Joel Barlow (1754-1812), American poet and politician, born in Redding, Fairfield county, Connecticut, on the 24th of March 1754. He graduated at Yale in 1778, was a post-graduate student there for two years, and from September 1780 until the close of the revolutionary war was chaplain in a Massachusetts brigade. He then, in 1783, removed to Hartford, Connecticut, established there in July 1784 a weekly paper, the American Mercury, with which he was connected for a year, and in 1786 was admitted to the bar. At Hartford he was a member of a group of young writers including Lemuel Hopkins, David Humphreys, and John Trumbull, known in American literary history as the "Hartford Wits." He contributed to the Anarchiad, a series of satirico-political papers, and in 1787 published a long and ambitious poem, The Vision of Columbus, which gave him a considerable literary reputation and was once much read. In 1788 he went to France as the agent of the Scioto Land Company, his object being to sell lands and enlist immigrants.
He seems to have been ignorant of the fraudulent character of the company, which failed disastrously in 1790. He had previously, however, induced the company of Frenchmen, who ultimately founded Gallipolis, Ohio, to emigrate to America. In Paris he became a liberal in religion and an advanced republican in politics. He remained abroad for several years, spending much of his time in London; was a member of the obnoxious "London Society for Constitutional Information"; published various radical essays, including a volume entitled Advice to the Privileged Orders (1792), which was proscribed by the British government; and was made a citizen of France in 1792. He was American consul at Algiers in 1795-1797, securing the release of American prisoners held for ransom, and negotiating a treaty with Tripoli (1796). He returned to America in 1805, and lived near Washington, D.C., until 1811, when he became American plenipotentiary to France, charged with negotiating a commercial treaty with Napoleon, and with securing the restitution of confiscated American property or indemnity therefor.
He was summoned for an interview with Napoleon at Wilna, but failed to see the emperor there; became involved in the retreat of the French army; and, overcome by exposure, died at the Polish village of Zarnowiec on the 24th of December 1812. In 1807 he had published in a sumptuous volume the Columbiad, an enlarged edition of his Vision of Columbus, more pompous even than the original; but, though it added to his reputation in some quarters, on the whole it was not well received, and it has subsequently been much ridiculed. The poem for which he is now best known is his mock heroic Hasty Pudding (1793). Besides the writings mentioned above, he published Conspiracy of Kings, a Poem addressed to the Inhabitants of Europe from another Quarter of the Globe (1792); View of the Public Debt, Receipts and Expenditure of the United States (1800); and the Political Writings of Joel Barlow (2nd ed., 1796). He also published an edition, "corrected and enlarged," of Isaac Watt's Imitation of the Psalms of David (1786).
See C. B. Todd's Life and Letters of Joel Barlow (New York and London, 1886); and a chapter, "The Literary Strivings of Joel Barlow," in M. C. Tyler's Three Men of Letters (New York and London, 1895).