While all other sciences have advanced, that of government is at a standstill - little better understood, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago. — John Adams

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Stories of Franklin

One man was to have a great share in the last French and Indian war, although he was no soldier. This man was Franklin, and as he is one of the greatest men in our history, it will surely interest you to hear a little about him.

Born in a poor family in Boston, the lad was named Benjamin, probably because he was his father's twelfth child. With so many brothers and sisters older than himself, Benjamin was not spoiled. As they were all very poor, he was often obliged, small as he was, to help his father make soap and dip tallow candles, a work he greatly disliked. But as there had been free schools in New England from the very beginning, Benjamin learned to read out of the New England Primer when only a tiny boy. He has told us many stories of himself; among others, one of his childhood which you ought to know, because it has given rise to an American proverb.

It seems that Benjamin once had a few pennies. This was a great fortune for so small a lad, and although his brothers and sisters teased him to know what he was going to buy with them, he would not tell. On the street, one day, he saw a big boy blowing a whistle with all his might. This whistle so fascinated little Benjamin that, after talking to its owner awhile, he gave all his pennies in exchange for the toy.

Marching home, Benjamin proudly exhibited his treasure, thinking he had made a great bargain and bought the finest thing in the world. His disappointment was very keen, therefore, when his brothers told him that it was only a common whistle, such as he could have bought anywhere for one penny! Ever since then, when any one pays too much for pleasure, or anything else, people have said: "He has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle."

As was the custom in all Puritan families, the Franklins had long prayers, and they said such a lengthy grace before meals that hungry little Benjamin often grew impatient. As their breakfasts generally consisted of smoked and dried herring, he once suggested that his father should say grace over the whole barrel, so that he need not stop to repeat it every time the fish was served!

Franklin's father was too poor to let him go on with his studies, so at twelve Franklin became apprentice to an older brother, the printer of the fourth newspaper issued in our country. Here Franklin learned to, set type and to handle the rude press then in use. He also began to write, and as he did not want his brother to know it, he disguised his handwriting, and slipped his contributions under the shop door at night.

These articles, written by a boy of fourteen, proved so able that the brother read them aloud to his friends, who greatly praised them, little suspecting that they were written by the apprentice setting type in the corner. But Benjamin's elder brother proved so unkind to him that the boy left Boston at seventeen, and, embarking upon a coasting vessel, went to New York, where he vainly sought employment.

There he heard that work was to be had in Philadelphia, then the largest city in our country. A stage ran between that place and New York twice a week, making the journey in two days. This rate of travel seemed so very rapid then that this coach was generally called the "Flying Machine." But as Franklin did not have the means to pay for a seat in this conveyance, he embarked on a sloop, working his way. After several days' tacking, a long, weary tramp, and a row on the Delaware, he landed in Philadelphia early one morning.

By this time he had only a few pennies left, which, as he felt hungry, he soon gave to a baker for three large rolls. The small amount of luggage he had with him was thrust into his coat pockets, and with a roll under either arm, and one in his hand, Franklin strolled down the street, munching his bread as he walked along. A girl standing on her father's doorstep laughed at the awkward lad passing by, little thinking that a few years later she would be his wife.

Franklin's entry into Philadelphia

Finding employment in Philadelphia, Franklin worked hard, studying as much as he could after hours. Every book he could buy or borrow was eagerly read, and he paid small sums to booksellers for the loan of their volumes overnight, sitting up late and rising early so as to get all he could out of them. Franklin loved books so dearly that he soon learned a great deal about foreign countries. He longed to visit them, and therefore gladly welcomed a proposal to go to England and buy a printing press.

As the governor of Pennsylvania promised to supply the necessary funds, Franklin set out; but upon landing in England he found that the governor had deceived him, and that there was no money to be had. Alone in a foreign land, without means or friends, Franklin again sought employment, and worked for an English printer during the next few years. By dint of hard work and great economy, he managed to save money enough to bring him back to Philadelphia, at the age of twenty. Then, after working as clerk and printer for a while, Franklin set up in business for himself, and married.

Besides printing a newspaper,—for which he wrote the articles, set the type, handled the press, and even carted the paper to his shop in a wheelbarrow,—Franklin soon began to publish a pamphlet called Poor Richard's Almanac. It contained not only the usual information about sunrise and sunset, the moon, tide, and weather, but many short sayings, full of good advice. They were so easily remembered, and so often quoted, that some of them have become household sayings. A few are: "No gains without pains." "Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day." "Time is money." "Keep conscience clear, then never fear."

You might think that Franklin was busy enough with all this work; still, he managed to learn a great deal besides French, German, Spanish, and Italian, which he studied alone and at night. He founded the first public library in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, and the first fire brigade, the first insurance company, and the first hospital in the city. Besides that, he invented the first good stove, advised paving the streets, and was constantly in political office from the time he was thirty until he died, at the age of eighty-four.

Page from Poor Richard's Almanac

Franklin was so interested in sciences that he studied them closely, too; and in 1752, after thinking the matter over a long while, he decided that lightning must be the same thing as the electricity produced by rubbing a cat's fur. He therefore determined to bring lightning down from the clouds, to find out whether he was right. After many experiments, he built a kite, fastened a sharp point to it, and flew it one stormy day. He had taken all his measures so carefully that he thus really drew down some electric sparks from the sky.

As Franklin was a very practical man, he immediately made use of this knowledge to invent lightning rods for protecting churches and houses from thunderbolts. His discovery, ridiculed at first, soon became known abroad, and thus Franklin was the first American who won a European reputation.

Franklin's kite-flying paved the way for all the wonderful discoveries since made in electricity, many of which he then foretold, although people thought he was only joking. Indeed, we are told he even demonstrated the deadly effect of alive wire by killing a turkey on the other side of the river! When his discoveries became known in Europe, they created a great sensation, and the "Franklin experiments "were for a while all the fashion.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell