjamin had a good time at Doctor Brown's. The latter soon discovered
that his youthful guest was very intelligent, so he entered into an
account of his travels abroad somewhat in detail to interest him.
Benjamin enjoyed the interview very much, and forgot, for the time
being, that he was a runaway encountering many hardships. He was sorry
to leave him on the next day.
"I have enjoyed every minute of my stay here," he said, "and I shall
not forget it soon. Perhaps we shall meet again sometime."
"I hope we shall. I am glad to make your acquaintance, and I wish you
great success. I hope you will become the most successful printer in
They parted the best of friends, and Benjamin pushed on to Burlington,
where he expected to find a boat. In the suburbs of the town he bought
some gingerbread of an old woman who kept a shop, and walked on,
eating it as he went. To his great disappointment, on reaching the
wharf, he found the boat had gone, and there would not be another
until Tuesday. It was Saturday, and his money would not hold out if he
should get boarded at a hotel till then. What should he do? He was in
great trouble about it for a short time, but finally concluded that he
would return to the old lady of whom he bought the gingerbread, as he
liked her appearance very well, and ask her advice. So back he went.
"Ah! back again?" she said, as he entered her shop. "Want more
"No. I was going to take the boat to Philadelphia, but it has gone,
and there is not another to go until Tuesday."
"Lor', me!" exclaimed the kind-hearted woman; "if that ain't too bad!
What kin ye du?"
"That is what I want to ask you. Is there any other conveyance to
"Lor', no; and all ye has to du is to make the best on 't."
"And what is that? That is just what I want to know. How can I make
the best on 't?"
"What ye goin' to Philadelphy for?" she replied, instead of answering
"I am going after work. I am a printer, and want to find work in a
"A printer, lor'! Dear me, yer fortin is made to set up business in
this 'ere town. There's nothin' of the like here."
"I have nothing to set up the business with," said Benjamin. "I would
as lief work here as in Philadelphia, if the way was open."
The woman did not know what was necessary in establishing a printing
house. That types and a press were indispensable articles in such
business she did not dream. She thought, doubtless, that he carried
all necessary fixtures with him in his pockets.
"Lor', then, I'll lodge ye till Tuesday for ----," naming the sum.
"I will stay with you, then, and make the best of it," he replied.
He found himself in very good quarters, and his hostess proved herself
to be very kind and hospitable. He took dinner with her, and remained
about the shop until towards night, when he walked forth to view the
place. In his walk he came around to the river, and, as he approached
it, he discovered a boat with several people in it, and he hailed
"Can you take me in? I was too late for the boat to-day."
"Just as well as not," and the boat was turned at once to receive the
There was no wind, so that they had to depend upon their oars for
progress. Benjamin now had an opportunity to show his skill in rowing
which he acquired in his boyhood, in Boston. He was so elated with
proceeding on his journey to Philadelphia that he thought neither of
the fatigue of rowing nor of the wonder of the old lady in the shop at
the unexpected disappearance of her boarder. He did not mean to treat
her disrespectfully, for he considered her a very clever woman; but
the boat could not wait for him to return and pay the old lady his
compliments. Whether she ever learned what became of him, or that he
grew up to be Doctor Franklin, the philosopher and statesman, we have
no means of knowing. Doubtless she concluded that she had not
"entertained an angel unawares," but rather had aided an undeserving
fellow in pursuing a vicious course, which was not true.
The boat moved on. Benjamin rowed with strong resolution, taking his
turn with others, and impressing them by his tact and skill, until
midnight, when one of the company said:
"We must have passed the city. It can't be that we have been so long
getting to it."
"That is impossible," answered one of the men; "we must have seen it
if we had passed it."
"Well, I shall row no more," said the first speaker. "I know that
Philadelphia is not so far off as this."
"Then, let us put for the shore," said a third, "and find out where we
are, if possible."
All agreed to the last proposition, and at once rowed towards the
shore, entering a small creek, where they landed near an old fence,
the rails of which furnished them fuel for a fire. They were very
chilly, it being a frosty night of October, and they found the fire
very grateful. They remained there till daylight, when one of the
company knew that the place was "Cooper's Creek," a few miles above
Philadelphia. Immediately they made preparations to continue their
journey, which had not been altogether unpleasant, and they were soon
in full view of the city, where they arrived between eight and nine
o'clock on Sunday morning. They landed at Market-street Wharf. Taking
out his money, which consisted of one unbroken dollar and a shilling
in copper coin, he offered the latter to the boatman for his passage.
"Not a cent, my good fellow! You worked your passage, and did it well,
too. You row as if you were an old hand at it. Put your money back in
"But you must take it," insisted Benjamin. "You are quite welcome to
all the rowing I have done. I am glad enough to get here by rowing and
paying my passage, too. But for your coming along to take me in, I
should have been obliged to stay in Burlington until next Tuesday,"
and he fairly forced the money upon the boatman.
Bidding them good morning, he walked up Market Street.