Ann S. Stephens has the distinction of having been the author of Dime Novel No. 1. With two or three other dime novelists, she had her name included in the biographical dictionaries, an honor rarely conferred upon the lesser writers of her day.
Ann Sophia Winterbotham was born in Derby, Connecticut, in 1813, the daughter of John Winterbotham, a manufacturer of woolen goods. She was educated at a dame's school and at South Britain, Connecticut. In 1831 she was married to Edward Stephens, a newspaper man of Plymouth, Massachusetts. They went to Portland, Maine, where her husband, in 1835, published the Portland Magazine of which she became editor. She also contributed to it poems, sketches, and historical tales. In 1837 the Stephens moved to New York City where she accepted the editorship of the Ladies' Companion, a position she held for four years. Her husband meanwhile had obtained work in the Custom House. In 1842 she was listed as Associate Editor of Graham's Magazine, although Edgar Allan Poe said that this was simply an honorary title and that she had nothing to do with the editorial control of the periodical. In 1843 she †was assistant editor of The Ladies' World. In 1844 she was again honored by being given the title of Associate Editor of Peterson's Ladies' National Magazine, and during the remainder of her life she contributed to it at least one serial a year and many poems and sketches. From 1850 to 1852 she traveled in Europe, and some years after her return conducted her own magazine Mrs. Stephens' Illustrated New Monthly (July, 1856 to June, 1858). She also edited Brother Jonathan, a weekly paper published by her husband. Her first long novel was entitled "Fashion and Famine," and was published in 1854. Among her writings, thirty-two of which are listed by Allibone, the most famous, doubtless, is "The Old Homestead," originally published in New York in 1855 and reprinted in numerous editions, but most widely known from its dramatization by George L. Aiken (another dime novelist) in 1856, and especially from its stage revival during the 1880's and 1890's by Denman Thompson. "Malaeska," the first of the Beadle Dime Novels, was issued in June, 1860, but it had previously appeared as a serial in The Ladies' Companion †Vol. X, February, March, and April, 1839. For the privilege of reprinting it Beadle paid her $250 and 10,000, and later 20,000 more copies were issued.
Beside her novels, Mrs. Stephens wrote a "Ladies' Complete Guide to Crochet, Fancy Knitting and Needlework" in 1854, a "Portfolio of Fancy Needlework" in 1855, and a "Pictorial History of the War for the Union" in two volumes, in 1865. She also wrote a number of humorous works, the best known being an imitation of Haliburton's "Sam Slick, the Clockmaker," and entitled "High Life in New York, by Jonathan Slick, of Weathersfield, Conn." This was published in 1854, and gives the experiences of a down-east Yankee in New York City. A uniform edition of her works in fourteen volumes appeared from the press of T. B. Peterson and Brother, in Philadelphia, in 1869, and a new edition in twenty-three volumes in 1886.
Mrs. Stephens died in Newport, R. I., at the home of Charles J. Peterson, her publisher, August 20, 1886 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn. She was survived by a son and a daughter, her husband having died in 1862.
REFERENCES: Edgar Allan Poe, "The Literati of New York City," Godey's Lady's Book, July, 1846; Hart, Female Poets, with portrait, 1852; Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, II, Aug. 16, 1856, 158-60, with portrait; Rufus Griswold, Female Poets, 1863, 204, with portrait; Allibone, Dict. Eng. Lit., III, 1863; Saturday Journal, May 5, 1877; Beadle's Weekly, II, No. 77, May 3, 1884; New York Tribune, August 21, 1886; Publishers' Weekly, XXX, 1886, 242; Banner Weekly, IV, No. 202, September 25, 1886; Nat. Enc. Amer. Biog., X, 1909, 20, with portrait; Appleton's Cyc. Amer. Biog., 1887—1931; Scribner's Dict. Amer. Biog., 1928-36; Lamb's Biog. Dict., VII, 1903, 194-95; Godey's Lady's Book, 1844 (portrait)‡; Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, Cambridge, Mass., 1938, II, 306; American Literary Magazine, II, June, 1848, 335; New York Waverley, October 16, 1886, with portrait.
Dime Novels. Nos. 1, 3, 21, 45, 56, 63, 70, 346, 507, 515, 521, 530, 550, 557
Fifteen Cent Novels. Nos. 1, 3, 21
American Library (London). Nos. 4, 10, 12, 23, 30, 37, 43
Sixpenny Tales (London). 7
New and Old Friends. No. 3
Pocket Novels. Nos. 7, 265
Girls of Today. No. 4
Waverley Library (quarto). Nos. 12, 28
Waverley Library (octavo). Nos. 6, 21
"Sybil Chase; or, The Valley Ranche. A Tale of California Life." Dime Novel No. 21, pp. 111-14.
The man went out and closed the door; but while Sybil was considering who her visitor might be, it was flung open, and Ralph Hinchley stood before her.
She stepped forward with an angry gesture.
"Why have you come here?" she asked. "I do not desire your visits, Mr. Hinchley."
"Nor is it at all probable that I shall ever pay you another, madam; but this one you will have the patience to endure."
"Mr. Laurence will soon be here," she said, haughtily; "possibly you would prefer not to meet him."
