Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 2, Printing: 1 (1854)

The Yemassee. A Romance of Carolina.

Novel (Romance) | Harper & Brothers | 1835

            The Yemassee is historically the best known of the long fictions of William Gilmore Simms.  Set on the South Carolina frontier, Simms’s third book-length fiction treats the Yemassee War of 1715-17, when the Yemassee Indians, with their Spanish and Native American allies, attacked the low country colonial settlements.  Writing in the midst of the removal of natives from east of the Mississippi to the newly created Indian Territory in the future Oklahoma, Simms emphasized such motives for the war as the colonists’ need for land, the conflict between rival European powers over territory they claimed, and the inevitability of native displacement, given these European-derived ambitions and predations, as well as the attendant power inequalities.[1]  Often compared to James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, Simms’s first colonial romance, like later ones—Vasconselos (1853) and The Cassique of Kiawah (1859)—and numerous short stories in such collections as The Wigwam and the Cabin (1845), seems to many critics to render native culture and life in greater depth and with more empathy than Cooper’s work showed.

            Although a portion of what would become chapter 22 appeared already in the Southern Literary Gazette that the twenty-two-year-old Simms edited in 1828-29, he wrote most of the work in the second half of 1834.[2]  He did so following publication of his first romance, Guy Rivers.  His new “Indian tale — a story of an early settlement and of an old tribe in Carolina”[3] — appeared by early April the next year.  Stereotyped, it issued from Harper & Brothers of New York. A corrected printing followed almost immediately, because the first sold out so quickly.[4]  According to Simms, in his “Advertisement to the Second Edition,” this was so even though the initial run “was a remarkably large one—twenty-five hundred copies—twice the number usually put forth, in this country, of similar European publications.”[5]  Revised further in 1853, The Yemassee appeared as one of the first of the twenty volumes in the Redfield edition of Simms’s selected writings, published by Justus Starr Redfield.  The Yemassee has been republished perhaps three dozen times in print, as well as numerous times in digital form.  In the decades on either side of the Second World War, it was the only Simms book in print aside from his revised and updated History of South Carolina (1840).

            In the century and a half following the Redfield edition, it has received more critical attention than any other Simms work.  When Simms first corrected The Yemassee, shortly after its initial printing, he had time to do so only in small ways. Because he was in New York, it was easy to work with the printers to fix little details without having to print a true new edition.  In fairly typical fashion, this corrected printing was called the second edition on its title page.  In 1853, Simms did more extensive editing.  The plates for the 1853 edition were used for most subsequent printings of The Yemassee, at least until the twentieth century.  W. J. Widdleton, occasional partner and successor to the bankrupt Redfield, reprinted the work several times.  Later, so did A. C. Armstrong & Son and Lovell, Coryell, also of New York, and Donohue, Henneberry & Co. and Belford, Clarke & Co. of Chicago.  At times, more than one reprint issued almost simultaneously.  For instance, in 1888, Lovell, Coryell, and Donohue and also Henneberry & Co. both published the work.  In 1898, Newson of New York offered an abridged version “for use of schools.”

            The cover of the 1835 two-volume edition of the novel features brown boards with a plain front and back.  The spine of each volume has a pasted paper label that reads: THE | YEMASSEE | A ROMANCE. | By the Author of | ''GUY RIVERS'' &c. | [rule] | TWO VOLUMES | VOL. [I and II, respectively].  The title page reads:  THE YEMASSEE. | A ROMANCE OF CAROLINA. | BY THE AUTHOR OF | ''GUY RIVERS,'' ''MARTIN FABER,'' &c. | [long rule] | ''Thus goes the empire down—the people shout, | And perish.  From the vanishing wreck, I save | One frail memorial.'' | [long rule] | IN TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. [I and II, respectively] | NEW-YORK: | PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, | NO. 82 CLIFF-STREET, | AND SOLD BY THE PRINCIPAL BOOKSELLERS THROUGHOUT THE | UNITED STATES | [rule] | 1835.  The first Redfield edition is covered in green boards with a gilt-stamped spine that reads: THE YEMASSEE | [rule] | SIMMS | [rule] | [Graphic of flag, rifle, haversack, drum, and book] | [double rule] | REDFIELD.  The title page features: THE | YEMASSEE | A | ROMANCE OF CAROLINA | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ | AUTHOR OF ''THE PARTISAN,'' ''GUY RIVERS,'' ''MARTIN FABER,'' ''RICHARD HURDIS,'' BORDER BEAGLES,'' ETC. | 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.  This later edition also contains two illustrations by F.O.C. Darley and engraved by Augustus F. Kinnersley.

Todd Hagstette

[1] See Mary Ann Wimsatt, The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms: Cultural Traditions and Literary Form (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 33-56; Masahiro Nakamura, Visions of Order in William Gilmore Simms: Southern Conservatism and the Other American Romance (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009), 149-63.

[2] See John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 28-29.

[3] Letters, 1:63.

[4] See Hugh C. Holman’s introduction to the Houghton Mifflin Co.’s 1961 printing of The Yemassee (xxxiii) and Letters, 2:389.

[5] Holman called the corrected printing a new edition, echoing the language of the title page, but comparison of the texts makes clear that the same plates were used.  In preparation of this critical introduction, I did not collate the two versions to see what the changes were.  Instead, I have relied on Simms’s explanation in the “Advertisement to the Second Edition”:  there he said that the author could “effect [no] more than a  very few of the many corrections which he had meditated in the work.”