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Extra resources for BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S PRINTING NETWORK: DISSEMINATING VIRTUE IN EARLY AMERICA
By his own acco[unt] has made a very free use of ‘the Fist’ and the ‘knotted Cord’ both very bad instruments of reformation. . ” While the custom’s primary purpose was to impart vocational skills, another function of the apprenticeship in Europe and America was subtler—it reaffirmed social class hierarchy. Masters in the most attractive trades sometimes demanded fees to accept apprentices. As impoverished parents could seldom afford this payment, their children were rarely apprenticed in trades offering the chance to ascend the social ladder.
At age twelve in 1718, Franklin had been apprenticed to his older brother James, the printer of the New-England Courant, until he turned twenty-one (effectively, for a period of more than eight years). The indenture included an unusual clause—during his final year, Benjamin would receive journeyman’s wages. “In a little time I made great Proficiency in the Business, and became a useful Hand to my Brother,” he 20 wrote. However, after repeated quarrels with his brother, who “was passionate & had often beaten me,” Benjamin ran away in 1723 and offered his services to the four other Boston printers.
Because of these judgment errors, Franklin was never able to save enough for return passage to Philadelphia, and he resigned himself to a daily grind in which he “just rubb’d on 34 from hand to mouth” until Denham paid his passage. The cerebral Franklin reflected on these and other “great Errata of my Life” during the America-bound ocean voyage. He had nearly three months to scrutinize his own moral arsenal, and concluded it was little better than those of the deceptive Keith or the malfeasant London printers.