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Genealogy Birth The Folgers School-days — Boyish Sports and
Scrapes — His Paront3 --- Fondness for Reading -Apprenticed to his Brothe er as a Printer - Writes Street Ballads — Disputes with Collins — Exercises in Composition - Tries a Vegetable Diet. Critical Speculations Employed on a Newspaper - Writes for it Anonymously - Ill treated by his Brother - Attack on the Liberty of the Press — Leaves his Brother Starts for New York - Not getting Work there, he goes to Philadelphia.
I HAVE ever had a pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries I made among the remains of my relations, when you were with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to learn the circumstances of my life, many of which you are unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a few weeks'.uninterrupted leisure, I sit down to write them. Besides, there are some other inducements that excite me to this undertaking. From the poverty and obscurity in which I was born, and in which I passed my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of affluence and some degree of celebrity in the world. As constant good fortune has accompanied me even to an advanced period of life, my posterity will perhaps be desirous of learning the means which I employed, and which, thanks to Providence, so well succeeded with me. They may also deem them fit to be imitated, should any of them find themselves in similar circumstances.
This good fortune, when I reflect on it, which is frequently the case, has induced me sometimes to say, that, if it were left
* For the convenience of the reader, the Autobiography is divided into chapters. The first part, which closes with the fourth chapter, was addressed, in the form of a letter, from Twyford, the seat of the Bishop of St. Asaph, to Franklin's son, Wm. Franklin, Governor of New Jersey. It bears date 1771.
to my choice, I should have no objection to go over the same life from its beginning to the end; requesting only the advantage authors have of correcting in a second edition the faults of the first. So would I also wish to change some incidents of it, for others more favorable. Notwithstanding, if this condition was denied, I should still accept the offer of re-commencing the same life. But, as this repetition is not to be expected, that which resembles most living one's life over again seems to be to recall all the circumstances of it; and, to render this remembrance more durable, to record them in writing. In thus employing myself, I shall yield to the inclination, so natural to old men, of talking of themselves and their own actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to those who, from respect to my age, might conceive themselves obliged to listen to me, since they will be always free to read me or not.
And, lastly (I may as well confess it, as the denial of it would be believed by nobody), I shall perhaps not a little gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I never heard or saw the introductory words, “Without vanity I may say," &c., but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others who are within his sphere of action; and therefore in many cases it would not be altogether absurd, if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life. And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I attribute the mentioned happiness of my past life to his divine providence, which led me to the means I used, and gave
the sucMy belief of this induces me to hope, though I must not presume, that the same goodness will still be exercised towards me in continuing that happiness, or enable me to bear a fatal reverse, which I may experience as others have done; the complexion of my future fortune being known to Him only, in whose power it is to bless us, even in our afflictions.
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, 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 registers at 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 at Ecton till he was too old to continue his business, when he retired to Banbury, in 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. Isted, now lord of the manor there. My grandfather had four sons, who grew up; namely, Thomas, John, Benjamin, and Josiah. Being at a distance from my papers, I will give you what account I can of them from memory; and, if my papers are not lost in my absence, you will find among
many more particulars. Thomas, my eldest uncle, was bred a smith under his father, but, being ingenious, and encouraged in learning, as all his brothers were, by an Esquire Palmer, then the principal inhabitant of that parish, he qualified himself for the bar, 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. He died in 1702, the 6th of January; four years, to a day, before I was born. The recital which some elderly persons made to us of his character, I remember, struck you as something extraordinary, from its similarity with what you knew of me
“ Had he died,” said you, “ four years later, on the same day, one might have supposed a transmigration."
John, my nexo uncle, was bred a dyer, I believe of wool. Benjamin was bred a silk-dyer, serving an apprenticeship in London. He was an ingenious man. I remember, when I was a boy, he came to my father's in Boston, and resided in the house with us for several years. There was always a particular affection between my father and him, and I was his godson. He lived to a great age.
He left behind him two quarto volumes of manuscript, of his own poetry, consisting of fugitive pieces addressed to his friends. He had invented a short-hand of his own, which he taught me, but, not having practised it, I
have now forgotten it. He was very pious, and an assiduous attendant at the sermons of the best preachers, which he reduced to writing according to his method, and had thus collected several volumes of them. He was also a good deal of a politician; too much so, perhaps, for his station. There fell lately into my hands, in London, a collection he had made of all the principal political pamphlets relating to public affairs, from the year 1641 to 1717. Many of the volumes are wanting, as appears by their numbering ; but there still remain eight volumes in folio, and twenty in quarto and in octavo. A dealer in old books had met with them, and, knowing me by name, having bought books of him, he brought them to me.
It would appear that my uncle must have left them here when he went to America, which was about fifty years ago. I found several of his notes in the margins. His grandson, Samuel Franklin, is still living in Boston.*
Our humble family early embraced the reformed religion. Our forefathers continued Protestants through the reign of Mary, when they were sometimes in danger of persecution, on account of their zeal against Popery. 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 family continued all of the Church of England till about the end of Charles the Second's reign, when some of the ministers that had been outed for their non-conformity holding conventicles in Northamptonshire, my Uncle Benjamin and my father Josiah adhered to them, and so continued all their lives. The rest of the family remained with the Episcopal Church.
My father married young, and carried his wife with three children to New-England, about 1685. The conventicles being at that time forbidden by law, and frequently disturbed in the meetings, some considerablemen of his acquaintances determined to go to that country, and he was prevailed with to accompany them thither, where they expected to enjoy the exercise of their religion with freedom. By the same wife my father had four children more born there, and by a second ten others ; in all
* His descendants are still living there.
seventeen; of whom I remember to have seen thirteen sitting together at his table, who all grew.up to years of maturity and were married. I was the youngest son, and the youngest of all the children except two daughters. I was b.rn in Boston, in New England.* My mother, the second wife of my father, was Abiah Folger, daughter of Peter Folger, one of the first settlers of New England; of whom honorable mention is made by Cotton Mather in his ecclesiastical history of that country, entitled Magnalia Christi Americana, as "à godly and learned Englishman," if I remember the words rightly. I was informed he wrote several small occasional works, but only one of them was printed, which I remember to have seen several years
since, It was written in 1675. It was in familiar verse, according to the taste of the times and the people, and addressed to the government there. It asserts the liberty of conscience, in behalf of the Anabaptists, the Quakers, and other sectaries that had been persecuted. He attributes to this persecution the Indian wars and other calamities that had befallen the country; regarding them as so many judgments of God to punish so heinous an offence, and exhorting the repeal of those laws, so contrary to charity. This piece appeared to me as written with manly freedom, and a pleasing simplicity. The six last lines I remember, but have forgotten the preceding ones of the stanza ;t the purport of them was, that his censures proceeded from good will, and therefore he would be known to be the author :
* In Milk-street, January 17th, or 6th, Old Style. A granite store now occupies the site, having the inscription “ Birthplace of Franklin.” Franklin's father occupied subsequently a house corner of Hanover and Union streets, which is sometimes claimed as entitled to the distinction of Benjamin's birthplace.
+ They are as follow:
“I am for peace, and not for war,
And that's the reason why
That use to daub and lie.
To what I here insert;
Peter was no poet. He wrote sad doggerel, notwithstanding his descendant's indulgent opinion. The Folgers seem to have been a somewhat unpolished race. "They are wonderfully shy," writes Franklin to his sister, August, 1789. “ But I admire their honest plainness of speech. About : year ago I invited two of them to dine with me; their answer was, that they would, if they could not do better. I suppose they did better; for I never saw them afterwards, and so had no opportunity of showing my miff, if I had one.”