Benjamin Franklin
his Visit to
the Isle of Wight.

Admiring, almost devotional, eulogies devoted to Benjamin Franklin abound in the history books and on the Net. There is quite literally and without exception no escaping from them. For example, at the website "The World of Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin: Glimpses of the Man", it is clearly stated :
Benjamin Franklin stands tall among a small group of men we call our Founding Fathers. He actually helped to write parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. No other individual was more involved in the birth of our nation. Besides helping to mold the United States of America, Ben helped to make everyday life in the city better. His ideas and visions helped to lay the foundation for the United States of America as we know it today.

And at a Website entitled "An Enlightened American. Benjamin Franklin", the following introduction may be read:
Intelligence, passion, strength, devotion, charisma, tenacity, perseverance, generosity, forgiveness.
Franklin possessed all of these qualities and that is why he is considered to be one of the greatest American minds and a proud pillar of our national heritage. However, our affinity for Franklin extends deeper. He seems to embody and personify the American dream. Benjamin Franklin was truly the Enlightened American."

Benjamin Franklin was also a petty criminal, indulging in theft, criminal damage and psychological torture of inbred natives.

There is no denying that he was a most remarkable, multi-talented man with universal, comprehensive interests and wide-ranging experience. Well, let's face it, he nearly single-handedly established the whole intellectual and political basis of the Constitution of U.S.A. However, there is an episode in his life (reproduced below) that took place at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight that doesn't quite fit so easily with his image as 'saviour of the United States'. Indeed in his autobiography, he skirts over the whole tawdry episode but, significantly, it was after this criminal spree at Yarmouth that he devised his life plan that he admits he stuck to pretty much all his life.

We sail'd from Gravesend on the 23d of July, 1726. For the incidents of the voyage, I refer you to my journal, where you will find them all minutely related. Perhaps the most important part of that journal is the plan to be found in it, which I formed at sea, for regulating my future conduct in life. It is the more remarkable, as being formed when I was so young, and yet being pretty faithfully adhered to quite thro' to old age.
("The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D....Originally Written By Himself, And Now Translated From The French," published in London in 1793)

As yet we are still searching through the American Constitution for an article or amendment concerned with immunity for American citizens when stealing boats. Is there possibly a clause in the Constitution that may have been inspired by Franklin's Isle of Wight criminal experience?

Benjamin Franklin

Life Achievements Criminal Achievements

Benjamin Franklin.

Nationality: American.

Life Achievements:

  • One of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
  • Assisted in writing parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
  • His ideas and visions helped to lay the foundation for the United States of America.
  • Developed major pioneering concepts concerning electricity.
  • Credited with a number of essential inventions.

Criminal Achievements while at Yarmouth:

1. Loitering with intent to steal a rowing boat.
2. Criminal damage to a chain and padlock.
3. Criminal damage to an oar.
4. Taking a boat without consent.
5. Causing distress and loss of earnings to ferryman.

Journal of Occurences in My Voyage to Philadelphia on board the Berkshire, Henry Clark, Master. From London. Benjamin Franklin.

Saturday, July 30th 1726.
This morning about eight o'clock we weighed anchor, and turned to windward till we came to Yarmouth, another little town upon this island, and there cast anchor again, the wind blowing hard, and still westerly. Yarmouth is a smaller town than Cowes; yet, the buildings being better, it makes a handsomer prospect at a distance, and the streets are clean and neat.There is one monument in the church, which the inhabitants are very proud of, and which we went to see. It was erected to the memory of Sir Robert Holmes, who had formerly been governor of the island. It is his statue in armour, somewhat bigger than the life, standing on his tomb, with a truncheon in his hand, between two pillars of porphyry. Indeed, all the marble about it is very fine and good; and they say it was designed by the French King for his palace at Versailles, but was cast away upon this island, and by Sir Robert himself in his lifetime applied to this use, and that the whole monument was finished long before he died; (though not fixed up in that place) the inscription likewise, (which is very much to his honour), being written by himself. One would think either that he had no defect at all, or had a very ill opinion of the world, seeing he was so careful to make sure of a monument to record his good actions and transmit them to posterity.

Having taken a view of the church, town, and fort, on which there are seven large guns mounted, three of us took a walk up further into the island; and, having gone about two miles, we headed a creek that runs up one end of the town, and then went to Freshwater Church, about a mile nearer the town, but on the other side of the creek. Having stayed here some time it grew dark, and my companions were desirous to be gone, lest those whom we had left drinking where we dined in the town should go on board and leave us. We were told, that it was our best way to go strait down to the mouth of the creek, and that there was a ferry boy that would carry us over to the town. But when we came to the house the lazy whelp was in bed, and refused to rise and put us over; upon which we went down to the waterside, with a design to take his boat, and go over by ourselves. We found it very difficult to get the boat, it being fastened to a stake, and the tide risen near fifty yards beyond it; I stripped all to my shirt to wade up to it; but missing the causeway, which was under water, I got up to my middle in mud. At last I came to the stake; but, to my great disappointment, found she was locked and chained. I endeavoured to draw the staple with one of the thole-pins, but in vain; I tried to pull up the stake. but to no purpose; so that, after an hour's fatigue and trouble in the wet and mud, I was forced to return without the boat.

We had no money in our pockets, and therefore began to conclude to pass the night in some haystack, though the wind blew very cold and very hard. In the midst of these troubles one of us recollected that he had a horse-shoe in his pocket, which he found in his walk, and asked me if l could not wrench the staple out with that. I took it, went, tried, and succeeded, and brought the boat ashore to them. Now we rejoiced and all got in, and, when I had dressed myself, we put off. But the worst of all our troubles was to come yet; for, it being high water and the tide over all the banks, though it was moonlight we could not discern the channel of the creek; but, rowing heedlessly straight forward, when we were got about half way over, we found ourselves aground on a mud bank; and, striving to row her off by putting our oars in the mud, we broke one and there stuck fast, not having four inches of water. We were now in the utmost perplexity, not knowing what in the world to do; we could not tell whether the tide was rising or falling; but at length we plainly perceived it was ebb, and we could feel no deeper water within the reach of our oar.

It was hard to lie in an open boat all night exposed to the wind and weather; but it was worse to think how foolish we should look in the morning, when the owner of the boat should catch us in that condition, where we must be exposed to the view of all the town. After we had strove and struggled for half an hour and more, we gave all over, and sat do'vn with our hands before us, despairing to get off; for, if the tide had left us, we had been never the nearer; we must have sat in the boat, as the mud was too deep for us to walk ashore through it, being up to our necks. At last we bethought ourselves of some means of escaping, and two of us stripped and got out, and thereby lightening the boat, we drew her up upon our knees near fifty yards into deeper water; and then with much ado, having but one oar, we got safe ashore under the fort; and, having dressed ourselves and tied the man's boat, we went with great joy to the Queen's Head, where we left our companions, whom we found waiting for us, though it was very late. Our boat being gone on board, we were obliged to lie ashore all night; and thus ended our walk.


1. Benjamin Franklin: A Documentary History. JA Leo Lemay

2. The World of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin: Glimpses of the Man.

3. Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.