Author: Carolyn Eastman

associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution (2009).
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James Ogilvie (1773–1820)

James Ogilvie was a schoolteacher who became a celebrity orator, ultimately spending twelve years traveling throughout the United States, England, and Scotland advocating for oratory as a primary medium of communication. Born and educated in Scotland, he came to Virginia in 1793 to teach at the Fredericksburg Academy. There his avowed atheism and radical republicanism made him a controversial figure, but over fifteen years traveling throughout central Virginia he proved both an effective and successful teacher. After delivering two dozen lectures in the State Capitol from 1803 to 1804, Ogilvie abandoned teaching for oratory in 1808. He traveled up and down the East Coast selling tickets to a series of eloquent, educational lectures on “moral and philosophical subjects.” He quickly became one of the most famous men in America, renowned for his speaking skills. In 1813 he announced a plan to create temporary schools of oratory, an effort that had some success in South Carolina but few other places. Then in 1816 he published a collection of essays and autobiography, Philosophical Essays, that was a critical failure and he left the United States for the British Isles. He died in 1820, likely by his own hand.