Quincy Adams Sawyer & Quincy Adams Sawyer (Junior)

Created by Charles Felton Pidgin

Despite over a century of misinformation and conflation, there were actually two detectives named QUINCY ADAMS SAWYER, father and son, both created by Charles Felton Pidgin, although only one was really a private investigator.

The first Quincy was more of an amateur lawyer sleuth. He began his career as a young, Boston-based and Harvard-educated attorney with a taste for detective work in the bestselling novel, Quincy Adams Sawyer and Mason’s Corner Folks (1900) by Charles Felton Pidgin.

We eventually learn that Quincy was the excitable son of Nathaniel Sawyer, the wealthy former governor of Massachusetts, and that it’s crime and adventure, not the law, that truly fascinates Quincy.

Turns out Quincy, while still in high school, and “purely in the pursuit of his own inclinations, had made friends with the police inspectors, and had entered upon an exhaustive study of police matters… with mutual benefit to himself and the police inspectors.” Which suggests that, even before we met him, he’d been involved in a series of (unrecorded) cases as a young amateur sleuth.

And so, by the end of this rather mawkish, soapy debut, we have a scene where Quincy finally breaks the news to his governor father that his days as an attorney are ending. “While I would not willfully show disrespect to your wishes, father… I must say frankly that I do not care to go back to the office. The study of law is repugnant to me, and its practice would be a daily martyrdom.”

Certainly, there’s not much in the way of crime and deduction in either the 1902 play or the 1912 or 1922 film adaptations of that first novel–they are, instead, as Variety tagged the latter film, “fearful hokum,” with both the play and the films which were based on it zeroing in on only a small segment of the book, although all three adaptations proved popular enough, especially the star-studded 1922 flick which featured Quincy (played by John Bowers) traveling to Mason’s Corner, a small New England town teeming with secrets, to handle the affairs of a Mrs. Putnam, but soon gets involved in an unintended love triangle between him, Mrs. Putnam’s daughter (the town tramp) and a jealous rival lawyer (Lon Chaney). There’s also some missing bearer bonds, some misunderstandings, a long-lost love, an angry blacksmith (Elmo Lincoln) with a shady past, and Alice, a pretty blind girl who–I shit thee not–gets trapped on a ferry in danger of tumbling over a waterfall–and only one man can save her!

And then, thanks to a miracle cure, Alice, the pretty blind girl, regains her sight, and Quincy and she are married.


The second novel, The Further Adventures of Quincy Adams Sawyer  and Mason’s Corner Folks (1909), offered more heart-warming sudsy adventures following Quincy’s triumphant return to Mason’s Corner and its colourful denizens, as well as scenes from Quincy and Alice’s courtship and marriage, the birth of their son (also named Quincy), the elder Quincy’s disappearance for 23 years, Alice’s long-delayed search throughout Europe for her missing husband, a surprise family reunion, and all sorts of world-class hoo-hah… and even a few more criminal digressions. These included the brief relating of the so-called “Murder at Cottonton,” wherein Quincy the son, now all grown up, and an attractive, mystery-loving lady friend, Mary Dana, work to clear a local man, Bob Wood, who has been charged with murder, and “The Great Isburn Ruby,” which has Mary, now a private detective for the world-renowned Isburn Detective Agency, playing a trick on the firm’s owner, Old Man Isburn, himself. The book ends with the elder Quincy, at last reunited with Alice, apparently no longer interested in detective work, founding a successful chain of grocery stores before selling off the business to become the American Ambassador to Vienna, and the younger Quincy calling upon his old crime-solving buddy Mary and confessing that his ambition in life is to become a detective just like her. The story ends with him buying out Old Man Isburn, and proposing to Mary.


It wasn’t until the third book, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective, a 1912 collection of seven “engaging and well-written” short stories, co-written with John M. Taylor (whoever he was), that Quincy becomes an actual Boston private eye. He was no Spenser, though–the stories are clearly influenced by those of Sherlock Holmes, right down to the love of science and forensics.

I had been expecting, then, that the volume would contain tales of Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer, newlyweds, solving crimes together, but alas, it was not to be. There’s not a single mention of Mary or even the Isburn Detective Agency to be found anywhere in the book.

