I was born in the year 1802, in Cumberland County, Downs Township, in the State of New Jersey, on the shores of Nantuxet Creek, not far from Delaware Bay, into which that creek flows. My father was a farmer,—not a very profitable occupation in that barren part of the country. My mother was a widow at the time of her marriage with my father, having three children by a former husband. By my father she had six more, of whom I was the youngest but one. She was a woman of strong mind and marked character, a zealous member of the Methodist church; and, although I had the misfortune to lose her at an early age, her instructions—though the effect was not apparent at the moment—made a deep impression on my youthful mind, and no doubt had a very sensible influence over my future life.
Just previous to, or during the war with Great Britain, my father removed still nearer to the shore of the bay, and the sight of the vessels passing up and down inspired me with a desire to follow the life of a waterman; but it was some years before I was able to gratify this wish. I well remember the alarm created in our neighborhood by the incursions of the British vessels up the bay during the war, and that, at these times, the women of the neighborhood used to collect at our house, as if looking up to my mother for counsel and guidance.
I was only twelve years old when this good mother died; but, so strong was the impression which she left upon my memory, that, amid the struggles and dangers and cares of my subsequent life, I have seldom closed my eyes to sleep without some thought or image of her.
As my father soon after married another widow, with four small children, it became necessary to make room in the house for their accommodation; and, with a younger brother of mine, I was bound out an apprentice in a cotton and woollen factory at a place called Cedarville. Manufactures were just then beginning to be introduced into the country, and great hopes were entertained of them as a profitable business. My employer,—or bos, as we called him,—had formerly been a schoolmaster, and he did not wholly neglect our instructions in other things besides cotton-spinning. Of this I stood greatly in need; for there were no public schools in the neighborhood in which I was born, and my parents had too many children to feed and clothe to be able to pay much for schooling. We were required on Sundays, by our employer, to learn two lessons, one in the forenoon, the other in the afternoon; after reciting which we were left at liberty to roam at our pleasure. Winter evenings we worked in the factory till nine o’clock, after which, and before going to bed, we were required to recite over one of our lessons These advantages of education were not great, but even these I soon lost. Within five months from the time I was bound to him, my employer died. The factories were then sold out to three partners. The one who carried on the cotton-spinning took me; but he soon gave up the business, and went back to farming, which had been his original occupation. I remained with him for a year and a half, or thereabouts, when my father bound me out apprentice to a shoe-maker.