The first “Great American Novel” came, not from Boston, or from Philadelphia, or from New York, but from Pittsburgh, where Hugh Henry Brackenridge published the first part of his Modern Chivalry in 1792.
Yes, we have a literary tradition 220 years old, and when it comes to the Great American Novel we have Boston, Philadelphia, and New York beat. From the ordinary reader’s point of view, it’s a rambling shaggy-dog tale that goes nowhere and has a great deal of enormously clever fun getting there. From the historian’s point of view, it’s an unrivaled view of life as it was lived in western Pennsylvania in the early years of the Republic.
Brackenridge kept adding to his book until at least 1815, and made numerous corrections throughout his life. This first posthumous edition is thus probably the closest to what he intended the thing to be, although in spite of its the printer’s “great pains to expunge” the mistakes of previous editions, this one has more than its share of errors.
Modern Chivalry: Containing the Adventures of a Captain and Teague O’Regan, His Servant. By H. H. Brackenridge, late a Judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, 1819.