James Lord Pierpont
|Born||April 25, 1822|
Boston, Massachusetts, US
|Died||August 5, 1893 (aged 71)|
Winter Haven, Florida, US
|Occupation(s)||Composer, songwriter, arranger, organist|
|Spouse(s)||Millicent Cowee (1846–1856)|
Eliza Jane Purse
James Lord Pierpont (April 25, 1822 – August 5, 1893) was an American songwriter , arranger, organist, Confederate States soldier, and composer, best known for writing and composing "Jingle Bells" in 1857, originally titled "The One Horse Open Sleigh".
He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and died in Winter Haven, Florida. His composition "Jingle Bells" has become synonymous with the Christmas holiday and is one of the most performed and most recognizable songs in the world.
Early life and career
James Lord Pierpont was born on April 25, 1822 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, the Reverend John Pierpont (1785–1866), was a pastor of the Unitarian Hollis Street Church in Boston, an abolitionist and a poet. Robert Fulghum confused James with his father in the book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It (1989); erroneously attributing the authorship of "Jingle Bells" to the Rev. John Pierpont. James' mother was Mary Sheldon Lord (1787-1855), the daughter of Lynde Lord, Jr. (1762–1813), and Mary Lyman. James was the uncle of the financier and banker John Pierpont Morgan. John and Mary Pierpont had six children.
In 1832, James was sent to a boarding school in New Hampshire. He wrote a letter to his mother about riding in a sleigh through the December snow. In 1836, James ran away to sea aboard a whaling ship called the Shark. He then served in the US Navy until the age of 21.
By 1845, he returned to the Northeast visiting New England and moving to New York where his father was the pastor of a Unitarian congregation in Troy, New York. James married Millicent Cowee, the daughter of Farwell Cowee and Abigail Merriam, in 1846, and they settled in Troy, where they had two children. His father, Rev. John Pierpont, assumed a position as minister of a Unitarian congregation in Medford, Massachusetts in 1849.
In 1849, James Pierpont left his wife and children with his father in Massachusetts to open a business in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. He also worked as a photographer. His business failed after his goods burned in a fire.
In 1856, Millicent died, and after James' brother, the Rev. John Pierpont, Jr. (1819–1879), accepted a post with the Savannah, Georgia, Unitarian congregation, James followed, taking a post as the organist and music director of the church. To support himself, he also gave organ and singing lessons. The organ is presently in the possession of Florida State University.
On March 27, 1852, James Pierpont published his composition "The Returned Californian", based on his experiences in San Francisco, published in Boston by E. H. Wade of 197 Washington Street. "The Returned Californian" was originally sung by S. C. Howard, of Ordway's Aeolians, and was written expressly for Ordway's Aeolians "by James Pierpont Esq." and was arranged by John Pond Ordway (1824–1880). The song narrates a version of Pierpont's experiences during the California Gold Rush and the failure of his San Francisco business: "Oh! I'm going far away from my Creditors just now, I ain't the tin to pay 'em and they're kicking up a row." The U.S. Library of Congress possesses a copy of the original sheet music for the song. The lyrics to "The Returned Californian" are as follows:
Oh, I'm going far away from my Creditors just now,
I ain't the tin to pay 'em and they're kicking up a row;
I ain't one of those lucky ones that works for 'Uncle Sam,'
There's no chance for speculation and the mines ain't worth a ('d--') Copper.
There's my tailor vowing vengeance and he swears he'll give me Fitts,
And Sheriff's running after me with pockets full of writs;
And which ever way I turn, I am sure to meet a dun,
So I guess the best thing I can do, is just to cut and run.
Oh! I wish those 'tarnel critters that wrote home about the gold
Were in the place the Scriptures say 'is never very cold;'
For they told about the heaps of dust and lumps so mighty big,
But they never said a single word how hard they were to dig.
So I went up to the mines and I helped to turn a stream,
And got trusted on the strength of that delusive golden dream;
But when we got to digging we found 'twas all a sham,
And we who dam'd the rivers by our creditors were damn'd.
