Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> Simms's Irish: An Address at Hibernian Society Hall, Charleston, South Carolina, 14 January 1999 >> Page 1

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 1

Speech | 2001, 2002
Transcription Simms's Irish: An Address at Hibernian Society Hall,
Charleston, South Carolina, 14 January 1999

James Everett Kibler

Here at Hibernian Society Hall, where Simms himself must have often sat
as a member of the society , and where he delivered his lecture "Poetry and the
Practical," it is very appropriate that we consider Simms's Irish background. In the
process, I want to pose a good many questions. In hazarding some solid conjectures,
I hope to peak the interest of future scholars who will carry this investigation
As most of us know, Simms was the son of an immigrant from Ulster---
from the seaport town of Lame in County Antrim near Belfast. The author's
father, Simms Sr., born in 1762, is said to have come to South Carolina as a young
man shortly after the American Revolution, in the company of his parents and
three brothers. By 1804, Simms Sr. was a merchant on King Street in the
Charleston Neck area of the city and had married Harriet Augusta Singleton, also
of Scots-Irish descent. Simms Sr.'s mother was a Gilmore, also from Lame.
Today, there is a Gilmore's Turn eight miles from Lame; and the editors of the
Simms Letters in 1952 found Gilmores and Simmses still living in Lame. They
also noted that the Simmses and Gilmores had been active in the Episcopal
Church in Lame, with another William Simms acting as a vestryman in 1790.
All this biographical data has been fairly well known among Simms family
and students; but what has not been known heretofore is that the Simms family of
Ulster, and specifically of the Belfast area, were Irish freedom fighters at the time
our William Gilmore Simms Sr. immigrated to Carolina. The Simms family
involvement with the Irish independence movement culminated in the great Irish
Rebellion of 1798, which led the English to deport Simms family members, and to
execute Simms family friends and co-revolutionaries. For this story, I rely largely
on Richard Musgrave's Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland, published
in Dublin in 1802---four years after the uprising.
In this work, Musgrave frequently mentions the Belfast Northern Star,
begun in 1792, as the political newspaper that forwarded the progress of the
rebellion. Musgrave, a rabid supporter of the English who calls the Irish "savages"
throughout his work, labeled the Northern Star that "vehicle of treason and
sedition," that awful journal that exhorted the "catholicks [sic] and presbyterians
to unite in the common cause," that "engine of sedition, immorality, and
irreligion." Why irreligion? one asks. It seems that the Star was forever quoting
Thomas Paine, the deist author of Common Sense, a work that had been so
effective in furthering the Enlightenment and the American Revolutionary Cause.