William Gilmore Simms
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William Gilmore Simms (April 17, 1806 – June 11, 1870) was an American writer and politician from the
American South The Southern United States, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, Dixie, the Southland, or simply the South, is a geographic and cultural region In geography Geography (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , ''geograph ...
. Poet, novelist, and historian, his History of South Carolina served as the definitive textbook on state history for much of the 20th century. Literary scholars consider him a major force in antebellum Southern literature; in 1845
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and ...

Edgar Allan Poe
pronounced him the best novelist America had ever produced. Throughout much of his literary career he served as editor of several journals and newspapers."Review of ''From Nationalism to Secessionism: The Changing Fiction of William Gilmore Simms'' by Charles S. Watson," reviewed by Richard J. Calhoun, ''
South Atlantic Review The ''South Atlantic Review'' is a quarterly Peer review, peer-reviewed academic journal published by the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. It was established in 1935 and publishes articles and reviews in the fields of linguistics, languag ...
'' 60.1 (1995), pp. 149-151.
He also served in the
South Carolina House of Representatives The South Carolina House of Representatives is the lower house of the South Carolina General Assembly The South Carolina General Assembly, also called the South Carolina Legislature, is the state legislature A state legislature is a Legislatu ...
from 1844–1846.


Early and family life

Simms was born on April 17, 1806, in
Charleston, South Carolina Charleston is the largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, South Carolina, Charleston County, and the principal city in the Charleston metropolitan area, South Carolina, Charleston–North Charle ...

Charleston, South Carolina
,Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. ''The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States''. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 249. of Scots-Irish ancestors. His mother, Harriet Ann Augusta (''née'' Singleton, 1784-1808) died during his infancy; his father William Gilmore Simms Senior (1762-1830) failed in business and joined Coffee's Indian fighters. The precocious Simms was raised by his grandmother, Mrs. Jacob Gates, who had lived through the American Revolutionary War and who told Simms stories about it.
1911 Britannica A highlight in European history was the Comparison of the Amundsen and Scott Expeditions, race for the South Pole. Events January * Through mid-January (starting 31 December) – The first Industrial Aeroplane Show is held i ...
.
In his teen years, Simms worked as a clerk in a drugstore and aspired to study medicine. Simms began to study law when he was eighteen (circa 1824).Hubbell, Jay B. ''The South in American Literature: 1607-1900''. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 573. He would receive an honorary LLD from the
University of Alabama The University of Alabama (informally known as Alabama, UA, or Bama) is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization An o ...
in 1841. He married Anna Malcolm Giles in 1826. After her death, he married Chevillette Eliza Roach (pronounced "Roche"), with whom he had 14 children, only 5 of whom lived to adulthood. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1827; however, he soon abandoned this profession for literature.


Early writings

Simms first wrote poetry at the age of eight. In his 19th year, he produced a
monody In poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europ ...
on General
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (February 25, 1746 – August 16, 1825) was an American Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were credited with establishing a state. National fou ...

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
(Charleston, 1825). Two years later, in 1827, he published ''Lyrical and Other Poems and Early Lays''. In 1828 he became a journalist as well as editor and part owner of the ''City Gazette'', a position he held until 1832 when the publication failed. Simms devoted his attention entirely to writing and in rapid succession published ''The Vision of Cortes, Cain, and Other Poems'' (1829); ''The Tricolor, or Three Days of Blood in Paris'' (1830); and his strongest long poem, ''Atalantis, a Tale of the Sea'' (1832). ''Atalantis'' established his fame as an author. His novel ''Martin Faber, the Story of a Criminal'', an expanded version of an earlier short story called "The Confessions of a Murderer", was published in 1833. This gained Simms a national audience.


Editor and politician

Simms also edited several South Carolina newspapers, and in the 1840s and 1850s edited important southern journals, including the ''Magnolia, the 'Southern and Western,'' and the proslavery ''Southern Quarterly Review.'' During the nullification controversy prompted by South Carolina in 1832, Simms supported Union. In the 1840s he pushed for American freedom from British literary models and supported the intensely nationalistic Young America group. Based on the popularity of the novels described below, Simms became part of the Southern planter class. He came to firmly support slavery (a "fire-eater"), an attitude that when held widely by Southerners helped lead to secession and creation of the
Confederate States of America The Confederate States of America (CSA), commonly referred to as the Confederate States or simply the Confederacy, was an unrecognized herrenvolk republic A republic () is a form of government A government is the system ...

