Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), 1818 - 1885

portrait of Josh Billings


Born: 21 April 1818, Lanesborough, Massachusetts
Died: 14 October 1885, Monterey, California

Born Henry Wheeler Shaw, he came from a very political family on both sides. Not only was his father a Congressman, but his uncle was a Congressman from New York, and his paternal grandfather had been a Congressman from Vermont a decade earlier. He attended Hamilton College at Clinton, New York but was expelled in his sophomore year for removing the clapper from the chapel bell. Shaw then worked as a farmer, coal miner, realtor, and auctioneer before taking up journalism at Poughkeepsie, New York. In 1858 he started writing aphorisms under the name Josh Billings, always in a casual tone and often with his own phonetic dialect and spelling. His "Essa on the Muel" (Essay on the Mule) became popular enough that he was hired to write and lecture at New York City. On the national speaking circuit he was a near rival to Mark Twain, and his death at Monterey, California became a chapter in Steinbeck's Cannery Row, although it's uncertain how accurate the portrayal is.

Biography from Wikipedia

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