The storm swelled and another wave gushed over the side of the small boat. The passengers gripped the sides of the boat and held on for dear life. Seventeen year old Benjamin Franklin said to himself, ‘I once was inclined to enjoy the sea. But I think I will stick to land for my employment. The printing press doesn’t try to extinguish my life.’
Just then the drunken Dutchman that was part of the passengers took a long step off a short side of the boat and found himself suddenly a little more sobered by the cold water. Benjamin was first to grab a hold of the man, seizing his hair, and lifting him back above water so the others could help grab a hold of him and quickly pull the Dutchman back on board.
As he thanked them for saving him, the Dutchman reached in his pocket and pulled out a book, and handed it to Benjamin, asking him to “dry it off” for him. They lead the man down below where he fell asleep, soaking wet. Benjamin looked at the volume and recognized it as one of his favorites, John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress. As Benjamin admired it’s craftsmanship, for it was of superior quality, Benjamin reflected on his own pilgrimage.
He was 300 miles from home, having just left the print shop apprenticeship he had worked in the past 5 years, under his brother James. While Benjamin thought his brother a good man, James had taken occasion to strike him when he fell into a passion. Benjamin recognized he may have provoked him at times, but he didn’t wish to continue to receive the abuse. And lately, after keeping the New England Courant going while James was in prison for a month, Benjamin thought his brother a little ungrateful. Not only had he kept the newspaper circulating, Benjamin had also taken liberties to run articles that clearly rubbed the ruling party wrong.
‘I bet they didn’t expect the apprentice to inconvenience them like that.’ Then Benjamin mused, ‘but I did get a reputation as a young genius that had a turn for libel and satire. That didn’t help me when my own brother kept me from getting work when I told him I had a mind to apprentice elsewhere.’
And here he was, on a boat with broken sails, anchored to the bottom of the bay while the storm beat them closer to a rocky reception with Long Island. They determined to wait it out until morning. Benjamin and the boatman went below to try to sleep with the soaked Dutchman. Hour after hour, Benjamin was sprayed by the waves that crashed into the boat and leaked through to the miserable men below. Rest was not achieved that night.
The next day, Benjamin became sick while being stuck on the boat for 30 hours without food or water; just a bottle of filthy rum. And all they had done was crossed the bay to Amboy, NJ, about 15 miles from New York City. Now he was trying to cover more than 70 miles. Benjamin determined that while the roads were never very good, he would venture the next 50 miles on foot to Burlington, NJ.
It was pouring rain as he walked the first day on the road, he thought again about his journey. Not only had he struck out on his own to New York – after finding no print house in Boston that would employ him – he discovered that none of the print houses in New York had an opening either. And now, he was crossing New Jersey en route to Philadelphia on the recommendation of a Mr. William Bradford, a stranger, who had been a printer in Pennsylvania but now lived in New York. Mr. Bradford’s son ran a printing house and had recently lost a worker and ‘might’ need his help.
As he continued to cross the lonely miles, he thought about home. He couldn’t go back now, not after running away as he had. How would they welcome him when he did go home? As the youngest of 17, he would probably get a little of everything. But he couldn’t return without giving it a valiant effort. Stopping at an inn along the road about noon, Benjamin decided to stay at the inn the rest of the day, and continue the journey the next day. In the solitary musing of his room, he began to wish he had never left home.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Benjamin found a place to sleep and got rested and cleaned up before finding Mr. Andrew Bradford, who happened to have his father visiting him when Benjamin walked in. They talked about Benjamin taking up a position, but Andrew had no need for any more help at the moment. He did know of another printer who recently set up shop, so Benjamin went to see him. Keimer, had an old press and only one set of type, but said he would employ Benjamin. However, at present, he didn’t have any work to be done. So Benjamin went back to Andrew and was able to get started on a small job and stay with him until Keimer had a job to work on.
While in this state of limbo, with little work to be done, living in a new place with little money to his credit and no family nearby, Benjamin had another problem. He found that both men were poorly qualified masters. Andrew was raised by a printer but was illiterate. Keimer was learned, but didn’t understand how to work his printing press.
At a time when he was very much alone and seemed to have a long fight ahead of him, Benjamin squared his shoulders and worked. He took what jobs came to him and got Keimer’s press in working order. Through hard work and determination, Benjamin Franklin established a character of perseverance and problem solving that would serve him well the rest of his life.
“When a boy is seperated for the first time from the older persons who have governed his life thus far, he begins to find out of what stuff he is made. … Often, the most significant indications of his future character appear in affairs about which he feels most free to follow his own inclination – his friends, how he spends his money, or his leisure hours.” – Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The next time life seems to stack up against you, focus on what you can do. Put one foot in front of the other, and work hard. You are establishing a character of perseverance that will help you for the rest of your life.