Hoaxes Throughout History: 1700-1799

The Age of Enlightenment. Science and learning blossomed in Europe. People met in coffeehouses and salons to debate politics and philosophy. In this milieu, hoaxes paradoxically flourished. After all, hoaxes are just as much about exposing deception and credulity as they are about deceiving others, so they fit very well into the culture of the Enlightenment. Many of the most famous figures of this period were passionate hoaxers (as well as hoax-exposers): Benjamin Franklin, Daniel DeFoe, and Jonathan Swift, to name a few.

1704: The Native of Formosa
European masquerades as man from Taiwan

1708: The Predictions of Isaac Bickerstaff
Astrologer learns that he has died—insists it isn't so

1706-1790: Hoaxes of Benjamin Franklin
The great man who was a printer, philosopher, statesman, and hoaxer

1726: Mary Toft and the Rabbit Babies
The woman who gave birth to rabbits and, for a few weeks, was the most famous woman in England.

1726: The Lying Stones of Dr. Beringer
A German naturalist discovers some of the most spectacular fossils ever found. Too bad they were fake.

1729: Madagascar—Or Robert Drury's Journal
A travel hoax, or a true account of life in 18th century Madagascar?

1763: Linnaeus's Butterflies
A case of a hoax species

1766: The Patagonian Giants
Giants discovered in Argentina

1779: Graham's Celestial Bed
Electrified bed blesses sleepers with progeny

1782: The Blue Laws of Connecticut
Fake laws enforce puritan morality