Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

John Lathrop, Jr.


John Lathrop, Jr. was the son of a prominent Boston clergyman, minister of the Second Church of Boston, a man of letters who served as librarian of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received various honorary degrees from Europe. Lathrop's uncle was the historian John Lothrop Motley. Lathrop, Jr., entered Harvard at the age of fourteen, and graduated in 1789 where he delivered a poem at the commencement exercises at his graduation. His poetry, even at this early date, appears in the Massachusetts Magazine.

But verse-making in Boston at the end of the eighteenth century made no young man a living. So Lathrop read law in the office of former Gov. Christopher Gore, with whom Daniel Webster would later study with larger success. For he is reported, 'even in the law office,' to have stolen 'moments to sacrifice to the Muses, and become better known to the public as a poet than a lawyer.' He would open an office in Boston, where he 'had many friends and some business but not sufficient to answer his expectations,' for people mistrusted a lawyer who scribbled verses.[Lewis Leary, John Lathrop, Jr.: The Quiet Poet of Federalist Boston 43 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1981)(citing Samuel L. Knapp, Biographical Sketches of Eminent Lawyers, Statesmen, and Men of Letters 176 (Boston: Richardson and Lord, 1821)]

Lathrop took up the practice of law in Boston but in 1797 moved to Dedham. But his residency there was a short one and he returned to Boston where he took up the company of Robert Treat Paine, Jr., Charles Prentiss and others involved with the Federal Boston Gazette. Lathrop grew discouraged with his situation in Boston and decided to try his fortunes in British India where he established a school in Calcutta.

Bazaar on the Chitpore Road, Calcutta

[Charles Morris, Winston's Cumulative Loose-Leaf Encyclopedia (vol. 2)]

[Used with permission of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology]

Lathrop returned to the United States in 1819 with the idea of starting a new literary journal but he ended up as a Boston school teacher, while continuing his literary endeavors.

Again, weary of what had befallen him, Lathrop departed for the South, and took up residence in Washington, D.C., where he was a teacher, writer, and lecturer. He finally secured employment in the post office. He died in Georgetown, January 30, 1820. [Source: Evert A. & George L. Duyckinck, The Cyclopedia of American Literature 637-639 (Philadelphia: William Rutter & Co., 1880)(Vol. 1); Stanley Kunitz & Howard Haycraft (eds.), American Authors 1600-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of Literature (New York: H.W. Wilson, 1938)][See also: National Cyclopaedia of American Biography 135 (New York: James T. White & Co., 1897)(vol. 7)]


John Lathrop, The Speech of Canonicus, or, an Indian Tradition (Boston: David Carlisle, 1903)


Lewis Leary, John Lathrop, Jr.: The Quiet Poet of Federalist Boston (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1981)(Vol. 91 (1) Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 39-89 (1981)