' James Franklin, Ben's Brother, Printer, Satirist 1697-1738
Ben Franklin’s father, Josiah, exercised his parental authority and sent him to work in his brother's printing company. The New England Courant was the Colonies first independent newspaper that also published almanacs. Ben was indentured to his brother, by their father, to learn the printing trade. James was given specific orders by his father to introduce discipline to Ben’s work ethic. Father and brother refused to let Ben write for the paper. Ben chose to overcome this obstacle using a female pen name, Silence DoGood, and slipping fourteen different satirical letters under the printing press door, in the middle of the night, every second week. James published the letters acutely aware of the mocking content and vaguely aware the writer used an alias. Each letter covered a different topic including the church in general, drinking to excess, idle chatter, religious hypocrisy, the lack of poetry in America, free speech, education, guilt, pride, courtship and a dissertation on “night walkers,” that I best not interpret. Ben was sixteen years of age at the time.
Most Bostonians understood that the author was not the spinster portrayed in the journals. Unfortunately for James, the Godly (as the Puritans called themselves) held James responsible. James was already scandalizing Boston with “yellow journalism,” continually making accusations on limited facts.
Town officials reacted meekly as Bostonians supported the Courant, especially while it accused officials of collusion with local pirates and privateers. The New England area was easy pickings for both. Privateers were licensed and protected by national governments as long as they shared the bounty of their ocean exploits. All too often a local merchant was victimized by privateers authorized by the merchants' country.
The Massachusetts Legislature, however, was more decisive with James. The legislature pronounced, “The Tendency of the said Paper is to; “mock Religion, and bring it into Contempt, “that the Holy Scriptures are therein profanely abused, “That the Reverend and Faithful Ministers of the Gospel are injuriously reflected, “on, His Majesty’s Government affronted, and the Peace and good Order of his Majesty’s Subjects of this Province disturbed.”
A week after the pronouncement James published his paper with another article by Silence DoGood. He was imprisoned for four weeks for overall and general libel.
Five years later James fled Boston to Rhode Island, following the footsteps of reformer, Roger Williams. He wrote under the pen name of Poor Robin. He published almanacs that were distributed in Boston. Poor James, if we might use a pun, died at the age of thirty-eight. His son, James Jr, became an apprentice for Ben, in Philadelphia. James' wife, Ann Smith Franklin, continued with the publishing business doing business as “The Widow Franklin.”
Each brother skirted local laws that left little room for free speech or worse yet satire. Both brothers found it necessary to leave Boston in their prime. They continued to write and highlight the Puritanical moral and legal shortcomings that gripped Boston society.
James lived from 1697-1738 and died in Rhode Island of an unclassified terrible illness. He fostered eight children; six girls.
Aka, Poor Robbin, James Franklin. "The Rhode-Island Almanack for the Year, 1728: Being the First Ever Printed ..." The Rhode-Island Almanack for the Year, 1728: Being the First Ever Printed ..., 1st ser., 1, no. 1 (1728). Accessed June 6, 2017. doi:https://books.google.com/books?id=Rrs0AAAAMAAJ&dq=%22james franklin%22 almanack&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=-bFD8zu6Hs&sig=5cMnMhfksI9Ekv1ZANGcnCTImgA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#v=onepage&q=james%20franklin&f=false. Only copy produced and in existence is at the Library of Congress
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