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True to His Home: A Tale of the Boyhood of Franklin

True to His Home: A Tale of the Boyhood of Franklin

Author:Hezekiah Butterworth


IT was the Sunday morning of the 6th of January, 1706 (January 17th, old style), when a baby first saw the light in a poor tallow chandler's house on Milk Street, nearly opposite the Old South Church...
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  IT was the Sunday morning of the 6th of January, 1706

January 17th, oldstyle

, when a baby first saw the light in a poor tallow chandler'shouse on Milk Street, nearly opposite the Old South Church, Boston. Thelittle stranger came into a large and growing family, of whom at a laterperiod he might sometimes have seen thirteen children sit down at thetable to very hard and simple fare.

  "A baby is nothing new in this family," said Josiah Franklin, thefather. "This is the fifteenth. Let me take it over to the church andhave it christened this very day. There should be no time lost inchristening. What say you, friends all? It is a likely boy, and it isbest to start him right in life at once."

  "People do not often have their children christened in church on the dayof birth," said a lusty neighbor, "though if a child seems likely to dieit might be christened on the day of its birth at home."

  "This child does not seem likely to die," said the happy tallowchandler. "I will go and see the parson, and if he does not object Iwill give the child to the Lord on this January day, and if he shouldcome to anything he will have occasion to remember that I thought of thehighest duty that I owed him when he first opened his eyes to thelight."

  The smiling and enthusiastic tallow chandler went to see the parson, andthen returned to his home.

  "Abiah," he said to his wife, "I am going to have the child christened.What shall his name be?"

  Josiah Franklin, the chandler, who had emigrated to Boston town that hemight enjoy religious freedom, had left a brother in England, who was anhonest, kindly, large-hearted man, and "a poet."

  "How would Benjamin do?" he continued; "brother's name. Benjamin is afamily name, and a good one. Benjamin of old, into whose sack Joseph putthe silver cup, was a right kind of a man. What do you say, AbiahFolger?"

  "Benjamin is a good name, and a name lasts for life. But your brotherBenjamin has not succeeded very well in his many undertakings."

  "No, but in all his losses he has never lost his good name. His honorhas shown over all. 'A good name is rather to be chosen than greatriches, and loving favor rather than silver or gold.' A man may getriches and yet be poor. It is he that seeks the welfare of others morethan wealth for himself that lives for the things that are best."

  "Josiah, this is no common boy--look at his head. We can not do for himas our neighbors do for their children. But we can give him a name tohonor, and that will be an example to him. How would Folger do--FolgerFranklin? Father Folger was a poet like your brother Benjamin, and hedid well in life. That would unite the names of the two families."

  John Folger, of Norwich, England, with his son Peter, came to thiscountry in the year 1635 on the same ship that bore the family of Rev.Hugh Peters. This clergyman, who is known as a "regicide," or kingmurderer, and who suffered a most terrible death in London on theaccession of Charles II, succeeded Roger Williams in the church atSalem. He flourished during the times of Cromwell, but was sentenced tobe hanged, cut down alive, and tortured, his body to be quartered, andhis head exposed among the malefactors, on account of having consentedto the execution of Charles I.

  Among Hugh Peters's household was one Mary Morrell, a white slave, orpurchased serving maid. She was a very bright and beautiful girl.

  The passengers had small comforts on board the ship. The passage was along one, and the time passed heavily.

  Now the passengers who were most interesting to each other becameintimate, and young Peter Folger and beautiful Mary Morrell of thePeterses became very interesting to each other and very social. PeterFolger began to ask himself the question, "If the fair maid would marryme, could I not purchase her freedom?" He seems somehow to have foundout that the latter could be done, and so Peter offered himself to theattractive servant of the Peterses. The two were betrothed amid theAtlantic winds and the rolling seas, and the roaring ocean could havelittle troubled them then, so happy were their anticipations of theirlife in the New World.

  Peter purchased Mary's freedom of the Peterses, and so he bought thegrandmother of that Benjamin Franklin who was to "snatch thethunderbolts from heaven and the scepter from tyrants," to sign theDeclaration of Independence which brought forth a new order ofgovernment for mankind, and to form a treaty of peace with England whichwas to make America free.

  Peter Folger and his bride first settled in Watertown, Mass., where theyoung immigrant became a very useful citizen. He studied the Indiantongue.

  About 1660 the family removed to Martha's Vineyard with Thomas Mayhew,of colonial fame, where Peter was employed as a school teacher and aland surveyor, and he assisted Mr. Mayhew in his work among the Indians.He went to Nantucket as a surveyor about 1662, and was induced to removethere as an interpreter and as land surveyor. He was assigned by theproprietors a place known as Roger's Field, and later as Jethro Folger'sLane, now a portion of the Maddequet Road. Their tenth child was Abiah,born August 15, 1667. She was the second wife of Josiah Franklin, tallowchandler, of the sign of the Blue Ball, Boston, and the mother of theboy whom she would like to have inherit so inspiring a name.

  Peter Folger, the Quaker poet of the island of Nantucket, was a mostworthy man. He lived at the beginning of the dark times of persecution,when Baptists and Quakers were in danger of being publicly whipped,branded, and deported or banished into the wilderness. Stories of thecruelty that followed these people filled the colonies, and caused theQuaker's heart to bleed and burn. He wrote a poem entitled ALooking-glass for the Times, in which he called upon New England topause in her sins of intoleration and persecution, and threatened thejudgments foretold in the Bible upon those who do injustice to God'schildren.

