J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Benjamin Thompson: Worst Apprentice in the World, part 1

In 1766, at the age of thirteen, Benjamin Thompson of Woburn was indentured to John Appleton, a Salem merchant. He was a bright and ambitious lad, and had apparently sought extra lessons from a minister in town.

Benjamin did not, however, throw himself into the clerical work Appleton probably assigned to him.

Three years later, well before his indenture was to expire, Benjamin showed up at the Boston dry-goods shop of Hopestill Capen (in the building that now houses the Union Oyster Shop, shown here) and asked for a position there.

Capen wrote to Appleton on 11 Oct 1769:
I understand that you have had a young Ladd, not long since, that live with you, named Benja. Thompson. He now offers himself to live with me, saying that he was sick was the Occasion of his comeing from you, and that now Business is Dull, you dont want him.

I should be greatly oblig’d to you if you will Inform me by the first oppertunity If he be clear with you or not; if he is, please to give me his True Character, as to his Honesty, Temper and Qualifications as a Shop Keeper. Such a lad will suit me if he can be well Recommended, and as he is a stranger to me I know of no body else that can be so good a Judge of him as you.
Benjamin had indeed left Appleton to go home to Woburn and recuperate, but not because he’d been “sick.” He had injured himself making fireworks.

Appleton apparently sent Capen a letter recommending young Benjamin. Perhaps he wanted to get rid of the lad.

TOMORROW (assuming Blogger will cooperate): Benjamin has a message for his old master.


Jen said...

Historical gossip is so fun. Firecrackers? Nice little detail he left out.

pilgrimchick said...

What an interesting story!