"Dashing thru the snow, On a one horse open sleigh""
- "Jingle Bells" by James Pierpont
Often thought of as a traditional Christmas song, the words and music to the famous Christmas Carol “Jingle Bells” were written in 1857 by organist and choir director James Pierpont for a Thanksgiving church service in Savannah, GA. It was so well received that the children were asked to repeat the performance at Christmas service and it has remained a Christmas standard ever since. The sheet music, first published in 1857 by Oliver Ditson with its original title “The One Horse Open Sleigh,” was reissued two years later with only one title change chosen by the public: “Jingle Bells.”
James Pierpont was born in 1822 in Massachusetts the son of an ardent abolitionist. In the 1850’s he moved to Savannah, Georgia, joining his brother John who ministered to Savannah’s Unitarian congregation. James took a post as the organist and music director of the church and it during the fall of 1857, with Pierpont living in the south, that he began writing of his New England Christmases and longing for the snow and traditional New England customs.
After the death of his first wife, Millicent Cowee of Troy, NY, James married Mayor Thomas Purse’s daughter, Eliza Jane in the late 1850’s. At the outset of the Civil War, he joined the Isle of Hope Volunteers to the Confederacy, the Fifth Georgia Calvalry. Pierpont survived the war and lived until 1893 when he passed away in Winter Haven, FL. He was buried in Laurel Grove beside his brother-in-law Thomas who had been killed in the first battle of Bull Run. The family would again come to great national prominence through the work of James’ nephew, famed capitalist J. Pierpont Morgan.
The Unitarian Church where Pierpont played the organ and directed the first rendition of “Jingle Bells” has been moved from its original location, however a “Jingle Bells” marker honoring its composer was dedicated to Pierpont at the site of the church in June of 1985. In the period of 1890 through 1954, “Jingle Bells” was in the top 25 most recorded songs in history beating out “Blue Skies”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, “I Got Rhythm”, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Georgia On My Mind”. Furthering the legacy, in 1997 a James Lord Pierpont Music Scholarship Fund was established at Armstrong Atlantic State University.