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The Cape’s Best Public Relations Officer

Lincoln was one of the most successful writers of his day, selling an estimated 2 million books during his career. Remarkably, none of his novels were deemed failures, and his individual titles generally sold 30,000 to 100,000 copies. As one might imagine, Lincoln’s writing afforded him a comfortable life. He lived for much of the year in Hackensack, New Jersey—close to New York City, the heart of the publishing world; he summered in Chatham, wintered in Florida, and traveled in Europe. In 1897, Lincoln married Florence Elry Sargent, who also grew up in Chelsea.

Joseph Lincoln

Photo courtesy of the Chatham Historical Society

Coogan has a unique perspective on Lincoln. Born in 1944, he spent much of his first 20 years living with family in a special residence in Brewster—Lincoln’s birthplace home. As a young boy, Coogan recalls visitors stopping by to gawk at the Main Street home. “I thought they were taking pictures of me,” he says with a laugh.

In a forward to an anthology of the author’s short stories, Lincoln’s only son, the late Joseph Freeman Lincoln of Philadelphia, described his father as “short, fat, laughing, and infinitely friendly. He loved Cape Cod, people and good food. A frank sentimentalist, he believed that humans are essentially decent, and that virtue wins out in the end.” This ideology rings true throughout many of Lincoln’s novels, from his first, “Cap’n Erie” (1904), to his last, “The Bradshaws of Harniss” (1944).

Despite his success, Lincoln was not universally adored. In fact, it was the very people Lincoln wrote about who found his writing controversial. Often, readers in the small communities from where he drew his inspiration would recognize a character in a Lincoln novel as someone they knew—or knew of. “Some of the characters were thinly disguised,” Coogan says, especially if you were from the areas of Brewster or Chatham—and some resented the picture Lincoln painted.

“This made him somewhat unpopular on the Cape,” Coogan adds. Lincoln never admitted to basing any of his characters on a single person, but he did acknowledge that his characters were composites. “All of his characters are based on traits he had seen in various individuals,” Dalrymple adds. “All the names were names used on the Cape during the late 19th century, early 20th century.”

For readers not entrenched in Cape Cod life, this attention to detail added a sense of reality to Lincoln’s fictional world. “He never used an expression in his writing that he hadn’t heard himself,” Dalrymple says. “He had a wonderful way of putting things.”

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