  "Abiah," said the proud father, "I admire the character of your father.It stood for justice and human rights. But, wife, listen:

  "Brother Benjamin has lost all of his ten children but one. I pity him.Wife, listen: Brother Benjamin is poor through no fault of his, butbecause he gave himself and all that he was to his family.

  "Listen: It would touch his heart to learn that I had named this boy forhim. It would show the old man that I had not forgotten him, but stillthought of him.

  "I can not do much for the boy, but I can give Brother Benjamin a homewith me, and, as he is a great reader, he can instruct the boy by wiseprecept and a good example. If the boy will only follow brother'sprinciples, he may make the name of Benjamin live.

  "And once more: if we name the boy Benjamin, it will make BrotherBenjamin feel that he has not lost all, but that he will have anotherchance in the world. How glad that would make the poor old man! I wouldlike to name him as the boy's godfather. I do pity him, don't you? Youhave the heart of Peter Folger."

  There was a silence.

  "Abiah, what now shall the boy's name be?"


  "You have chosen that name out of your heart. May that name bring youjoy! It ought to do so, since you have given up your own wish andbreathed it out of your heart and conscience. To give up is to gain."

  He took up the child.

  "Then we will give that name to him now, and I will take the child andgo to the church, and I will name Brother Benjamin as his godfather."

  "It is a very cold day for the little one."

  "And a healthy one on which to start out in the world. There is nothinglike starting right and with a good name, which may the Lord help thischild to honor! And, Abiah, that He will."

  He wrapped the babe up warmly, and looked him full in the face.

  Josiah Franklin was a genial, provident, hard-sensed man. He probablyhad no prophetic visions; no thought that the little one given him onthis frosty January morning in the breezy town of Boston by the seawould command senates, lead courts, and sign a declaration of peace thatwould make possible a new order of government in the world, could haveentered his mind. If the boy should become a good man, with a littlepoetic imagination like his Uncle Benjamin, the home poet, he would becontent.

  He opened the door of his one room on the lower floor of his house andwent out into the cold with the child in his arms. In a short time hereturned and laid little Benjamin in the arms of his mother.

  "I hope the child's life will hold out as it has begun," he added."_Benjamin Franklin, day one; started right. May Heaven help him to getused to the world!_"

  As poor as the tallow chandler was, he was hospitable on that day. Hedid not hold the birth of the little one--which really was an event ofgreater importance to the world than the birth of a king--as anythingmore than the simple growth of an honest family, who had left thecrowded towns and a smithy in old England to enjoy freedom of faith andconscience and the opportunities of the New World. He wished to livewhere he might be free to enjoy his own opinions and to promote a colonywhere all men should have these privileges.

  The house in which Franklin was born is described as follows:

  Its front upon the street was rudely clapboarded,and the sides and rear were protected from theinclemencies of a New England climate by large,rough shingles. In height the house was aboutthree stories; in front, the second story andattic projected somewhat into the street, over theprincipal story on the ground floor. On the lowerfloor of the main house there was one room only.This, which probably served the Franklins as aparlor and sitting-room, and also for the familyeating-room, was about twenty feet square, and hadtwo windows on the street; and it had also one onthe passageway, so as to give the inmates a goodview of Washington Street. In the center of thesoutherly side of the room was one of those notedlarge fireplaces, situated in a most capaciouschimney; on the left of this was a spaciouscloset. On the ground floor, connected with thesitting-room through the entry, was the kitchen.The second story originally contained but onechamber, and in this the windows, door, fireplace,and closet were similar in number and position tothose in the parlor beneath it. The attic was alsooriginally one unplastered room, and had a windowin front on the street, and two common atticwindows, one on each side of the roof, near theback part of it.

  Soon after this unprophetic event Josiah Franklin and Abiah his wifewent to live at the sign of the Blue Ball, on what was then thesoutheast corner of Hanover and Union Streets. The site of the birth ofFranklin was long made notable as the office of the Boston Post, apolitical paper whose humor was once proverbial. The site is stillvisited by strangers, and bears the record of the event which was tocontribute so powerful an influence to the scientific and politicalhistory of the world.

  Wendell Phillips used to say that there were two kinds of people in theworld--one who went ahead and did something, and another, who showed howthat thing ought to have been done in some other way. The boy belongedto the former class.

  But I doubt if any reader of this volume was ever born to so hard anestate as this boy. Let us follow him into the story land of childhood.In Germany every child passes through fairyland, but there was no suchland in Josiah Franklin's tallow shop, except when the busy mansometimes played the violin in the inner room and sang psalms to themusic, usually in a very solemn tone.

  There were not many homes in Boston at this period that had even so nearan approach to fairyland as a violin. Those were hard times forchildren, and especially for those with lively imaginations, which giftlittle Benjamin had in no common degree. There were Indians in thosetimes, and supposed ghosts and witches, but no passing clouds boreangels' chariots; there were no brownies among the wild rose bushes andthe ferns. There was one good children's story in every home--that of"Joseph" in the Bible, still, as always, the best family story in allthe world.