"I desire to see him—it is part of my business here; but first, I wish to introduce an old acquaintance of yours."
He went to the door, flung it open, and Sybil beheld a form which she had believed long since cold in the grave, the old cruel light in his eyes, the mocking smile upon the lips—her husband.
She started back with a cry of dreary pain.
"Don't be alarmed, Sybil," he said, quietly advancing toward her. "Of course you are glad to see your 'own, own Philip.' That used to be the term, I think."
"Keep off—keep off!" she shrieked, insane with fear and the suddenness of the shock. "Philip Yates is dead. I saw him hanged. You saw him, also, on the blasted pine, Ralph Hinchley."
"Excuse me," returned Yates; "I ought to know, and I assure you that I am as much alive as either of you. Tom Dickinson, poor fellow, they hung him in my place. He managed to steal my clothes from the wardrobe, hoping the men would take him for me, and help him off. So you really thought it was me they swung up; poor Sybil, what a disappointment! Well, it was natural. Tom and I did look alike, especially when he was on good behavior; but there was a certain manner he never could catch. Still, the people mistook him for me more than once. He was so proud of it, poor Tom. But I wouldn't have thought it of you, Syb—not know your own husband! My darling, that is not complimentary."
She answered by a groan so despairing that it might have softened any heart less steeled against her than those of the two men who looked quietly on.
"No, no, Sybil," he continued, "while Tom was doubling like a fox, and you screaming for some one to pounce on me, I slipped away through the cellar, and into the bush. Why, bless your soul, I was perched just above you on the precipice all the time, and, if you hadn't made off with the horse, should have got clear, instead of being caught among the rocks like a rat in a trap."
Sybil sunk slowly into a chair while he was giving these revolting details, and, covering her face with both hands, interrupted him only with her faint moans. While she sat thus abject and wounded, Edward Laurence entered the room. He stopped short on the threshold, astonished at the presence of those two men. He looked from one to the other in amazement. Then turning to Hinchley, demanded in stern wrath how he had dared to enter that dwelling. Sybil heard his voice, and made a wild effort to shake off the terror which was crushing her to the earth; but, as she attempted to unvail her face, the smiling look with which Yates stood regarding her made every nerve in her body shrink and shiver.
Laurence glanced at her, and once more turned on Hinchley.
"Why are you here, sir, and who is that man?"
"Hush, hush!" returned Ralph, mournfully. "You will have enough to repent, Edward, be silent now."
Before Laurence could speak, Yates stepped toward Sybil, seized her by the arm, and forced her to stand up.
"Come," he said, "you and I are going away from here."
"I will not move," she moaned, desperately. "Let me go, I say."
Laurence started forward, trembling with indignation, but the man pushed him rudely aside.
"Don't interfere between husband and wife," he said, coldly. "I warn you it won't be safe. You know that, Syb, of old."
"What do you mean ?" said Laurence. "Great heavens, Sybil, who is this man?"
She did not answer; in that moment all her duplicity and art failed; she could only moan and turn away her frightened face.
"I am Philip Yates, her husband," answered he. "I have brought my marriage certificate on purpose to prove it."
He took a paper from his pocket and gave it to Laurence, who read it with a confused idea of its import. At last he lifted a hand to his forehead.
"I must be insane," he faltered.
"No," returned Hinchley, "you are just coming back to your senses. That woman, Laurence, is the female I saw in California upon the night when I so narrowly escaped from the Valley Ranche with my life."
"Never you mind that story," interrupted Yates; "that's all gone by. Well, Mr. Laurence, you don't seem to believe us yet; Sybil shall answer for herself."
"I will not speak," she cried. "You may kill me, but I will not open my lips."
"Kill you, my pet? why, I expect years of happiness with you still. We are going back to California, my dear. It will take a long time to repay your loving kindness that night."
"Sybil! Sybil!" groaned Laurence.
"You shall speak," continued Yates. "Tell him your real name; do it, I say!"
He transfixed her with his terrible glance; the old fear and dread came back. She was like a person magnetized against her will.
Without glancing toward Laurence, without being able to move her eyes from that fiery glance, she answered in a low, strange voice.
"I am Sybil Yates. I was his wife—I am his wife."
"Bravo!" exclaimed the gambler, exultingly. "Now, Mr. Laurence, I hope you are satisfied." ...
"Sybil," said Laurence, in a grave, low voice, "is this thing true?"
She struggled for voice, and replied, very faintly:
"It is true! God help me, it is true; but I thought he was dead. It was night, and I so terrified that the face was not clear. Oh! if it were only death that he brings instead of these bonds."
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
‡ Correction made per e-mail correspondence from Cornelia S. King, Reference Librarian, Library Company of Philadelphia (01/29/2007). She also notes: "This may be referring to Graham's Magazine. Poe mentions the portrait in his Literati of New York City, in Godey's v. 33, no. 1 (July, 1846), p. 13-19: "The portrait of Mrs. Stephens which appeared in "Graham's Magazine" for November, 1844, cannot fairly be considered a likeness at all. She is tall and slightly inclined to embonpoint an English figure. Her forehead is somewhat low, but broad; the features generally massive, but full of life and intellectuality. The eyes are blue and brilliant; the hair blonde and very luxuriant."