Nor is young Quincy the wealthy son of a successful businessman, anymore. Apparently, due to his late father’s love of travel and adventure, most of young Quincy’s inheritance has been much diminished, and he’s reduced to running a one-man detective agency.

Which suits Junior just fine.

I know, I know. The whole thing is about as confusing and preposterous as the Marvel Universe, leaving plenty of unanswered questions and continuity holes you could sail the Queen Mary through. Like, whatever happened to his mother, Alice? How did Quincy Senior die? Did Alice and he ever return from Europe? Whatever became of Mary? And what about the huge Isburn Agency Junior once owned?

Ultimately, however, this final book of stories is full of good ol’ private detective stuff, dated of course and still certainly eye-rolling hokum at times, but at least it’s our kinda hokum.


Charles Felton Pidgin, born in San Francisco, in 1844, was an American writer, inventor and director of feature films in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. Among the films he directed were The Shooting of Dan McGrew (1924), It (1927) and Red Hair (1928), as well as more than a dozen features and shorts starring Will Rogers. He wrote novels, screenplays and musical comedies, and also occasionally worked as a statistician and an inventor. Perhaps his most successful inventions was a method of displaying dialogue in silent films which involved floating text balloons above the actors–which may–or may not–have inspired (or been inspired by) the convention still used in comics today. Later in life, he went to Australia to direct Rangle River (1936) and ended up retiring there, making only one more film, That Certain Something (1941).

I have no idea (so far) who John M. Taylor was.


  • “It is not a subtle story and everything turns out just as you would wish it, but it is a vastly entertaining picture containing about all the elements that good showmanship has shown audiences desire.”
    — Moving Picture World on the film
  • “Lon Chaney and Elmo Lincoln do good work as the villains. But it seems that the good work of nearly everyone in the cast, which is as near all-star as one can assemble, is overshadowed by the fearful hokum purveyed in the story.”
    — Variety on the film



All written with John M. Taylor

  • “The Affair of Lamson’s Cook” (1912, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective)
  • “The Affair of the Double Thumb Print” (1912, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective)
  • “The Affair of the Golden Belt” (1912, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective)
  • “The Affair of the Plymouth Recluse” (1912, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective)
  • “The Affair of Trimountain Bank” (1912, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective)
  • “The Affair of Unreachable Island” (1912, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective)
  • “The Affair of William Baird, P.B.” (1912, The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective)


  • The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective (1912; with John M. Taylor) Buy this book 


    Opened at Academy of Music, New York City
    36 performances
    August 07, 1902- September , 1902
    Based on characters created by Charles Felton Pidgin
    Written by Frederick Justin Adams
    Staged by John Stapleton
    Starring Charles Dicksonas QUINCY ADAMS SAWYER

    Also starring Burton Adams, Gertrude Augarde, George Averill, Marian A. Chapman, Charles Dow Clark, Sadie Connolly, Sabra DeShon, George R. Donaldson, Harry E. Dudley, Corliss Giles, Helaine Hadley, Anne Hathaway, Louis Hendricks, Gertrude Howe, Walter P. Lewis, E. H. Stephens, Tell Taylor, G. H. Thurston, Olive Tremaine


    (1912, Puritan Special Features)
    Silent, 4 reels
    Based on the novel Quincy Adams Sawyer and Mason’s Corner Folks by Charles Felton Pidgin
    and the play by Frederick Justin Adams
    (1922, Sawyer-Lubin Pictures)
    Silent, 8 reels
    80 minutes
    Premiere: April 9, 1922
    Based on the novel Quincy Adams Sawyer and Mason’s Corner Folks by Charles Felton Pidgin
    and the play by Frederick Justin Adams
    Adapted by Bernard McConville
    Directed by Clarence G. Badge
    Cinematography Rudolph J. Bergquist
    Starring John Bowers as QUINCY ADAMS SAWYER
    Also starring Blanche Sweet, Lon Chaney, Barbara La Marr, Elmo Lincoln, Louise Fazenda, Joseph J. Dowling, Claire McDowell, Edward Connelly, Victor Potel, June Elvidge, Gale Henry
    A star-studded smash in its day, sadly this film is now believed lost.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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