The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

by Benjamin Franklin

Start Free Trial

What are two details from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin that reveal aspects of ordinary daily life in colonial America?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Franklin narrates events in such a common-sense way and with such humor that the stark features of colonial life are readily understood by us, nearly 300 years later, in spite of the huge changes in the world since his era.

The difficulty of travel in the time and place of...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Franklin narrates events in such a common-sense way and with such humor that the stark features of colonial life are readily understood by us, nearly 300 years later, in spite of the huge changes in the world since his era.

The difficulty of travel in the time and place of Franklin's youth is one of the most striking things in his narrative. After arriving in New York by ship from Boston, Franklin embarks on a boat that will take him to Amboy (Perth Amboy), New Jersey, but it is blown off course and lands in Long Island instead. One of the other passengers falls overboard, but Franklin rescues him; the man is Dutch and has with him a copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in Dutch translation.

Eventually, Franklin does reach New Jersey, walks the fifty miles to Burlington, then has to wait several days for a boat to take him down the Delaware to Philadelphia. On this boat, he has to serve as one of the rowers. As night advances, passengers and crew are uncertain of their actual position in relation to Philadelphia and think they may have even passed the city, so they decide to "put toward the shore," and finally the next morning one of the passengers identifies their location as a place called Cooper's Creek, still upriver from the city. They then continue downriver and reach Market Street Wharf early on a Sunday morning.

Apart from the hazardous and uncertain nature of this entire trip two incidental features of colonial America, and Franklin's personal story, stand out. One is the fact that even at this point (1723), America was already multiethnic, with a large number of people having roots in the Netherlands (as the "Dutchman" on the boat attests to). Another is Franklin's interest in books. Though he was obviously an exceptional person even in his youth, Franklin, like many other Americans at this point, was "into" literature and often, in the course of even this brief narrative, refers to authors such as Bunyan, Defoe, and Richardson and makes observations about Bunyan's innovative writing technique. Elsewhere in the Autobiography, he quotes Pope (probably from memory).

The episode in which, immediately upon arrival in the city, he goes to a bakery and has difficulty getting across to the baker what type of bread he wants, is noteworthy. It shows that at this point, food terminology in colonial America was not uniform from city to city. The Philadelphia bake shop has neither the biscuits ("bisket") nor the "three penny loaf" young Ben asks for. Instead he is given three "great puffy rolls." Yet, while we are on the subject of food, an interesting point is that earlier, when Franklin has announced his plan to become a vegetarian, he's met with the same implicit view from others that he is doing something eccentric, just as vegetarians and vegans encounter today. So, in some respects, not as much has changed in three centuries as one might suppose.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team