“Everything He Knew, He Learned in 1721”

–submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Mary O’Brien


Stephen Coss 7 13 16

It was a pivotal year for the American colonies, for modern medicine and for Benjamin Franklin, then an apprentice in his brother’s Boston print shop. Professor Stephen Coss discussed his book, “The Fever of 1721.”

According to Coss, in 1721, Massachusetts colonists participated in the first successful rebellion in the colonies against England, the first independent newspaper, The New England Courant, was published, western medicine’s first inoculation experiment was conducted on smallpox victims, and Franklin arrived on the scene as his brother’s printer’s apprentice.

Quite a year. Read the book.

In Boston, the first political challenge to English authority was led by Boston businessman Elisha Cooke Jr. The Boston Caucus, led by Cooke, convinced locals to oust the very unpopular English governor, thus accomplishing the first overthrow of a royal appointee.

While newspapers had been published in Boston and in the colonies under the authority of the crown, James Franklin started the New England Courant with his 12 year old brother Ben as an independent voice, the first in the colonies.

Not a successful business venture, James decided to exploit the inoculation of smallpox controversy to raise readership. Thus began a tradition of independent voices in the press discussing social, philosophical and political issues…social issues poked fun at by Silence DoGood, the pen name of teenager, Ben Franklin. Professor Coss tells us that James didn’t know that Ben was writing the DoGood articles and was outraged when he found out.  This “freedom” of the press was later enshrined in the 1st amendment of the US Constitution.

As small pox raged through the population, New Englander Cotton Mather began promoting inoculation as a way to combat the disease. Together with Dr. Boyleston, through much criticism, small pox inoculation was attempted and thus began vaccination as a successful tool against diseases like small pox.

For Ben Franklin, this was a time of intense education in politics, journalism and public medicine.  He was greatly influenced by Mather in promoting that community service, trying to do good, was a more valuable effort by men in our society than the accumulation of wealth and power. Later, Franklin formed the “Junta” in Philadelphia; a do-gooder group which was a model for Rotary to come.

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video on our YouTube Channel here.

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