Charles Felton Pidgin

Charles Felton Pidgin (November 11, 1844 - June 3, 1923) was an American author, statistician, and inventor.[1] He is best known for his 1900 novel Quincy Adams Sawyer, which became successful largely due to a big marketing campaign, and was adapted for the stage and silent film.

Charles Felton Pidgin
Pidgin c.1918
Born(1844-11-11)November 11, 1844
Roxbury, Massachusetts
DiedJune 3, 1923(1923-06-03) (aged 78)
Melrose Highlands, Massachusetts
OccupationWriter, statistician, inventor
Notable worksQuincy Adams Sawyer (1900)
SpouseLizzie Abbott Dane
Lucy Sturtevant Gardner
Frances Fern Douglass


He was born on November 11, 1844 in Roxbury, Massachusetts to Mary E. Felton and Benjamin Gordon Pidgin.

As a young child, Pidgin was rendered lame by an accident to his hip, and he was also partially blind for a number of years. He graduated from The English High School in Boston in 1863, and worked for ten years in the mercantile business. He was appointed chief clerk of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1873. In 1888 he independently published a book titled Practical Statistics. He was appointed as chief of the bureau in 1903, and remained there until 1907, leaving to focus on his writing work.[2][3]

In addition to serving as a state statistician, Pidgin remained busy in many other pursuits. He invented statistical tabulating machines,[4] and wrote songs and musical comedies. And he also became a fairly prolific author, for which he became best known.[5]

On the stage, Pidgin's musical comedy adaptation of Peck's Bad Boy was first produced in 1883 and ran for many years.[3]

His first and most popular novel Quincy Adams Sawyer was published in 1900 and sold over 250,000 copies.[6][7][8] It was aggressively marketed by his publisher, C.M. Clark Publishing, run by Carro Clark, the wife of Pidgin's friend Charles Atkinson.[9] It was adapted into a popular stage play in 1902, which toured widely and played at the Academy of Music in New York.[10][11][12][13][14][15] The book was adapted to silent films of the same name in 1912 (by Puritan Special Features Company, of which little is known),[16] and again in 1922 starring John Bowers, Blanche Sweet, Lon Chaney, and Barbara La Marr. Both films are considered lost.

Pidgin's next novel, Blennerhassett (1901), sold over 60,000 copies before even appearing in print.[17]

Pidgin's 1902 novel, The Climax: or, What Might Have Been: A Romance of the Great Republic envisioned an alternate history where Aaron Burr did not kill Alexander Hamilton, and later became president.[18][19] Pidgin was an avid enthusiast of Burr, who he felt was wronged by history, and a number of his novels involve Burr.[20]

In 1916, Pidgin filed a patent application to display dialogue in silent films, proposing that actors inflate balloons or party favor-like objects with text on them to recreate the act of speaking.[21] The idea never took off, and this proposal has only received modern attention as being a rather ludicrous idea.[22][23][24]

Pidgin married three times. He married his first wife Lizzie Abbott Dane in 1867, and she died the following year. In 1873 he married Lucy Sturtevant Gardner, who became a doctor and practiced medicine until her death in 1896.[25][26] His third wife, married in 1897, was Frances Fern Douglas.[27][28] Pidgin died at his home in Melrose Highlands, Massachusetts on June 3, 1923.[2][29][30]

List of novels

  • Quincy Adams Sawyer and Mason's Corner Folks (1900)
  • Blennerhassett (1901)[31][32][33]
  • Stephen Holton (1902)[34]
  • The Climax (1902)[19]
  • The Letter H (1904)
  • A Nation's Idol (1904)
  • Little Burr, the Warwick of America (1905) (inspired by Jeremiah Clemens's The Rivals (1859))[20]
  • The Corsican Lovers (1906)
  • Sarah Bernhardt Brown (1906)
  • The Hidden Man (1906)
  • The Toymakers (1907)
  • Labor (1908)
  • Theodosia (1908) (about Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr)[35]
  • The Further Adventures of Quincy Adams Sawyer and Mason Corner Folks (1909)
  • The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Saywer, detective (1912)
  • The House of Shame (1912)


