Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 3: No 1) >> An Unpublished Letter of 1862 from Simms to W. J. Rivers >> Page 1

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Correspondence | 1995

Anne Blythe Meriwether

William James Rivers (1822-1909), teacher and writer, was born in
Charleston, South Carolina. He was graduated from the South Carolina College
in 1841 and shortly afterward established a private classical school in Charleston
He was professor of Greek literature at the South Carolina College from 1856 to
1865. He was the author of a volume of poems and of A Sketch of the History of
South Carolina to the Close of the Proprietory Government by the Revolution of
1719, published in 1856. He was survived by five children.'

This letter from Simms to Professor Rivers has been dated circa May 1862
by the staff of the South Caroliniana Library, for it was in that month that
Professor Rivers' child, William James Rivers, Jr., died of scarlet fever. Simms's
reference here to having buried nine of his fourteen children recalls his letter o
15 January 1862 to his friend William Porcher Miles about the death of his
daughter, Hattie, expressing his grief ("Our chief guest, on Christmas Day, was
Death"), and saying, "Ah! my friend, to think that of 14 children, we have now
buried nine!"2
On 29 March 1862, Woodlands caught fire around 3 A. M. and all was
burned to ruins except the separate library wing and a couple of out-buildings. On
10 April 1862, Simms wrote Miles again, describing his loss, noting that "[m]y
family is occupying my Library, & two outhouses."'
Simms apparently had corresponded previously with Rivers about housing
his collection of Revolutionary War manuscripts at the South Carolina College in
Columbia, with Rivers favoring the idea. Then Rivers had suffered a tragedy all
too familiar to Simms: the death of a child. When Simms learned the news, he
wrote the following letter to Rivers.
However, it was not until early in 1865, with the approach of Sherman's
army, that Simms actually moved the collection to Columbia. As he wrote in a
letter to Evert Duyckinck, 1 May 1867: "[I]t was actually in saving these
manuscripts, that I lost my dwelling House at Woodlands. I hurried away with
them, on the approach of Sherman's army, to Columbia, to put them in safety.
My communication was cut off, by the car trains ceasing to run; I could not
return; and the House was destroyed by the Invader, (as a general rule) because
of the absence of the proprietor. That absence cost me House, furniture &
Library---more than $50,000 in gold, and that absence was solely occasioned by
my desire to save my MSS Collections" (Letters, Vol. V, p. 45).
This letter to Rivers is one of the most important letters acquired by the
South Caroliniana Library since the publication of Vol. VI of the Letters in 1982.
It adds to what had been known of his religious and philosophical beliefs