Joseph Lincoln’s Prolific Writing Boosted Cape Cod Tourism a Century Ago

Wake up. Reach for a legal pad and pencil. Write. In the days before computers, word processors, and spell-check, this was the simple process early 20th-century author Joseph Crosby Lincoln followed to complete his work.

Keeping a disciplined schedule, Lincoln wrote an average of one to two books per year throughout his career, publishing more than 35 novels as well as countless short stories and poems from 1904 to 1944. His short stories and serialized novels were published in the most popular magazines of the time, including The Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s Bazaar; his books—all set in a fictionalized version of his beloved Cape Cod—introduced the coastal region to a national audience.

 

Joseph Lincoln

Artwork by Nicholas Glaser

The son and grandson of sea captains, Lincoln was drawn to the ocean and the people who made their living upon it. He wrote of quaint villages with working harbors populated by quirky neighbors who dreamt up schemes—well-meaning and otherwise. He wrote about salty sea captains, lazy men, strong women, and tony city slickers as well as out-of-town visitors who often came into conflict with these natives. The Cape of Lincoln’s fiction features towns that may sound familiar to the reader at first, but they’re just a little different from the real McCoys; examples include Wellmouth, Trumet, Bayport, Ostable, and Denboro.

And Lincoln’s books always had one thing in common: a happily ever after. “If someone is having a bad day, I tell them to read a little Lincoln, it will brighten up the spirits,” says Sandwich’s Jim Coogan, a writer and Cape Cod historian. “You know within the first few pages how the book is going to end up, but you still want to read on. There’s enough complication in the plot to keep you interested and guessing.”

Lincoln died in 1944—more than seven decades ago—but his legacy in local literary lore remains strong on the Cape. His fans are scattered across the peninsula, and the Chatham Historical Society has a room dedicated to the author and his work.

Born in 1870, Lincoln spent his formative years in Brewster where he got a fair taste of coastal life. The town was the kind of place where everyone knew one another; with a population near 1,000 at the time, it was hard to avoid one’s neighbors.