Joseph Hergesheimer (HUR-guhs-hi-mur) was born of Pennsylvania Dutch stock in 1880. Shy and frequently ill as a child, he attended Quaker schools and, planning a career as a painter, enrolled at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts in 1897. At the age of twenty-one, he inherited enough money to allow him to live and paint in Italy for a few years, but after suffering a nervous breakdown and returning to the United States he abandoned painting for a career as a writer.
He made slow progress as a writer, and he had to endure lean years of trial-and-error apprenticeship. In 1907, he married Dorothy Hemphill, settled in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and made that city his home for the rest of his writing career. With the appearance of his first novel, The Lay Anthony, in 1914, success followed rapidly and was secured with the novel The Three Black Pennys in 1917. This work, a realistic but exotically styled novel set against the Pennsylvania iron industry, deals with three generations of a single family of iron-masters. Hergesheimer’s best fiction combines realism and romance, usually against historical settings, and includes such books as Java Head, Linda Condon, The Bright Shawl, Balisand, and The Limestone Tree. He also wrote short stories, the historical-biographical sketches in a biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan titled Swords and Roses; an account of the restored Pennsylvania farmhouse where he made his home, From an Old House; and some critical articles. During the nearly twenty years before his death in 1954, Hergesheimer wrote very little for publication.