A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Detail image of the first page of the 17-24 September 1722 issue of The New-England Courant. This issue featured Silence Dogood essay 13 about "Moon-light evenings" in Boston; click here to view the online presentation of this issue.

Benjamin Franklin—Newspaper Publisher and Runaway

OR a few weeks during June and July of 1722 (this time period overlapped with the publication of some of Silence Dogood's essays) Benjamin Franklin became the printer for The New-England Courant. Then, in an issue that was published in February 1723, his name appeared within the imprint on page two, as the printer of record. Although this was during a second period in which Benjamin assumed supervisory duties at the newspaper, this was the first time he was officially acknowledged as a printer--the profession for which he eventually became famous.

A seemingly innocuous note on page two of The New-England Courant, Number 45, 4-11 June 1722 landed James Franklin in jail. Franklin suggested that colonial officials were lax in the pursuit of pirates: “the Government of the Massachusetts are fitting out a Ship to go after the Pirates … tis thought [the captain] will sail sometime this Month, if Wind and Weather permit.” Infuriated by the implication that they were in collusion with the pirates, the General Court ordered him jailed for remainder of the legislative session. For the three following weeks, sixteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin became the printer and publisher of the Courant while his older brother sat in jail just across the street.

The last Silence Dogood essay appeared in October 1722, but this did not end either Benjamin’s contributions to the Courant or James’s troubles with the Boston establishment. In January 1723, James Franklin was censured again for mocking religion and offending the magistrates. He was forbidden “to print or Publish the New England Courant, or any other Pamphlet or Paper of the like Nature, except it be first Supervised by the Secretary of this Province.” James Franklin went into hiding and evaded censorship by printing the Courant under the name of his younger brother. A month after his seventeenth birthday, Benjamin Franklin again became a nominal newspaper publisher. He may have written all or part of the explanation of the new management scheme in the 4-11 February 1723 Courant—the first issue to appear under his name. Please see the detail below.

In spite of his early success as a satirist and social critic, the younger Franklin grew restless under the strict control and abuse of his brother and master. In September 1723, with four years remaining in his apprenticeship, Benjamin escaped, first to New York and then to Philadelphia.

Detail of imprint on page two of the 4-11 February 1723 issue of The New-England Courant, with Benjamin Franklin's name shown
as publisher. Please see the online presentation of the full newspaper.