Part 1 out of 3
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FOUR GREAT AMERICANS
A BOOK FOR YOUNG AMERICANS
BY JAMES BALDWIN, PH.D.
THE STORY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
I WHEN WASHINGTON WAS A BOY
II HIS HOMES
III HIS SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS
IV GOING TO SEA
V THE YOUNG SURVEYOR
VI THE OHIO COUNTRY
VII A CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
VIII A PERILOUS JOURNEY
IX HIS FIRST BATTLE
X THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR
XI THE MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM
XII THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR
XIV THE FIRST PRESIDENT
XV "FIRST IN THE HEARTS OF HIS COUNTRYMEN"
THE STORY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
I THE WHISTLE
III THE BOYS AND THE WHARF
IV CHOOSING A TRADE
V HOW FRANKLIN EDUCATED HIMSELF
VI FAREWELL TO BOSTON
VII THE FIRST DAY IN PHILADELPHIA
VIII GOVERNOR WILLIAM KEITH
IX THE RETURN TO PHILADELPHIA
X THE FIRST VISIT TO ENGLAND
XI A LEADING MAN IN PHILADELPHIA
XII FRANKLIN'S RULES OF LIFE
XIII FRANKLIN'S SERVICES TO THE COLONIES
XIV FRANKLIN'S WONDERFUL KITE
XV THE LAST YEARS
THE STORY OF DANIEL WEBSTER
I CAPTAIN WEBSTER
II THE YOUNGEST SON
III EZEKIEL AND DANIEL
IV PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
V AT EXETER ACADEMY
VI GETTING READY FOR COLLEGE
VII AT DARTMOUTH COLLEGE
VIII HOW DANIEL TAUGHT SCHOOL
IX DANIEL GOES TO BOSTON
X LAWYER AND CONGRESSMAN
XI THE DARTMOUTH COLLEGE CASE
XII WEBSTER'S GREAT ORATIONS
XIII MR. WEBSTER IN THE SENATE
XIV MR. WEBSTER IN PRIVATE LIFE
XV THE LAST YEARS
THE STORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
I THE KENTUCKY HOME
II WORK AND SORROW
III THE NEW MOTHER
IV SCHOOL AND BOOKS
V LIFE IN THE BACKWOODS
VI THE BOATMAN
VII THE FIRST YEARS IN ILLINOIS
VIII THE BLACK HAWK WAR
IX IN THE LEGISLATURE
X POLITICS AND MARRIAGE
XI CONGRESSMAN AND LAWYER
XII THE QUESTION OF SLAVERY
XIII LINCOLN AND DOUGLAS
XIV PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
XV THE END OF A GREAT LIFE
THE STORY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
[Illustration of George Washington]
THE STORY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
* * * * *
I.--WHEN WASHINGTON WAS A BOY.
When George Washington was a boy there was no United States. The land
was here, just as it is now, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the
Pacific; but nearly all of it was wild and unknown.
Between the Atlantic Ocean and the Alleghany Mountains there were
thirteen colonies, or great settlements. The most of the people who
lived in these colonies were English people, or the children of English
people; and so the King of England made their laws and appointed their
The newest of the colonies was Georgia, which was settled the year after
George Washington was born.
The oldest colony was Virginia, which had been settled one hundred and
twenty-five years. It was also the richest colony, and more people were
living in it than in any other.
There were only two or three towns in Virginia at that time, and they
were quite small.
Most of the people lived on farms or on big plantations, where they
raised whatever they needed to eat. They also raised tobacco, which they
sent to England to be sold.
The farms, or plantations, were often far apart, with stretches of thick
woods between them. Nearly every one was close to a river, or some other
large body of water; for there are many rivers in Virginia.
There were no roads, such as we have nowadays, but only paths through
the woods. When people wanted to travel from place to place, they had to
go on foot, or on horseback, or in small boats.
A few of the rich men who lived on the big plantations had coaches; and
now and then they would drive out in grand style behind four or six
horses, with a fine array of servants and outriders following them. But
they could not drive far where there were no roads, and we can hardly
understand how they got any pleasure out of it.
Nearly all the work on the plantations was done by slaves. Ships had
been bringing negroes from Africa for more than a hundred years, and now
nearly half the people in Virginia were blacks.
Very often, also, poor white men from England were sold as slaves for a
few years in order to pay for their passage across the ocean. When their
freedom was given to them they continued to work at whatever they could
find to do; or they cleared small farms in the woods for themselves, or
went farther to the west and became woodsmen and hunters.
There was but very little money in Virginia at that time, and, indeed,
there was not much use for it. For what could be done with money where
there were no shops worth speaking of, and no stores, and nothing to
The common people raised flax and wool, and wove their own cloth; and
they made their own tools and furniture. The rich people did the same;
but for their better or finer goods they sent to England.
For you must know that in all this country there were no great mills for
spinning and weaving as there are now; there were no factories of any
kind; there were no foundries where iron could be melted and shaped into
all kinds of useful and beautiful things.
When George Washington was a boy the world was not much like it is now.
* * * * *
George Washington's father owned a large plantation on the western shore
of the Potomac River. George's great-grandfather, John Washington, had
settled upon it nearly eighty years before, and there the family had
dwelt ever since.
This plantation was in Westmoreland county, not quite forty miles above
the place where the Potomac flows into Chesapeake Bay. By looking at
your map of Virginia, you will see that the river is very broad there.
On one side of the plantation, and flowing through it, there was a
creek, called Bridge's Creek; and for this reason the place was known as
the Bridge's Creek Plantation.
It was here, on the 22d of February, 1732, that George Washington was
Although his father was a rich man, the house in which he lived was
neither very large nor very fine--at least it would not be thought so
It was a square, wooden building, with four rooms on the ground floor
and an attic above.
The eaves were low, and the roof was long and sloping. At each end of
the house there was a huge chimney; and inside were big fireplaces, one
for the kitchen and one for the "great room" where visitors were
But George did not live long in this house. When he was about three
years old his father removed to another plantation which he owned, near
Hunting Creek, several miles farther up the river. This new plantation
was at first known as the Washington Plantation, but it is now called
Four years after this the house of the Washingtons was burned down. But
Mr. Washington had still other lands on the Rappahannock River. He had
also an interest in some iron mines that were being opened there. And so
to this place the family was now taken.
The house by the Rappahannock was very much like the one at Bridge's
Creek. It stood on high ground, overlooking the river and some low
meadows; and on the other side of the river was the village of
Fredericksburg, which at that time was a very small village, indeed.
George was now about seven years old.
* * * * *
III.--HIS SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS.
There were no good schools in Virginia at that time. In fact, the people
did not care much about learning.
There were few educated men besides the parsons, and even some of the
parsons were very ignorant.
It was the custom of some of the richest families to send their eldest
sons to England to the great schools there. But it is doubtful if these
young men learned much about books.
They spent a winter or two in the gay society of London, and were taught
the manners of gentlemen--and that was about all.
George Washington's father, when a young man, had spent some time at
Appleby School in England, and George's half-brothers, Lawrence and
Augustine, who were several years older than he, had been sent to the
But book-learning was not thought to be of much use. To know how to
manage the business of a plantation, to be polite to one's equals, to be
a leader in the affairs of the colony--this was thought to be the best
And so, for most of the young men, it was enough if they could read and
write a little and keep a few simple accounts. As for the girls, the
parson might give them a few lessons now and then; and if they learned
good manners and could write letters to their friends, what more could
George Washington's first teacher was a poor sexton, whose name was Mr.
