The maverick who wrote ‘Jingle Bells’

savannah unitarian universalist church

Among the myriad tragedies of the American Civil War was its impact on families, with many divided as some members cast their lots with the North and others sided with the South.

One such individual who broke with his family over the war was James Lord Pierpont, a Boston native whose father Rev. John Pierpont was an abolitionist and pastor of a Unitarian church in the Massachusetts capital.

James Pierpont enjoyed a fascinating life by any measure.

Sent to boarding school at age 10, he ran away four years later, sailing aboard a whaling ship called The Shark. He apparently found sea life to his liking; following his stint aboard The Shark he served in the Navy until he was 21.

By 1845, he had returned to New England and married, but in 1849, James Pierpont left his wife and children with his father to open a business in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. However, his business failed after his goods were destroyed in a fire.

James returned to New England, but his wife died in 1853. When his brother accepted a position as pastor at a Savannah, Ga., Unitarian church, James followed, taking over as the organist and music director, according to Timothy Daiss’ 2002 book Rebels, Saints, and Sinners: Savannah’s Rich History and Colorful Personalities.

Continue reading