Sylvanus Cobb

Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
When we think of a prolific writer and published author with a connection to Norway, we usually think of C. A. Stephens. But, another author, who pre-dated Stephens and perhaps inspired him, made an extensive contribution to the public fund of literature in his time: Sylvanus Cobb, Jr. He was born in Waterville on June 5, 1823, the son of a Universalist minister and the grandson of Ebenezer Cobb, Jr. who settled in Norway in 1797.

Rev. Cobb preached in a number of locations in Maine before accepting a call from the church in Malden, Massachusetts. In 1839 he entered the printing trade and published the Christian Freeman, supporting temperance and decrying slavery. Sylvanus, the younger, joined his father in the printery and entered upon the path that would become his vocation.

In 1841 he joined the Navy for a period of three years, not as a sailor but as a “ship’s guard”. During this time with the Navy, he toured Europe and the Mediterranean area. This foreign travel provided characters and inspiration for many of the stories he would write. Upon leaving the military, he returned to work in his father’s printing business, and in 1845 married Mary Jane Head.

In the spring of 1846, a newspaper called the Rechabite was the next endeavor of the young Sylvanus and his brother, Samuel. They ran the paper for just more than a year before selling it to the publisher of the New England Washingtonian, where Sylvanus was retained as editor. His first story, The Prophet of the Bohmer World: A Tale of the Time of Joseph ll, Emperor of Germany, saw print in 1850 in the publication, Flag of Our Nation.

Seeking a break from city life, Sylvanus, his wife, and two young daughters moved, in 1852, to a farm in the Yagger area of Norway. Balancing the management of the farm with his contracted writing obligation became difficult and the farm was sold in 1855. The family then moved into Norway Village. Sylvanus contracted to write for the New York Ledger in 1856, a relationship that continued for more than thirty years. The serialized and infamous Gun-Maker of Moscow began its run in the Ledger during the Norway period. Many of the fictional characters in his writings were thought to be based on actual people with whom he was acquainted.

During his time in Norway, in addition to his writing, Sylvanus Cobb, Jr. was actively involved in town life. He was a member of the School Committee, the Fire Department, the Oxford Lodge of the Masons, and the Norway Light Infantry where he served as Captain. His writing was sometimes done under pseudonyms since more than one of his stories would appear in the same edition or in other publications of the same owner. Pseudonyms included: Austin Burdick, Charles Castleton, Col.Walter B. Dunlap, Enoch Fitzwhistler and others.

In 1869, Sylvanus Cobb, Jr. and his wife moved back to Boston where he lived and continued to write until his death on July 20, 1887. Estimates are that he produced at least 120 novels and 800 short stories, some of which were turned into plays.

For more information on this prolific writer see the transcription of a speech given by Larry Glatz on the Norway Historical Society website, [email protected]

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