Oh! I'm going far away but I don't know where I'll go,
I oughter travel homeward but they'll laugh at me I know;
For I told 'em when I started I was bound to make a pile,
But if they could only see mine now I rather guess they'd smile.
If of these United States I was the President,
No man that owed another should ever pay a cent;
And he who dunn'd another should be banished far away,
And attention to the pretty girls is all a man should pay.
In 1853, Pierpont had published new minstrel compositions in Boston, among them "Kitty Crow", dedicated to W. W. McKim, and "The Colored Coquette", a minstrel song published by Oliver Ditson. "The Coquette" and an arrangement for guitar entitled "The Coquet" were also published that year. Pierpont also published an arrangement entitled "The Universal Medley".
In 1854, Pierpont composed the songs "Geraldine" and "Ring the Bell, Fanny" for George Kunkle's Nightingale Opera Troupe. He also copyrighted the song "To the Loved Ones at Home" in 1854 and "Poor Elsie", a ballad, written and arranged expressly for Campbell's Minstrels, who were rivals to Christy's Minstrels. In 1855, he composed "The Starlight Serenade", published by Miller and Beacham in Baltimore. Pierpont also composed "I Mourn For My Old Cottage Home". In 1857, Pierpont had another successful hit song composition with a song written in collaboration with lyricist Marshall S. Pike, "The Little White Cottage" or "Gentle Nettie Moore", published by Oliver Ditson and Company, and copyrighted on September 16, 1857. The songwriting credit appeared as: "Poetry by Marshall S. Pike, Esq.", the "Melody by G. S. P.", and "Chorus and Piano Accompaniment by J. S. [sic] Pierpont".[notes 1]
Pierpont published several ballads, polkas, such as "The Know Nothing Polka", published by E. H. Wade in 1854, and minstrel songs.[notes 2]
In August 1857, James married Eliza Jane Purse, daughter of Savannah's mayor, Thomas Purse. She soon gave birth to the first of their children, Lillie. Pierpont's children by his first marriage remained in Massachusetts with their grandfather.
In August 1857, his song "The One Horse Open Sleigh" was published by Oliver Ditson and Company of 277 Washington Street in Boston dedicated to John P. Ordway. The song was copyrighted on September 16, 1857. The song was originally performed in a Sunday school concert on Thanksgiving in Savannah, Georgia, although it has been claimed that Pierpont wrote it in Medford, Massachusetts in 1850. In 1859, it was re-released with the title "Jingle Bells, or The One Horse Open Sleigh". The song was not a hit as Pierpont had originally published it.
The original lyrics to "The One Horse Open Sleigh" as written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857 are as follows:
Dashing thro' the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O'er the hills we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bob tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song to night.
Jingle bells, Jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh.
Jingle bells, Jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh.
A day or two ago,
I thought I'd take a ride,
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank;
Misfortune seemed his lot,
He got into a drifted bank,
And we, we got upsot.
A day or two ago,
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away.
Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls to night
And sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob tailed bay
Two forty as his speed.
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack, you'll take the lead.
Later arrangements of the song made minor alterations to the lyrics and introduced a new, simpler melody for the chorus. In this modified form, "Jingle Bells" became one of the most popular and most recognizable songs ever written.
In 1859, the Unitarian Church in Savannah closed because of its abolitionist position, which was unpopular in the South. By 1860, the Rev. John Pierpont, Jr. returned to the North. James, however, stayed in Savannah with his second wife Eliza Jane.
At the beginning of the Civil War, in the summer of 1861, Pierpont enlisted as a private in the Lamar Rangers, a militia cavalry regiment from Lamar County. In September 1861 the Lamar Rangers became a Company of the 1st Georgia Cavalry Battalion and on September 1st, Pierpont joined the regiment as a private.
The 1st Georgia Battalion served on the Georgia coast from 1861 to 1863, guarding against Union attacks but not seeing much action. On January 20, 1863, the 1st Georgia Cavalry Battalion was merged to become the 5th Georgia Cavalry Regiment, and Pierpont mustered into Company H. He served with the 5th Cavalry until April 1865, and fought at many battles in the Atlanta Campaign and the Campaign of the Carolinas. Records indicate that he served some time as a company clerk.
