She qualified her hilariously unfavorable opinions of the old school Puritan guard by recounting her own troublesome but triumphant life.
After her birth on a ship bound for Boston, a wave killed her father as he celebrated his newborn on the deck. She was raised by her mother, whom she supported by becoming a minister’s apprentice. This exposed her to the world’s great literary works and set her up to marry another minister. He’d long since passed by the time of her writing.
With that, Mrs. Silence Dogood finished her first letter to The New England Courant, promising “once a Fortnight to present [readers], by the Help of this Paper, with a short Epistle, which I presume will add somewhat to their Entertainment.”
Falling head over heels for the content, 25-year-old Courant owner James Franklin published Dogood’s letter today in Boston, 1722.
Over the next 6 months, as Dogood kept her promise and as readers devoured her priceless, caustic comments, Franklin printed 14 more letters.
What Franklin and his readership didn’t realize, though, was that Silence Dogood, unabated elderly dowager of the dirty water, was actually James’ 16-year-old brother Benjamin.
Yes, THAT Benjamin Franklin (see @todayinboston 1/17)
Ben had been trying to break into James and his friends’ Hell-Fire Club for public intellectuals, but kept getting shut down. So, Ben parodied Cotton Mather’s pretentious “Essays to Do Good” and created Silence Dogood to prove himself.
James grew so desperate to meet Mrs. Dogood that he advertised in the Courant asking anyone to spill the beans on where she might be.
Figuring that a) he couldn’t keep the ruse going forever and b) he’d proven that he could contribute to the paper under his own name, Ben took proud ownership of his alter ego.
The public thought it was HILARIOUS.
James did NOT.
In fact, he was so enraged with his brother for hogging attention and making him look stupid that he started beating Ben regularly.
Tragically, that’s why Ben Franklin fled Boston for Philadelphia at age 17.
But I’d argue he turned out alright.