Hobby. There is a story that he had been too poor to pay his passage
from England, and that he had, therefore, been sold to Mr. Washington as
a slave for a short time; but how true this is, I cannot say.
From Mr. Hobby, George learned to spell easy words, and perhaps to write
a little; but, although he afterward became a very careful and good
penman, he was a poor speller as long as he lived.
When George was about eleven years old his father died. We do not know
what his father's intentions had been regarding him. But possibly, if he
had lived, he would have given George the best education that his means
But now everything was changed. The plantation at Hunting Creek, and,
indeed, almost all the rest of Mr. Washington's great estate, became the
property of the eldest son, Lawrence.
George was sent to Bridge's Creek to live for a while with his brother
Augustine, who now owned the old home plantation there. The mother and
the younger children remained on the Rappahannock farm.
While at Bridge's Creek, George was sent to school to a Mr. Williams,
who had lately come from England.
There are still to be seen some exercises which the lad wrote at that
time. There is also a little book, called _The Young Man's Companion_,
from which he copied, with great care, a set of rules for good behavior
and right living.
Not many boys twelve years old would care for such a book nowadays. But
you must know that in those days there were no books for children, and,
indeed, very few for older people.
The maxims and wise sayings which George copied were, no doubt, very
interesting to him--so interesting that many of them were never
There are many other things also in this _Young Man's Companion_, and we
have reason to believe that George studied them all.
There are short chapters on arithmetic and surveying, rules for the
measuring of land and lumber, and a set of forms for notes, deeds, and
other legal documents. A knowledge of these things was, doubtless, of
greater importance to him than the reading of many books would have
Just what else George may have studied in Mr. Williams's school I cannot
say. But all this time he was growing to be a stout, manly boy, tall and
strong, and well-behaved. And both his brothers and himself were
beginning to think of what he should do when he should become a man.
* * * * *
IV.--GOING TO SEA.
Once every summer a ship came up the river to the plantation, and was
moored near the shore.
It had come across the sea from far-away England, and it brought many
things for those who were rich enough to pay for them.
It brought bonnets and pretty dresses for George's mother and sisters;
it brought perhaps a hat and a tailor-made suit for himself; it brought
tools and furniture, and once a yellow coach that had been made in
London, for his brother.
When all these things had been taken ashore, the ship would hoist her
sails and go on, farther up the river, to leave goods at other
In a few weeks it would come back and be moored again at the same place.
Then there was a busy time on shore. The tobacco that had been raised
during the last year must be carried on shipboard to be taken to the
great tobacco markets in England.
The slaves on the plantation were running back and forth, rolling
barrels and carrying bales of tobacco down to the landing.
Letters were written to friends in England, and orders were made out for
the goods that were to be brought back next year.
But in a day or two, all this stir was over. The sails were again
spread, and the ship glided away on its long voyage across the sea.
George had seen this ship coming and going every year since he could
remember. He must have thought how pleasant it would be to sail away to
foreign lands and see the many wonderful things that are there.
And then, like many another active boy, he began to grow tired of the
quiet life on the farm, and wish that he might be a sailor.
He was now about fourteen years old. Since the death of his father, his
mother had found it hard work, with her five children, to manage her
farm on the Rappahannock and make everything come out even at the end of
each year. Was it not time that George should be earning something for
himself? But what should he do?
He wanted to go to sea. His brother Lawrence, and even his mother,
thought that this might be the best thing.
A bright boy like George would not long be a common sailor. He would
soon make his way to a high place in the king's navy. So, at least, his
And so the matter was at last settled. A sea-captain who was known to
the family, agreed to take George with him. He was to sail in a short
The day came. His mother, his brothers, his sisters, were all there to
bid him good-bye. But in the meanwhile a letter had come to his mother,
from his uncle who lived in England.
"If you care for the boy's future," said the letter, "do not let him go
to sea. Places in the king's navy are not easy to obtain. If he begins
as a sailor, he will never be aught else."
The letter convinced George's mother--it half convinced his
brothers--that this going to sea would be a sad mistake. But George,
like other boys of his age, was headstrong. He would not listen to
reason. A sailor he would be.
The ship was in the river waiting for him. A boat had come to the
landing to take him on board.
The little chest which held his clothing had been carried down to the
bank. George was in high glee at the thought of going.
"Good-bye, mother," he said.
He stood on the doorstep and looked back into the house. He saw the kind
faces of those whom he loved. He began to feel very sad at the thought
of leaving them.
He saw the tears welling up in his mother's eyes. He saw them rolling
down her cheeks. He knew now that she did not want him to go. He could
not bear to see her grief.
"Mother, I have changed my mind," he said. "I will not be a sailor. I
will not leave you."
Then he turned to the black boy who was waiting by the door, and said,
"Run down to the landing and tell them not to put the chest on board.
Tell them that I have thought differently of the matter and that I am
going to stay at home."
If George had not changed his mind, but had really gone to sea, how very
different the history of this country would have been!
He now went to his studies with a better will than before; and although
he read but few books he learned much that was useful to him in life. He
studied surveying with especial care, and made himself as thorough in
that branch of knowledge as it was possible to do with so few
* * * * *
V.--THE YOUNG SURVEYOR.
Lawrence Washington was about fourteen years older than his brother
As I have already said, he had been to England and had spent sometime at
Appleby school. He had served in the king's army for a little while, and
had been with Admiral Vernon's squadron in the West Indies.
He had formed so great a liking for the admiral that when he came home
he changed the name of his plantation at Hunting Creek, and called it
Mount Vernon--a name by which it is still known.
Not far from Mount Vernon there was another fine plantation called
Belvoir, that was owned by William Fairfax, an English gentleman of much
wealth and influence.
Now this Mr. Fairfax had a young daughter, as wise as she was beautiful;
and so, what should Lawrence Washington do but ask her to be his wife?
He built a large house at Mount Vernon with a great porch fronting on
the Potomac; and when Miss Fairfax became Mrs. Washington and went into
this home as its mistress, people said that there was not a handsomer or
happier young couple in all Virginia.
After young George Washington had changed his mind about going to sea,
he went up to Mount Vernon to live with his elder brother. For Lawrence
had great love for the boy, and treated him as his father would have
At Mount Vernon George kept on with his studies in surveying. He had a
compass and surveyor's chain, and hardly a day passed that he was not
out on the plantation, running lines and measuring his brother's fields.
Sometimes when he was busy at this kind of work, a tall, white-haired
gentleman would come over from Belvoir to see what he was doing and to
talk with him. This gentleman was Sir Thomas Fairfax, a cousin of the
owner of Belvoir. He was sixty years old, and had lately come from
England to look after his lands in Virginia; for he was the owner of
many thousands of acres among the mountains and in the wild woods.
Sir Thomas was a courtly old gentleman, and he had seen much of the
world. He was a fine scholar; he had been a soldier, and then a man of
letters; and he belonged to a rich and noble family.
It was not long until he and George were the best of friends. Often they
would spend the morning together, talking or surveying; and in the
afternoon they would ride out with servants and hounds, hunting foxes
and making fine sport of it among the woods and hills.
And when Sir Thomas Fairfax saw how manly and brave his young friend
was, and how very exact and careful in all that he did, he said: "Here
is a boy who gives promise of great things. I can trust him."
Before the winter was over he had made a bargain with George to survey
his lands that lay beyond the Blue Ridge mountains.
I have already told you that at this time nearly all the country west of
the mountains was a wild and unknown region. In fact, all the western
part of Virginia was an unbroken wilderness, with only here and there a
hunter's camp or the solitary hut of some daring woodsman.
