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Benjamin Franklin:Ben's Coonskin Cap,Satires and Hoaxes

Updated on October 16, 2015

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Indeopendence with Fraanklins notations.
Declaration of Indeopendence with Fraanklins notations. | Source

Just who was Ben Franklin? He is mostly thought of for being an 18th Century founding father of the United States,

Ben Franklin inventions, such as discovering of electricity . They might think about Poor Richards Almanac, and certainly his face on American money. I don’t think most people see the humorous, satirical side of Franklin. Below are some facts about Benjamin Franklin, his hoaxes , and satires about Poor Richard , Silence Dogood, Polly Baker and his Coonskin cap .

As Mark Twain complained, most of us grew up with Franklin ’s scolding advice about going to bed early, getting up early and other sage advice. However, I think Twain and Franklin had more in common than one might think.

Both of them grew up in the printing and newspaper business in rough and tumble days. Both had a sense of the dramatic, of satire and of pulling off a hoax for effect.

When one thinks about it literary figures like Jonathon swift, Daniel Defoe and Washington Irving have engaged in hoaxes, which might be for satirical effect or to expose public foolishness.

Today it might be considered public relations but Franklin was a master of creating an image for himself, much as Mark Twain did later. For Twain it was, of coarse, a change of name from Samuel Clemens and adoption of a persona with a white suit and playing the part of what he called an “inspired idiot.”

Likewise Franklin created an image of himself as a simple but wise American rustic, a frontiersman, with a coonskin hat. He was, in fact, quite sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

The facts about Benjamin Franklin may give you a different impression of who he was. Hopefully you might find him more interesting.

Kites and lightening


The story most told about Franklin is that he and his son did an important scientific experiment and discovered electricity by flying a kite in a rainstorm. It was on October 19th, 1752 that the Pennsylvania Gazette  gave a brief description of Franklin’s experiment. It said that Benjamin Franklin had flown a kite in a thunderstorm. Electricity was conducted down the line of the kite and electrified a key that Ben Franklin had tied to it. Franklin’s kite experiment became the most famous of the 18th Century and was part of making Franklin famous both at home and elsewhere.

Fact of Hoax?


Most of us have heard about this experiment in grade school and it is what we think we know about Franklin. Yet, some historians claim it never happened. There is, they say, a curious lack of details about the experiment. The exact time of the experiment is unknown, only sometime in June apparently; the closest Franklin ever came to reporting the date. Franklin never wrote a formal report of it, his son is the only witness to the event and he never said anything about it. Franklin would have known that it would have been very dangerous.

Tom Tucker, an historian, has suggested Franklin proposed the idea as a joke originally. Ben Franklin was frustrated with the British Royal Society for ignoring his letters to them about his earlier electrical research.  Tucker suggests the Franklin might have proposed the deadly experiment as a subtle joke, his way of saying “Go fly a kite in a storm!’ However people in France took the experiment seriously and Franklin decided to go along with it.

Other historians disagree.





Under the literary name of “Poor” Richard Saunders Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanac, whose persona was of a hen-pecked, poverty struck scholar. According to the Museum of Hoaxes website Franklin predicted in his almanac that his rival Titan Leeds would die “Oct. 17, 1733,3.29 P.M. at the instant of the conjunction of the Sun and Mercury.

It was meant as a joke but Leeds took offense and chastised Saunders in his own almanac. As a result Franklin turned the death of Leeds into a running joke. When the time of the prediction arrived and Leeds did not die, Franklin declared that Leeds had actually died but that someone usurped his name and was using it to falsely publish the almanac. For the next year Franklin insisted that Leeds was dead until in 1738 Leeds actually did die. Franklin than congratulated the men who usurped Leed’s name for finally ending the pretense.

Franklin’s idea for the Leeds hoax was Jonathan Swift’s Bickerstaff hoax of 1708.

Hoss Sense


Franklin once said, “Pieces merely humorous are of all Sorts the hardest to succeed in.” Maybe  he avoided writing things that were merely humorous for that reason. He did, however, engage in several forms of humor in various forms of writing throughout his life.

According to an article about Franklin’s Hoaxes on Franklin had a unique sense of humor and represents a “new kind of native American humor that Professor Walter Blair has aptly denominated hoss sense.”



Silence Dogood

Franklin created first hoax was when he was 16 years old and working on his brother’s newspaper.

It was between April and October of 1722 that a series of letters appeared in the New England Courant from a middle-aged widow calling herself Silence Dogood who poked fun at aspects of colonial life in America. She mentioned drunkenness of locals, religious hypocrisy, persecution of women, fashion for hoop petticoats and especially the pretensions of Harvard College.

Silence Dogoods letters became very popular. Some male readers proposed marriage. But Silence dogood was only an invention of young Ben Franklin. His brother was quite displeased when he found out because he feared for young Ben’s vanity because of all the compliments. Ben decided it was a good time to go seek his fortune in Philadelphia.

The Speech of Polly Baker


This hoax showed some of Franklin’s somewhat coarse sense of humor. Among other things Franklin pokes fun at the legal profession and that of the ministry.

Polly Baker is before the judge for having her fifth child out of wedlock and most probably more in the future. She tells the judge that she would prefer in-wedlock to out-of-wedlock. She explains that she was always willing to enter into wedlock says that she would behave quite well as she has all the industry, frugality and fertility… appertaining to a good wife’s character.

