Colonial Pennsylvania: A History

By Joseph E. Illick | Go to book overview

6
GRAFTING: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, AGENT OF CHANGE

Early on a Sunday morning in October 1723 a tired young man stepped off the boat from Burlington onto the Market Street wharf in Philadelphia. "I was in my working dress, my best clothes being to come round by sea. I was dirty from my journey; my pockets were stuffed out with shirts and stockings; and I knew no soul nor where to look for lodging. I was fatigued with travelling, rowing, and want of rest; I was very hungry; and my whole stock of cash consisted of a Dutch dollar and about a shilling in copper." For breakfast he bought "three great puffy rolls . . . and, having no room in my pockets, walked off with a roll under each arm, and eating the other . . . I made . . . a most awkward, ridiculous appearance." Other immigrants to Pennsylvania entered inauspiciously but none were to rise to such heights as Benjamin Franklin. The story of his achievement would become the metaphor of success in America -- as, indeed, he wanted it to be when he recreated it in his Autobiography.

For a man whose name is synonymous with mobility, Franklin had a surprisingly strong sense of family roots. He learned from an uncle that the Franklins had lived in Ecton, Northamptonshire, for at least three hundred years and, on searching the parish register, discovered that he "was the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations"; the records went back no further. More to the point of his own career, his Uncle Thomas was a "scrivener; became a considerable man in the country; was a chief mover of all public-spirited undertakings for the county or

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