HEWITT, JOHN HILL, 1801-1890.
John Hill Hewitt papers, 1824-1940

Emory University

Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322

404-727-6887

rose.library@emory.edu

Permanent link: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/8zfc2


Descriptive Summary

Creator: Hewitt, John Hill, 1801-1890.
Title: John Hill Hewitt papers, 1824-1940
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 31
Extent: 4.75 linear feet (9 boxes), 3 oversized papers box and 1 oversized papers folder (OP), 15 bound volumes (BV), 2 oversized bound volumes (OBV), and 2 microfilm reels (MF)
Abstract:Papers of professional musician and composer John Hill Hewitt including both published and unpublished manuscripts; autobiographical and biographical materials and notebooks; correspondence; and miscellaneous notebooks and scrapbooks, many of the latter filled with newspaper clippings by or about Hewitt.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Special restrictions apply: Due to the fragile nature of some of the material in this collection, researchers are required to use a microfilm copy.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Related Materials in Other Repositories

Library of Congress, Maryland Historical Society, and New York Public Library (Lincoln Center).

Source

Purchase, 1938, with subsequent additions.

Citation

[after identification of item(s)], John Hill Hewitt papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Collection Description

Biographical Note

John Hill Hewitt was born on July 11, 1801 in Maiden Lane, New York. His father, James Hewitt (1770-1827), was one of the leading professional musicians and composers in New York and Boston in the days of the young republic. At 17, the young Hewitt secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. There, he came under the influence of the director of the academy band, Richard Willis, a virtuoso on the flute and keyed bugle. Although Hewitt completed his course of study in 1822, his examinations, as well as his passive participation in the West Point mutiny of 1820, prompted the War Department to recommend that he repeat the four-year term. Hewitt already had misgivings about the military profession, and this encouraged him to seek an alternative career in music, journalism and theater.

During the years from 1823 through 1827, Hewitt was active in musical and literary circles of the Piedmont South. After an aborted theatrical venture in Augusta, Georgia, he lived and worked successively in Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina. In addition to studying law, he founded the Ladies Literary Portfolio and became a successful music tutor in the homes of well to-do merchants and planters. His reminiscences of these years mention his acquaintance with John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay.

From about 1828 to the beginning of the Civil War, Hewitt was prominent in the cultural activities of the upper South, principally Baltimore, Washington, Norfolk, Hampton, and Richmond. In Baltimore, he edited the Minerva and Emerald, the Baltimore Sunday Visitor, the Daily Clipper and the Sunday Enterprise. During these years, Hewitt established his reputation as composer and poet. In 1833, he triumphed over Edgar Allen Poe in a poetry contest. However, the victory was tainted by the fact that Poe had already won the contest’s prose prize and the judges were reluctant to award both prizes to the same person. Hewitt composed numerous songs and wrote several large musical works for the Music Institute of Baltimore. His oratorio Jephtha (1845) may well be the first oratorio by an American-born citizen. His plays were also well received, especially in Baltimore.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Hewitt was in Richmond where he volunteered his services to Jefferson Davis, citing his West Point background as experience. When a position with the Confederate government or military did not materialize, Hewitt undertook the management of the Richmond Theater. After this, he moved to Augusta where many of his plays and ballad operas were performed at the city's concert hall. Associated with Alfred Waldron and his thespian group, the "Queen Sisters," the company toured many of the principal cities of the South during the war years. During the last days of the war, Hewitt bought out the Augusta music publishing outlet of Blackmar & Brothers.

With the defeat of the Confederacy, Hewitt returned to Baltimore, after holding intermittent teaching positions with the Wesleyan Female Institute of Staunton, Virginia, and the Dunbar Female Institute of Winchester, Virginia. He wrote for the Baltimore Sunday Press, the Staunton Spectator, and edited the Valley Virginian. After a brief interval in Savannah in 1872, he returned permanently to Baltimore in 1875, where he taught, reworked his musical compositions and poems, and wrote reminiscences, poetry and anecdotes for the Baltimore press. During his last years, the Baltimore community came to venerate him as a link with the historic Baltimore of the past. He died on October 7, 1890.