But Sir Thomas hoped that by having the land surveyed, and some part of
it laid out into farms, people might be persuaded to go there and
settle. And who in all the colony could do this work better than his
young friend, George Washington?
It was a bright day in March, 1748, when George started out on his first
trip across the mountains. His only company was a young son of William
Fairfax of Belvoir.
The two friends were mounted on good horses; and both had guns, for
there was fine hunting in the woods. It was nearly a hundred miles to
the mountain-gap through which they passed into the country beyond. As
there were no roads, but only paths through the forest, they could not
travel very fast.
After several days they reached the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah.
They now began their surveying. They went up the river for some
distance; then they crossed and went down on the other side. At last
they reached the Potomac River, near where Harper's Ferry now stands.
At night they slept sometimes by a camp-fire in the woods, and sometimes
in the rude hut of a settler or a hunter. They were often wet and cold.
They cooked their meat by broiling it on sticks above the coals. They
ate without dishes, and drank water from the running streams.
One day they met a party of Indians, the first red men they had seen.
There were thirty of them, with their bodies painted in true savage
style; for they were just going home from a war with some other tribe.
The Indians were very friendly to the young surveyors. It was evening,
and they built a huge fire under the trees. Then they danced their
war-dance around it, and sang and yelled and made hideous sport until
far in the night.
To George and his friend it was a strange sight; but they were brave
young men, and not likely to be afraid even though the danger had been
They had many other adventures in the woods of which I cannot tell you
in this little book--shooting wild game, swimming rivers, climbing
mountains. But about the middle of April they returned in safety to
It would seem that the object of this first trip was to get a general
knowledge of the extent of Sir Thomas Fairfax's great woodland
estate--to learn where the richest bottom lands lay, and where were the
The young men had not done much if any real surveying; they had been
George Washington had written an account of everything in a little
note-book which he carried with him.
Sir Thomas was so highly pleased with the report which the young men
brought back that he made up his mind to move across the Blue Ridge and
spend the rest of his life on his own lands.
And so, that very summer, he built in the midst of the great woods a
hunting lodge which he called Greenway Court. It was a large, square
house, with broad gables and a long roof sloping almost to the ground.
When he moved into this lodge he expected soon to build a splendid
mansion and make a grand home there, like the homes he had known in
England. But time passed, and as the lodge was roomy and comfortable, he
still lived in it and put off beginning another house.
Washington was now seventeen years old. Through the influence of Sir
Thomas Fairfax he was appointed public surveyor; and nothing would do
but that he must spend the most of his time at Greenway Court and keep
on with the work that he had begun.
For the greater part of three years he worked in the woods and among the
mountains, surveying Sir Thomas's lands. And Sir Thomas paid him well--a
doubloon ($8.24) for each day, and more than that if the work was very
But there were times when the young surveyor did not go out to work, but
stayed at Greenway Court with his good friend, Sir Thomas. The old
gentleman had something of a library, and on days when they could
neither work nor hunt, George spent the time in reading. He read the
_Spectator_ and a history of England, and possibly some other works.
And so it came about that the three years which young Washington spent
in surveying were of much profit to him.
The work in the open air gave him health and strength. He gained courage
and self-reliance. He became acquainted with the ways of the
backwoodsmen and of the savage Indians. And from Sir Thomas Fairfax he
learned a great deal about the history, the laws, and the military
affairs of old England.
And in whatever he undertook to do or to learn, he was careful and
systematic and thorough. He did nothing by guess; he never left anything
half done. And therein, let me say to you, lie the secrets of success in
* * * * *
VI.--THE OHIO COUNTRY.
You have already learned how the English people had control of all that
part of our country which borders upon the Atlantic Ocean. You have
learned, also, that they had made thirteen great settlements along the
coast, while all the vast region west of the mountains remained a wild
and unknown land.
Now, because Englishmen had been the first white men to see the line of
shore that stretches from Maine to Georgia, they set up a claim to all
the land west of that line.
They had no idea how far the land extended. They knew almost nothing
about its great rivers, its vasts forests, its lofty mountains, its rich
prairies. They cared nothing for the claims of the Indians whose homes
"All the land from ocean to ocean," they said, "belongs to the King of
But there were other people who also had something to say about this
The French had explored the Mississippi River. They had sailed on the
Great Lakes. Their hunters and trappers were roaming through the western
forests. They had made treaties with the Indians; and they had built
trading posts, here and there, along the watercourses.
They said, "The English people may keep their strip of land between the
mountains and the sea. But these great river valleys and this country
around the Lakes are ours, because we have been the first to explore and
make use of them."
Now, about the time that George Washington was thinking of becoming a
sailor, some of the rich planters in Virginia began to hear wonderful
stories about a fertile region west of the Alleghanies, watered by a
noble river, and rich in game and fur-bearing animals.
This region was called the Ohio Country, from the name of the river; and
those who took pains to learn the most about it were satisfied that it
would, at some time, be of very great importance to the people who
should control it.
And so these Virginian planters and certain Englishmen formed a company
called the Ohio Company, the object of which was to explore the country,
and make money by establishing trading posts and settlements there. And
of this company, Lawrence Washington was one of the chief managers.
Lawrence Washington and his brother George had often talked about this
"We shall have trouble with the French," said Lawrence. "They have
already sent men into the Ohio Country; and they are trying in every way
to prove that the land belongs to them."
"It looks as if we should have to drive them out by force," said George.
"Yes, and there will probably be some hard fighting," said Lawrence;
"and you, as a young man, must get yourself ready to have a hand in it."
And Lawrence followed this up by persuading the governor of the colony
to appoint George as one of the adjutants-general of Virginia.
George was only nineteen years old, but he was now Major Washington, and
one of the most promising soldiers in America.
* * * * *
VII.--A CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
Although George Washington spent so much of his time at Greenway Court,
he still called Mount Vernon his home.
Going down home in the autumn, just before he was twenty years old, he
found matters in a sad state, and greatly changed.
His brother Lawrence was very ill--indeed, he had been ill a long time.
He had tried a trip to England; he had spent a summer at the warm
springs; but all to no purpose. He was losing strength every day.
The sick man dreaded the coming of cold weather. If he could only go to
the warm West Indies before winter set in, perhaps that would prolong
his life. Would George go with him?
No loving brother could refuse a request like that.
The captain of a ship in the West India trade agreed to take them; and
so, while it was still pleasant September, the two Washingtons embarked
for Barbadoes, which, then as now, belonged to the English.
It was the first time that George had ever been outside of his native
land, and it proved to be also the last. He took careful notice of
everything that he saw; and, in the little note-book which he seems to
have always had with him, he wrote a brief account of the trip.
He had not been three weeks at Barbadoes before he was taken down with
the smallpox; and for a month he was very sick. And so his winter in the
West Indies could not have been very pleasant.
In February the two brothers returned home to Mount Vernon. Lawrence's
health had not been bettered by the journey. He was now very feeble; but
he lingered on until July, when he died.
By his will Lawrence Washington left his fine estate of Mount Vernon,
and all the rest of his wealth, to his little daughter. But George was
to be the daughter's guardian; and in case of her death, all her vast
property was to be his own.
And so, before he was quite twenty-one years old, George Washington was
settled at Mount Vernon as the manager of one of the richest estates in
Virginia. The death of his little niece not long afterward made him the
owner of this estate, and, of course, a very wealthy man.
But within a brief time, events occurred which called him away from his
* * * * *
VIII.--A PERILOUS JOURNEY.
Early the very next year news was brought to Virginia that the French
were building forts along the Ohio, and making friends with the Indians
there. This of course meant that they intended to keep the English out
of that country.
