Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1840)
Edition: 3, Printing: 1 (1860)

The History of South Carolina, From Its First European Discovery to Its Erection into a Republic

History | S. Babcock & Co. | 1842

            Believing it “necessary to the public man, as to the pupil,” Simms undertook The History of South Carolina explicitly for the education of the state’s young people, so as to tell them the vibrant history of the state and the distinguished accomplishments of her leaders.[1]  There is evidence to suggest that Simms was particularly motivated to write such a history in order to provide an historical account of South Carolina and notable South Carolinians, to his eldest child Augusta, who was attending boarding school in Massachusetts in the late 1830s.[2]  Simms seemingly found no existing history suitable for such a purpose, and undertook to correct this by writing The History of South Carolina.  Across the various editions, Simms’s book presents two main lessons to its readers:  first, that South Carolinians should depend on native leadership in times of crisis, and second, that a united front against external threats is necessary at all times.  While The History paints a broad picture of the European settlement of South Carolina, the Revolution figures as the most prominent, and most lengthy, section in all three editions.[3]  In Simms’s presentation, the American Revolution is the central and transformative moment of South Carolina’s history. 

            Simms began the composition of The History in 1839; by the spring of 1840, the first edition was finished, and it was published that summer by S. Babcock & Co. in Charleston.[4]  In 1842, Simms released a second edition of The History, with a companion piece, The Geography of South Carolina, coming to print a year later; both were published by Babcock.  Simms’s initial plan was to publish The History and The Geography together as a single volume, but setting the plates for such a volume was cost-prohibitive.[5]  In 1847, Simms began the research that would lead to a rewriting The History of South Carolina, an overhaul likely founded in a desire to include the historical contributions of South Carolina’s “upcountry” more robustly.[6]  This third edition was issued simultaneously in New York (Redfield) and Charleston (Russell & Jones) in January 1860; both were published from the Redfield setting.  Sean R. Busick characterizes Simms’s 1860 edition as a diligently researched and careful revision that expands the earlier editions by over 100 pages.[7] In 1866, the third edition was republished by Richardson and Co. of New York.

            From the beginning, Simms’s desire for The History was that it “become a school book throughout the state,”[8] a desire that was met, at best, with mixed results.  While the South Carolina Military Academy used The History as a primary history textbook throughout Simms’s life, South Carolina would never adopt the book for widespread use in its schools.  Though the 1840 edition received a generally positive critical reception throughout the southern press, Simms’s “school book” desire was stymied by the State Legislature. [9]  Simms’s frustration over this issue is seen acutely in a December 1841 letter, in which he complains about the State House’s voting against an appropriation of $2000 to distribute The History in the “free schools.”[10]  Simms saw this as a personal insult to him by the legislators, as they adopted Thomas P. Lockwood’s A Geography of South-Carolina, a book Simms calls “very paltry, ungrammatical, & altogether worthless,” instead of The History. [11]  Simms sustained his desire for The History to be used as a textbook over the three editions and made the book more attractive for educational use; for example, the third edition, besides being significantly expanded, also features the regular insertion of discussion questions throughout, questions that were not included in the first two editions of The History.  Nevertheless, Simms’s ambition to see The History used in South Carolina’s classrooms was not widely realized until well after his death, when his granddaughter, Mary C. Simms Oliphant, revised the book and achieved public school adoption of it in 1917. In the ensuing years, The New Simms History of South Carolina went through multiple printings and editions, remaining in public schools until 1985.[12]

            The 1840 edition of The History features a plain brown cover, with a gilt stamp on the spine:  [double rule] | HISTORY OF | SOUTH CAROLINA | [double rule] | [double rule] | [double rule].  The title page features:  THE | HISTORY | OF | SOUTH CAROLINA, | FROM | ITS FIRST EUROPEAN DISCOVERY | TO ITS | ERECTION INTO A REPUBLIC: | WITH | A SUPPLEMENTARY CHRONICLE OF EVENTS | TO | THE PRESENT TIME. | [rule] | BY WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, | Author of "The Yemassee," "The Partisan," "Damsel of Darien," &c. | [rule] | CHARLESTON. | PUBLISHED BY S. BABCOCK & CO. | [rule] | 1840.  The 1842 edition is similarly bound, with only a slight difference—S. CAROLINA instead of SOUTH CAROLINA on the gilt spine stamp.  The 1842 title page features:  THE | HISTORY | OF | SOUTH CAROLINA, | FROM | ITS FIRST EUROPEAN DISCOVERY | TO ITS | ERECTION INTO A REPUBLIC: | WITH | A SUPPLEMENTARY CHRONICLE OF EVENTS | TO | THE PRESENT TIME. | BY WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, | Author of ''The Yemassee,'' ''The Partisan,'' ''Damsel of Darien,'' &c. | [rule] | SECOND EDITION. | [rule] | CHARLESTON. | PUBLISHED BY S. BABCOCK & CO.| [rule] | 1842.  The 1860 Redfield edition is bound in a green cover, with flat, double-border stamping on the front and back.  The gilt stamp spine appears as follows, featuring the distinctive Redfield mark:  HISTORY | OF | SOUTH | CAROLINA | [rule] | SIMMS | [rule] | [Graphic of flag, rifle, haversack, drum, and book] | [double rule] | REDFIELD.  The Redfield edition’s title page is as follows:  THE | HISTORY | OF | SOUTH CAROLINA | FROM | ITS FIRST EUROPEAN DISCOVERY | TO ITS | ERECTION INTO A REPUBLIC | WITH | A SUPPLEMENTARY BOOK, BRINGING THE NARRATIVE DOWN | TO THE PRESENT TIME | BY WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, | AUTHOR OF ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''EUTAW,'' ''CASSIQUE OF KIAWAH,'' THE SCOUT,'' ETC. | NEW AND REVISED EDITION. | [Circle formed of snake biting its own tail with burning lamp in the center] | REDFIELD |34 BEEKMAN STREET, NEW YORK | 1860

Michael Odom and W. Matthew J. Simmons  

[1] Letters, 4:187.

[2] John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 94.

[3] This emphasis is natural considering Simms’s burgeoning literary fascination with the Revolution, which had already led to the publication of the first two books in his Revolutionary War series, 1835’s The Partisan and 1836’s Mellichampe, with the remaining six novels in that series appearing periodically throughout the rest of his career.

[4] Letters, 1:150, 171.

[5] Sean R. Busick, A Sober Desire for History: William Gilmore Simms as Historian (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005), 53.

[6] Letters, 2:318-19.  This decision was likely influenced by remarks made by Benjamin Franklin Perry in “Revolutionary History of South Carolina” from the Southern Quarterly Review in April 1847 (Letters, 2:317n).

[7] Busick, Sober Desire, 54.

[8] Letters, 1:180.

[9] See Keen Butterworth and James E. Kibler, Jr., William Gilmore Simms: A Reference Guide (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1980), 46.  

Butterworth and Kibler note a review in the Charleston Mercury that remarked The History “indeed seems to us to be in its kind perfect.”   

[10] Letters, 1:290n.

[11] Ibid., 292.

[12] Busick, Sober Desire, 62.