It is difficult to characterize the relative importance of the various strands of Hewitt's varied and nomadic career. The papers and manuscripts reveal a man of multifaceted talents and energy who moved restlessly from place to place in search of circumstances congenial to his several professions. Although it may be conceded that Hewitt's creative endeavors are not remarkable in effect or expression, he remains of historical interest primarily because his tastes, manner, and style are a mirror of nineteenth-century American society, and Hewitt had a particular knack for divining and catering to that taste. His very first effort at composition, the song The Minstrel's Return from the War (1825), is the first of some 300 such ballads and has been referred to as the "first popular all-American song" hit.

Biographical Source: Frank W. Hoogerwerf, John Hill Hewitt: Sources and Bibliography, (Atlanta: Emory University, 1981), 5-7.

John Hill Hewitt was born on July 11, 1801 in Maiden Lane, New York. His father, James Hewitt (1770-1827), was one of the leading professional musicians and composers in New York and Boston in the days of the young republic. At 17, the young Hewitt secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. There, he came under the influence of the director of the academy band, Richard Willis, a virtuoso on the flute and keyed bugle. Although Hewitt completed his course of study in 1822, his examinations, as well as his passive participation in the West Point mutiny of 1820, prompted the War Department to recommend that he repeat the four-year term. Hewitt already had misgivings about the military profession, and this encouraged him to seek an alternative career in music, journalism and theater.

During the years from 1823 through 1827, Hewitt was active in musical and literary circles of the Piedmont South. After an aborted theatrical venture in Augusta, Georgia, he lived and worked successively in Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina. In addition to studying law, he founded the Ladies Literary Portfolio and became a successful music tutor in the homes of well to-do merchants and planters. His reminiscences of these years mention his acquaintance with John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay.

From about 1828 to the beginning of the Civil War, Hewitt was prominent in the cultural activities of the upper South, principally Baltimore, Washington, Norfolk, Hampton, and Richmond. In Baltimore, he edited the Minerva and Emerald, the Baltimore Sunday Visitor, the Daily Clipper and the Sunday Enterprise. During these years, Hewitt established his reputation as composer and poet. In 1833, he triumphed over Edgar Allen Poe in a poetry contest. However, the victory was tainted by the fact that Poe had already won the contest’s prose prize and the judges were reluctant to award both prizes to the same person. Hewitt composed numerous songs and wrote several large musical works for the Music Institute of Baltimore. His oratorio Jephtha (1845) may well be the first oratorio by an American-born citizen. His plays were also well received, especially in Baltimore.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Hewitt was in Richmond where he volunteered his services to Jefferson Davis, citing his West Point background as experience. When a position with the Confederate government or military did not materialize, Hewitt undertook the management of the Richmond Theater. After this, he moved to Augusta where many of his plays and ballad operas were performed at the city's concert hall. Associated with Alfred Waldron and his thespian group, the "Queen Sisters," the company toured many of the principal cities of the South during the war years. During the last days of the war, Hewitt bought out the Augusta music publishing outlet of Blackmar & Brothers.

With the defeat of the Confederacy, Hewitt returned to Baltimore, after holding intermittent teaching positions with the Wesleyan Female Institute of Staunton, Virginia, and the Dunbar Female Institute of Winchester, Virginia. He wrote for the Baltimore Sunday Press, the Staunton Spectator, and edited the Valley Virginian. After a brief interval in Savannah in 1872, he returned permanently to Baltimore in 1875, where he taught, reworked his musical compositions and poems, and wrote reminiscences, poetry and anecdotes for the Baltimore press. During his last years, the Baltimore community came to venerate him as a link with the historic Baltimore of the past. He died on October 7, 1890.

It is difficult to characterize the relative importance of the various strands of Hewitt's varied and nomadic career. The papers and manuscripts reveal a man of multifaceted talents and energy who moved restlessly from place to place in search of circumstances congenial to his several professions. Although it may be conceded that Hewitt's creative endeavors are not remarkable in effect or expression, he remains of historical interest primarily because his tastes, manner, and style are a mirror of nineteenth-century American society, and Hewitt had a particular knack for divining and catering to that taste. His very first effort at composition, the song The Minstrel's Return from the War (1825), is the first of some 300 such ballads and has been referred to as the "first popular all-American song" hit.

