His mother first set him to learn the trade of a shoemaker, first at Newburyport, and then, after 1815, at Baltimore, Maryland, and, when she found that this did not suit him, let him try his hand at cabinet-making (at Haverhill, Mass.).
When a youth he worked as a shoemaker; but having joined the Baptists when he was about twenty-one, he devoted much of his time to village preaching.
Signs were hung out on all sides to allure him; some to catch him by the appetite, as the tavern and victualling cellar; some by the fancy, as the dry goods store and the jeweller's; and others by the hair or the feet or the skirts, as the barber, the shoemaker, or the tailor.
At ten he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and at twenty he settled in the town of St Austell, first as manager for a shoemaker, and in 1787 began business on his own account.
At Natick, Massachusetts, whither he travelled on foot, he learned the trade of shoemaker, and during his leisure hours studied much and read with avidity.