The governor of Virginia thought that the time had come to speak out
about this matter. He would send a messenger with a letter to these
Frenchmen, telling them that all the land belonged to the English, and
that no trespassing would be allowed.
The first messenger that he sent became alarmed before he was within a
hundred miles of a Frenchman, and went back to say that everything was
as good as lost.
It was very plain that a man with some courage must be chosen for such
"I will send Major George Washington," said the governor. "He is very
young, but he is the bravest man in the colony."
Now, promptness was one of those traits of character which made George
Washington the great man which he afterward became. And so, on the very
day that he received his appointment he set out for the Ohio Country.
He took with him three white hunters, two Indians, and a famous
woodsman, whose name was Christopher Gist. A small tent or two, and such
few things as they would need on the journey, were strapped on the backs
They pushed through the woods in a northwestwardly direction, and at
last reached a place called Venango, not very far from where Pittsburg
now stands. This was the first outpost of the French; and here
Washington met some of the French officers, and heard them talk about
what they proposed to do.
Then, after a long ride to the north, they came to another fort. The
French commandant was here, and he welcomed Washington with a great show
Washington gave him the letter which he had brought from the governor
The commandant read it, and two days afterward gave him an answer.
He said that he would forward the letter to the French governor; but as
for the Ohio Country, he had been ordered to hold it, and he meant to do
Of course Washington could do nothing further. But it was plain to him
that the news ought to be carried back to Virginia without delay.
It was now mid-winter. As no horse could travel through the trackless
woods at this time of year, he must make his way on foot.
So, with only the woodsman, Gist, he shouldered his rifle and knapsack,
and bravely started home.
It was a terrible journey. The ground was covered with snow; the rivers
were frozen; there was not even a path through the forest. If Gist had
not been so fine a woodsman they would hardly have seen Virginia again.
Once an Indian shot at Washington from behind a tree. Once the brave
young man fell into a river, among floating ice, and would have been
drowned but for Gist.
At last they reached the house of a trader on the Monongahela River.
There they were kindly welcomed, and urged to stay until the weather
should grow milder.
But Washington would not delay.
Sixteen days after that, he was back in Virginia, telling the governor
all about his adventures, and giving his opinion about the best way to
deal with the French.
* * * * *
IX.--HIS FIRST BATTLE.
It was now very plain that if the English were going to hold the Ohio
Country and the vast western region which they claimed as their own,
they must fight for it.
The people of Virginia were not very anxious to go to war. But their
governor was not willing to be beaten by the French.
He made George Washington a lieutenant-colonel of Virginia troops, and
set about raising an army to send into the Ohio Country.
Early in the spring Colonel Washington, with a hundred and fifty men,
was marching across the country toward the head waters of the Ohio. It
was a small army to advance against the thousands of French and Indians
who now held that region.
But other officers, with stronger forces, were expected to follow close
Late in May the little army reached the valley of the Monongahela, and
began to build a fort at a place called Great Meadows.
By this time the French and Indians were aroused, and hundreds of them
were hurrying forward to defend the Ohio Country from the English. One
of their scouting parties, coming up the river, was met by Washington
with forty men.
The French were not expecting any foe at this place. There were but
thirty-two of them; and of these only one escaped. Ten were killed, and
the rest were taken prisoners.
This was Washington's first battle, and he was more proud of it than
you might suppose. He sent his prisoners to Virginia, and was ready now,
with his handful of men, to meet all the French and Indians that might
come against him!
And they did come, and in greater numbers than he had expected. He made
haste to finish, if possible, the fort that had been begun.
But they were upon him before he was ready. They had four men to his
one. They surrounded the fort and shut his little Virginian army in.
What could Colonel Washington do? His soldiers were already
half-starved. There was but little food in the fort, and no way to get
The French leader asked if he did not think it would be a wise thing to
surrender. Washington hated the very thought of it; but nothing else
could be done.
"If you will march your men straight home, and give me a pledge that
they and all Virginians will stay out of the Ohio Country for the next
twelve months, you may go," said the Frenchman.
It was done.
Washington, full of disappointment went back to Mount Vernon. But he
felt more like fighting than ever before.
He was now twenty-two years old.
* * * * *
X.--THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR.
In the meanwhile the king of England had heard how the French were
building forts along the Ohio and how they were sending their traders to
the Great Lakes and to the valley of the Mississippi.
"If we allow them to go on in this way, they will soon take all that
vast western country away from us," he said.
And so, the very next winter, he sent over an army under General Edward
Braddock to drive the French out of that part of America and at the same
time teach their Indian friends a lesson.
It was in February, 1755, when General Braddock and his troops went
into camp at Alexandria in Virginia. As Alexandria was only a few miles
from Mount Vernon, Washington rode over to see the fine array and become
acquainted with the officers.
When General Braddock heard that this was the young man who had ventured
so boldly into the Ohio Country, he offered him a place on his staff.
This was very pleasing to Washington, for there was nothing more
attractive to him than soldiering.
It was several weeks before the army was ready to start: and then it
moved so slowly that it did not reach the Monongahela until July.
The soldiers in their fine uniforms made a splendid appearance as they
marched in regular order across the country.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the wisest men in America, had told General
Braddock that his greatest danger would be from unseen foes hidden among
the underbrush and trees.
"They may be dangerous to your backwoodsmen," said Braddock; "but to
the trained soldiers of the king they can give no trouble at all."
But scarcely had the army crossed the Monongahela when it was fired upon
by unseen enemies. The woods rang with the cries of savage men.
The soldiers knew not how to return the fire. They were shot down in
their tracks like animals in a pen.
"Let the men take to the shelter of the trees!" was Washington's advice.
But Braddock would not listen to it. They must keep in order and fight
as they had been trained to fight.
Washington rode hither and thither trying his best to save the day. Two
horses were shot under him; four bullets passed through his coat; and
still he was unhurt. The Indians thought that he bore a charmed life,
for none of them could hit him.
It was a dreadful affair--more like a slaughter than a battle. Seven
hundred of Braddock's fine soldiers, and more than half of his officers,
were killed or wounded. And all this havoc was made by two hundred
Frenchmen and about six hundred Indians hidden among the trees.
At last Braddock gave the order to retreat. It soon became a wild flight
rather than a retreat; and yet, had it not been for Washington, it would
have been much worse.
The General himself had been fatally wounded. There was no one but
Washington who could restore courage to the frightened men, and lead
them safely from the place of defeat.
Four days after the battle General Braddock died, and the remnant of the
army being now led by a Colonel Dunbar, hurried back to the eastern
Of all the men who took part in that unfortunate expedition against the
French, there was only one who gained any renown therefrom, and that one
was Colonel George Washington.
He went back to Mount Vernon, wishing never to be sent to the Ohio
The people of Virginia were so fearful lest the French and Indians
should follow up their victory and attack the settlements, that they
quickly raised a regiment of a thousand men to defend their colony. And
so highly did they esteem Colonel Washington that they made him
commander of all the forces of the colony, to do with them as he might
The war with the French for the possession of the Ohio Country and the
valley of the Mississippi, had now fairly begun. It would be more than
seven years before it came to an end.
But most of the fighting was done at the north--in New York and Canada;
and so Washington and his Virginian soldiers did not distinguish
themselves in any very great enterprise.
It was for them to keep watch of the western frontier of the colony lest
the Indians should cross the mountains and attack the settlements.
Once, near the middle of the war, Washington led a company into the very
country where he had once traveled on foot with Christopher Gist.