Biographical Source: Frank W. Hoogerwerf, John Hill Hewitt: Sources and Bibliography, (Atlanta: Emory University, 1981), 5-7.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of John Hill Hewitt from 1824-1940. The papers comprise both published and manuscript sources, including plays; melodramas and operetta librettos; prose works; poetry; music; autobiographical and biographical materials and notebooks; correspondence; and miscellaneous notebooks and scrapbooks, many of the latter filled with newspaper clippings by or about Hewitt.

Hewitt's dramatic manuscripts include plays, melodramas and operetta librettos; they vary in style from "vaudeville" sketches to full-length dramas. They tend to be sensational in plot, and characterization often is stereotyped. Nevertheless, they were conceived as "acting drama" not intended for publication and structured only to please an audience, an endeavor with which Hewitt had flair and experience. Many of the manuscripts include notes by Hewitt relating the circumstances of performance. Many of the dramatic works, particularly those written during the Civil War, have a strong patriotic theme. The Emory library already has made available in published form the libretto of one of the more notorious of the Civil War ballad operas, a satire on Abraham Lincoln entitled King Linkum First (1863).

Hewitt's prose works include three complete works of fiction and two volumes of autobiography. The fictional works include The Last of the Vampires, A Tale of Baltimore City in 23 chapters, The Ladder of Light, or The Story of a Child of Destiny in 19 chapters, and De Tournay, or the Accusing Spirit, A Historic Romance, also in 19 chapters. They probably are products of Hewitt's later Baltimore years and are revealing of contemporary taste in newspaper fiction of that era.

The autobiographical and biographical materials in the collection provide the most colorful portrait of Hewitt. The most important among these items is a two-volume semifictional autobiography entitled "Gilbert Crampton--Romance and Reality, being the Biography of a Man of Letters, Edited by a Cosmopolitan". The early portions of these manuscripts relate the career and adventures of Crampton [Hewitt] in the third person. When Hewitt tired of this fictional presentation, he carried on in direct memoir style; the manuscript lapses into dated journal entries near the end of his life. A good portion of personal correspondence, most of it from the later years, shows Hewitt to be an affectionate family man; numerous scrapbooks include poems, short stories and reviews of musical and theatrical productions. Miscellaneous pencil sketches, including some presumed self-portraits, demonstrate that Hewitt even dabbled as an amateur artist. On the whole the autobiographical materials reveal Hewitt's skill as raconteur, an ability that made him a sought-after figure in his later years.

Hewitt was able to publish some portions of his poetry during his lifetime. The early Miscellaneous Poems (Baltimore, 1838) contains shorter poems and some songs. War, a Poem, with Copious Notes, Founded on the Revolution of 1861-62 (Up to the Battles Before Richmond, Inclusive) (Richmond, 1862) is a long narrative poem based on Confederate newspaper accounts of the war. The above published version represents only the first canto, and the manuscript of the remainder is a prominent item among the poetry manuscripts. Other unpublished poetry in the collection is of such extent as to provide enough material for at least several volumes. The range is complete, including pieces from Hewitt's earliest West Point years through the final period in Baltimore. Many of the newspaper clippings in Hewitt's scrapbooks contain additional poems often signed with pseudonyms-he liked to sign his light verse "Jenks," and songs often are attributed to the pen name "Eugene Raymond."

Hewitt probably achieved his greatest success in the field of music, if we are to measure by the extent of sheet music publications. The manuscripts complement the published music nicely, since the materials consist largely of unpublished larger musical works. Included, for example, is the oratorio Jephtha, with both keyboard score and vocal and instrumental scores (only the libretto was ever published). The operetta The Sleeper, Rip van Winkle is also relatively complete, and includes keyboard score and instrumentation. There are other minor operettas and cantatas, including the Musical Enthusiast and The Fairy Bridal, some in keyboard score only. Also in the collection is a two piano version of a Centennial Overture (1876), "descriptive of the struggle of the colonies for independence," as well as numerous songs and glees, some of the former and all of the latter unpublished. Hewitt's music is conservative, especially harmonically, but he did have an ear for an occasional striking gesture and probably was more sensitive than most to textual declamation and effect. There is an innocent simplicity in many of the songs that can be endearing.

Arrangement Note

Organized into five series: (1) Correspondence, biography, sketchbooks; (2) Plays, melodramas, operetta librettos; (3) Prose work, (4) Poetry, and (5) Music.


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