Confederate States of America
and the
American Civil War The American Civil War (also known by other names Other most often refers to: * Other (philosophy), a concept in psychology and philosophy Other or The Other may also refer to: Books * The Other (Tryon novel), ''The Other'' (Tryon nove ...
. Elected to the
South Carolina House of Representatives The South Carolina House of Representatives is the lower house of the South Carolina General Assembly The South Carolina General Assembly, also called the South Carolina Legislature, is the state legislature A state legislature is a Legislatu ...
, Simms served from 1844–1846. However he lost election for
lieutenant governor of South Carolina The lieutenant governor of South Carolina is the second-in-command to the governor of South Carolina. Beyond overseeing the Office on Aging and the responsibility to act or serve as governor in the event of the office's vacancy, the duties of the ...
by only one vote.


Novels about the South

Simms wrote a number of popular books between 1830 and 1860, sometimes focusing on the pre-colonial and colonial periods of Southern history, and replete with local color. His first success was with ''
The Yemassee ''The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina'' is an 1835 historical novel by American writer William Gilmore Simms. It was a popular bestseller during its time and became Simms's best known novel.Hart, James DThe Popular Book: A History of America's Lit ...
'' (1835, about the
Yemassee War The Yamasee War was a conflict fought in South Carolina from 1715–1717 between British settlers from the Province of Carolina and the Yamasee and a number of other allied Native Americans in the United States, Native American peoples, includ ...
of 1715 in the South Carolina low country). Simms also published eight novels set in South Carolina during the
American Revolutionary War The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the Revolutionary War and the American War of Independence, was initiated by delegates from thirteen American colonies of British America British America comprised the colon ...
, beginning with ''
The Partisan "The Partisan" is an anti-fascist anthem about the French Resistance in World War II. The song was composed in 1943 by Russian-born Anna Marly (1917–2006), with lyrics by French Resistance leader Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie (1900–1969) ...
'' (1835), which was perhaps Simms's most-read novel, and ''Katharine Walton'' (1851). Other South Carolina-related books included ''Mellichampe'' (1836), ''The Kinsmen'' (1841), Woodcraft (1854), ''The Forayers'' (1855), ''Eutaw'' (1856), and ''Joscelyn'' (1867). He later published ten novels dealing with the expansion into the frontier territory from Georgia to Louisiana, including ''Richard Hurdis; or, the Avenger of Blood. A Tale of Alabama'' (1838) and ''Border Beagles: A Tale of Mississippi'' (1840). He also wrote about the conflicts between Native Americans, Spaniards and French in Florida in ''The Lily and the Totem, or, The
Huguenots The Huguenots ( , also , ) were a religious group of French Protestants Protestantism is a form of Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New ...
in Florida'' (1850); ''Vasconselos'' (1853; an account of DeSoto's expedition from the Native American viewpoint); and the overlapping experiences of Native Americans, Spanish, and English in ''The Cassique of Kiawah'' (1859; a novel set during the 1680s in Colonial-era Charleston). At first, Southern readers, especially those in his home town of Charleston, did not support Simms's work, in part because he lacked an aristocratic background. Eventually, however, he was referred to as the Southern version of
James Fenimore Cooper James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was an American writer of the first half of the 19th century. His historical romances depicting colonist and Indigenous characters from the 17th to the 19th centuries created a ...

James Fenimore Cooper
, and Charleston residents invited him into their prestigious St. Cecilia Society. In 1845, Simms published ''The Wigwam and the Cabin'' (1845); a compilation of short stories, one of which describes a loyal slave.
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and ...

Edgar Allan Poe
thought the collection "decidedly the most American of American books". and declared Simms to be "immeasurably the greatest writer of fiction in America." In 1852, Simms published ''As Good as A Comedy; Or, The Tennessean’s Story.'' It and "Paddy McGann" (1867) constitute his two full-length works of Southern humor; he also wrote "Sharp Snaffles" and "Bill Bauldy," two tall tales. He also wrote poetry and, in a letter to literary critic and poet
Rufus Wilmot Griswold Rufus Wilmot Griswold (February 13, 1815 – August 27, 1857) was an American anthology, anthologist, editor, poet, and critic. Born in Vermont, Griswold left home when he was 15 years old. He worked as a journalist, editor, and critic in Philadel ...
, Simms said that he was not interested in form as much as content, torn "between the desire to appear correct, and the greater desire to be original and true".


