Joseph M. Field (1810–1856)
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241 Joseph M. Field (1810–1856) Actor, playwright, newspaper editor, theater manager, and humorist, Joseph M. Field, probably born in England, migrated to the United States sometime after the end of the War of 1812, and settled in New York City with his family. He began his acting career at the Tremont Theater in Boston in 1827, and then after an acting stint in New York, in 1833, joined Sol Smith’s touring company, which played in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Mobile, Montgomery, and many towns in between. From 1835 to 1844, Field and his wife, Eliza Riddle, were mainstays in Noah Ludlow and Sol Smith’s acting company, with Field’s principal roles being comical ones. In addition, Field wrote plays of his own, mainly farces and burlesques , but none achieved popular success. Among these are Tourists in America (1835), a play satirizing English travelers in America, and Oregon, or the Disputed Territory (1846), which employs allegorical characters in treating the conflict between the United States and England over the Northwest Territory. As a touring actor, Field spent periods of time both in New Orleans and St. Louis, two cities that would also figure prominently in his journalistic career. In 1839, Field, under the pseudonym “Straws,” began contributing poems to the New Orleans Picayune, and a year later this newspaper sent him to Europe as their foreign correspondent. It seems likely that Field’s experience as a writer and reporter for the Picayune played a part in his decision in 1844 to found, along with his brother Matthew and Charles Keemle, the St. Louis Reveille, a newspaper that would be a major regional outlet for Old Southwest humor. The Reveille featured comic sketches not only of the Field brothers but also of Sol Smith, John S. Robb (“Solitaire”), others with pseudonyms like Jo, Bird, Thunder, and Wing, and still others by anonymous contributors. Though Matthew died shortly after the newspaper was established, Joseph Field and Keemle continued to edit the Reveille until 1850. During his tenure as editor, Field, using the pseudonym “Everpoint,” contributed frontier humor sketches, both to the Reveille and William T. Porter’s Spirit of the Times. In fact, Porter included Field’s “Kicking a Yankee” in his anthology of humorous pieces A Quarter Race in Kentucky, and 242 Southern Frontier Humor Other Sketches (1847), all previously published in the Spirit, and an indication of Porter’s fondness for this sketch. Among Joseph Field’s other contributions to the genre of Old South humor were two pieces on Mike Fink. In “The Death of Mike Fink,” published in the Reveille in 1844, Field sought to clear away the “mythic haze” regarding Fink’s death.And in a longer work,“Mike Fink:‘The Last of the Boatmen,”published in the Reveille in 1847, Field captures effectively the vernacular speech of keelboatmen as well as presents lively and sometimes crude comedy in his description of the collision between Mike’s keelboat and a Mississippi steamboat and the subsequent sinking of both crafts. In 1847, Field collected some of his previously published humorous newspaper sketches in The Drama of Pokerville; the Bench and Bar of Jurytown, and Other Stories, which helped to give his work wider exposure . The sketches, all published between 1844 and 1846, cover many of the familiar subject areas of southwestern humor, including hunts, politics, riverboat activities, theater life, courtroom antics, roguery, drunkenness, pranks, and the experiences of a country bumpkin in the city. While Field was the editor of the Reveille, he received a letter, dated June 15, 1846, from Edgar Allan Poe, whom he knew, soliciting his assistance (and hopefully through his influence that of the editors of the New Orleans Picayune as well) in disclaiming false allegations and impressions, spawned by the editor of the New York Evening Mirror and damaging to Poe’s reputation. Field responded by issuing a defense of Poe in the June 30, 1846, Reveille. When the Reveille was sold in 1850, Field returned to the theater, managing theaters in Mobile and St. Louis. Texts:“A Lyncher’s Own Story,”St. Louis Daily Reveille, July 6, 1845.“Kicking a Yankee,” St. Louis Daily Reveille, July 19, 1845. A Lyncher’s Own Story “I never fight when angry, gentlemen.”—Jas. Bowie “I go in for reprisals, gentlemen—by the eternal heavens, reprisals! Seize on abolition property in New Orleans, Natchez—wherever found. Seize on the Yankee scoundrels, themselves, and exchange them for our own kidnapped slaves—nigger for nigger...


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