Washington Irving was born on April 3, 1783 in Manhattan, New York City. He was the youngest of eleven children born from his parents, William and Sarah Irving. During the week in which he was born, the Americans emerged victorious in the Revolutionary War and his parents named him after the war hero, General George Washington. When Irving was six-years-old, he met his namesake and Washington blessed the child, which sparked a sense of gratitude and interest in the president. This encounter would inspire Irving to write his five volume biography on George Washington, which was completed in 1859.
Washington Irving grew up in a wealthy merchant family and he received a good education, although he was an uninterested student. In his early teenage years he would often skip class to attend plays at theaters. During his free time, Irving would read tirelessly and explore the nearby Hudson River Valley. Both contributed to his ever growing imagination. His ventures in the valley also exposed him to local myths and folktales, which are lucidly displayed in his short stories. In 1798, Yellow Fever broke out in Manhattan and Irving’s family sent him to live with James Paulding in Yorktown, away from the disease. While there, he familiarized himself with the Dutch town of Sleepy Hollow and became fascinated with their ghost stories. Irving based perhaps his most famous work, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” on his experiences there. During his childhood, he also took adventures through the Hudson River Valley to Johnstown New York and the Catskill Mountains, which became the setting for another of his short stories, “Rip Van Winkle.”
At age nineteen Washington Irving began his literary career by writing to the New York Morning Chronicle, which was owned by his brother Peter, under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. This was his first of many pen names that he would use. Later, he began socializing with a group of intellectuals whom he referred to as “the Lads of Killkinny.” They stirred in him a deeper interest in literature and soon he began to write “his first book, Salmagundi; or, The Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq., and Others,” with the help of Paulding and his brother William (“Washington Irving” 1). He also achieved literary success with “A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, a comical, deliberately inaccurate account of New York's Dutch colonization narrated by the fictitious Diedrich Knickerbocker” (“Washington Irving” 1).
In 1815 Irving moved to England to work in the family import-export business. However, the business was unsuccessful and he made the decision to support himself through his writing. “He began recording the impressions, thoughts, and descriptions which became the pieces that make up [his most famous work,] The Sketch Book” (“Washington Irving” 1). He adopted a second pseudonym, Geoffrey Crayon, for this book. The...