Sixteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin sauntered along the brick footpath deep in thought. His daydreams were interrupted by an elderly man who stumbled into him. A stout woman grabbed two boys by their ears and scolded each imp.
The old man raised his cane and grumbled, “Sidewalks are made for walking, not gamboling.”
“Yes, sir, I’m sorry sir.” The startled woman replied as she curtseyed and hurried across the cobblestone road with her wards.
Ben shuffled along another block until he stood in front of a weather-beaten door. The hinged sign above read, The New-England Courant, est. 1721.
James sure is persnickety because he’s proprietor of Boston’s first newspaper. One day I’ll be my own boss, too.
Ben pushed open the squeaky door, assailed by the pungent odor of linseed oil used in making printer’s ink.
“You’re late.” A sandy haired male in his twenties barked as he moved away from the window.
“I’m a few minutes late, James. Don’t get in a huff.” You’re my brother, not my keeper.”
“I own this business which makes me your boss. Ever since Father demanded I allow you to be my apprentice, you come and go as you please. We have schedules to keep, Ben.”
“In two years, I’ve learned the newspaper business well. I can edit, typeset, and sell papers besides print them. Your subscriptions have multiplied tenfold. I’m well qualified to write and publish my own articles.” Ben reminded James.
“I told you before, No. I’m the writer. Another Silence Dogood letter arrived; it’s near the printing press. Hurry and typeset it.” James growled, as he plopped into his chair.
Ben pushed his blonde hair from his eyes and pretended to read the paper, a grin formed on his face.
I wonder what James would say if he knew I am Silence Dogood? I’m not going to write any more letters. Maybe he’ll let me publish my own stories.
Ben birthed the idea a few months ago. He pretended to be a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood. Every fortnight a letter was pushed under the door of the print shop. Various aspects of colonial life were ridiculed; religious hypocrisy, drunkenness, and the persecution of women. He included a humorous discourse about hoop petticoats.
“These monstrous topsy-turvy Mortar-Pieces, are neither fit for the Church, the Hall, or the Kitchen; and if a Number of them were well mounted on Noddles-Island, they would look more like Engines of War for bombarding the Town, than Ornaments of the Fair Sex. An honest Neighbour of mine, happening to be in Town some time since on a publick Day, inform'd me, that he saw four Gentlewomen with their Hoops half mounted in a Balcony, as they withdrew to the Wall, to the great Terror of the Militia, who (he thinks) might attribute their irregular Volleys to the formidable Appearance of the Ladies Petticoats.”
Two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks passed without another letter. Readers clamored for more Silence Dogood.
“Put this ad in the paper. My readers and I wish to know who the mysterious Mrs. Silence Dogood is.” James hissed, as he shoved the piece of paper into Ben’s hands.
The ad read, “If any person or persons will give a true account of Mrs. Silence Dogood, whether dead or alive, married or unmarried, in town or countrey, that so, (if living) she may be spoke with, or letters convey’d to her, they shall have thanks for their pains.”
Weeks passed and no one answered the advertisement.
“James, I have a confession to make. I’m Silence Dogood.”
James swirled around from his desk. “You are? I don’t believe it.”
“Yes, I am. I’m tired of your refusals to let me publish my articles. I decided to write them and use a fictional author’s name. The readers love them, don’t they?”
Enraged, James yelled, “You’ve deceived me and the readers. Leave now and never return. I’m sure Father will agree with me.”
“I’ll do better. I’ll leave Boston.” Ben yelled back as rushed outside and slammed the door shut.
Father did not agree with James. Ben returned to work. But after two weeks, he ran away to Philadelphia to seek his fortune.
Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia in 1723. In the course of time he owned his own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. The paper emerged as the most successful one in the colonies. Later, he authored and published Poor Richard’s Almanack which included aphorisms such as, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
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