J. H. Ingraham was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in Hallowell, Maine. He graduated from Hallowell Academy and attended Yale College (now Yale University) for a year. In 1830, Ingraham sailed to New Orleans and traveled upriver to Natchez, Miss. He became a teacher at Jefferson College in Washington, Miss., and married the daughter of a Mississippi planter. A series of letters he wrote about the trip were published in the Natchez Courier from 1833 to 1835. These were collected and published as The South-West in 1835. The book sold well and was liked by critics. Ingraham began publishing articles and short stories in regional and national periodicals such as The Ladies’ Companion. His first novel, Lafitte (published in 1836), was an immediate success, and he published three more novels in the next three years. Despite their success, Ingraham had financial difficulties and went bankrupt in 1842. In an attempt to make more money, he began serializing his novels in popular magazines before publishing them in book form. He produced over seventy-five novels in six years.
In 1847, Ingraham decided to become an Episcopal minister and moved to Nashville to study theology. To support his family, he ran a girls’ school. He also established a prison ministry at the state penitentiary, leading Bible study and teaching reading classes. Ingraham was made a deacon in 1851 and was assigned to a cluster of mission churches in Mississippi. After his ordination to the priesthood, he became the parish priest of a church in Aberdeen, Miss., and taught at Aberdeen Female College. In 1853, Ingraham became a parish priest in Mobile, Ala. A series of fictional letters based on the story of Jesus (which had appeared earlier in an Episcopal magazine) was published in 1855 as The Prince of the House of David and became a bestseller. Ingraham still had financial difficulties, though, and, in 1857, he had to leave Mobile for Riverside, Tenn., where he was the minister of a church and the head of a girls’ school. He returned to Mississippi in 1858, becoming the minister of a church in Holly Springs and the head of a local boys’ school. In the next two years, he published two more Biblical novels and a travel novel. Ingraham died in Holly Springs in December 1860 from an accidental gunshot wound. His son Prentiss was a prolific author of dime novels after the Civil War.
J. H. Ingraham wrote many popular adventure stories, and his Biblical novels retell the stories of Jesus, Moses, and King David. The South-West provides information about life in New Orleans and Mississippi in the early 1830s. The Sunny South is one of many Southern responses to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.
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Photo from The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels: The Story of a Vanished Literature by Albert Johannsen, University of Oklahoma Press.
Last updated on Nov 14, 2009.