James Thomas Fields (1816/7-1881)

Publisher, Editor, & Author

James Thomas Fields, publisher, editor, and author, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on December 31, 1816/7.

Fields moved to Boston after graduating high school and worked at the Old Corner Bookstore under William D. Ticknor (Lot 1237 Ailanthus Path). His work gave him an education in the book trade and the ability to predict popular texts and authors. He joined the Boston Mercantile Library Association in 1837 and wrote their Anniversary Poem the following year. Fields’s status within the Boston literary community allowed him to develop friendships with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edwin Percy Whipple (Lot 2699 Bellwort Path), and Rufus Griswold. He became junior partner of Ticknor’s publishing house in 1843.

While Fields’s career flourished, his personal life suffered a series of tragedies. His fiancée, Mary Willard (Lot 384 Narcissus Path), died in 1845, and his wife, Eliza Willard (Lot 1152 Elder Path), died in 1851. He wrote and published Poems in 1849, a collection of work steeped in the theme of loss. Fields married Annie Adams in 1854, and their home became a gathering place for the literary elite of Boston.

In 1854 Fields became full partner and the publishing firm was renamed Ticknor & Fields. The firm was gaining national recognition and Boston became an epicenter of literary achievement. Fields traveled to England throughout the 1840s and 1850s and began the practice of paying royalties to English authors publishing work in America. In 1861 he became editor of Atlantic Monthly magazine, and his savvy business practices led to nearly double the circulation of the periodical during his seven-year tenure.

While Fields’s health failed, he continued his work in the literary field by delivering lectures around the country and trying to inspire interest in literature. Fields died in 1881 and was buried in his wife’s family lot.

James Thomas Fields’s grave can be found at Lot 2700 Elder Path.


Adapted from the research of Jill Graboski, as published in Mount Auburn’s December Birthday: James Thomas Fields, 2003.