The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin By Benjamin Franklin Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 3 - The Arrival in Philadelphia

Summary

In New York, Benjamin applied for work to a printer, William Bradford, who advised him to go to Philadelphia, where Bradford's son Andrew, also a printer, had recently lost his helper; so Benjamin started by boat to travel the 100 miles to Philadelphia. On the way, a squall tore up sails and drove Benjamin's boat off course. A drunk Dutchman fell overboard, and Franklin had to fish him out of the water. Unable to land on Long Island, the passengers had to sleep in the boat all night, drenching wet, without food to eat or water to drink. Finally safe in Amboy the next day, Franklin grew feverish, but drank plenty of water and sweated his fever away through the night, then proceeded toward Burlington, 50 miles away, by foot. By noon he was rain-soaked, exhausted, and uncomfortably aware that people suspected him of being a runaway. At Burlington, Franklin sighted a boat going to Philadelphia and caught a ride, but then had to row all the way, besides spending a cold night on the riverbank.

When finally a dirty, tired, and hungry Benjamin arrived at Philadelphia on Sunday morning, he had only a Dutch dollar and a copper shilling left. He gave the shilling to the boat owners with whom he had rowed up the river, and later observed that a man is "sometimes more generous when he has but a little Money than when he has plenty, perhaps thro' Fear of being thought to have but little." He found his way to a bakery and, the bread being different from that sold in Boston, asked for three pennies-worth of any kind of bread. Given three great puffy rolls, he had no choice but to carry one under each arm and the third in his hands to eat. So he strolled through the streets, passing his future wife who thought he made "a most awkward ridiculous Appearance." He followed some cleanly dressed people into the Quaker meetinghouse but slept through the service until someone woke him at the end. So the first house in Philadelphia he either entered or slept in was the church. After the service, he found respectable accommodations and slept all day and night, waking only to eat at mealtime.

On Monday morning Benjamin visited the printer Bradford and found that Bradford's father had arrived by horseback. So William Bradford of New York was able to introduce Franklin properly to his son. The son had already hired a helper, but suggested that Franklin contact a rival printer, and offered to board him until he should find work. Then, escorted by old Bradford, Franklin went to meet his future employer. The new printer, Keimer, promised Franklin work, but made a bad impression by indiscreetly discussing his business with Mr. Bradford, not realizing that the old man was his rival's father. Franklin discovered that Keimer owned only the most outworn equipment. Furthermore, he was composing an elegy directly into type as he devised verses in his head. Both Philadelphia printers appeared to Benjamin to be unequipped for their profession, since Bradford was "very illiterate," and Keimer knew nothing of how to run a press. Keimer disliked his employee's living at his rival's house, so he arranged for Franklin to move into the Read home, where Benjamin met his future wife.

Franklin's brother-in-law, Captain Robert Holmes (Homes), master of a sloop trading between Boston and Delaware, landed forty miles from Philadelphia, heard of Benjamin's whereabouts, and wrote urging him to return home. Answering, Franklin defended his leaving Boston, and Holmes showed the letter to Sir William Keith, Governor of the Province. Keith was impressed and stated that so promising a young man should be encouraged to begin a printing business in Philadelphia, where he would soon receive all the public business of the Assembly. One day Keith and a friend knocked on Keimer's door and asked for Franklin, whom they invited to accompany them to a nearby tavern. Over Madeira, the two encouraged Benjamin to set up his own business, and promised him their aid. Keith also offered to write a letter asking Benjamin's father to back the proposed printing shop financially. So Franklin decided to return to Boston on the first boat, in the meantime keeping his plans secret but dining occasionally with the governor.

Analysis

Franklin states why he gives the details about his difficult journey to Philadelphia and his disreputable-looking appearance when entering the city: "I have been the more particular in this Description of my journey, and shall be so of my first Entry into that City, that you may in your mind compare such unlikely Beginnings with the Figure I have since made there." One factor in the earlier figure as well as that later figure Franklin cut, to which he fails to give just due, is his unusual personal presence which apparently could favorably impress others almost immediately. Though Sir William Keith, the most dramatic example in this section, began to champion Franklin after encountering him only through a letter, the passage abounds with references to people, both humble and proud, who seemed to love Franklin on first sight. William Bradford of New York, a complete stranger, was enough impressed with young Benjamin to undertake the arduous trip to Philadelphia at least partially on Franklin's behalf. Bradford's son Andrew immediately offered the unknown arrival a home until he should get a job. Franklin mentions at length an innkeeper he encountered on his walk to Burlington, Dr. Brown, who so enjoyed Franklin's conversation that he remained Franklin's lifelong friend. At Burlington, where he did not even stop the night, Franklin struck up a warm friendship with an old woman who offered him food and lodging for three days until he could catch a boat to Philadelphia. And Keimer, whom Franklin says repeatedly was a suspicious and jealous man, hired Benjamin by the end of their initial interview. Though Franklin gives this magnetic charm little credit for his steady rise, it partially explains why others always seemed eager to help him.

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