Death-Defying Teenager, Ben Franklin

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This week, America was on the edge of its seat with concern that California teen Abby Sunderland's quest to become to youngest person to circumnavigate the globe alone would end with her lost at sea. Luckily, 16-year-old Sunderland was found adrift between Africa and Australia after a brief search. The prospect of the young adventurer's journey terminating in Davy Jones' locker rattled even casual followers of her trek, prompting some to argue that such perilous excursions should be reserved for adults.

AOL News' Laura Vanderkam disagrees, pointing to the incredible nautical journey of another adventurous youth: Ben Franklin.

Setting off by himself, he intended to travel several hundred miles. But then he got caught in a squall that tore his sails to pieces. After spending a night soaked on the deck, he managed to get ashore, where he then faced a 50-mile walk to the nearest town. Exhaustion soon overtook him, but he found a rowboat. So he hopped in, rowed late into the night, got lost and then had to make a fire out of an old fence to keep warm in the cold October air.


That journey Ben Franklin made at age 17 was hardly even crazy for him. By then, he'd already worked several years in his brother's print shop, had gotten his brother briefly imprisoned for some of the political pieces he'd written and eventually decided to run away to try to set himself up in business.

Vanderkam acknowledges that times have changed, but insists that what's different is our perception of teenagers' capacities. "Yes, this was the 1700s, but a 17-year-old then had been on the planet just as long as a 17-year-old now" she writes. "What's changed is that we've started treating the teen years as an extension of childhood rather than a proving ground for adulthood."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.