Which Philadelphian is often regarded as America’s first professional writer?

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Which Philadelphian is often regarded as America’s first professional writer?

2017-04-15 20:00

Answer: Charles Brockden Brown

Charles Brockden Brown was born in 1771 to Philadelphia Quakers Elijah and Mary Brown. (Elijah Brown was among a group of Quakers labeled as Loyalists who were exiled to Virginia in 1777-1778.) His family wanted him to become a lawyer, and at the age of sixteen, Charles became an apprentice in the law office of Alexander Wilcox.  He worked in Wilcox’s office for six years, and during this time became increasingly dubious of the law profession and, against the wishes of his family, increasingly interested in literary pursuits.

Brown’s first identified written work, published in 1789, was a series of papers called The Rhapsodist, which appeared in Philadelphia’s Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine. In 1793, he turned to writing full time, and he is therefore regarded as the first American to become a professional writer. In 1798, Alcuin: A Dialogue, was published; this work focused on the rights of women. Brown subsequently published six novels in rapid succession: Wieland, Edgar Huntly, Ormond, Arthur Mervyn, Clara Howard, and Jane Talbot. He was a founder and editor of The Monthly Magazine and American Review (later called The American Review and Literary Journal). Brown, who had always been interested in politics, also wrote several political pamphlets, a number of which were anti-Jefferson, in the years before his death. In addition to all this, he served as editor of The American Register, or General Repository of History, Politics, and Science.

Occasional excerpts of Charles Brockden Brown’s published and unpublished writings can be found in HSP’s collection of Brown family papers (#84). We also have a number of publications on him in our library, such as Charles Brockden Brown, an American Tale (call number Gb .791 Ax969) and The Life of Charles Brockden Brown (call number Gb .79 1975).

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