  1. Ayers, Herry Morgan. The Reader’s Dictionary of Authors (1917; 2015)
  2. Miscellaneous Notes - Charles Felton Pidgin, Journal of the American Statistical Association, Vol. 18, No. 143 (Sep., 1923), pp. 919-924
  3. Boyden, Frank L. Popular American Composers, Popular American Composers, pp. 27-28 (1902)
  4. Pidgin, Charles Felton, 1844-1923. - Finding Aid,, Retrieved 5 January 2016
  5. (3 February 1917). Has the United States More than 118 Notable Composers?, Musical America (letter to editor where Pidgin combines his statistical skills with his musical interests to report how many composers appear in Who's Who in America and their ages)
  6. (16 September 1905). Charles Felton Pidgin's Books, The New York Times
  7. (20 April 1901). Notes and News (last item), The New York Times (reporting that book is selling 2,000 copies per day)
  8. (16 February 1901). News and Notes (third item), The New York Times (reporting that book sales are approaching 100,000 mark)
  9. (2 March 1902). Woman Publisher Who Has Succeeded, Los Angeles Herald
  10. (25 March 1902). "Quincy Adams Sawyer" - Pidgin's Novel of New England Life Produced on Stage, The New York Times
  11. (8 August 1902). "Quincy Adams Sawyer" - An Amusing Rustic Drama, with a City Chap for a Hero, The New York Times
  12. (6 September 1902). "Quincy Adams Sawyer" in a Week, Cambridge Tribune
  13. (18 January 1904). At Opera House, Kentucky New Era
  14. (5 March 19070. "Quincy Adams Sawyer", The Cornell Daily Sun
  15. (9 May 1905). "Quincy Adams Sawyer" - Rural Play, Elaborated, Seen at the Academy of Music, The New York Times
  16. (10 January 1914). Pictures Stimulate Interest in Play, The Moving Picture World
  17. (June 1908). Books, Sunset, p. 182
  18. Feeley, Gregory (6 September 2004). The Way It Wasn't, The Weekly Standard
  19. (2 October 1902). The Climax (review), The New York Times
  20. (22 April 1905). A Novel of Aaron Burr, The New York Times
  21. Cartmell, Deborah. A Companion to Literature, Film and Adaptation (2012)
  22. Felton, Bruce. What Were They Thinking? Really Bad Ideas Throughout History (2003)
  23. Ptak, John F. (28 January 2014). The Non-Talking Talkie--Soundless Talking Pictures (1917) and the Beauty of Timelessly Bad Ideas, JF Ptak Science Books
  24. (30 January 2014). An Absurd Device to Add Dialogue to Silent Films, Neatorama
  25. (20 June 1896). Death of Dr. Lucy S. Pidgin, Cambridge Chronicle
  26. (27 June 1896). A Friend of the Sick and Unfortunate - Death or Mrs. Dr. Lucy Pidgin Mourned by a Wife Circle of Friends - a Sketch of her Life and Work, Cambridge Chronicle
  27. The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. 13, pp. 479-80 (1906)
  28. (24 July 1897). Pidgin-Douglas, Cambridge Chronicle
  29. (5 June 1923). Charles F. Pidgin (death notice), The Philadelphia Inquirer
  30. "Charles F. Pidgin Dead. Author of "Quincy Adams Sawyer". Also a Statistical Writer". New York Times. June 5, 1923.
  31. Atherton, Gertrude. (12 October 1901). Mr. Pidgin and Alexander Hamilton (letter to editor), The New York Times
  32. Smith, Geoffrey D. American Fiction, 1901-1925: A Bibliography, p. 532-33 (Cambridge Press 1997)
  33. (26 October 1901). Hamilton and Burr - Mr. Pidgin Replies to Miss Atherton's Criticism of "Blennerhassett", The New York Times
  34. (3 May 1902). Mr. Pidgin's "Stephen Holton", The New York Times
  35. (25 January 1908). Wide Variety in Forthcoming Books, The New York Times
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