York University Libraries | Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections online exhibits

Ellis, Edward Sylvester

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Ellis, Edward Sylvester

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Authored by: Anica Bakalic-Radic

Edward Sylvester Ellis was a teacher, historian and popular novelist. He was one of the most successful dime novelists. With a career spanning over half a century, he wrote several hundred books. Ellis wrote under a number of different pseudonyms and it is unclear exactly how many books were written by him.

Born in Ohio, he lived in New Jersey for most of his life. At the age of nineteen, the young, new teacher became famous by writing the bestselling dime novel, Seth Jones, which sold triple the number of copies of a typical bestseller of that time period. He was contracted to write multiple novels per year by his first dime novel publisher (Beadle) while also writing for a competing publisher (George Munro & Co.). Ellis started using pseudonyms to avoid flooding the market with too many books under the same author’s name. Some of his favorite pseudonyms included military titles (i.e. Captain or Lieutenant), which added a realistic touch to his Western adventure tales. Ellis tried to be factual and historically accurate in his writing. In 1862, Ellis married Anne M. Deane and they had four children but this marriage ended in divorce in 1887. In 1900 he married his second wife, writer Clara Spaulding Brown.

While Ellis’ early writing was not specifically intended for young readers, its popularity with these readers started him writing more stories for the juvenile market. Some of his adult books were also republished later as juvenile books. Ellis specialized in writing Western adventure tales but also wrote diverse genres, such as detective stories, love stories and even an early science fiction novel. In addition to his novels, Ellis also wrote in, and sometimes edited, periodical publications such as popular juvenile periodicals, weekly story papers and newspapers. Many of Ellis’ stories were first serialized in periodicals then published as paperback dime novels and later as clothbound books. His later books appeared initially in clothbound format, instead of the dime novel format. Ellis also wrote nonfiction books for children including history books and educational textbooks for which he was uniquely qualified, being a teacher, vice-principal, principal and superintendent of education before he retired from education to write full-time in the 1880s. His classroom experience also gave him an intimate understanding of his young readership.


Camp, Paul Eugen. "Edward S. Ellis (11 April 1840-20 June 1916)." American Writers for Children Before 1900, edited by Glenn E. Estes, vol. 42, Gale, 1985, pp. 161-172. Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 42, Dictionary of Literary Biography Main Series, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=DLBC&sw=w&u=yorku_main&v=2.1&id=HGBYCR106650988&it=r&asid=fad8e1fa4dc24715bed5f2213b128c2a. Accessed 27 July 2017.


“Ellis, Edward Sylvester,” York University Libraries | Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections online exhibits, accessed September 26, 2023, https://archives.library.yorku.ca/items/show/4214.