Joseph Crosby Lincoln


Birth: February 13, 1870 in Massachusetts, United States
Death: March 10, 1944
Occupation: Novelist
Source: Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 3: 1941-1945. American Council of Learned Societies, 1973.


Lincoln, Joseph Crosby (Feb. 13, 1870 - Mar. 10, 1944), novelist, was born in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod, the only child of Joseph and Emily (Crosby) Lincoln. His ancestors on both sides of the family had settled on Cape Cod in the mid-seventeenth century; his father, like his grandfather and uncles, was a sea captain. When Joseph was about a year old his father died, and the boy grew up in the home of his maternal grandmother. He was allowed to roam the Cape at will and thus acquired an intimate knowledge of its distinctive culture and became familiar with the idiom, thrifty ways, and understated humor of its people.

Joseph received his early education at the local school and when about twelve moved with his mother to Chelsea, Mass. (near Boston), where he attended high school, returning to the Cape each summer. After finishing his schooling he held various jobs, as office boy and bookkeeper in the Boston area and as clerk in a brokerage firm in Brooklyn, N. Y. For a time he studied art with the Boston illustrator Henry Sandham [q.v.], and then opened a commercial art studio in Boston. To help sell his drawings he began supplying them with humorous verses, which attracted favorable notice, and in 1896, when the fever for bicycling was at its height, he became a staff illustrator and associate editor of the Bulletin of the League of American Wheelmen. On May 12, 1897, he married Florence E. Sargent of Chelsea. They had one son, Joseph Freeman, who in later life became his father's collaborator on several books.

Deciding to become a writer, Lincoln returned to Brooklyn in 1899; by day he worked as an editor of a New York banking publication and at night and on weekends he wrote stories and verses. His first short story, set in Cape Cod, was accepted by the Saturday Evening Post, and in 1902 he published a volume of his poems, Cape Cod Ballads, with illustrations by the popular artist Edward W. Kemble. Lincoln's first novel, Cap'n Eri (1904), brought him immediate success and fame. Its hero is one of three old sea captains who, in need of a housekeeper, advertise for a wife. The humorous complications that ensue, the fresh portrayal of the Cape Cod atmosphere and characters, and passages of convincing realism in an unpretentious but well-told story made the book a best seller, and it went through many printings.

A second novel, Partners of the Tide, was published in 1905, and others appeared thereafter, at the rate of one or two a year, until shortly before Lincoln's death. The titles provide a kind of inventory of the harvest he drew from a lean but to him inexhaustible soil. They include Cy Whittaker's Place (1908), The Depot Master (1910), Cap'n Warren's Wards (1911), Extricating Obadiah (1917), The Portygee (1920), Galusha the Magnificent (1921), Great Aunt Lavinia (1936), and, his last novel, The Bradshaws of Harniss (1943). Critics deplored the worn copybook morality of his plots, the repetitiousness of his tales, the lack of intellectual content, his sentimentality, and his convenient reliance on stereotypes. But the humor never flagged, and Lincoln fulfilled his aim in telling a story skillfully and projecting the character and flavor of a long-vanished Cape Cod. The author Hamlin Garland [Supp. 2], in a friendly but not undiscerning appraisal, wrote of Lincoln's "keen sense of character" and his "democracy of sentiment and fancy which never--or very seldom--loses its hold on the solid ground of experience."

Lincoln's son described him as "short, fat, laughing, and infinitely friendly," a frank sentimentalist who loved Cape Cod, people, and good food. He was an active member of the Unitarian Church. Of his more than forty novels none was a failure, and their sales ranged from 30,000 to 100,000 copies. They brought him a fortune, which enabled him to travel in Europe, to maintain a summer home at Chatham on Cape Cod as well as a winter home (first at Hackensack, N. J., and later at Villanova, Pa.), and to enjoy his chief hobbies, fishing and golf. In the last years of his life failing eyesight made writing difficult. He died of a heart ailment in his apartment at Winter Park, Fla., at the age of seventy-four and was buried at Chatham.
-- Henry Beetle Hough


[The Joseph C. Lincoln Reader (1959), an anthology edited by his son, has an introductory memoir and tribute. Lincoln's Cape Cod Yesterdays (1935), nonfiction, includes much personal reminiscence. The one book about him, James W. McCue, Joe Lincoln of Cape Cod (1935), is inadequate. Other sources: Grant Overton, Authors of the Day (1922), pp. 167-88; tribute by Hamlin Garland in Publishers' Weekly, Apr. 17, 1920; Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, eds., Twentieth Century Authors (1942); an early biographical sketch in Nat. Cyc. Am. Biog., XIV, 90-91; obituary in N. Y. Times, Mar. 11, 1944; information from Donald Consodine, Town Clerk, Brewster, Mass.]


"Joseph Crosby Lincoln."Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 3: 1941-1945. American Council of Learned Societies, 1973.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2004.

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