John Townsend Trowbridge Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Townsend Trowbridge (TROH-brihj) considered his forty-odd novels as little more than hack work. He believed his only serious and great literary efforts were the series of volumes of didactic narrative poetry which later generations have forgotten, as they have almost forgotten his novels. Trowbridge was born on a farm in Ogden Township, New York, on September 18, 1827, and spent his childhood there. As he grew up, bad eyesight caused him difficulty in school. Because of his handicap, he was largely self-taught; nevertheless, he acquired a great deal of learning, including a knowledge of French, Latin, and Greek. After completing a year at the academy in Lockport, New York, Trowbridge traveled to the Midwest. He taught school in Illinois in 1845, then moved back to Lockport to teach school there for a year. In 1847 he went to New York City and began to make a reputation for himself as a writer, contributing his work principally to Dollar Magazine.

During the period from 1849 to 1860, Trowbridge edited periodicals and wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, the Youth’s Companion, and Our Young Folks. His interest in writing for boys and his success in pleasing their tastes won for him the editorship of Our Young Folks, a position he held from 1860 to 1873. He made his own a type of adventure fiction that was popular with adolescent boys and of interest to some adults; Cudjo’s Cave is an excellent example of the type.

In 1860 Trowbridge married Cornelia Warren, who died four years later, leaving two children. The following year Trowbridge moved his family to Arlington, Massachusetts, near Boston. His second marriage was to Sarah Newton, of Arlington, in 1873. Among Trowbridge’s friends were such diverse literary personalities as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Walt Whitman. He died at Arlington on February 12, 1916.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sloane, David E. E. “John Townsend Trowbridge.” In Nineteenth-Century American Fiction Writers, edited by Kent P. Ljungquist. Vol. 202 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999.

Trowbridge, John Townsend. My Own Story: With Recollection of Noted Persons. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903.

Wilson, Edmund. “Northerners in the South: Frederick L. Olmsted, John T. Trowbridge.” In Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1994.