Today (and mainly tonight) I made my way around Boston, completing the scavenger hunt. I worked alone but had the photographic help of a friend outside of the class, who I think learned a lot about Boston and our class in the process! Under the cut here are all of the hints I had to complete, accompanied with pictures and brief descriptions of the sites and their historical importance!
Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
While the above quote it consistently attributed to the American icon Benjamin Franklin, it would appear that this widely held public belief is, in fact, a case of wishful thinking and unfortunate misinformation. However, the quote is not a total fallacy in essence; Franklin did have a considerable amount to say on beer (largely negative, as one may see in his Autobiography), but his true love affair was with wine. In a letter to his French friend Andre Morellet in 1779 (who was, like Franklin, a true Renaissance man, being adept and learned in many trades and studies), Franklin waxed poetic about wine:
We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!
As such, Franklin did, essentially, say that an alcoholic beverage was “proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy”, but it was wine rather than beer that he was discussing (and his actual language is considerably more eloquent than the popularized quote). The importance of this is debatable. While the quote is not grossly misinterpreted or misremembered, it is still a considerable deviance from Franklin’s legitimate words and as such is puzzling. Why his words have been twisted and reimagined in this way is somewhat unanswerable, but the vast recognition of the quote is telling as to its perseverance in the public imagination.
Looking to the New York Times archive alone one can find countless articles discussing beer, brewing, and other such related topics, all of which manage to integrate this false quote at some point or another, often not bothering to attribute it to a source at all. In a Times article entitled How Beer Gave Us Civilization this quote is contributed to Franklin as something he “supposedly” said, but nothing else is said about it. Even those who insinuate their doubt as to this quote’s authenticity manage to further ingratiate it into popular culture! However, the real point here is that I was hard pressed to find a single Times article covering the subject of beer which didn’t feature this quote, branding it authentic or not. This alone is telling as to the ingrained popularity of the misquote.
Still, how this started and why it stuck are likely unanswerable questions. It could easily be a misquote born of faulty memory, which would by no means be uncommon. There is also something to be said for Franklin’s prominence in American history and his status as a “true” American figure. There is quite possibly a public urge to paint such a figure as not only one of lofty aspirations and achievements but as relatable (something which is not particularly difficult to do with a figure such as Franklin, considering his upbringing and many of his more base, humorous writings). Whatever the reason, though, it was not beer that Franklin exalted–it was wine.
In Benjamin Franklin’s A Witch Trial at Mount Holly, one is met with a plethora of unknowns. For instance: there is, apparently, some doubt as to whether or not he wrote the piece; the legitimacy of the account is doubtful; and the status of the piece as fiction or non-fiction could be argued in multiple fashions. However, there is little doubt as to the intent of the piece: it appears to be a work of satire, which is, in and of itself, indicative of it being Franklin’s work.
The short essay details exactly what its title suggests: a witch trial held in Mount Holly (however, according to America in Class, a historical organization, the piece was initially untitled; its name was later bestowed by an eighteenth-century editor who gave it the appropriate heading). At the witch trial, two people had been accused, a man and a woman, and their two accusers were also a man and a woman. The accused requested that their accusers undergo the same trials they will endure (willingly, to prove their innocence), and the accusers quickly agreed to this, as they are pious and sure they would pass all the tests easily.
First, the four were given the test of the “scales”, in which they would be weighed compared to the Bible; if they weighed less, they were clearly possessed or guilty of witchcraft, but if they weighed more than the Bible, they were innocent (for that moment at least). All four weighed more (the text details “their Lumps of Mortality severally were too heavy for Moses and all the Prophets and Apostles) and so everyone moved to the next test: “Trial by Water”. All four, accused and accusers, stripped down naked (except for the women, who kept on their “shifts”, decently). The rules of the trial dictated that if they floated they were guilty, but if they sank they were innocent. Following the four people being thrown in the water, a rather absurd and comical scene played out. The female accuser desperately attempted to sink but continually floated, and summarily declared that the accused cursed her “to make her so light, and that she would be duck’d again a Hundred Times, but she would duck the Devil out of her.” The accused man also floated, and consequently “was not so confident of his Innocence as before”; other such ridiculous scenarios played out with the other man and woman as well. In the end, it was declared that “the Womens Shifts, and the Garters with which they were bound help’d to support them; it is said they are to be tried again the next warm Weather, naked.”
