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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Ebenezer Cook

Ebenezer Cook was a tobacco factor (merchant) and plantation owner in Maryland. A prolific writer, he spent much time in London as well as in Maryland. Cook’s The Sot-weed Factor, first published in London in 1708, is a satire of elitist English expectations about America. The satire is written in the form of Hudibrastic verse, named for Samuel Butler’s hilarious satire of Puritans, Hudibras (1653–1680). Hudibrastic verse has a Juvenalian (i.e., biting, after the classical writer, Juvenal) satirical stance offered in a form that is jarring to read because of the galloping and potentially monotonous tetrameter lines that end in odd-sounding rhymes. In fact, the incongruity created by “sing-song” lines that might be monotonous except for the unexpected rhymes and odd syntax fosters much of the humor of Hudibrastic verse.

Cook’s use of the verse form is doubly satirical. The speaker of The Sot-weed Factor speaks as though he were a member of the English elite; he denigrates and mocks Americans as hard-drinking, impious, backwater rogues. Thus, the poem’s satire seems on one level to be directed against Americans. Yet the poem really satirizes precisely the English elitist notions about Americans that the speaker holds. The first evidence lies in the fact that the sot-weed factor (tobacco merchant) stands “Erect, with Legs stretch’d wide” (line 67) in a canoe. An American would know that people would not stand in canoes. Other examples repeatedly show the ignorance of the speaker of the poem, who thinks himself superior to the Americans he finds. The last laugh, then, is on the speaker, who thinks himself superior when it is the Americans who really are so.

The text is taken from the original London, 1708, publication of the poem. Unless otherwise noted, annotations are Cook’s, from the original publication.

In the Heath Anthology
The Sot-weed Factor (1708)

Other Works

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"The Sotweed Factor"
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Ebenezer Cook(e)
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