Ebenezer Cooke (c. 1665 – c. 1732), a London-born poet, wrote what some scholars consider the first American satire: "The Sotweed Factor, or A Voyage to Maryland, A Satyr" (1708). He was fictionalized by John Barth as the comically innocent protagonist of The Sot-Weed Factor, a novel in which a series of fantastic misadventures leads Cooke to write his poem.
Little is known about the life of Cook (sometimes spelled "Cooke", but spelled Cook in his published works). It is known that Cooke, like the persona of his poem, voyaged to Maryland as a young man. He entered the bar of Prince George's County, Maryland, and practiced law before returning to London by 1694. He later returned to Maryland after inheriting a half interest in his father's estate at Malden, Maryland.
Almost all that is known about Cooke was discovered by Lawrence C. Wroth and published in the introduction to a facsimile edition of The Maryland Muse, (1934, originally published 1730). Building on the few historical references, Wroth theorized that Cooke's grandfather, Andrew Cooke, came to Maryland in 1661 and bought several pieces of property, including a place called "Malden", then later called "Cooke's Point". Cooke's father, also named Andrew, married a woman named Anne in England in 1664. Wroth guesses Ebenezer was born the next year. Based on the poem, Ebenezer attended Cambridge University and came to Maryland in 1694. He returned to England before The Sot–Weed Factor was published in 1708 in London. He probably remained in England until after his father's will was probated in 1711–12 and returned to Maryland before 1717 and died sometime after 1732, the date of publication of the last work signed "Ebenezer Cooke".
Written in Hudibrastic couplets, the poem is, on its surface, a scathing Juvenalian satire of America and its colonists, and a parody of the pamphlets that advertised colonization as easy and lucrative (38, 40). The persona comes to Maryland as a tobacco merchant, or "sot-weed factor". He is shocked by the brutishness of Native Americans and English settlers alike, and he is swindled by an "ambodexter quack", or corrupt lawyer. He leaves the colony in disgust.
Some critics, notably including Arner, J. A. Lemay, G. A. Carey and Sarah Ford, read the poem as a dual satire, targeting the closed-minded, embittered, failed colonist as much as it satirizes the colony. This dual satire, Ford argues, helped to promote a national identity, as "the colonists become insiders who perceive the humor in the factor's inability to adapt to life in America". Micklus, too, sees the poem's humor as contributing to an aspect of American culture—namely, a tendency towards self-referential satire, later further developed by Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin. What is significant about the poem, for Micklus, is not what Cooke says about either the colony or the English, but how Cooke goes about showing that his speaker "is a complete ass".