The French had built a fort at the place where the Ohio River has its
beginning, and they had named it Fort Duquesne. When they heard that
Washington was coming they set fire to the fort and fled down the river
The English built a new fort at the same place, and called it Fort Pitt;
and there the city of Pittsburg has since grown up.
And now Washington resigned his commission as commander of the little
Virginian army. Perhaps he was tired of the war. Perhaps his great
plantation of Mount Vernon needed his care. We cannot tell.
But we know that, a few days later, he was married to Mrs. Martha
Custis, a handsome young widow who owned a fine estate not a great way
from Williamsburg, the capital of the colony. This was in January, 1759.
At about the same time he was elected a member of the House of Burgesses
of Virginia; and three months later, he went down to Williamsburg to
have a hand in making some of the laws for the colony.
He was now twenty-seven years old. Young as he was, he was one of the
richest men in the colony, and he was known throughout the country as
the bravest of American soldiers.
The war was still going on at the north. To most of the Virginians it
seemed to be a thing far away.
At last, in 1763, a treaty of peace was made. The French had been
beaten, and they were obliged to give up everything to the English. They
lost not only the Ohio Country and all the great West, but Canada also.
* * * * *
XI.--THE MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM.
And now for several years Washington lived the life of a country
gentleman. He had enough to do, taking care of his plantations, hunting
foxes with his sport-loving neighbors, and sitting for a part of each
year in the House of Burgesses at Williamsburg.
He was a tall man--more than six feet in height. He had a commanding
presence and a noble air, which plainly said: "This is no common man."
[Illustration: Mount Vernon.]
[Illustration: Tomb at Mount Vernon.]
He was shrewd in business. He was the best horseman and the best
walker in Virginia. And no man knew more about farming than he.
And so the years passed pleasantly enough at Mount Vernon, and there
were few who dreamed of the great events and changes that were soon to
King George the Third of England, who was the ruler of the thirteen
colonies, had done many unwise things.
He had made laws forbidding the colonists from trading with other
countries than his own.
He would not let them build factories to weave their wool and flax into
He wanted to force them to buy all their goods in England, and to send
their corn and tobacco and cotton there to pay for them.
And now after the long war with France he wanted to make the colonists
pay heavy taxes in order to meet the expenses of that war.
They must not drink a cup of tea without first paying tax on it; they
must not sign a deed or a note without first buying stamped paper on
which to write it.
In every colony there was great excitement on account of the tea tax
and the stamp act, as it was called.
In the House of Burgesses at Williamsburg, a young man, whose name was
Patrick Henry, made a famous speech in which he declared that the king
had no right to tax them without their consent.
George Washington heard that speech, and gave it his approval.
Not long afterward, news came that in Boston a ship-load of tea had been
thrown into the sea by the colonists. Rather than pay the tax upon it,
they would drink no tea.
Then, a little later, still other news came. The king had closed the
port of Boston, and would not allow any ships to come in or go out.
More than this, he had sent over a body of soldiers, and had quartered
them in Boston in order to keep the people in subjection.
The whole country was aroused now. What did this mean? Did the king
intend to take away from the colonists all the liberties that are so
dear to men?
The colonies must unite and agree upon doing something to protect
themselves and preserve their freedom. In order to do this each colony
was asked to send delegates to Philadelphia to talk over the matter and
see what would be the best thing to do.
George Washington was one of the delegates from Virginia.
Before starting he made a great speech in the House of Burgesses. "If
necessary, I will raise a thousand men," he said, "subsist them at my
own expense, and march them to the relief of Boston."
But the time for marching to Boston had not quite come.
The delegates from the different colonies met in Carpenter's Hall, in
Philadelphia, on the 5th of September, 1774. Their meeting has since
been known as the First Continental Congress of America.
For fifty-one days those wise, thoughtful men discussed the great
question that had brought them together. What could the colonists do to
escape the oppressive laws that the King of England was trying to force
Many powerful speeches were made, but George Washington sat silent. He
was a doer rather than a talker.
At last the Congress decided to send an address to the king to remind
him of the rights of the colonists, and humbly beg that he would not
enforce his unjust laws.
And then, when all had been done that could be done, Washington went
back to his home at Mount Vernon, to his family and his friends, his big
plantations, his fox-hunting, and his pleasant life as a country
But he knew as well as any man that more serious work was near at hand.
* * * * *
XII.--THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR.
All that winter the people of the colonies were anxious and fearful.
Would the king pay any heed to their petition? Or would he force them to
obey his unjust laws?
Then, in the spring, news came from Boston that matters were growing
worse and worse. The soldiers who were quartered in that city were daily
becoming more insolent and overbearing.
"These people ought to have their town knocked about their ears and
destroyed," said one of the king's officers.
On the 19th of April a company of the king's soldiers started to
Concord, a few miles from Boston, to seize some powder which had been
stored there. Some of the colonists met them at Lexington, and there was
This was the first battle in that long war commonly called the
Washington was now on his way to the North again. The Second Continental
Congress was to meet in Philadelphia in May, and he was again a delegate
In the first days of the Congress no man was busier than he. No man
seemed to understand the situation of things better than he. No man was
listened to with greater respect; and yet he said but little.
Every day, he came into the hall wearing the blue and buff uniform
which belonged to him as a Virginia colonel. It was as much as to say:
"The time for fighting has come, and I am ready."
The Congress thought it best to send another humble petition to the
king, asking him not to deprive the people of their just rights.
In the meantime brave men were flocking towards Boston to help the
people defend themselves from the violence of the king's soldiers. The
war had begun, and no mistake.
The men of Congress saw now the necessity of providing for this war.
They asked, "Who shall be the commander-in-chief of our colonial army?"
It was hardly worth while to ask such a question; for there could be but
one answer. Who, but George Washington?
No other person in America knew so much about war as he. No other person
was so well fitted to command.
On the 15th of June, on motion of John Adams of Massachusetts, he was
appointed to that responsible place. On the next day he made a modest
but noble little speech before Congress.
He told the members of that body that he would serve his country
willingly and as well as he could--but not for money. They might provide
for his necessary expenses, but he would never take any pay for his
And so, leaving all his own interests out of sight, he undertook at once
the great work that had been entrusted to him. He undertook it, not for
profit nor for honor, but because of a feeling of duty to his
fellow-men. For eight weary, years he forgot himself in the service of
Two weeks after his appointment General Washington rode into Cambridge,
near Boston, and took formal command of his army.
It was but a small force, poorly clothed, poorly armed; but every man
had the love of country in his heart. It was the first American army.
But so well did Washington manage matters that soon his raw troops were
in good shape for service. And so hard did he press the king's soldiers
in Boston that, before another summer, they were glad to take ship and
sail away from the town which they had so long infested and annoyed.
* * * * *
On the fourth day of the following July there was a great stir in the
town of Philadelphia. Congress was sitting in the Hall of the State
House. The streets were full of people; everybody seemed anxious;
everybody was in suspense.
Men were crowding around the State House and listening.
"Who is speaking now?" asked one.
"John Adams," was the answer.
"And who is speaking now?"
"Good! Let them follow his advice, for he knows what is best."
Then there was a lull outside, for everybody wanted to hear what the
great Dr. Franklin had to say.
After a while the same question was asked again: "Who is speaking now?"
And the answer was: "Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. It was he and
Franklin who wrote it."
"Why, the Declaration of Independence, of course."
A little later some one said: "They will be ready to sign it soon."
"But will they dare to sign it?"
"Dare? They dare not do otherwise."
Inside the hall grave men were discussing the acts of the King of
"He has cut off our trade with all parts of the world," said one.
"He has forced us to pay taxes without our consent," said another.
