orn into a large family of Boston tradesmen, Benjamin Franklin learned early that hard work, thrift, integrity, and self-discipline were important personal virtues. Though Franklin attended school for only two years, he turned to books for reference, self-education, and delight. He was well-read in the religious and moral teachings of Boston’s Puritan leadership, and he modeled his own writing on famous philosophers and essayists.

At 12, Benjamin was apprenticed to his older brother James, a printer. Franklin learned the trade easily and well, but ambition got the better of him. Brilliant and independent, he ran away from Boston when he was only 17. Franklin traveled first to New York but, finding no work, continued on to Philadelphia.

    Exhibit Photo: Milk Street, Boston
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Milk Street, Boston, installation 2005
A Voracious Reader
Franklin was an enthusiastic reader even as a small boy: “From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books.” Franklin also enjoyed borrowing books, which he “was careful to return soon & clean.” He read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Plutarch’s Lives, the philosophical works of John Locke, and Anthony Collins’s A Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty, all of which informed his thinking for years to come.
| A Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty, 1717
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A Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty, 1717
Silence Dogood
At 16, Franklin was an ambitious and accomplished writer. He guessed his brother would not knowingly print his work, so he used the pen name “Silence Dogood” to write a series of letters to the editor of The New-England Courant. His disguise was that of a prim, middle-aged widow from a rural area—a remarkable contrast to the cheeky, unmarried teenager who had never been out of Boston! The letters poke fun at the pretensions of the elite and the follies of everyday life, but also reveal Franklin’s emerging opinions on education, women, and religion. The New-England Courant, 1722
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The New-England
Courant, 1722
The Phillips Museum of Art