Nonfiction history and biography

Simms' ''History of South Carolina'' (1842) served for several generations as the standard school textbook on the state's history. He also wrote ''The Social Principle: The True Source of National Permanence'' (1843) and several very popular biographies of Revolutionary War heroes
Francis Marion Francis Marion ( 1732 – February 27, 1795), also known as the Swamp Fox, was a military officer who served in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Acting with the Continental Army and South Carolina militia commissions, he was a ...
,
Nathanael Greene Nathanael Greene (June 19, 1786, sometimes misspelled Nathaniel) was a major general Major general (abbreviated MG, maj. gen. and similar) is a military rank used in many countries. It is derived from the older rank of sergeant major general. ...
, and
John Laurens John Laurens (October 28, 1754 – August 27, 1782) was an American soldier and statesman from Province of South Carolina, South Carolina during the American Revolutionary War, best known for his criticism of slavery and his efforts to help recr ...
. He also penned a compendium of
Captain John Smith John Smith (baptized 6 January 1580 – 21 June 1631) was an English soldier, explorer, colonial governor, Admiral of New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States The Northeastern Unite ...

Captain John Smith
’s works covering the founding of the Virginia Colony as well as a book detailing the Chevalier Bayard. Simms wrote a history of Alabama, and was a popular lecturer on American history. He accumulated one of the largest collections of Revolutionary War manuscripts in the country. Most of this collection was lost when stragglers from William Tecumseh Sherman, Sherman's army burned his plantation — otherwise known as a forced labor camp — home Woodlands, located in Bamberg, SC.Busick, Sean R. ''A Sober Desire for History: William Gilmore Simms as Historian.'', 2005. .


Pro-slavery writings

Simms strongly supported Slavery in the United States, slavery. In the November 1837 issue of the ''Southern Literary Messenger'', Simms published a lengthy review of English social reformer Harriet Martineau's ''Society in America'', a review that essentially functioned as an extended defense of slavery. This essay would be published as a standalone pamphlet the next year under the title ''Slavery in America''; the essay would be republished in 1852 under the title "The Morals of Slavery" as part of the edited volume ''The Pro-Slavery Argument''. Simms was very critical of ''Uncle Tom's Cabin'' and wrote negative reviews."Simms's Review of Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Charles S. Watson, ''American Literature,'' Vol. 48, No. 3 (Nov., 1976), pp. 365-368 Some scholars have argued that his 1852 novel ''The Sword and the Distaff''--republished in a slightly revised edition in 1854 under the title ''Woodcraft''--is an example of Anti tom novel, Anti-Tom literature; these scholars often rely on the readings of Joseph V. Ridgely. Other scholars see Ridgely's reading as faulty, citing an excessive reliance placed on an offhand remark Simms makes in a letter from 1852 and problems with the chronology of Simms's composition of Woodcraft alongside the publication of ''Uncle Tom's Cabin''. Simms was part of a "sacred circle" of southern intellectuals including Edmund Ruffin, James Henry Hammond, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, and George Frederick Holmes. Together they published numerous articles calling for moral reform of the South, including a stewardship role of masters in relation to slavery.Drew Gilpin Faust, ''A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840-1860'', University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977


American Civil War and final years

During the
American Civil War The American Civil War (also known by other names Other most often refers to: * Other (philosophy), a concept in psychology and philosophy Other or The Other may also refer to: Books * The Other (Tryon novel), ''The Other'' (Tryon nove ...
, Simms espoused the side of the Secessionists in a weekly newspaper. Only his eldest son, who shared his name, was old enough to serve in the Confederate army and because of the common name, his identification as a volunteer or conscript private is unclear. Stragglers from Sherman's army burnt and destroyed Simms' plantation home "Woodlands" near the South Carolina border, along with 10,000 books and Revolutionary era manuscripts. Other than for the backwoods novel "Paddy McGann" (1863), Simms published little after the Civil War began. He advised several southern politicians and made elaborate proposals for Confederate military defenses. During the war he wrote little of literary importance save the lively backwoods novel Paddy McGann (1863). His family impoverished by the war, Simms took on many writing and editing chores which ruined his health. He compiled an anthology of Southern war poems in 1866.


Death and legacy

Simms died of cancer at his eldest daughter's home at 13 Society Street in Charleston on June 11, 1870. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery. A large bronze bust of Simms is centrally located in Charleston's Battery Park (Charleston), Battery Park. The bust was sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward with a granite base designed by Edward Brickell White."The Simms Memorial". ''News and Courier''. June 6, 1879. p. 4 The monument was dedicated in 1879. In 2016, the family had a ceremony honoring him in Hanahan, South Carolina, Hanahan, South Carolina.


