Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1841)

The Scout; or, the Black Riders of Congaree.

Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1854

            William Gilmore Simms’s third novel of the Revolutionary War (though fifth in order of plot chronology) was originally published in 1841 under the title The Kinsmen.  It became an early offering as part of the Redfield edition under its more popularly-known title The Scout in 1854.  A novel of familial conflict in the context of war and a broad-minded exploration of patriotism across classes, The Scout opens shortly after the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill (aka the Second Battle of Camden)[1] in May 1781.  The action ends with the British departure from the Star Fort at Ninety Six, SC[2] the following month.  One of the two major plotlines dramatizes the “tension between Clarence Conway, the good brother and partisan leader, and Edward Conway, the bad brother[3] who secretly heads the Tory band of ‘Black Riders.’”  Couched primarily in political terms, the conflict between the two kinsmen is “further enhanced by the fact that each seeks the affection of Flora Middleton, one of Simms’s more appealing heroines, a spunky paragon of virtue who philosophically sides with the patriots.”[4]  The second plotline focuses on a character who is arguably one of the most fully-realized and engaging figures in Simms’s corpus, John “Supple Jack” Bannister.  One of the finer productions in Simms’s tradition of memorable backwoodsmen, Supple Jack speaks in the “authentic voice of the liberty-loving frontiersmen,”[5] and thus becomes an analog for scrappy Revolutionary America itself.  He is thus a fitting contrast and complement to the elite gentleman of the military caste.  The title change of the novel in its later edition was reflective of the impact of this one character, a recognition from the author that “the exploits of scout Supple Jack Bannister constituted the dominant interest of the novel, rather than the conflict between the two half brothers, as originally intended.”[6]

            The first mention of The Kinsmen in Simms’s extant correspondence is a 3 January 1839 letter to James Lawson, in which Simms indicated that he had just begun composition of a “new South Carolina romance.”[7]  As of his 25 April 1840 letter to Lawson, however, Simms had only composed about 100 pages of his new Revolutionary romance and was suffering writer’s block.[8]  In late July of that year, Simms met with his intended publisher Lea & Blanchard in Philadelphia to work out a composition and publication schedule.  Though he promised them the completed first volume of the novel by August, one week later he had pushed the deadline until October.[9]  Finally, at the beginning of January 1841, The Kinsmen was completed and in press.[10]  It was published in February 1841 by Lea & Blanchard.  Though both Lawson and James Henry Hammond complained to Simms about the novel’s myriad stylistic and printing errors[11] and Simms himself lamented the numerous “typographical errors” that were the result of his not reading the proofs,[12] the novel actually “met with a wide and favorable response,” including a rare glowing review from Edgar Allan Poe in Graham’s Magazine.[13]

            Simms’s dedication to The Scout offers an interesting and multivalent story of author, dedicatee, and novel alike.  Both The Scout and The Kinsmen are dedicated to Colonel William Drayton; they differ, though, in the geographic attribution they suggest for Simms’s friend.  Like Simms, Drayton was a unionist during the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s.  In the wake of the controversy and in protest of its potential outcome, Drayton moved his family permanently out of South Carolina, settling for the rest of his life in Philadelphia.  When Simms dedicated The Kinsmen to him in 1841, he appended the geographic descriptor “of Philadelphia,” presumably in recognition of their likeminded unionism.  In the dedication to The Scout in 1854, though, Simms changed the language to indicate that Drayton is “of South Carolina” and that the text is a story of “our native state.”  In the fomenting conflicts of the 1850s, Simms seems to have attempted to recapture a prominent citizen for his home state; his national interests in 1841 gave way to his decidedly regionalist ones in the lead-up to the war.  Drayton died eight years prior to the later dedication, so his feelings about Simms’s relocation of his allegiance are unknown.  In an additional element of interest, seven years after the publication of The Scout two of Drayton’s sons fought on opposing sides of the Battle of Port Royal during the Civil War.  This mirrored a major plot element from the novel: the conflict between the Conway brothers as they served on opposite sides of the American Revolution.

            The copies of both The Kinsmen and The Scout in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina are rebound in modern covers and bindings.  The title page of the 1841 text features:  THE KINSMEN: | OR THE | BLACK RIDERS OF CONGAREE. | A TALE. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''THE PARTISAN,'' ''MELLICHAMPE,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' | ''THE YEMASSEE,'' &c. | ''Failing, I know the penalty of failure | Is present infamy and death ..... pause not; | I would have shown no mercy, and I seek none; | My life was staked upon a mighty hazard, | And being lost, take what I would have taken.'' | MARINO FALIERO. | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. I. | PHILADELPHIA: | LEA AND BLANCHARD. | 1841.  The title page of the 1854 retitled edition of the work from Redfield features:  THE SCOUT | OR | THE BLACK RIDERS OF CONGAREE | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''THE PARTISAN,'' ''MELLICHAMPE,'' ''KATHARINE WALTON,'' ''WOODCRAFT,'' ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' ETC. | ''Failing I know the penalty of failure | Is present infamy and death ..... pause not; | I would have shown no mercy, and I seek none.'' | MARINO FALIERO. | NEW AND REVISED EDITION. | [Circle formed of snake biting its own tail with burning lamp in the center] | REDFIELD | 110 AND 112 NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK. | 1854.

Todd Hagstette

[1] Fought April 25, 1781 over possession of the eponymous ridge near Camden, SC.

[2] Ninety Six is also the site of the first South Carolina land battle in the American Revolution in 1775.

[3] The two are technically half-brothers.

[4] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University or Arkansas Press), 101.

[5] J.V. Ridgely, William Gilmore Simms (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1962), 84.

[6] Guilds, Simms, 102.

[7] Letters, 1:139.

[8] Letters, 1:170-1.

[9] Guilds, Simms, 99. 

[10] Letters, 1:211.

[11] Guilds, Simms, 100.

[12] Letters, 1:229.

[13] Guilds, Simms, 100.