(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Born among the rugged stones of the New England hills, in the Housatonic Valley, Israel Potter grows up with all the virtues of the hard, principled new land. After an argument with his father over a girl whom his stern parent does not think a suitable match, Israel decides to run away from home while his family is attending church. He wanders about the countryside, hunting deer, farming land, becoming a trapper, and dealing in furs. During his wanderings, he learns that most men are unscrupulous. He also hunts whales from Nantucket to the coast of Africa.

In 1775, Israel joins the American forces and takes part in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He fights bravely, but the battle, as he sees it, is simply disorganized carnage. Wounded, Israel enlists aboard an American ship after his recovery. Once at sea, the ship is captured by the British. Israel is taken prisoner and conveyed to England on a British ship, but on his arrival in London, he manages to escape.

Wandering about London, Israel meets various Englishmen who mock his American accent. Some of the English are kind and helpful to him. Others cuff him about and berate the scurrilous Yankee rebels. He finds various odd jobs, including one as a gardener working for a cruel employer. He escapes from this job and finds one as a gardener on the king’s staff at Kew Gardens. One day, Israel meets King George III. The king, completely mad, realizes that Israel is an American and is ineffectually kind to him. Eventually, in a slack season, Israel is discharged. He then works for a farmer, but when other farmers in the area discover that he is an American, Israel is forced to run away.

Israel meets Squire Woodcock, a wealthy and secret friend of America, who sends him on a secret mission to Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Israel carries a message in the false heel of his new boots. On his arrival in Paris, while he is looking for Franklin, a poor man tries to shine his boots on the Pont Neuf. Israel, in fright, kicks the man and runs off. At last, he finds Franklin, who takes the message and then insists that Israel return and pay damages to the bootblack.

In this fashion, Israel, under the tutelage of Franklin, learns his first lesson in European politeness and consideration. From this incident, Franklin proceeds to instruct Israel in the ways of proper behavior. Israel, still innocent, absorbs the teaching carefully, although none of it ever applies to his later experiences. Franklin promises that Israel will be sent back to America, if he will first return to England with a message. While still in Paris, Israel meets the stormy and ferocious Captain John Paul Jones, who also...

(The entire section is 1090 words.)