Franklin likes to poke fun at the legal profession and Polly’s first betrayer is a judge. She says that she had hoped he would be on the bench that day to influence the court in her favor, But she is forced to defend herself. She does so by equating the “fertility” with doing her duty especially the duty of the first great command of Nature, and Natures god (a deistic ring to this phrase) Increase and Multiply.” From the “steady performance” of this duty “nothing has been able to deter me…”

A pun is used in the satire when Polly refers to her original betrayer—the judge who first seduced her—Polly calls him the “first cause of all my Faults and Miscarriages                   (if they must be deemed such). In the 18th Century works on Deism were full of references to “the first Cause.’ The grandiose connotations of this phrase are used against the more literal use referring to Polly’s seducer who occupied an elevated position on the bar. He also plays on the word miscarriages of morality against those of childbirth.

American Indians


One of Benjamin Franklin’s later satires he uses the technique of changing the point of view. He does this;

  In Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America

Franklin tells of the Virginia commissioners offering the leaders of the Six Nations admission to college at Williamsburg. “If Indians would send down half a dozen of their young Lads to the College, the government would take care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the learning of the White People.”

The commissioners were surprised when the Indians declined the offer with thanks. In their thank you Franklin has them say” Different Nations have different Conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours.” The Indians relate that they had previously sent young men to some of” the colleges of the Northern Provinces.” When they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, unable to beither Cold or Hunger, knew nothing about how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy, spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore unfit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counselors; they were good for nothing.

The Indians go on to thank the commissioners for the offer and made a counter offer that if the whites wanted to send a few young men to them they would instruct them and make Men of them.


 I have tried in this short space to capture a side of Benjamin Franklin that the general public is not too familiar with. In addition to his role in founding our nation, a career in printing and publishing, as a diplomat representing our country he also had a sense of humor and that showed itself in such things as satire, hoaxes and even in his persona. As such he fits in with many early writes and journalists. Maybe we have a tendency to look on our heroes of the past as rather overly serious and gloomy people. This is an attempt to look at another side of them.

Information in this article came from “Franklins Hoaxes,” www.compedit. Om franklin’s-hoaxes. htm

The Speech of Polly baker-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Benjamin Franklins Hoaxes The Spark of Yahoo

Silence Dogood-Wikipedia

The Hoaxes of Benjamin Franklin

Please leave comments

Your comments on this hub would be helpful. Please comment and vote.


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Your welcome. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Epic Bob 

      5 years ago

      This helped a lot with my report, thank you.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Trish_M, Yes, Franklin was interesting.Thanks for commenting.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Franklin was a very interesting man ~ and this is a very interesting hub :)

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks Peggy. Historical figures are often portrayed in terms of what they writer wants the world to see.However, the more I have delved into American writers I see a pattern of.Mark Twain and Washington Irving also had tendencies toward practical jokes.I think it was part of journalism back then.Thanks for commenting and sharing.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Don,

      I think most folks have different facets to their nature but often that is left out of accounts about them and we only are told of their accomplishments. Enjoyed taking another look at this hub and will share.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Glad you enjoyed it.What draws my attention is that writers and journalist who we consider the respectable figures like Franklin and Mark Twain were so into pranks. It tells me something about the way things were looked at back in the "old days." Thanks for commenting and voting.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This was fun reading about the not so serious side of Benjamin Franklin. It humanized him and rounded out what we know of his character. Thanks. Up and useful.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for you commengt.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      To answer you question, I believe that there are many modern-day satirist "out there". The first to come to my mind is Garrison Keillor (SP?). His remarks on the little town of Lake Woebegone show a lot about Minnesota and American society as a whole.

      And thank you dahogland for your insight on this famous - or infamous - historical figure. "How the mighty have fallen!"

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for commenting on it. Franklin was a most unusual person.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you dahoglund, for a very awesome abd funny hub. Thanks for sharing. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Yes,he was.Thanks for commenting.

    • SUSIE405 profile image


      7 years ago from Delray Beach, Florida

      He was fascinating, but brilliant.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thank you for the comment and I'm am glad you enjoyed it.


      Yes, mischief seemed to be his quality. i believe he said they didn't want him to write the constitution because he might slip a joke into it.

    • randslam profile image

      Rand Zacharias 

      7 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

      Love Ben Franklin, studied him myself in high school and college--even though, I'm Canadian.

      His was a life of serious mischief when we get the whole picture. I've been wanting to do some more research on his life in France, as he tried to make the French more efficient in their labours and time usage--in his much later years.

      Thanks for the great hub, dahoglund. Ben reminds me of Mark Twain, before Twain wrote, as for present-day thinkers--hmmm, the closest we might get to that would be John Stewart of the Daily Show?

      Thanks again, for letting us see that a sense of humour is a must in political life--wish more people would get

    • nakmeister profile image


      7 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Benjamin Franklin is one of my favourite historical figures, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hub, thanks.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for the comment. I am working on nother hub about Franklin's life.

    • ekenzy profile image


      7 years ago

      this is good dahoglund. tell us more about history.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I always believed it until now.Thanks for commenting.

    • eovery profile image


      7 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      How would Franklin have known that the key was energized. The experiment itself is bogus.

      Keep on hubbing!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Closest I can think of off hand would be the late William F. Buckley.Your comment on my last hub nudged me into this one, although I ran into a lot of Franklin in college.This is just a sampling of what he did. I put some links above if you want to read more.I think i may follow this up with a straight biographical hub on Franklin since I got so much material left. Thanks for commenting.

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      da, I love this! I read every word, which is rare for me, lol. What a fascinating man. I can imagine how he was accepted at the time; I wonder who might be his equivalent, today? Any ideas? His humor contained wonderful insight and yet, one had to laugh!!! Or I do, anyway. Thanks so much for this well-researched piece.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I agree. In this hub I mostly wanted to tell about this side of him. Thanks for your comment.

    • Robwrite profile image


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Franklin was one of the most interesting of the founding fathers. He was the only one who was already famous throughout the 13 colonies when the Philadelphia congress met in 1776. He was also the first postmaster general.


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