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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

William Follen Adams by Anthony M. Sammarco


Yawcob Strauss was the pen name of William Follen Adams (1842-1918,) a nineteenth century writer of German dialect stories that were immensely popular at the time.

Born in Dorchester, he attended the local public schools but left for a job as a clerk at a Boston dry goods store when he was fifteen. He remained a clerk until 1862 when he enlisted in the Thirteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers during the Civil War. Enlisting at the urging of Governor John Andrew, the recruits were desperately needed for Union soldiers. Adams was to see combat in the Battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and was wounded at Gettysburg in 1863. Unable to fell, he was held as a prisoner by the Confederate Army until the Union soldiers were able to retake the town. Serving as a ward master in the convalescent hospital in Washington, D.C. after his recovery he remained in the Capital until the end of the war when he returned to Dorchester. Following his service during the Civil War, Adams returned as a clerk in Boston and married Harriet L. Mills; he shortly thereafter began to write short stories that were not only amusing, but were to reflect the heavily accented English spoken by a wash woman who worked for his family. Born in Germany, this woman spoke English perfectly well, but her accent was heavily German. By 1872, Adams was had written Our Young Folks, a publication for young adults. His poem “The Puzzled Dutchman” was to attract attention and praise for Adams with requests for other poems and stories in a similar vein.

Among his most popular books was Leedle Yawcob Strauss, published by the Detroit Free Press in 1878. This book of poems, with the Characters “Leedle Yawcob Strauss” and “Dot Leedle Louisa” were modeled after his own children, Charles Mills Adams (1874-1959) and Ella Paige Adams Sawyer (1878-1966.) So popular did his writing become that he became a regular contributor to the Detroit Free Press and an author of two books of poems, among them “Mother’s Doughnuts” in 1885, “Cut, Cut Behind” in 1887, “Dialect Ballads” in 1887 and “Yawcob Strauss, and Other Poems” in 1910.

Charles Follen Adams said of himself in Literary Boston of Today with regard to his writing that “I do not depend in my work wholly upon the grotesqueness and incongruity of dialect, for my aim is to write a more or less cheerful philosophy of life as I see it. I never force myself to write merely for the sake of writing, and it is only when I have that which seems to me a happy thought which lends itself to expression in my way, that I write, no matter how strong the inducement to do so may be. I might write a poem next week, and not write another for an entire year.”

More successful as a writer than as a store clerk, his poems and short stories of a century ago give a hint of the large scale immigration taking place in this country in the nineteenth century.

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