He also wrote music for the Confederacy, including "Our Battle Flag", "Strike for the South" and "We Conquer or Die". His father saw military service in 1861 as a chaplain with the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry of the Union Army stationed in Washington, D.C. and later worked for the U.S. Treasury Department. Pierpont and his father were thus on opposite sides during the Civil War.
After the war, James moved his family to Valdosta, Georgia, where he taught music. According to Savannah author Margaret DeBolt and researcher Milton J. Rahn, Pierpont's son, Maynard Boardman, was born in Valdosta. The 1870 Lowndes County Census listed: "Pierpont, James 48, Eliza J. 38, Lillie 16, Thomas 8, Josiah 5, and Maynard B. 4." If Lillie was 16 in 1870, she was born in about 1854.
Pierpont’s first wife died in 1856, and a previously referenced census cited Eliza’s marriage and Lillie’s birth as 1857. Pierpont’s first wife undoubtedly died in 1856, so if Lillie, his child by his second wife, was born in 1854, it would have been more than two years before his first wife died.
In 1869, Pierpont moved to Quitman, Georgia. There he was the organist in the Presbyterian Church, gave private piano lessons and taught at the Quitman Academy, retiring as the head of the Musical Department.
In 1880, Pierpont's son, Dr. Juriah Pierpont, M.D., renewed the copyright on "Jingle Bells" but he never made much money from it. It took considerable effort to keep his father's name permanently attached to the song after the copyright expired.
Pierpont spent his final days at his son's home in Winter Haven, Florida, where he died on August 5, 1893. At his request, he was buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah beside his brother-in-law Thomas Purse, who had been killed in the First Battle of Bull Run as a Private in Company B, 8th Georgia Infantry.
James Pierpont's other compositions include:
- "The Returned Californian", 1852
- "Kitty Crow", Ballad, 1853
- "The Coquette, A Comic Song", 1853, with "Words by Miss C. B.". "The Coquet" was an arrangement for guitar by Pierpont of "The Coquette"
- "The Colored Coquette", a minstrel song, 1853
- "To the Loved Ones at Home", 1854
- "Ring the Bell, Fanny", 1854
- "Geraldine", 1854
- "Poor Elsie", Ballad, 1854
- "The Know Nothing Polka", 1854
- "The Starlight Serenade", 1855
- "To All I Love, 'Good Night'"
- "I Mourn For My Old Cottage Home"
- "Gentle Nettie Moore" or as "The Little White Cottage", 1857, Marshall S. Pike, lyrics, "Melody by G. S. P.", "Chorus and Piano Accompaniment by J. S. [sic] Pierpont"
- "Wait, Lady, Wait"
- "Quitman Town March"
- "Our Battle Flag"
- "We Conquer or Die", 1861
- "Strike for the South", 1863
- "Oh! Let Me Not Neglected Die!"
Bob Dylan based his song "Nettie Moore" on the Modern Times (2006) album on "Gentle Nettie Moore". The structure of the chorus and the first two lines ("Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore / And my happiness is o'er") of Bob Dylan's "Nettie Moore" are the same as those of "The Little White Cottage, or Gentle Nettie Moore", the ballad published in 1857 in Boston, by Marshall S. Pike (poetry), G.S.P. (melody) and James S. Pierpont (chorus and piano accompaniment). The 1857 song is about a man pining for a girl, Nettie Moore, bought into servitude by a Louisiana trader, who "gave to Master money", shackled her with chains, and took her away from the little white cottage "to work her life away".
The Sons of the Pioneers with Roy Rogers recorded "Gentle Nettie Moore" in August 1934 for Standard Radio in Los Angeles and released it as a 33 RPM radio disc, EE Master 1720. The recording was reissued on the CD no. 4 of the 5 CD set Songs Of The Prairies: The Standard Transcriptions – Part 1: 1934-1935 on Bear Family Records, BCD 15710 EI, 1998, Germany. The songwriting credit on this collection is listed as: "Gentle Nettie Moore" (Marshall S. Pike/James Pierpont).
