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POEM: Benjamin Franklin, the Lady and a Runaway Enslaved Boy named King by h.e Ross

POEM: Benjamin Franklin, the Lady and a Runaway Enslaved Boy named King by h.e Ross

As Part of Noise of Art’s Black Montmartre project, exploring the long relationship between black American and European street music, we commissioned US poet H.E Ross to write about the true story of King, a slave owned by Benjamin Franklin who ran away on a visit to London. King was adopted by a women in Suffolk and joined the British Navy. Ross, a San Franciscan born poet who was active in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests and started the Black Maritime History movement in San Francisco. He wrote the poem while living in Suffolk during the 2020 pandemic.

Benjamin Franklin, the Lady and a Runaway Enslaved Boy named King

by H.E. Ross

By the River Deben there is a spot with a worn away grave stone and a story of a boy…

Benjamin Franklin was signed on as an indentured servant to his brutal brother

Ben apprenticed learned to print before he fled from Boston to Philadelphia

Ben worked hard and earned enough to start his own printing service

Ben started printing a newspaper for the booming township of Philadelphia

Ben started the first newspaper chain along the East coast of British America

Benjamin Franklin enjoyed a wild youth as a successful gentleman about town

Ben was in the new sin town of Philly and had a son, William, with an unknown lady

Ben took a common-law marriage with a nice girl named Deborah

Ben took William into their home as his son and gave him the name Franklin

Ben purchased George to help with the expanding newspaper business

Benjamin Franklin enlarged his family and moved from smaller to larger homes

Ben’s baby son, Francis, died at four from the smallpox brought from Europe

Ben’s daughter, Sally, lived and is a very lively young girl

Ben purchased Peter and his wife Jemima to take care of the household

Ben purchased Othello, Peter and Jemima’s baby boy for them

Benjamin Franklin is famous and respected and grooms William to be successful

Ben’s son, William, becomes a naval officer and war hero and politician

Ben being proud, purchases King, a light skin boy of eleven, for William

Ben does not like the boy because he doesn’t seem to like work and plays too much

Ben does not call them slaves only servants and Peter likes King

Benjamin Franklin takes William to England with Peter and young King in service

King boards the ship goes to sea with wide eyes of horizon all around

King learns knots and splices from sailors of many accents and languages

King learns songs hears tales drinks rum with sailors of all colours

King rolls with the roll of the ship fills with the wind in the sails

Benjamin Franklin and William tour and enjoy fame and welcome everywhere

Ben and William stay in homes across Ireland Scotland and England

King in London sees friendliness unknown in Philadelphia loosely had in London

King plays with kids eats at their homes learns London Peter tells him to run away

King laughs a lot and Peter encourages him to live free and go East

King is thirteen and happy and free with good memories of Peter’s help

King and Peter pack what he needs, they giggle a lot, a violin, William’s clothes

King packs a good hat with a silver button and a loop

King packs an old blue frock a good waistcoat dirty breeches stockings

King walks to Suffolk and is found tired and wet by a Lady in a carriage

Benjamin Franklin is honoured in Scotland and Doctored at Cambridge

Dr Ben travels and travels with William happy dad and son

Dr Ben meets scientists and Masons and ladies and ladies

Dr Ben’s stomach grows and gout ensues with William there to rely on

Dr Ben and William return to London to find that King has gone

King learns to be a christian read and write play violin and French horn at Playford

King explores Suffolk in the carriage with the Lady, Miss Anne

King is like her child as real babies come to her and her husband

King cares for Thomas first, then John later as time moves slowly on

King teaches Thomas to climb trees and fish and tales of sailors’s tales

II

King as a young man of sixteen becomes John and yearns for the seas horizons so sails

John King is hired and sails aboard local pilots on the River Deben

John King learns to repair caulking rigging work of the hand and eye and feel

John King enlists in the navy and waves goodbye to young Thomas and baby John

John King cries at last sight of Miss Anne with her boys and Reverend Clarkson

John King with violin sails against the French blockading and battling and frolics in Spain

John King rises in rank wounded in back and leg fighting hand to hand

John King rests in hospital at Greenwich seeing the kid friends in London

John King goes to Playford puts gifts and tears on Miss Anne’s grave

John King leaves a letter addressed to Miss Anne with Thomas and John and baby Anne

John King is a first mate on Endeavour blockading the Americans at the Chesapeake Bay

John King crews a prize Baltimore Clipper to England and gets a percentage of her selling

John King meets Anne the blacksmith’s daughter and they fall in love

John King and Anne moved to Liverpool with pilot work for him and they are happy

John King suffers Anne tortured dying of smallpox in his arms and tears out his heart

John King’s head cannot rise to see the sky in Liverpool with his eyes only on memory and gutters

John King drinks his rags to dirt on his course without any port as a destination

John King is pulled from the black waters by Henry who takes him aboard an outbound ship

John King breathes again aboard the little brig, Whistler, and what he breathes is sea air

John King rolls with the long swell and smiles as broadly as his horizon

John King tilts his head upward again as he and Henry frolic their wages away in Santo Domingo

John King and Henry join the royal navy in Jamaica and are put aboard a small cutter

John King becomes first mate and Henry is boatswain on the Punch Captain John Perkins

John King plays fiddle and befriends the mulatto Captain Black Jack (John) Perkins

John King Black Jack Henry spree and frolic in Les Cayes, Saint Domingue

John King Black Jack Henry Fellows arrested by French as spies as Haiti’s enslaved revolt

John King Henry escape to Punch and patrolling 26-gun frigate who press for Black Jack

John King delivers formal letter to destroy Les Cayes if Black Jack is executed

John King comes back to Punch with Captain John Perkins and they show ass to French

John King in the Punch captures hundreds of American prize vessels Henry is killed in battle

John King retires from the navy with a heavy chest of prize money books mementos and a violin

John King returns to Philadelphia spies Benjamin Franklin saddened by son William leaving

John King returns to Liverpool with a heart full of his beautiful Anne but a bottle kept full

John King returns to Playford listens to Thomas and little Anne about abolition of slavery

John King applauds John in royal navy taking former enslaved back to Africa

John King reads letter he gave to Thomas intended for Miss Anne and reads this part over:

Though time has separated us your teachings have not and the search 

and findings of freedoms, with my eyes not always on our Lord God,

has left me a man content and not bothered by the machinations of 

any class as we are all children of the same God. Thank you for those 

words, Dear Miss Anne. Bless your wondrous spirit that every day now 

fills my heart.

John King sees a long ago tear blotching the ink between any and class with a small smile

Worn away is the name on a stone marker near the entrance to the River Deben. You can barely even see the stone itself so covered around by yellow flowers shimmering in any breeze and the rolling of grasses at an horizon that never ends.

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