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Origin and Genealogy of his Family. — His Birth. His Mother. Employments in his Boyhood. Anecdote. - Character of his Father. -Epitaph on his Father and Mother.- Fond of reading. — Apprenticed to his Brother to learn the Printer's Trade. - Writes Ballads. — Intimacy with Collins. Practises Composition. Adopts a vegetable Diet. Studies the Socratic Method of Disputation. - Concerned in publishing a Newspaper. - Disagrees with his Brother.- Leaves Boston and takes Passage in a Sloop for New York.
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
*The first part of the Autobiography, constituting the first five Chapters of this edition, was written in the form of a letter to his son, William Franklin, then governor of New Jersey. It was begun while the author was on a visit to the family of the Bishop of St. Asaph, at Twyford, in the year 1771.- EDITOR.
VOL. I. NO. 1.
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 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 success. My 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 enabling 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.*
* Perhaps from the time, when the name of FRANKLIN, which before was the name of an order of people, was assumed by them for a surname, when others took surnames all over the kingdom.
As a proof that FRANKLIN was anciently the common name of an order or rank in England, see Judge Fortescue, De laudibus Legum Angliæ, written about the year 1412, in which is the following passage, to show that good juries might easily be formed in any part of England.
"Regio etiam illa, ita respersa refertaque est possessoribus terrarum et agrorum, quod in eâ, villula tam parva reperiri non poterit, in quâ non
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
est miles, armiger, vel pater-familias, qualis ibidem Franklin vulgariter nuncupatur, magnis ditatus possessionibus, nec non libere tenentes et alii valecti plurimi, suis patrimoniis sufficientes ad faciendum juratam in formâ prænotatâ."
"Moreover, the same country is so filled and replenished with landed menne, that therein so small a Thorpe cannot be found wherein dweleth not a knight, an esquire, or such a householder, as is there commonly called a Franklin, enriched with great possessions; and also other freeholders and many yeon.en able for their livelihoods to make a jury in form aforementioned."— Old Translation.
Chaucer too calls his Country Gentleman a Franklin, and, after describing his good housekeeping, thus characterizes him.
"This worthy Franklin bore a purse of silk,
"A spacious court they see,
Both plain and pleasant to be walked in,
See APPENDIX, No. I.
his gravestone 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; viz. 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 them 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 publicspirited 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 next 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
See a letter to his wife, describing his visit to Ecton, in the year 1758; Vol. VII. p. 177.- EDITOR.