Ohio History Journal

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William T Coggeshall:

"Booster"of Western Literature





Students of nineteenth-century America have long been familiar with a type of person

that intellectual historian Daniel Boorstin precisely labeled the "booster."1 Typically

he was a small-town, midwestern newspaper editor or dry-goods entrepreneur,

anxious to make a killing for himself and a reputation for his town--the order of

his desires was never clear. Promotion was his method; the most insignificant occur-

rence in his town could assume, as the object of his promotion, earthshaking impor-

tance. The arrival in his shop of last year's best eastern finery or the erection of yet

another Gothic aberration on his town's main street could be the occasion for inflated

praise intended to prove that civilization had reached its zenith. Even though the

booster may be something of a bore, he has not been without his defenders. It has

been argued, for example, that the development of education, literature, and the

arts--what is commonly called culture--came largely to America's heartland

through the efforts of promoters of this type.

The achievements of Dr. Daniel Drake of Cincinnati, the so-called "Franklin of

the West," have become legendary, and his encouragement of the arts in early Ohio

is a matter of record. Less well known than Drake's works are the efforts of a later

but equally dedicated literary booster of the West, William Turner Coggeshall.2 Like


1. Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The National Experience (New York, 1965), 113-168.

On American literary boosterism see particularly Robert E. Spiller, ed., The American Literary

Revolution, 1783-1837 (Garden City, N.Y., 1967) and Benjamin Spencer, The Quest for Na-

tionality: An American Literary Campaign (Syracuse, 1957). Two informative essays on western

literary boosterism are Theodore Hornberger, "Three Self-Conscious Wests," Southwest Review,

XXVI (1941), 428-448; and David Donald, "Toward a Western Literature, 1820-60" in his

Lincoln Reconsidered (New York, 1956), 167-186.

2. Published sources of information on Coggeshall include sketches in William Coyle, ed.,

Ohio Authors and their Books (Cleveland, 1962), 125; and Dictionary of American Biography,

(New York, 1930), IV, 272-273. Both of these rely on the information, provided by Coggeshall's

widow, in W. H. Venable, Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley (Cincinnati, 1891),

109-110, 116-118, a less than reliable source.

An important biographical source is the Coggeshall Papers in the Ohio Historical Society.

The eight boxes of Coggeshall manuscripts in this collection include important letters, drafts of

essays, and diaries for 1861, 1863, 1865, 1866, and 1867. Also, Ralph C. Busbey, son of

Coggeshall's daughter Emancipation Proclamation Coggeshall Busbey, excerpted material from

his grandfather's diaries for a series of pieces published in the Columbus Dispatch Magazine,

October 26, 1958, November 9, 1958, November 23, 1958, November 30, 1958. The first provides

biographical information on Coggeshall, his wife and their daughter Emmancipation Proclama-

tion, nicknamed "Prockie." The last three deal with Coggeshall's observation on Abraham

Lincoln's journeys through Columbus, first on his way to his inaugural and later on the passage

of his body back to Springfield, Illinois, for burial.


Mr. Andrews is Assistant Professor of English, The Ohio State University.