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George William Bagby, 1828-1883
Canal Reminiscences: Recollections of Travel in the Old Days on the James River & Kanawha Canal
Richmond: West, Johnston & Co., 1879.


George William Bagby was born in Buckingham County, Virginia in 1828. After his mother's death when he was eight, his father sent him and his sister to live on their aunt's Cumberland County plantation. He entered Delaware College at fifteen, and by the time he was twenty-one, he had graduated from the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. Bagby returned to Lynchburg, Virginia to rejoin his father, but he did not practice medicine. Instead, he devoted himself to journalism, helping to publish the Lynchburg Express and writing for national publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's magazines. In 1857 he moved to Washington, where he was a correspondent for several southern newspapers and during which time he made his debut as a humorist by writing a letter to the Southern Literary Messenger under the name Mozis Addums. Shortly after printing this letter, the Messenger made him their editor, and Bagby moved to Richmond. During the Civil War he struggled to continue in the publishing industry while ink and paper became increasingly scarce. In 1863 he married Lucy Parke Camberlayne. When the war ended in 1865, the newspaper industry in the South was in shambles, and Bagby struggled to support his family. He ultimately found stable income as assistant secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1870. Throughout his lifetime, Bagby's humorous sketches enjoyed great popularity in Virginia. He was best known for his piece "Jud Browning's Account of Rubenstein's Playing." He died in Richmond in 1883.

In his short book, Canal Reminiscences: Recollections of Travel in the Old Days on the James River & Kanawha Canal (1879) Bagby recounts his memories of the antebellum South, and the pleasures of traveling along the rivers of Virginia. For Bagby, Virginia was once a prosperous and leisurely land that is now ruined as a result of the Civil War. He closes with an encomium for the canals that have been replaced by the railroad.

Works Consulted: Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, vol. 1, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Hart, James D., The Oxford Companion to American Literature, 4th ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1965; Kunitz, Stanley J. and Howard Haycraft, eds., American Authors 1600-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of American Literature, New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1938.

Harris Henderson

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