First Visit to Boston

Sir William Keith, governor of the province, was then at Newcastle, and Captain Holmes, happening to be in company with him when my letter came to hand, spoke to him of me, and show’d him the letter. The governor read it, and seem’d surpris’d when he was told my age. He said I appear’d a young man of promising parts, and therefore should be encouraged; the printers at Philadelphia were wretched ones; and, if I would set up there, he made no doubt I should succeed; for his part, he would procure me the public business, and do me every other service in his power. This my brother-in-law afterwards told me in Boston, but I knew as yet nothing of it; when, one day, Keimer and I being at work together near the window, we saw the governor and another gentleman (which proved to be Colonel French, of Newcastle), finely dress’d, come directly across the street to our house, and heard them at the door.

Keimer ran down immediately, thinking it a visit to him; but the governor inquir’d for me, came up, and with a condescension and politeness I had been quite unus’d to, made me many compliments, desired to be acquainted with me, blam’d me kindly for not having made myself known to him when I first came to the place, and would have me away with him to the tavern, where he was going with Colonel French to taste, as he said, some excellent Madeira. I was not a little surprised, and Keimer star’d like a pig poison’d.[30] I went, however, with the governor and Colonel French to a tavern, at the corner of Third-street, and over the Madeira he propos’d my setting up my business, laid before me the probabilities of success, and both he and Colonel French assur’d me I should have their interest and influence in procuring the public business of both governments.[31] On my doubting whether my father would assist me in it, Sir William said he would give me a letter to him, in which he would state the advantages, and he did not doubt of prevailing with him. So it was concluded I should return to Boston in the first vessel, with the governor’s letter recommending me to my father. In the meantime the intention was to be kept a secret, and I went on working with Keimer as usual, the governor sending for me now and then to dine with him, a very great honour I thought it, and conversing with me in the most affable, familiar, and friendly manner imaginable.

About the end of April, 1724, a little vessel offer’d for Boston. I took leave of Keimer as going to see my friends. The governor gave me an ample letter, saying many flattering things of me to my father, and strongly recommending the project of my setting up at Philadelphia as a thing that must make my fortune. We struck on a shoal in going down the bay, and sprung a leak; we had a blustering time at sea, and were oblig’d to pump almost continually, at which I took my turn. We arriv’d safe, however, at Boston in about a fortnight. I had been absent seven months, and my friends had heard nothing of me; for my br. Holmes was not yet return’d, and had not written about me. My unexpected appearance surpris’d the family; all were, however, very glad to see me, and made me welcome, except my brother. I went to see him at his printing-house. I was better dress’d than ever while in his service, having a genteel new suit from head to foot, a watch, and my pockets lin’d with near five pounds sterling in silver. He receiv’d me not very frankly, look’d me all over, and turn’d to his work again.


The journeymen were inquisitive where I had been, what sort of a country it was, and how I lik’d it. I prais’d it much, and the happy life I led in it, expressing strongly my intention of returning to it; and, one of them asking what kind of money we had there, I produc’d a handful of silver, and spread it before them, which was a kind of raree-show[32] they had not been us’d to, paper being the money of Boston.[33] Then I took an opportunity of letting them see my watch; and, lastly (my brother still grum and sullen), I gave them a piece of eight[34] to drink, and took my leave. This visit of mine offended him extreamly; for, when my mother some time after spoke to him of a reconciliation, and of her wishes to see us on good terms together, and that we might live for the future as brothers, he said I had insulted him in such a manner before his people that he could never forget or forgive it. In this, however, he was mistaken.

My father received the governor’s letter with some apparent surprise, but said little of it to me for some days, when Capt. Holmes returning he show’d it to him, asked him if he knew Keith, and what kind of man he was; adding his opinion that he must be of small discretion to think of setting a boy up in business who wanted yet three years of being at man’s estate. Holmes said what he could in favour of the project, but my father was clear in the impropriety of it, and at last, gave a flat denial to it. Then he wrote a civil letter to Sir William, thanking him for the patronage he had so kindly offered me, but declining to assist me as yet in setting up, I being, in his opinion, too young to be trusted with the management of a business so important, and for which the preparation must be so expensive.

