Benjamin Franklin Childhood

Early Life and Education

Benjamin Franklin was born in colonial Boston on January 17, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a candlemaker and soap boiler. Despite the family's modest means, Benjamin had a thirst for knowledge from a young age. His formal schooling ended at the age of ten, but this did not hinder his educational journey.

As an avid reader, Franklin embarked on a path of self-education. He turned to "The Spectator," a collection of persuasive essays that introduced him to literature and rhetoric. Emulating the styles within, he honed his writing skills.

At twelve, Franklin began an apprenticeship under his elder brother James in the printing trade. This experience not only provided him with foundational skills in printing but also exposed him to the world of ideas and debate during an era of growing opinions and reformations.

A young Benjamin Franklin reading books and writing with a quill pen

Influence of Literary Works

Franklin's engagement with 'The Spectator' was a pivotal point in his intellectual development. The essays' clarity, coherence, and moral insight provided him with a powerful method of delivery and analysis. He adopted the habit of rewriting essays by Addison and Steele, an exercise that refined his understanding of language and argumentation.

Franklin's mind shifted from the constraints of poetry to the versatility of prose. Prose allowed him to discuss civic virtues, satirize societal issues, and advocate for colonial unity with directness. In his early publishing ventures under the pseudonym Silence Dogood, Franklin demonstrated his ability to wield prose persuasively, engaging readers critically and reflectively.

This period of literary consumption and creation underpinned Franklin's development as a thinker and writer. The skills he developed were pivotal when he later advocated for independence and drafted foundational documents that shaped emerging American society.

Benjamin Franklin reading a copy of The Spectator essays

Escape to Philadelphia

Tension with his brother James escalated when James faced repercussions for challenging the political status quo through the publication of the New-England Courant. Seeking independence and intellectual autonomy, Franklin made the decision to leave Boston.

In 1723, at the age of 17, Franklin secretly embarked on a journey to Philadelphia.1 The city promised an atmosphere of tolerance and diversity, reflective of its significant Quaker influence.

Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Franklin found employment as a printer under Samuel Keimer. The job entailed crafting pamphlets and other materials, providing Franklin with an opportunity to refine his printing skills and re-establish his credentials in the print industry.

Franklin's lodging near the Read household fostered domestic and professional connections crucial to his early survival and accumulation of local knowledge. These relationships, both personal and pragmatic, helped him navigate the civic, cultural, and economic landscape of Philadelphia.

A young Benjamin Franklin arriving in Philadelphia with a sense of hope and determination

Adventures in London

With ambitions burning bright, Benjamin Franklin found London an alluring prospect for advancement. However, upon arriving in England in 1724, he discovered that the promised support from his Philadelphia patron, Governor Sir William Keith, was a mirage.

Despite this setback, Franklin's time in London was not wasted. He found employment at prominent printing houses, exposing him to advanced printing techniques and philosophies. He also found intellectual fellowship with other young craftsmen and polymaths, engaging in animated disputes and cultivating camaraderie.

During this period, Franklin's contemplative and philosophical layers deepened. The competitive yet scholarly setting enabled him to absorb and reshape ideas around social issues, science, and skepticism. London's conversations on deism and enlightenment thought prompted Franklin to pen "A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain," signaling his immersion into moral philosophy.

Beyond philosophical pondering, Franklin's encounters in London also exposed him to the realities of poverty and injustice, underscoring the importance of social reforms.2 These principles would influence his future literary creations and endeavors.

In 1726, Franklin accepted a clerkship offer from Thomas Denham, a Quaker merchant he had met prior, and returned to Philadelphia. This opportunity embedded an international lens on trade and commerce, moving beyond the mere churning of presses to the indices that shape economies.

  1. Brands HW. The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. New York, NY: Doubleday; 2000.
  2. Wood GS. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York, NY: Penguin Press; 2004.