Monday, October 12, 2009

Hezekiah Butterworth

Soon I will be discussing the juvenile series that were written by Hezekiah Butterworth. Before I do that I thought that I would put his biography into the blog. This bio comes from site on Hezekiah Butterworth. That site is a work in progress. (

December 22,1839- September 5, 1905

This well known author, editor, and spokesman was born on his family farm in Warren, Rhode Island. One of six siblings (five brothers and a sister) he attended the public schools in Warren. His parents Gardiner Butterworth and Susan Ritchie Butterworth came from well established New England families. In fact the first Baptist church was founded at the home of his ancestor Deacon Joseph Butterworth in Massachusetts while the first Methodist Church was founded by his ancestor Daniel Gladding in Rhode Island.

There are few hard facts extant about his life until he left Rhode Island for Boston in 1870 and joined the Youth's Companion magazine. What is known is that Hezekiah studied Rhetoric and Composition at Brown University but not in a degreed program. It is unclear whether it was ill health or finances that prevented a more comprehensive University course. He taught in 1864-1865 at the Winter School of the East District in Warren. A report indicates he did well. "The scholars made commendable achievement especially in reading and arithmetic." During these years he also was employed by the local newspaper in Warren. His duties there are unclear.

Late in he 1860's he began to submit short stories to various religious magazines. The story of him selling his first work and getting $2 from the Watchman has been repeated over and over again in his biographies but I am unable verify it . For some of his material he used stories that his Aunt Liza told him. Journals such as the Congregationalist, Appleton's Journal, the Reflector and the New York Independent published his stories. In 1869 his story- Bunhill Fields appeared in the Freewill Baptist Quarterly*. He moved to Boston in 1870 writing for for several periodicals to support himself He soon came to the attention of Daniel Sharp Ford editor of the Youth's Companion. Whether he learned of Butterworth because of several articles about self education published in the Youth's Companion(as some assert) or met him through the Baptist Church, Ford hired Butterworth as an assistant editor. Hezekiah remained with the Youth's Companion from 1870-1894. His charge was to widen he circulation of the Youth's Companion and to widen its appeal to all juveniles. He accomplished this with an increase in readership from 140,000 to 400,000 by 1887.

Once ensconced at the Youth's Companion his writing flourished. His books articles, poetry, and song lyrics appeared in numerous formats. He was a frequent speaker and was a member of numerous organizations.


His first book in 1874- Story of the Hymns- won the George Wood Gold Medal. This was an annual award given by the American Tract Society- a well known publisher of religious books.This book was followed by numerous other religious, biographical and travel/adventure books. More than 70 in number by the end of his life. His biographical books tended to fictionalize the youth of his characters. The travel books were praised by some as being moralistic and damned by others as being inaccurate and the product of a hack writer.

The most noteworthy of his books are found in the Zigzag Series. They sold in the millions and made Butterworth a "literary millionaire". As the story goes Dana Estes of Estes and Lauriat approached Butterworth with a book written by Rodolphe Topffer -Voyages en Zig-Zag.This book originally published in 1843 and its companion book Nouveaux Voyages en Zigzag published posthumously in 1853 chronicled the adventures of Topffer and his students in Europe. They were told in a humorous way with Topffer's illustrations which have been described as "witty and childlike". Estes asked Butterworth if he could produce something along the same lines. Shortly thereafter, Hezekiah put together the plan. Master Lewis would take a group of Boys on a trip during a school vacation. Seventeen adventures later, Master Lewis and the group had seen most of the world. These stories were not as much travelogue as they were history, fairy tales, and folklore tales. As opposed to Topffer's illustrations, most of the Estes and Lauriat Zigzag pictures were from previously published books ad their own files.

The Zigzag books were tremendously successful. Between 1879 and 1895 seventeen of these books sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Other Literary Pursuits

Butterworth wrote extensively. His writing consisted of far more than just his books. He wrote song lyrics and religious poetry by the score. His short stories appeared in Harper's Magazine, St. Nicholas, The Outlook and countless other periodicals. He was a regular contributor to Folio and a regular consultant to the American Messenger. He lectured frequently throughout the United States. His two most common talks were "The religious experiences of famous men" and "Men who overcame obstacles to spiritual success". At the World's Columbian Exposition he gave a speech on children's literature.


Hezekiah Butterworth was a member of numerous organizations. The one thing that most of these groups had in common was that the organization's goals were moralistic. He was a president of the anticigarette league. At the time there were 1.5 million members. Its goal was to protect America's youth from the evils of tobacco. He was a vice-president of the American Peace Society and actually read the opening poem at the Peace Congress in Chicago.

The most interesting club he was a member of was The Captain Rice Club. Little is known about this organization. 20 people signed a document which noted the name of the society and their intent to meet on the evening of the last Tuesday of August. The paper is not dated but one of the signers died in 1879. Beside Butterworth, Theodore Roosevelt (an undergraduate at Harvard at the time), Edward Everett Hale, Noah Brooks, and Albion Winegar Tourgee are among the signatories. It is presumed that this club's underlying goal was to somehow help the treatment of Blacks in the South. This is just a guess however.


Late in life beside his home in Rhode Island, he owned an orange grove in Belleview Florida. While there he taught at a small college at Belleview. This was around 1890.

Also in the 1890's he went on a number of trips to research his books. in 1895 he spent time in Europe and Egypt. His publisher sent him to South America in 1898.

He died secondary to complications of diabetes in 1905.

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