1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trumbull, John (poet)

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TRUMBULL, JOHN (1750-1831), American poet, was born in what is now Watertown, Connecticut, where his father was a Congregational preacher, on the 24th of April 1750. At the age of seven he passed his entrance examinations at Yale, but did not enter until 1763; he graduated in 1767, studied law there, and in 1771-1773 was a tutor. In 1773 he was admitted to the bar, in 1773-1774 practised law in Boston, working in the law-office of John Adams, and after 1774 practised in New Haven. He was state attorney in 1789, a member of the Connecticut Assembly in 1792 and 1800, and a judge of the Superior Court in 1801-1819. The last six years of his life were spent in Detroit, Michigan, where he died on the 10th of May 1831. While studying at Yale he had contributed in 1769-1770 ten essays, called “The Meddler,” imitating The Spectator, to the Boston Chronicle, and in 1770 similar essays, signed “The Correspondent” to the Connecticut Journal and New Haven Post Boy. While a tutor he wrote his first satire in verse, The Progress of Dulness (1772-1773), an attack in three poems on educational methods of his time. His great poem, which ranks him with Philip Freneau and Francis Hopkinson as an American political satirist of the period of the War of Independence, was McFingal, of which the first canto, “The Town-Meeting,” appeared in 1776 (dated 1775). This canto, about 1500 lines, contains some verses from “Gage's Proclamation,” published in the Connecticut Courant for the 7th and the 14th of August 1775; it portrays a Scotch Loyalist, McFingal, and his Whig opponent, Honorius, evidently a portrait of John Adams. This first canto was divided into two, and with a third and a fourth canto was published in 1782. After the war Trumbull was a rigid Federalist, and with the “Hartford Wits” David Humphreys, Joel Barlow and Lemuel Hopkins, wrote the Anarchiad, a poem directed against the enemies of a firm central government.

See the memoir in the Hartford edition of Trumbull's Poetical Works (2 vols., 1820); James Hammond Trumbull's The Origin of “McFingal” (Morrisania, New York, 1868); and the estimate in M. C. Tyler's Literary History of the American Revolution (New York 1897).