The American historical novelist James Boyd was the son of James Yeomans Boyd and Eleanor Gilmore Boyd. He graduated from Princeton University in 1910 and also attended Trinity College, Cambridge University, for two years. In 1917, he married Katherine Lamont, and they became the parents of one son and two daughters. During World War I, Boyd served as a first lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Forces in France. After the war, he moved south on the advice of his doctor and took up residence at Southern Pines, North Carolina, where he devoted his time to writing. When John Galsworthy visited the United States, he met Boyd and was favorably impressed with his writing. He encouraged the young author and advised American publishers to watch his works. During World War II, Boyd set up the Free Company of Players, a group of American writers whose plays, written without financial remuneration, were designed as broadcasts to forestall enemy propaganda.
Boyd’s novels are natural and realistic. His first volume was Drums, which some critics have called the finest novel of the American Revolution. It shows, through the eyes of the central character, Johnny Fraser, the conflicting loyalties of the period. Some scenes of the novel are set in England, others at sea. Boyd’s next work, Marching On, is a novel of the Cape Fear country of North Carolina before the Civil War and concerns characters who are descendants of those in Drums. Written from the viewpoint of a sophisticated southerner, the work shows the wastefulness and needless suffering caused by war, and it had considerable influence on the genre of the historical novel of the time. Boyd continued his survey of American history in Roll River, which is set in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; The Long Hunt, a novel of the frontier; and Bitter Creek, a story of the West in the cowpuncher era. Boyd’s collection Eighteen Poems was published posthumously.
Daniels, Jonathan. Tar Heels: A Portrait of North Carolina. 1941. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1970. Comments on the work of North Carolina writers, including Boyd and Thomas Wolfe.
DeVoto, Bernard. “Escape to the West.” Saturday Review of Literature, March 18, 1939. Declares that Boyd’s novels are among the best in America and that they are unsurpassed in the field of historical fiction.
Lively, Robert A. Fiction Fights the Civil War: An Unfinished Chapter in the Literary History of the American People. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957. Studies the characters of Marching On.
Whisnant, David E. James Boyd. New York: Twayne, 1972. Marks a high point in the critical evaluation of the author. Whisnant analyzes the five novels and the short stories, and he presents a biographical sketch and a general critique of the work and career of his subject. Whisnant devotes one chapter to the Free Company of Players, the dramatic group founded by Boyd, and he concludes that Boyd’s works, because of their value and influence, deserve more critical attention.