My wife and I just had our sixth (and last) child, whom we named, Benjamin, after the great Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of our nation and one of my personal heroes because of his crucial role in the Revolutionary War and in the Constitutional Convention. I decided to learn a little more about this man and his amazing life, so I recently picked up his Autobiography.
As I read the interesting life account told by the man himself, I was surprised to learn that that, as a child, Franklin had a yearning for the sea and was a fisherman. In fact, his love of the ocean was so strong, he desired a life at sea over his father’s trade of candle making. This deep love of of the ocean and fishing is evidenced by the following anecdote:
I disliked the trade, and had a strong inclination for the sea, but my father declared against it; however, living near the water, I was much in and about it, learnt early to swim well, and to manage boats; and when in a boat or canoe with other boys, I was commonly allowed to govern, especially in any case of difficulty; and upon other occasions I was generally a leader among the boys, and sometimes led them into scrapes, of which I will mention one instance, as it shows an early projecting public spirit, tho’ not then justly conducted.
There was a salt-marsh that bounded part of the mill-pond, on the edge of which, at high water, we used to stand to fish for minnows. By much trampling, we had made it a mere quagmire. My proposal was to build a wharff there fit for us to stand upon, and I showed my comrades a large heap of stones, which were intended for a new house near the marsh, and which would very well suit our purpose. Accordingly, in the evening, when the workmen were gone, I assembled a number of my play-fellows, and working with them diligently like so many emmets, sometimes two or three to a stone, we brought them all away and built our little wharff. The next morning the workmen were surprised at missing the stones, which were found in our wharff. Inquiry was made after the removers; we were discovered and complained of; several of us were corrected by our fathers; and though I pleaded the usefulness of the work, mine convinced me that nothing was useful which was not honest.
As shown by this account, even as a kid, Franklin was already a leader of his peers and exhibited a “public spirit” in building the wharf for better fishing access and enjoyment, a noble endeavor indeed. While the use of another’s materials was certainly inexcusable, any fisherman can understand the purpose and usefulness of his objective. And you’ve got to love his enthusiasm! Finally, you have to appreciate the moral he learned as a result of this youthful endeavor. After all, honesty is the best policy (even for us fishermen!).
As Franklin matured and grew into a successful businessman, he lost his love for the sea and fishing (which I feel is unfortunate considering how much much fishing has enriched my own life). Of his later life he wrote: “In order to secure my Credit and Character as a Tradesman, I took care not only to be in Reality Industrious & frugal, but to avoid all Appearances of the Contrary. I dressed plainly; I was seen at no Places of idle Diversion; I never went out a-fishing or Shooting; a Book, indeed, sometimes debauch’d me from my Work; but that was seldom, snug, & gave no Scandal. . . .” You have to wonder if his loss of love for fishing had to do with his father’s reprimand and teaching on that earlier occasion.