My first Entrance into Philadelphia; by Benjamin Franklin
I Have entered into the particulars of my voyage, and shall, in like manner, describe my first entrance into this city, that you may be able to compare beginnings so little auspicious with the figure I have since made.
On my arrival at Philadelphia, I was in my working dress, my best clothes being to come by sea. I was covered with dirt; my pockets were filled with shirts and stockings; I was unacquainted with a single soul in the place, and knew not where to seek a lodging. Fatigued with walking, rowing, and having passed the night without sleep, I was extremely hungry, and all my money consisted of a Dutch dollar, and about a shilling’s worth of coppers, which I gave to the boatmen for my passage. As I had assisted them in rowing, they refused it at first; but I insisted on their taking it. A man is sometimes more generous when he has little than when he has much money; probably because, in the first case, he is desirous of concealing his poverty.
I walked towards the top of the street, looking eagerly on both sides, till I came to Market Street, where I met with a child with a loaf of bread. Often had I made my dinner on dry bread. I inquired where he had bought it, and went straight to the baker’s shop, which he pointed out to me. I asked for some biscuits, expecting to find such as we had at Boston; but they made, it seems, none of that sort at Philadelphia. I then asked for a threepenny loaf. They made no loaves of that price. Finding myself ignorant of the prices, as well as of the different kinds of bread, I desired him to let me have threepenny-worth of bread of some kind or other. He gave me three large rolls. I was surprised at receiving so much: I took them, however, and, having no room in my pockets, I walked on with a roll under each arm, eating a third. In this manner I went through Market Street to Fourth Street, and passed the house of Mr. Read, the father of my future wife. She was standing at the door, observed me, and thought, with reason, that 1 made a very singular and grotesque appearance.
I then turned the corner, and went through Chestnut Street, eating my roll all the way; and, having made this round, I found myself again on Market Street wharf, near the boat in which I arrived. I stepped into it to take a draught of the river water; and, finding myself satisfied with my first roll, I gave the other two to a woman and her child, who had come down with us in the boat, and was waiting to continue her journey. Thus refreshed, I regained the street, which was now full of well-dressed people, all going the same way. I joined them, and was thus led to a large Quakers’ meeting-house near the market place. I sat down with the rest and, after looking round me for some time, hearing nothing said, and being drowsy from my last night’s labor and want of rest, I fell into a sound sleep. In this state I continued till the assembly dispersed, when one of the congregation had the goodness to wake me. This was consequently the first house I entered, or in which I slept, at Philadelphia.
I began again to walk along the street by the river-side, and, looking attentively in the face of every one I met with, I at length perceived a young Quaker whose countenance pleased me. I accosted him and begged him to inform me where a stranger might find a lodging. We were then near the sign of the Three Mariners.
“They receive travellers here,” said he, “but it is not a house that bears a good character; if you will go with me, I will show you a better one.”
He conducted me to the Crooked Billet, in Water Street. There I ordered something for dinner, and during my meal a number of curious questions were put to me, my youth and appearance exciting the suspicion of my being a runaway. After dinner my drowsiness returned, and I threw myself upon a bed without taking off my clothes and slept till six o’clock in the evening, when I was called to supper. I afterward went to bed at a very early hour, and did not awake till the next morning.
As soon as I got up I put myself in as decent a trim as I could and went to the house of Andrew Bradford, the printer. I found his father in the shop, whom I had seen at New York. Having travelled on horseback, he had arrived at Philadelphia before me. He introduced me to his son, who received me with civility and gave me some breakfast, but told me he had no occasion at present for a journeyman, having lately procured one. He added that there was another printer newly settled in the town, of the name of Keimer, who might perhaps employ me, and that in case of refusal I should be welcome to lodge at his house, and he would give me a little work now and then till something better should offer.
The old man offered to introduce me to the new printer. When we were at his house, “Neighbor,” said he, “I bring you a young man in the printing business; perhaps you may have need of his services.”
Keimer asked me some questions, put a composing-stink in my hand to see how I could work, and then said that at present he had nothing for me to do, but that he should soon be able to employ me. At the same time, taking old Bradford for an inhabitant of the town well disposed toward him, he communicated his project to him, and the prospect he had of success. Bradford was careful not to discover that he was the father of the other printer, and from what Keimer had said—that he hoped shortly to be in possession of the greater part of the business of the town—led him, by artful questions and by starting some difficulties, to disclose all his views, what his hopes were founded upon and how he intended to proceed. I was present, and heard it all. I instantly saw that one of the two was a cunning old fox and the other a perfect novice. Bradford left me with Keimer, who was strangely surprised when I informed him who the old man was.
I found Keimer’s printing-materials to consist of an old, deranged press and a small fount of worn-out English letters, with which he himself was at work upon an elegy upon Aquila Rose, an ingenious young man and of an excellent character, highly esteemed in the town, secretary to the Assembly and a very tolerable poet. Keimer also made verses, but they were indifferent ones. He could not be said to write in verse, for his method was to set the lines as they flowed from his Muse; and, as he worked without copy, had but one set of letter-cases and the elegy would occupy all his types, it was impossible for anyone to assist him. I endeavored to put his press in order, which he had not yet used, and of which, indeed, he understood nothing; and, having promised to come and work off his elegy as soon as it should be ready, I returned to the house of Bradford, who gave me some trifles to do for the present, for which I had my board and lodging.
In a few days Keimer sent for me to print off his elegy. He had now procured another set of letter-cases, and had a pamphlet to reprint, upon, which he set me to work.
The two Philadelphia printers appeared destitute of every qualification necessary in their profession. Bradford had not been brought up to it, and was very illiterate. Keimer, though he understood a little of the business, was merely a compositor and wholly incapable of working at press. He had been one of the French prophets, and knew how to imitate their supernatural agitations. At the time of our first acquaintance he professed no particular religion, but a little of all upon occasions. He was totally ignorant of the world and a great knave at heart, as I had afterward an opportunity of experiencing.
Keimer could not endure that, working with him, I should lodge at Bradford’s. He had, indeed, a house, but it was unfurnished; so that he could not take me in. He procured me a lodging at Mr. Read’s, his landlord, whom I have already mentioned. My trunk and effects being now arrived, I thought of making in the eyes of Miss Read a more respectable appearance than when chance exhibited, me to her view eating my roll and wandering in the streets.
From this period I began to contract acquaintance with such young people as were fond of reading, and spent my evenings with them agreeably, while at the same time I gained money by my industry, and, thanks to my frugality, lived contentedly.