"He has sent his soldiers among us to burn our towns and kill our
people," said a third.
"He has tried to make the Indians our enemies," said a fourth.
"He is a tyrant and unfit to be the ruler of a free people," agreed they
And then everybody was silent while one read: "We, therefore, the
representatives of the United States of America, solemnly publish and
declare that the united colonies are, and of right ought to be, _free
and independent states_"
Soon afterward the bell in the high tower above the hall began to ring.
"It is done!" cried the people. "They have signed the Declaration of
"Yes, every colony has voted for it," said those nearest the door. "The
King of England shall no longer rule over us."
And that was the way in which the United States came into being. The
thirteen colonies were now thirteen states.
Up to this time Washington and his army had been fighting for the rights
of the people as colonists. They had been fighting in order to oblige
the king to do away with the unjust laws which he had made. But now they
were to fight for freedom and for the independence of the United States.
By and by you will read in your histories how wisely and bravely
Washington conducted the war. You will learn how he held out against the
king's soldiers on Long Island and at White Plains; how he crossed the
Delaware amid floating ice and drove the English from Trenton; how he
wintered at Morristown; how he suffered at Valley Forge; how he fought
at Germantown and Monmouth and Yorktown.
There were six years of fighting, of marching here and there, of
directing and planning, of struggling in the face of every
Eight years passed, and then peace came, for independence had been won,
and this our country was made forever free.
On the 2d of November, 1783, Washington bade farewell to his army. On
the 23d of December he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief.
There were some who suggested that Washington should make himself king
of this country; and indeed this he might have done, so great was the
people's love and gratitude.
But the great man spurned such suggestions. He said, "If you have any
regard for your country or respect for me, banish those thoughts and
never again speak of them."
* * * * *
XIV.--THE FIRST PRESIDENT.
Washington was now fifty-two years old.
The country was still in an unsettled condition. True, it was free from
English control. But there was no strong government to hold the states
Each state was a little country of itself, making its own laws, and
having its own selfish aims without much regard for its sister states.
People did not think of the United States as one great undivided nation.
And so matters were in bad enough shape, and they grew worse and worse
as the months went by.
Wise men saw that unless something should be done to bring about a
closer union of the states, they would soon be in no better condition
than when ruled by the English king.
And so a great convention was held in Philadelphia to determine what
could be done to save the country from ruin. George Washington was
chosen to preside over this convention; and no man's words had greater
weight than his.
He said, "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can
repair. The event is in the hand of God."
That convention did a great and wonderful work; for it framed the
Constitution by which our country has ever since been governed.
And soon afterwards, in accordance with that Constitution, the people of
the country were called upon to elect a President. Who should it be?
Who could it be but Washington?
When the electoral votes were counted, every vote was for George
Washington of Virginia.
And so, on the 16th of April, 1789, the great man again bade adieu to
Mount Vernon and to private life, and set out for New York. For the city
of Washington had not yet been built, and New York was the first capital
of our country.
There were no railroads at that time, and so the journey was made in a
coach. All along the road the people gathered to see their
hero-president and show him their love.
On the 30th of April he was inaugurated at the old Federal Hall in New
"Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" shouted
the people. Then the cannon roared, the bells rang, and the new
government of the United States--the government which we have
to-day--began its existence.
Washington was fifty-seven years old at the time of his inauguration.
Perhaps no man was ever called to the doing of more difficult things.
The entire government must be built up from the beginning, and all its
machinery put into order.
But so well did he meet the expectations of the people, that when his
first term was near its close he was again elected President, receiving
every electoral vote.
In your histories you will learn of the many difficult tasks which he
performed during those years of the nation's infancy. There were new
troubles with England, troubles with the Indians, jealousies and
disagreements among the lawmakers of the country. But amidst all these
trials Washington stood steadfast, wise, cool--conscious that he was
right, and strong enough to prevail.
Before the end of his second term, people began to talk about electing
him for the third time. They could not think of any other man holding
the highest office in the country. They feared that no other man could
be safely entrusted with the great responsibilities which he had borne
But Washington declared that he would not accept office again. The
government was now on a firm footing. There were others who could manage
its affairs wisely and well.
And so, in September, 1796, he published his Farewell Address. It was
full of wise and wholesome advice.
"Beware of attacks upon the Constitution. Beware of those who think more
of their party than of their country. Promote education. Observe
justice. Treat with good faith all nations. Adhere to the right. Be
united--be united. Love your country." These were some of the things
that he said.
John Adams, who had been Vice-President eight years, was chosen to be
the new President, and Washington again retired to Mount Vernon.
* * * * *
XV.--"FIRST IN THE HEARTS OF HIS COUNTRYMEN."
In the enjoyment of his home life, Washington did not forget his
country. It would, indeed, have been hard for him not to keep informed
about public affairs; for men were all the time coming to him to ask for
help and advice regarding this measure or that.
The greatest men of the nation felt that he must know what was wisest
and best for the country's welfare.
Soon after his retirement an unexpected trouble arose. There was another
war between England and France. The French were very anxious that the
United States should join in the quarrel.
When they could not bring this about by persuasion, they tried abuse.
They insulted the officers of our government; they threatened war.
The whole country was aroused. Congress began to take steps for the
raising of an army and the building of a navy. But who should lead the
All eyes were again turned toward Washington. He had saved the country
once; he could save it again. The President asked him if he would again
be the commander-in-chief.
He answered that he would do so, on condition that he might choose his
assistants. But unless the French should actually invade this country,
he must not be expected to go into the field.
And so, at the last, General Washington is again the commander-in-chief
of the American army. But there is to be no fighting this time. The
French see that the people of the United States cannot be frightened;
they see that the government cannot be driven; they leave off their
abuse, and are ready to make friends.
Washington's work is done now. On the 12th of December, 1799, he mounts
his horse and rides out over his farms. The weather is cold; the snow is
falling; but he stays out for two or three hours.
The next morning he has a sore throat; he has taken cold. The snow is
still falling, but he will go out again. At night he is very hoarse; he
is advised to take medicine.
"Oh, no," he answers, "you know I never take anything for a cold."
But in the night he grows much worse; early the next morning the doctor
is brought. It is too late. He grows rapidly worse. He knows that the
end is near.
"It is well," he says; and these are his last words.
Washington died on the 14th of December, 1799. He had lived nearly
His sudden death was a shock to the entire country. Every one felt as
though he had lost a personal friend. The mourning for him was general
In the Congress of the United States his funeral oration was pronounced
by his friend, Henry Lee, who said:
"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his
countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of
private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, uniform, dignified, and
commanding, his example was edifying to all around him, as were the
effects of that example lasting.
"Such was the man America has lost! Such was the man for whom our
THE STORY OF
TO THE YOUNG READER
* * * * *
I am about to tell you the story of a very great and noble man. It is
the story of one whom all the world honors--of one whose name will
forever be remembered with admiration. Benjamin Franklin was not born to
greatness. He had none of the advantages which even the poorest boys may
now enjoy. But he achieved greatness by always making the best use of
such opportunities as came in his way. He was not afraid of work. He did
not give up to discouragements. He did not overestimate his own
abilities. He was earnest and faithful in little things; and that, after
all, is the surest way of attaining to great things. There is no man to
whom we Americans owe a greater debt of gratitude. Without his aid the
American colonies would hardly have won independence. It was said of him
that he knew how to subdue both thunder and tyranny; and a famous orator
who knew him well, described him as "the genius that gave freedom to
America and shed torrents of light upon Europe." But, at the close of a
very long life, the thing which gave him the greatest satisfaction was
the fact that he had made no man his enemy; there was no human being who
could justly say, "Ben Franklin has wronged me."
