Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans - Edward Eggleston
Some men are great soldiers. Some are great law-makers. Some men write great books. Some men make great inventions. Some men are great speakers.
Now you are going to read about a man that was great in none of these things. He was not a soldier. He was not a great speaker. He was never rich. He was a poor schoolteacher. He never held any office.
And yet he was a great man. He was great for his goodness.
He was born in France. But most of his life was passed in Philadelphia before the Revolution.
He was twenty-five years old when he became a schoolteacher. He thought that he could do more good in teaching than in any other way.
Schoolmasters in his time were not like our teachers. Children were treated like little animals. In old times the schoolmaster was a little king. He walked and talked as if he knew everything. He wanted all the children to be afraid of him.
But Benezet was not that kind of man. He was very gentle. He treated the children more kindly than their fathers and mothers did. Nobody in this country had ever seen a teacher like him.
He built a play-room for the children of his school. He used to take them to this room during school time for a little amusement. He managed each child as he found best. Some he could persuade to be good. Some he shamed into being good. But this was very different from the cruel beatings that other teachers of that time gave their pupils.
Of course the children came to love him very much. After they grew to be men and women, they kept their love for the good little schoolmaster. As long as they lived they listened to his advice.
There were no good school-books in his time. He wrote some little books to make learning easier to his pupils. He taught them many things not in their books. He taught them to be kind to brutes, and gentle with one another. He taught them to be noble. He made them despise every kind of meanness.
He was a great teacher. That is better than being a great soldier.
Benezet was a good man in many ways. He was the friend of all poor people. Once he found a poor man suffering with cold for want of a coat. He took off his own coat in the street and put it on the poor man, and then went home in his shirt sleeves.
In those days negroes were stolen from Africa to be sold into America. Benezet wrote little books against this wrong. He sent these books over all the world almost. He also tried to persuade the white men of his own country to be honest and kind with the Indians.
Great men in other countries were pleased with his books. They wrote him letters. When any of them came to this country, they went to see him. They wanted to see a man that was good to everybody. His house was a plain one. But great men liked to sit at the table of the good schoolmaster.
There was war between the English and French at that time. Canada belonged to the French. Our country belonged to the English. There was a country called Acadia. It was a part of what is now Nova Scotia. The people of Acadia were French.
Departure of the Acadians
The English took the Acadians away from their homes. They sent them to various places. Many families were divided. The poor Acadians lost their homes and all that they had.
Many hundreds of these people were sent to Philadelphia. Benezet became their friend. As he was born in France, he could speak their lan-guage. He got a large house built for some of them to stay in. He got food and clothing for them. He helped them to get work, and did them good in many other ways.
One day Benezet's wife came to him with a troubled face. She said, "There have been thieves in the house. Two of my blankets have been stolen."
"Never mind, my dear," said Benezet, "I gave them to some of the poor Acadians."
One old Acadian was afraid of Benezet. He did not see why Benezet should take so much trouble for other people. He thought that Benezet was only trying to get a chance to sell the Acadians for slaves. When Benezet heard this, he had a good laugh.
Many years after this the Revolution broke out. It brought trouble to many people. Benezet helped as many as he could.
After a while the British army took Philadelphia. They sent their soldiers to stay in the houses of the people. The people had to take care of the soldiers. This was very hard for the poor people.
One day Benezet saw a poor woman. Her face showed that she was in trouble.
"Friend, what is the matter?" Benezet said to her. She told him that six soldiers of the British army had been sent to stay in her house. She was a washer-woman. But while the soldiers filled up the house she could not do any washing. She and her children were in want.
Benezet went right away to see the general that was in command of the soldiers. The good man was in such a hurry that he forgot to get a pass. The soldiers at the general's door would not let him go in.
At last some one told the general that a queer-looking fellow wanted to see him.
"Let him come up," said the general.
The odd little man came in. He told the general all about the troubles of the poor washer-woman. The general sent word that the soldiers must not stay any longer in her house.
The general liked the kind little man. He told him to come to see him again. He told the soldiers at his door to let Benezet come in whenever he wished to.
Soon after the Revolution was over, Benezet was taken ill. When the people of Philadelphia heard that he was ill, they gathered in crowds about his house. Everybody loved him. Everybody wanted to know whether he was better or not. At last the doctors said he could not get well. Then the people wished to see the good man once more. The doors were opened. The rooms and halls of his house were filled with people coming to say good-bye to Benezet, and going away again.
When he was buried, it seemed as if all Philadelphia had come to his fu-ner-al. The rich and the poor, the black and the white, crowded the streets. The city had never seen so great a funeral.
In the company was an American general. He said, "I would rather be Anthony Benezet in that coffin than General Washington in all his glory."