Humphreys, David

David Humphreys (July 10, 1752 – February 21, 1818) was an American Revolutionary War colonel and aide de camp to George Washington, a secretary and intelligence agent for Benjamin Franklin in Paris, American minister to Portugal and then to Spain, entrepreneur who brought Merino sheep to America and member of the Connecticut state legislature. A poet and author, he was one of the “Hartford Wits.” He wrote the first sonnet known to have been written in America just about the time independence was declared.[1]

He wrote the first sonnet by an American just before he went off to war in the summer of 1776, titled Addressed to my Friends at Yale College, on my leaving them to join the Army.[1] He wrote many war related poems, but his most popular work was written in 1785, Happiness of America, which went to 10 editions in print by 1804.

Humphreys enjoyed writing and had a voluminous correspondence with Washington, now in the Library of Congress. He also wrote for the public and was the author of a “Life of General Israel Putnam,” whose staff he served on.[9] He was one of the writers called the Hartford Wits (the others were Joel Barlow, Timothy Dwight IV, John Trumbull and Lemuel Hopkins).[21] In 1802, he wrote an anti-slavery poem entitled A Poem on the Industry of the United States of America. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1804.[22]

He also served again as a member of the Connecticut state house of representatives, from 1812 to 1814. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in June 1807.[23] In 1813, Humphreys was also elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[24]

His play The Yankey in England (c. 1814) was extremely influential in forging the stage character of the Yankee (often singing Yankee Doodle) that came to dominate American and English comedies in the period up to 1850, and comes with a seven-page glossary of the “peculiar idiom and pronunciation” of Americanisms, which is an important source for American historical dialectology.[25][26]

In 1786 Humphreys wrote an account of the controversial confinement and proposed execution of British Captain Charles Asgill in a book entitled The conduct of General Washington : respecting the confinement of Capt. Asgill, placed in its true point of light.[27]