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a suit for a benjamin

The Mc-Graw Hill Home Book, print ad for DuPont carpeting, 1980.
 


“My unexpected Appearance surpriz’d the family; all however were 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. . . .I produced the handful of Silver and Spread it before them, which was a kind of Raree-Show they had not been used to. .. 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 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.”
 
from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Yale University Press, 1964. page 81.

Benjamin Franklin was sold to his older brother when he was 12. It’s not shocking that they didn’t get along. But Ben had plenty of other siblings to turn to for support. His father had seventeen children altogether . . .with two (consecutive) wives (phew). The first wife bore six children, a few in England and the rest in the New World. She must have died giving birth to the sixth. Not to be morbid, but this was the 1600s, when the mortality rate kept the divorce rate nice and low.

Ben had an older half-brother named Josiah who ran off to become a sailor instead of the trade he was bred to, which was candle making. Ben’s father was wretched about the defection, especially after Josiah was lost at sea. So when Ben, the youngest son, showed a “hankering” for the sea, his father panicked and indentured him to his brother John, who was all of 21 and getting started in the printing business.

Things went sour pretty fast, especially since Benjamin didn’t even get paid for his work. He ran away to Philadelphia, which involved spending some time on or near Staten Island. At the time, his best friend was a hopeless drunk named Collins, of whom there is no official historical record. I believe he did exist.

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t perfect then, though he may have been perfect by the time his likeness was drawn for our hundred-dollar bill. He wore his hair long in spite of his baldness, a folly that continues today.

 

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