My friend and companion Collins, who was a clerk in the post-office, pleas’d with the account I gave him of my new country, determined to go thither also; and, while I waited for my father’s determination, he set out before me by land to Rhode Island, leaving his books, which were a pretty collection of mathematicks and natural philosophy, to come with mine and me to New York, where he propos’d to wait for me.

My father, tho’ he did not approve Sir William’s proposition, was yet pleas’d that I had been able to obtain so advantageous a character from a person of such note where I had resided, and that I had been so industrious and careful as to equip myself so handsomely in so short a time; therefore, seeing no prospect of an accommodation between my brother and me, he gave his consent to my returning again to Philadelphia, advis’d me to behave respectfully to the people there, endeavour to obtain the general esteem, and avoid lampooning and libeling, to which he thought I had too much inclination; telling me, that by steady industry and a prudent parsimony I might save enough by the time I was one-and-twenty to set me up; and that, if I came near the matter, he would help me out with the rest. This was all I could obtain, except some small gifts as tokens of his and my mother’s love, when I embark’d again for New York, now with their approbation and their blessing.

The sloop putting in at Newport, Rhode Island, I visited my brother John, who had been married and settled there some years. He received me very affectionately, for he always lov’d me. A friend of his, one Vernon, having some money due to him in Pennsylvania, about thirty-five pounds currency, desired I would receive it for him, and keep it till I had his directions what to remit it in. Accordingly, he gave me an order. This afterwards occasion’d me a good deal of uneasiness.

At Newport we took in a number of passengers for New York, among which were two young women, companions, and a grave, sensible, matronlike Quaker woman, with her attendants. I had shown an obliging readiness to do her some little services, which impress’d her I suppose with a degree of good will toward me; therefore, when she saw a daily growing familiarity between me and the two young women, which they appear’d to encourage, she took me aside, and said, “Young man, I am concern’d for thee, as thou hast no friend with thee, and seems not to know much of the world, or of the snares youth is expos’d to; depend upon it, those are very bad women; I can see it in all their actions; and if thee art not upon thy guard, they will draw thee into some danger; they are strangers to thee, and I advise thee, in a friendly concern for thy welfare, to have no acquaintance with them.” As I seem’d at first not to think so ill of them as she did, she mentioned some things she had observ’d and heard that had escap’d my notice, but now convinc’d me she was right. I thank’d her for her kind advice, and promis’d to follow it. When we arriv’d at New York, they told me where they liv’d, and invited me to come and see them; but I avoided it, and it was well I did; for the next day the captain miss’d a silver spoon and some other things, that had been taken out of his cabin, and, knowing that these were a couple of strumpets, he got a warrant to search their lodgings, found the stolen goods, and had the thieves punish’d. So, tho’ we had escap’d a sunken rock, which we scrap’d upon in the passage, I thought this escape of rather more importance to me.

At New York I found my friend Collins, who had arriv’d there some time before me. We had been intimate from children, and had read the same books together; but he had the advantage of more time for reading and studying, and a wonderful genius for mathematical learning, in which he far outstript me. While I liv’d in Boston, most of my hours of leisure for conversation were spent with him, and he continu’d a sober as well as an industrious lad; was much respected for his learning by several of the clergy and other gentlemen, and seemed to promise making a good figure in life. But, during my absence, he had acquir’d a habit of sotting with brandy; and I found by his own account, and what I heard from others, that he had been drunk every day since his arrival at New York, and behav’d very oddly. He had gam’d, too, and lost his money, so that I was oblig’d to discharge his lodgings, and defray his expenses to and at Philadelphia, which prov’d extremely inconvenient to me.

The then governor of New York, Burnet (son of Bishop Burnet), hearing from the captain that a young man, one of his passengers, had a great many books, desir’d he would bring me to see him. I waited upon him accordingly, and should have taken Collins with me but that he was not sober. The gov’r. treated me with great civility, show’d me his library, which was a very large one, and we had a good deal of conversation about books and authors. This was the second governor who had done me the honour to take notice of me; which, to a poor boy like me, was very pleasing.

