John Pierpont

John Pierpont

John Pierpont (1785 - 1866), poet, born at Litchfield, Connecticut, was successively a teacher, lawyer, merchant, and lastly a Congregational minister. His most famous poem is "The Airs of Palestine".


John Pierpont had careers as a tutor, attorney, merchant, and minister. In 1816 he began his religious work as a theology student, first in Baltimore and then at Harvard, afterwards accepting an appointment as pastor at the Hollis Street Church in Boston (1819-1845). During his tenure, Pierpont was instrumental in establishing Boston's English Classical School in 1821 and gained national recognition as an educator. He published two of the better-known early school readers in the United States, "The American First Class Book" (1823) and "The National Reader" (1827). However, Pierpont's latter years at the Hollis Street Church were characterized by controversy. His social activism for temperance and abolition angered some parishioners, and after a long public battle, he resigned in 1845.

After his resignation, Pierpont served as pastor of a Unitarian church in Troy, New York (1845-1849), and then led the First Parish Church (Unitarian) in Medford, Massachusetts (1849-1858). He ran for Massachusetts governor during the 1840s as a Liberty Party candidate, and in 1850 as a Free Soil Party candidate for the US House of Representatives. After two weeks’ service as a 76-year-old military chaplain with the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer's Regiment during the Civil War, Pierpont was given an appointment in the Treasury Department in Washington, which he held from 1861 until his death.

Literary works

Pierpont gained a literary reputation with his book "Airs of Palestine: A Poem" (1816), re-published in an anthology by the same name in 1840. He also published moral literature, such as "Cold Water Melodies" and "Washington Songster" (comp. 1842). In addition, he is probably the anonymous "gentleman" who co-authored"The Drunkard; or, The Fallen Saved" (1844), attributed to W. H. Smith, an actor and stage manager at Moses Kimball's Boston Museum. "The Drunkard" quickly became one of the most popular temperance plays in America.

Pierpont's many published sermons include, among others, "The Burning of the Ephesian Letters" (1833), "Jesus Christ Not a Literal Sacrifice" (1834), "New Heavens and a New Earth" (1837), "Moral Rule of Political Action" (1839), "National Humiliation" (1840), and "A Discourse on the Covenant with Judas" (1842). With publication of "Phrenology and the Scriptures" (1850), Pierpont became known not only as a reform lecturer, but also as an expert on phrenology and spiritualism.

Pierpont was an important influence on reform-minded antebellum poets. Along with John Greenleaf Whittier’s verse, Pierpont’s poems were frequently recited at public antislavery meetings. Oliver Johnson, a leading antislavery publisher and Garrison associate, published Pierpont’s "Anti-Slavery Poems" in 1843. The collection contains poems that had appeared mostly in the poetry columns of "The Liberator" and "The National Anti-Slavery Standard". Pierpont’s writings were also anthologized widely in antislavery poetry collections, such as William Allen’s "Autographs of Freedom" (1853).

John Pierpont also wrote the song "Jingle Bells" and there is a truly lovely story about this in Robert Fulghum's "It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It"


Contrary to some inaccurate histories and attributions, John Pierpont was not the author of the Christmas song “Jingle Bells”; its author was his son, James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893), who (ironically) served in the First Georgia Cavalry and wrote patriotic hymns for the Confederacy. John Pierpont was also the maternal grandfather of financier J. Pierpont Morgan. For detailed [ genealogical information] , see 20>16232 in "PIERPONT (PIERREPONT [E] , PIERPOINT, etc.) GENEALOGIES, With Focus on the New England Pier(re)ponts of America."


* Obituary by John Neal (friend) "Atlantic Monthly" 18 (1866) 649-665;
* Dictionary of American Biography 14: 586-587;
* John T. Winterich, "Savonarola of Hollis Street," "Colophon" 20 (1935)

External links

* [ The Antislavery Poems of John Pierpont] , at the Antislavery Literature Project
* [ The Tocsin] , a broadsheet poem by John Pierpont, at the Antislavery Literature Project
* [;idno=10841805;view=image;seq=1 The Anti-slavery poems of John Pierpont] By John Pierpont. Cornell University Library Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection. {Reprinted by} [ Cornell University Library Digital Collections]
* [ John Pierpont works] Cornell University Library Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection

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