THE STORY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
* * * * *
Nearly two hundred years ago, there lived in Boston a little boy whose
name was Benjamin Franklin.
On the day that he was seven years old, his mother gave him a few
He looked at the bright, yellow pieces and said, "What shall I do with
these coppers, mother?"
It was the first money that he had ever had.
"You may buy something with them, if you would like," said his mother.
"And will you give me more when they are gone?" he asked.
His mother shook her head and said: "No, Benjamin. I cannot give you any
more. So you must be careful not to spend them foolishly."
The little fellow ran out into the street. He heard the pennies jingle
in his pocket as he ran. He felt as though he was very rich.
Boston was at that time only a small town, and there were not many
stores. As Benjamin ran down toward the busy part of the street, he
wondered what he should buy.
Should he buy candy or toys? It had been a long time since he had tasted
candy. As for toys, he hardly knew what they were.
If he had been the only child in the family, things might have been
different. But there were fourteen boys and girls older than he, and two
little sisters that were younger.
It was as much as his father could do to earn food and clothing for so
many. There was no money to spend for toys.
Before Benjamin had gone very far he met a boy blowing a whistle.
"That is just the thing that I want," he said. Then he hurried on to the
store where all kinds of things were kept for sale.
"Have you any good whistles?" he asked.
He was out of breath from running, but he tried hard to speak like a
"Yes, plenty of them," said the man.
"Well, I want one, and I'll give you all the money I have for it," said
the little fellow. He forgot to ask the price.
"How much money have you?" asked the man.
Benjamin took the coppers from his pocket. The man counted them and
said, "All right, my boy. It's a bargain."
Then he put the pennies into his money drawer, and gave one of the
whistles to the boy.
Benjamin Franklin was a proud and happy boy. He ran home as fast as he
could, blowing his whistle as he ran.
His mother met him at the door and said, "Well, my child, what did you
do with your pennies?"
"I bought a whistle!" he cried. "Just hear me blow it!"
"How much did you pay for it?"
"All the money I had."
One of his brothers was standing by and asked to see the whistle. "Well,
well!" he said, "did you spend all of your money for this thing?"
"Every penny," said Benjamin.
"Did you ask the price?"
"No. But I offered them to the man, and he said it was all right."
His brother laughed and said, "You are a very foolish fellow. You paid
four times as much as it is worth."
"Yes," said his mother, "I think it is rather a dear whistle. You had
enough money to buy a whistle and some candy, too."
The little boy saw what a mistake he had made. The whistle did not
please him any more. He threw it upon the floor, and began to cry. But
his mother took him upon her lap and said:
"Never mind, my child. We must all live and learn; and I think that my
little boy will be careful, after this, not to pay too dear for his
* * * * *
When Benjamin Franklin was a boy there were no great public schools in
Boston as there are now. But he learned to read almost as soon as he
could talk, and he was always fond of books.
His nine brothers were older than he, and every one had learned a trade.
They did not care so much for books.
"Benjamin shall be the scholar of our family," said his mother.
"Yes, we will educate him for a minister," said his father. For at that
time all the most learned men were ministers.
And so, when he was eight years old, Benjamin Franklin was sent to a
grammar school, where boys were prepared for college. He was a very apt
scholar, and in a few months was promoted to a higher class.
But the lad was not allowed to stay long in the grammar school. His
father was a poor man. It would cost a great deal of money to give
Benjamin a college education. The times were very hard. The idea of
educating the boy for the ministry had to be given up.
In less than a year he was taken from the grammar school, and sent to
another school where arithmetic and writing were taught.
He learned to write very well, indeed; but he did not care so much for
arithmetic, and so failed to do what was expected of him.
When he was ten years old he had to leave school altogether. His father
needed his help; and though Benjamin was but a small boy, there were
many things that he could do.
He never attended school again. But he kept on studying and reading; and
we shall find that he afterwards became the most learned man in America.
Benjamin's father was a soap-boiler and candle-maker. And so when the
boy was taken from school, what kind of work do you think he had to do?
He was kept busy cutting wicks for the candles, pouring the melted
tallow into the candle-moulds, and selling soap to his father's
Do you suppose that he liked this business?
He did not like it at all. And when he saw the ships sailing in and out
of Boston harbor, he longed to be a sailor and go to strange, far-away
lands, where candles and soap were unknown.
But his father would not listen to any of his talk about going to sea.
* * * * *
III.--THE BOYS AND THE WHARF.
Busy as Benjamin was in his father's shop, he still had time to play a
He was liked by all the boys of the neighborhood, and they looked up to
him as their leader. In all their games he was their captain; and
nothing was undertaken without asking his advice.
Not far from the home of the Franklins there was a millpond, where the
boys often went to swim. When the tide was high they liked to stand at a
certain spot on the shore of the pond and fish for minnows.
But the ground was marshy and wet, and the boys' feet sank deep in the
"Let us build a wharf along the water's edge," said Benjamin. "Then we
can stand and fish with some comfort."
"Agreed!" said the boys. "But what is the wharf to be made of?"
Benjamin pointed to a heap of stones that lay not far away. They had
been hauled there only a few days before, and were to be used in
building a new house near the millpond.
The boys needed only a hint. Soon they were as busy as ants, dragging
the stones to the water's edge.
Before it was fully dark that evening, they had built a nice stone wharf
on which they could stand and fish without danger of sinking in the mud.
The next morning the workmen came to begin the building of the house.
They were surprised to find all the stones gone from the place where
they had been thrown. But the tracks of the boys in the mud told the
It was easy enough to find out who had done the mischief.
When the boys' fathers were told of the trouble which they had caused,
you may imagine what they did.
Young Benjamin Franklin tried hard to explain that a wharf on the edge
of the millpond was a public necessity.
His father would not listen to him. He said, "My son, nothing can ever
be truly useful which is not at the same time truly honest."
And Benjamin never forgot this lesson.
* * * * *
IV.--CHOOSING A TRADE.
As I have already said, young Benjamin did not like the work which he
had to do in his father's shop.
His father was not very fond of the trade himself, and so he could not
blame the boy. One day he said:
"Benjamin, since you have made up your mind not to be a candle-maker,
what trade do you think you would like to learn?"
"You know I would like to be a sailor," said the boy.
"But you shall not be a sailor," said his father. "I intend that you
shall learn some useful business, on land; and, of course, you will
succeed best in that kind of business which is most pleasant to you."
The next day he took the boy to walk with him among the shops of Boston.
They saw all kinds of workmen busy at their various trades.
Benjamin was delighted. Long afterwards, when he had become a very great
man, he said, "It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good
workmen handle their tools."
He gave up the thought of going to sea, and said that he would learn any
trade that his father would choose for him.
His father thought that the cutler's trade was a good one. His cousin,
Samuel Franklin, had just set up a cutler's shop in Boston, and he
agreed to take Benjamin a few days on trial.
Benjamin was pleased with the idea of learning how to make knives and
scissors and razors and all other kinds of cutting tools. But his cousin
wanted so much money for teaching him the trade that his father could
not afford it; and so the lad was taken back to the candle-maker's shop.
Soon after this, Benjamin's brother, James Franklin, set up a printing
press in Boston. He intended to print and publish books and a newspaper.
"Benjamin loves books," said his father. "He shall learn to be a
And so, when he was twelve years old, he was bound to his brother to
learn the printer's trade. He was to stay with him until he was
twenty-one. He was to have his board and clothing and no other wages,
except during the last year. I suppose that during the last year he was
to be paid the same as any other workman.