We proceeded to Philadelphia. I received on the way Vernon’s money, without which we could hardly have finish’d our journey. Collins wished to be employ’d in some counting-house; but, whether they discover’d his dramming by his breath, or by his behaviour, tho’ he had some recommendations, he met with no success in any application, and continu’d lodging and boarding at the same house with me, and at my expense. Knowing I had that money of Vernon’s, he was continually borrowing of me, still promising repayment as soon as he should be in business. At length he had got so much of it that I was distress’d to think what I should do in case of being call’d on to remit it.

His drinking continu’d, about which we sometimes quarrel’d; for, when a little intoxicated, he was very fractious. Once, in a boat on the Delaware with some other young men, he refused to row in his turn. “I will be row’d home,” says he. “We will not row you,” says I. “You must, or stay all night on the water,” says he, “just as you please.” The others said, “Let us row; what signifies it?” But, my mind being soured with his other conduct, I continu’d to refuse. So he swore he would make me row, or throw me overboard; and coming along, stepping on the thwarts, toward me, when he came up and struck at me, I clapped my hand under his crutch, and, rising, pitched him head-foremost into the river. I knew he was a good swimmer, and so was under little concern about him; but before he could get round to lay hold of the boat, we had with a few strokes pull’d her out of his reach; and ever when he drew near the boat, we ask’d if he would row, striking a few strokes to slide her away from him. He was ready to die with vexation, and obstinately would not promise to row. However, seeing him at last beginning to tire, we lifted him in and brought him home dripping wet in the evening. We hardly exchang’d a civil word afterwards, and a West India captain, who had a commission to procure a tutor for the sons of a gentleman at Barbados, happening to meet with him, agreed to carry him thither. He left me then, promising to remit me the first money he should receive in order to discharge the debt; but I never heard of him after.

The breaking into this money of Vernon’s was one of the first great errata of my life; and this affair show’d that my father was not much out in his judgment when he suppos’d me too young to manage business of importance. But Sir William, on reading his letter, said he was too prudent. There was great difference in persons; and discretion did not always accompany years, nor was youth always without it. “And since he will not set you up,” says he, “I will do it myself. Give me an inventory of the things necessary to be had from England, and I will send for them. You shall repay me when you are able; I am resolv’d to have a good printer here, and I am sure you must succeed.” This was spoken with such an appearance of cordiality, that I had not the least doubt of his meaning what he said. I had hitherto kept the proposition of my setting up, a secret in Philadelphia, and I still kept it. Had it been known that I depended on the governor, probably some friend, that knew him better, would have advis’d me not to rely on him, as I afterwards heard it as his known character to be liberal of promises which he never meant to keep. Yet, unsolicited as he was by me, how could I think his generous offers insincere? I believ’d him one of the best men in the world.

I presented him an inventory of a little print’-house, amounting by my computation to about one hundred pounds sterling. He lik’d it, but ask’d me if my being on the spot in England to chuse the types, and see that everything was good of the kind, might not be of some advantage. “Then,” says he, “when there, you may make acquaintances, and establish correspondences in the bookselling and stationery way.” I agreed that this might be advantageous. “Then,” says he, “get yourself ready to go with Annis;” which was the annual ship, and the only one at that time usually passing between London and Philadelphia. But it would be some months before Annis sail’d, so I continued working with Keimer, fretting about the money Collins had got from me, and in daily apprehensions of being call’d upon by Vernon, which, however, did not happen for some years after.

I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm’d off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I consider’d, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc’d some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” So I din’d upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

[30]Temple Franklin considered this specific figure vulgar and changed it to “stared with astonishment.”

[31]Pennsylvania and Delaware.

[32]A peep-show in a box.

[33]There were no mints in the colonies, so the metal money was of foreign coinage and not nearly so common as paper money, which was printed in large quantities in America, even in small denominations.

[34]Spanish dollar about equivalent to our dollar.

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