Benjamin Franklin: Early America's Renaissance Man

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Part 1: Early Years

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most famous people of his generation, his country, and his country’s history. He lived longer than most men of his age and had far more influence on American and world affairs than just about any other American. His writings are legendary, as is his legacy. He was as close as Colonial America came to having a Renaissance man.

He was born in Boston on Jan. 17, 1706. He was the 15th of 17 children and the 10th son. It is perhaps not surprising that with so many children, the Franklin family didn’t always have a lot of money. As one of so many children, Benjamin found that he had to fend for himself much of the time. This developed in him an independent and problem-solving nature that would serve him well for the rest of his life.

When he was 12, young Benjamin started working as an apprentice at the print shop of his brother James. He learned much about printing and writing and even wrote some of the articles himself. This was the New England Courant. Benjamin’s articles were all published anonymously, since he and James thought that people wouldn’t be interested in the writings of a teenage boy.

As would become a theme for his life, he became restive and ran away from home. He was 17, and he wanted to get away from his family to live his own life a bit. He went to Philadelphia. The very next year, he traveled to London, to take a job in a print shop there. Two years later, he returned to America; he didn’t go back to his family, however: he went back to Philadelphia, where, two years later, he opened up his own print office.

When he was just 23, he bought the popular Pennsylvania Gazette. He planned to put all of his learning into making the Gazette be the best newspaper it could be.

A year later, he married Deborah Rogers. Beginning with their first son, William, in 1731, the Franklins had three children, two of whom survived to adulthood. Francis, born in 1732, died at age 4. A daughter, Sarah, whom people called Sally, was born in 1743.

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