born in New York state, was reared at Tarrytown, where he became intimate with Washington Irving, whose brother William had married Paulding's sister. He was a member of their informal literary group, the “Nine Worthies of Cockloft Hall,” and with them collaborated on Salmagundi (1807–8), of which he published a second series alone (1819–20).
Stimulated by this venture and Irving's History of New York, Paulding wrote The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan (1812), a comic account of the settlement, growth, and revolt of the American colonies. His flair for satire and opposition to the romanticism of Scott led him to write The Lay of the Scottish Fiddle (1813), while he defended his own conception of a hero as an oppressed individual who finds freedom on the frontier in the long poem The Backwoodsman (1818). His admiration for homespun American qualities and dislike of Tory England led him to answer British critics in a series of books employing both realistic descriptions of the U.S. and burlesques of the English.
He next wrote realistic tales, some published in Tales of the Good Woman (1829) and The Book of St. Nicholas (1836), which continue to show his dislike of the English, attacking their current literary styles, as represented in Byron and Scott. His novels also continue this realism and satire of false romanticism, in the treatment of historical subjects. Koningsmarke, the Long Finne (1823) is concerned with the early Swedish settlement on the Delaware; The Dutchman's Fireside (1831) deals with life in upper New York during the French and Indian War; Westward Ho! (1832) tells of a Virginia family pioneering in Kentucky; and The Puritan and His Daughter (1849) treats 17th-century life in Virginia and New England, condemning the mutual intolerance of Puritans and Cavaliers.