Posthumous reputation

Scholars at DocSouth note Simms's volume of work describes the historic and cultural diversity of the South, from the class hierarchy, sectional self-consciousness and agrarian economy of the Low Country; to both the violence and civilization of the Gulf South (which had both plantations and frontier); and the pioneering of the Appalachian Mountains. David Aiken, a founding member of the pro-secessionist grou
The League of the South
lamented that Simms was purged from the canon of American literature because of the "unpardonable sin Simms committed when he published an account of Columbia, South Carolina's destruction in which he dared to deny the North a righteous victory." Simms asserted of the North's tactics in the Civil War, "whatever might have existed in virtue of their cause, is forfeit by the processes which they have taken for its maintenance." Author and segregationist Donald Davidson (poet), Donald Davidson claimed, "The neglect of Simms's stature is nothing less than a scandal when it results....in the disappearance of his books from the common market and therefore from the readers' bookshelf. This is literary murder". Literary scholars and historians continue to recognize Simms as a major force in Southern literature#Early and antebellum literature, Antebellum literature and a leading intellectual. The University of South Carolina has digitized most of his works and papers, which have been digitized by the available as print on demand books. During recent years, a "Simms Renascence" has included scholars such as James E. Kibler, Mary Ann Wimsatt, Sean Busick, Charles S. Watson, and John C. Guilds. Kibler may be currently the leading authority on Simms's poetry; Guilds produced the major biography of the prolific author; Busick has concentrated on Simms's work as a historian; Wimsatt has published "The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms" as well as an edited version of his short stories, titled "Tales of the South" (a writer for "The Virginia Quarterly Review" calls Wimsatt's introduction to the tales "magisterial"). Contributing to the renascence is a handsome journal titled "The Simms Review." Issued annually, it contains recent articles about the author.


List of works

*''Monody, on the Death of Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney'' (1825) *''Lyrical and Other Poems'' (1827) *''Tile Vision of Cortes, Cain, and Other Poems'' (1829) *''The Tricolor, or Three Days of Blood in Paris'' (1830) *''Atalantis, a Tale of the Sea'' (1832). *''Martin Faber, the Story of a Criminal'' (1833) *''Guy Rivers: A Tale of Georgia'' (1834) *''
The Yemassee ''The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina'' is an 1835 historical novel by American writer William Gilmore Simms. It was a popular bestseller during its time and became Simms's best known novel.Hart, James DThe Popular Book: A History of America's Lit ...
'' (1835) *''
The Partisan "The Partisan" is an anti-fascist anthem about the French Resistance in World War II. The song was composed in 1943 by Russian-born Anna Marly (1917–2006), with lyrics by French Resistance leader Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie (1900–1969) ...
'' (1835) *''Pelayo: a Story of the Goth'' (1838) *''Mellichampe'' (1836) *''Richard Hurdis; or, the Avenger of Blood. A Tale of Alabama'' (1838) *''Border Beagles: A Tale of Mississippi'' (1840) *''The Kinsmen'' (1841) *''History of South Carolina'' (1842) *''The Wigwam and the Cabin'' (1845) *’’The Life of Captain John Smith, the Founder of Virginia” (1846) *''The Lily and the Totem, or, The Huguenots in Florida'' (1850) *''Katharine Walton'' (1851) *''The Tennessean's Story'' (1852) *''The Golden Christmas'' (1852) *''Vasconselos'' (1853) *''Southward Ho! A Spell of Sunshine'' (1854) *''Woodcraft'' (1854) *''The Forayers'' (1855) *''Eutaw'' (1856) *''The Cassique of Kiawah'' (1859) * ''Simms' poems: Areytos Songs and Ballads of the South'' (1860) *''A City Laid Waste: The Capture, Sack, and Destruction of the City of Columbia'' (1865) *''Joscelyn'' (1867)


See also

* South Carolina literature


Footnotes


Further reading

* David Moltke-Hansen (ed.), ''William Gilmore Simms' Unfinished Civil War: Consequences for a Southern Man of Letters.'' Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2013. * . *Mary Ann Wimsatt, The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms: Cultural Traditions and Literary Form. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: LSU Press, 1989. * Todd Hagstette (ed.), ''Reading William Gilmore Simms: Essays of Introduction to the Author's Canon.'' Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2017.


External links


The Simms Initiatives at the University of South Carolina

The William Gilmore Simms Society
* * *
Works by William Gilmore Simms
at The Online Books Page
Complete text of ''Martin Faber, the Story of a Criminal''

Biography of Simms


* {{DEFAULTSORT:Simms, William Gilmore 1806 births 1870 deaths 19th-century American novelists American male novelists 19th-century American poets American proslavery activists Historians of the American Revolution Historians of the Southern United States South Carolina lawyers Lawyers from Charleston, South Carolina Writers from Charleston, South Carolina American male poets Writers of American Southern literature 19th-century American male writers Novelists from South Carolina American white supremacists 19th-century American lawyers