Monday, September 03, 2012

Mysteries of the New England Courant

I've been doing quite a bit of research on the newspaper published by James Franklin (with the help of his brother Benjamin) the New England Courant.  I'm working on a full-length version of my Ben Franklin play.

But strangely, nothing I read mentions that one of the issues has an advertisement on behalf of their father Josiah for a run-away servant. It ran in issues 49 and 51. Here it is:
Ran away from his Master Mr. Josiah Franklin of Boston,Talow-Chandler, on the first of this Instant July, an Irish Man Servant, named Wiliam Tinsley, about 20 years of Age, of a middle Stature, Black Hair lately cut of, somewhat fresh-coloured Countenance, a large lower Lip, of a mean Aspect, large Legs and heavy in his going; He had on when he went away, a Felt Hat, a white knit Cap striped with red and blue, white Shirt and Neckcloth, a brown Colour'd Jacket almost new, a Frieze Coat of a dark Colour, grey Yarn Stockings, leather Breeches trim'd with Black, and round toe'd Shoes. Whosoever shall apprehend the said Runaway Servant, and him safely convey to his abovesaid Master, at the blue Ball in Union Street Boston, shal have Forty Shillings Reward, and all necessary Charges paid.
So it's mysterious it was never mentioned by the historians I read, especially since Ben Franklin himself did the very same thing - although Ben managed to do it legally: When his brother was jailed for something he printed in the New England Courant (an article which the town council thought implied they weren't vigilant enough about piracy) he had Ben run the paper, but in order to do so, had to release Ben from his apprenticeship. They drew up new papers after, but Ben kept a copy of the paper that declared him released and so could run away legally.

But the biggest mystery of the New England Courant is - do copies of every issue exist somewhere? Over 250 issues were published but so far I can only find a handful online, focusing on the contributions of Ben Franklin here. According to the book about his early years, Benjamin Franklin by Arthur Tourtellot there are a whole bunch of copies at the British Museum that have notations by Ben Franklin indicating who wrote which article - most of the articles were written under pseudonyms. But apparently nobody has ever thought to publish all the existing Courants in spite of its historical significance - and not only because of Ben Franklin.