* * * * *
V.--HOW FRANKLIN EDUCATED HIMSELF.
When Benjamin Franklin was a boy there were no books for children. Yet
he spent most of his spare time in reading.
His father's books were not easy to understand. People nowadays would
think them very dull and heavy.
[Illustration: Birthplace of Franklin Boston U.S.]
[Illustration: Press at which Franklin worked.]
But before he was twelve years old, Benjamin had read the most of
them. He read everything that he could get.
After he went to work for his brother he found it easier to obtain good
books. Often he would borrow a book in the evening, and then sit up
nearly all night reading it so as to return it in the morning.
When the owners of books found that he always returned them soon and
clean, they were very willing to lend him whatever he wished.
He was about fourteen years of age when he began to study how to write
clearly and correctly. He afterwards told how he did this. He said:
"About this time I met with an odd volume of the _Spectator_. I had
never before seen any of them.
"I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it.
"I thought the writing excellent, and wished if possible to imitate it.
"With that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of
the sentiments in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then,
without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by
expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been
expressed before, in any suitable words that should occur to me.
"Then I compared my _Spectator_ with the original, discovered some of my
faults and corrected them.
"But I found that I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in
recollecting and using them.
"Therefore, I took some of the tales in the _Spectator_ and turned them
into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the
prose, turned them back again."
About this time his brother began to publish a newspaper.
It was the fourth newspaper published in America, and was called the
_New England Courant_.
People said that it was a foolish undertaking. They said that one
newspaper was enough for this country, and that there would be but
little demand for more.
In those days editors did not dare to write freely about public
affairs. It was dangerous to criticise men who were in power.
James Franklin published something in the _New England Courant_ about
the lawmakers of Massachusetts. It made the lawmakers very angry. They
caused James Franklin to be shut up in prison for a month, and they
ordered that he should no longer print the newspaper called the _New
But, in spite of this order, the newspaper was printed every week as
before. It was printed, however, in the name of Benjamin Franklin. For
several years it bore his name as editor and publisher.
* * * * *
VI.--FAREWELL TO BOSTON.
Benjamin Franklin did not have a very happy life with his brother James.
His brother was a hard master, and was always finding fault with his
workmen. Sometimes he would beat young Benjamin and abuse him without
When Benjamin was nearly seventeen years old he made up his mind that
he would not endure this treatment any longer.
He told his brother that he would leave him and find work with some one
When his brother learned that he really meant to do this, he went round
to all the other printers in Boston and persuaded them not to give
Benjamin any work.
The father took James's part, and scolded Benjamin for being so saucy
and so hard to please. But Benjamin would not go back to James's
He made up his mind that since he could not find work in Boston he would
run away from his home. He would go to New York and look for work there.
He sold his books to raise a little money. Then, without saying good-bye
to his father or mother or any of his brothers or sisters, he went on
board a ship that was just ready to sail from the harbor.
It is not likely that he was very happy while doing this. Long
afterwards he said: "I reckon this as one of the first _errata_ of my
What did he mean by _errata?_
_Errata_ are mistakes--mistakes that cannot easily be corrected.
Three days after leaving Boston, young Franklin found himself in New
York. It was then October, in the year 1723.
The lad had but very little money in his pocket. There was no one in New
York that he knew. He was three hundred miles from home and friends.
As soon as he landed he went about the streets looking for work.
New York was only a little town then, and there was not a newspaper in
it. There were but a few printing houses there, and these had not much
work to do. The boy from Boston called at every place, but he found that
nobody wanted to employ any more help.
At one of the little printing houses Franklin was told that perhaps he
could find work in Philadelphia, which was at that time a much more
important place than New York.
Philadelphia was one hundred miles farther from home. One hundred miles
was a long distance in those days.
But Franklin made up his mind to go there without delay. It would be
easier to do this than to give up and try to return to Boston.
* * * * *
VII.--THE FIRST DAY IN PHILADELPHIA.
There are two ways of going from New York to Philadelphia.
One way is by the sea. The other is by land, across the state of New
As Franklin had but little money, he took the shorter route by land; but
he sent his little chest, containing his Sunday clothes, round by sea,
in a boat.
He walked all the way from Perth Amboy, on the eastern shore of New
Jersey, to Burlington, on the Delaware river.
Nowadays you may travel that distance in an hour, for it is only about
But there were no railroads at that time; and Franklin was nearly three
days trudging along lonely wagon-tracks, in the midst of a pouring rain.
At Burlington he was lucky enough to be taken on board a small boat that
was going down the river.
Burlington is only twenty miles above Philadelphia. But the boat moved
very slowly, and as there was no wind, the men took turns at rowing.
Night came on, and they were afraid that they might pass by Philadelphia
in the darkness. So they landed, and camped on shore till morning.
Early the next day they reached Philadelphia, and Benjamin Franklin
stepped on shore at the foot of Market street, where the Camden
ferry-boats now land.
No one who saw him could have guessed that he would one day be the
greatest man in the city.
He was a sorry-looking fellow.
He was dressed in his working clothes, and was very dirty from being so
long on the road and in the little boat.
His pockets were stuffed out with shirts and stockings, and all the
money that he had was not more than a dollar.
He was hungry and tired. He had not a single friend. He did not know of
anyplace where he could look for lodging.
It was Sunday morning.
He went a little way up the street, and looked around him.
A boy was coming down, carrying a basket of bread.
"My young friend," said Franklin, "where did you get that bread?"
"At the baker's," said the boy.
"And where is the baker's?"
The boy showed him the little baker shop just around the corner.
Young Franklin was so hungry that he could hardly wait. He hurried into
the shop and asked for three-penny worth of bread.
The baker gave him three great, puffy rolls.
Franklin had not expected to get so much, but he took the rolls and
His pockets were already full, and so, while he ate one roll, he held
the others under his arms.
As he went up Market street, eating his roll, a young girl stood in a
doorway laughing at him. He was, indeed, a very funny-looking fellow.
The girl's name was Deborah Read. A few years after that, she became the
wife of Benjamin Franklin.
Hungry as he was, Franklin found that he could eat but one of the rolls,
and so he gave the other two to a poor woman who had come down the river
in the same boat with him.
As he was strolling along the street he came to a Quaker meeting-house.
The door was open, and many people were sitting quietly inside. The
seats looked inviting, and so Franklin walked in and sat down.
The day was warm; the people in the house were very still; Franklin was
tired. In a few minutes he was sound asleep.
And so it was in a Quaker meeting-house that Benjamin Franklin found the
first shelter and rest in Philadelphia.
Later in the day, as Franklin was strolling toward the river, he met a
young man whose honest face was very pleasing to him.
"My friend," he said, "can you tell me of any house where they lodge
"Yes," said the young man, "there is a house on this very street; but it
is not a place I can recommend. If thee will come with me I will show
thee a better one."
Franklin walked with him to a house on Water street, and there he found
lodging for the night.
And so ended his first day in Philadelphia.
* * * * *
VIII.--GOVERNOR WILLIAM KEITH.
Franklin soon obtained work in a printing house owned by a man named
He found a boarding place in the house of Mr. Read, the father of the
girl who had laughed at him with his three rolls.
He was only seventeen years old, and he soon became acquainted with
several young people in the town who loved books.
In a little while he began to lay up money, and he tried to forget his
old home in Boston as much as he could.
One day a letter came to Philadelphia for Benjamin Franklin.
It was from Captain Robert Holmes, a brother-in-law of Franklin's.
Captain Holmes was the master of a trading sloop that sailed between
Boston and Delaware Bay. While he was loading his vessel at Newcastle,