- From 1890 to 1954, "Jingle Bells" was in the top 25 of the most recorded songs in history, beating out "My Old Kentucky Home", "The Stars and Stripes Forever", "Blue Skies", "I Got Rhythm" and "Georgia on My Mind".
- In recognition of the universal success of his composition, Pierpont was elected into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
- In 1997, a James Lord Pierpont Music Scholarship Fund was established at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia.
In popular culture
- The Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Jingle All the Way (1996) references "Jingle Bells".
- "Jingle Bell Rock" references "Jingle Bells".
- "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" by Nat King Cole quotes from "Jingle Bells" at the close of the song.
- "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" performed live by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band quotes the melody from "Jingle Bells" at the close.
- In the 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest starring Jack Nicholson, an instrumental version of "Jingle Bells" is played during the party scene.
- "White Christmas" recorded by The Drifters in 1954 features a snippet of "Jingle Bells" sung at the close of the song.
- "Jingle Bells" was the first song performed in space on December 16, 1965, when NASA astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford, aboard Gemini 6, played it on a harmonica and bells to Mission Control. Both instruments are displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
- Pierpont's name appeared incorrectly as "J. S. Pierpont" on the sheet music cover for "The Little White Cottage". See: "The Little White Cottage, or Gentle Nettie Moore". Library of Congress. Retrieved: December 15, 2020
- While "Jingle Bells' remains his only song that is regularly performed and recorded, his other songs are known and have been recorded and performed as well. Jamie Keena, for example, a balladeer and authority on 19th century music has recorded several Pierpont compositions from this period, including "Ring the Bell, Fanny" (1854), "Quitman Town March", and "Wait, Lady, Wait", as well as three Confederacy songs written in the 1860s, "Our Battle Flag", "We Conquer or Die" (1861), and "Strike for the South" (1863). See: "James Lord Pierpont. The Hymns and Carols of Christmas" Retrieved: December 15, 2020
- Lewis, Dave "James Pierpont Biography", AllMusic, retrieved December 16, 2011
- "Staking claim to a carol Georgians say 'Jingle Bells' is their song -- not Medford's", Boston Globe, December 25, 2003, retrieved December 17, 2011
- Daiss, Timothy (2002) Rebels, saints, and sinners: Savannah's rich history and colorful personalities, Pelican, ISBN 978-1-58980-049-6, p. 163
- See Medford, Mass Census 1855
- "The Rich History of Unitarian Universalism in Savannah..." The Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah. Retrieved 2020-12-15.
- Lyrics, "The Returned Californian", 1852 sheet music. Library of Congress. Washington, DC. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
- American Civil War Research Database. "Civil War Soldiers Records and Profiles". Ancestry.com.
- The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893). Author of "Jingle Bells". hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
- "Gentle Nettie Moore", 1857 sheet music, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Libraries, Digital Collections. Retrieved 16 December 2022.
- Lyrics, "The Little White Cottage; or Gentle Nettie Moore", 1857 sheet music. Library of Congress. Washington, DC. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
- J.S. Pierpont. Songwriters Hall of Fame. songhall.org. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2018)
- James Pierpont at the Songwriters Hall of Fame
- The title page of the 1857 sheet music to "Gentle Nettie Moore": http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/sheetmusic/a/a05/a0538/a0538-1-72dpi.html
- James Lord Pierpont at "The Hymns and Carols of Christmas"
- "The One Horse Open Sleigh" by J. Pierpont, 1857 sheet music. Library of Congress.
- Free scores by James Pierpont at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- Free scores by James Pierpont in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- "James Lord Pierpont". Find a Grave. Retrieved February 14, 2008.
- "Jingle Bells" Historical Marker
- Works by James Pierpont at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about James Lord Pierpont at Internet Archive
- Works by James Lord Pierpont at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)