Many secondary sources which I have consulted agree that this witch trial at Mount Holly never actually occurred—it was not reported by any other newspaper or source of the time, and by 1730 a publicized witch trial had not occurred in America for a considerably amount of time; as reported by the New York Times, “The most famous case, the Salem trials, occurred nearly 50 years earlier. Twenty people were executed in Salem, and this gory excess helped to turn public opinion away from belief in witches. In England, the last legal execution of a witch took place in 1685.”. Also, no author was credited in the original account—but it was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which was owned and published by Franklin at the time. Given all of this information, and knowing Franklin’s penchant to publish writing anonymously, it is almost certain that the work was his, and was intended to be satirical. The depiction of the entire ordeal—the manner in which the trial is depicted, the actions of the accused and the accusers, the assumptions clearly held by the community at Mount Holly, the verbalizations of all involved—bespeaks a sort of belittlement on Franklin’s part, directed towards the behavior of those involved (fictional account or not).
This is not dissimilar from many of Franklin’s earlier essays as Silence Dogood. One may see this belittlement of others’ stupidity in numerous writings (such as Essay #7), and it was almost always presented with a sly tone and sardonic humor. By depicting this tale of superstition in such an absurd manner, one could argue that Franklin was not only denouncing the practices wherein but calling for more progressive, enlightened thinking based on common sense, rather than traditional superstition and fear-induced irrationality. Ultimately, The Witch Trial at Mount Holly was a parody, and remains so to this day; while the account could, theoretically, be true, the New York Times sums up well why it almost certainly was not: “The Mount Holly story has about it the sense of humor and scorn of superstition that characterized Franklin throughout his long life. Though the story is probably a fraud, it is not without significance. It shows that, by 1730, an educated man like Franklin could attack belief in witches as laughingly old- fashioned.”
In Franklin’s seventh essay under his pseudonym of Silence Dogood, written in June of 1722, he discusses the apparent lack of great poetry in New England. Addressing the fact that many European foreigners who visit America say that “good poetry is not to be expected in New-England”, Franklin argues that this is not due to the lack of education in the colonies, or that New Englanders simply don’t have the minds to be good writers, but because of a lack of “Praise and Encouragement”. Franklin goes on to example samples of poetry which he considers “exceptional”, arguing that encouraging great poetry will result in more “excellent productions” which will incite Americans to “endeavour to discover to the World some of its Beautys”. Franklin goes on rather sardonically, admitting that many and most poets are “wretchedly Dull and Ridiculous” (as well as the very elegy he cites as “exceptional”), and goes on to detail how they may write a “good” elegy.
Franklin’s devotion to good writing and its popular publication is evident here, as is his sarcastic and teasing nature. Most profound in this essay is certainly his stress on beautiful poems and elegies; he quotes considerable excerpts from those which he considers “extraordinary” and stresses the importance of such poems being lauded, so that more beautiful written work may be produced, contributing to the culture and growth of New England and America as a whole. In truth, he is mocking this poem as well as New England poets on the whole. Despite the teasing nature of much of the essay, though, it is not to be doubted that Franklin ardently believed in the spread of well-written works, and such a belief can be seen in his personal practices to improve his own writing, and his later works and commitments throughout his life. Overall, his attitude in this essay reflects two key facets of his personality: his dedication to writing, and his satirical nature.
Benjamin Franklin erected this obelisk at his parents’ burial site to commemorate their lives and achievements. While his father was simply a soap-maker and his mother was a colonial housewife with a large hoard of children, they led a successful, accomplished life, as did all their children after them. Franklin’s parents were a prime example of hardworking Americans managing to provide for their children and contribute to their community, accumulating respect and a good family reputation, despite coming from little status and no affluence. Franklin surely wished for them to be thought of and remembered as such, and this grand monument to them was intended to remind the public of their achievements and the ideals they represented. Their grave marker is the most prominent in the Burying Ground, larger than those of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, or John Hancock; such is, in and of itself, a testament to the essentialism of hard work and dedication, as well as how highly Franklin valued such ideals.