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 2

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 2

Speech | 2001, 2002
Transcription The Star was also drawing encouragement from the recent American successes
against England---to Musgrave's great chagrin.
Musgrave relates that the Belfast Northern Star was established by none
other than Robert Simms, whom Musgrave describes as 'a wealthy merchant of
Belfast. He was born around 1761, at the same time of William Gilmore Simms
Sr. Wolfe Tone, a close associate and compatriot of Robert Simms, gave him
the code name "The Tanner," for indeed Simms was also a tanner by profession.
In Bartlett's Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone, we learn that Robert had a brother
named William Simms (born in 1763), who assisted with the Northern Star as co-
proprietor. In 1791, the Simms brothers had been instrumental in founding the
Society of United Irishmen. Robert Simms was, in fact, its first secretary and
drafted the Society's letters. Wolfe Tone met with the Society in October of that
year. Musgrave was furious that the Simmses, as proprietors of "that infamous
print...goaded the people to madness," having the "audacity to recommend in it, in
the year 1794, the perusal of [Thomas] Paine's Age of Reason." Musgrave also
berates Robert Simms for writing letters in 1792-1793 to the Roman Catholic
Society and Committee of Dublin "inviting them to be enrolled in his corps." The
English greatly feared a Catholic-Protestant coalition and did all they could to
promote strife between them, knowing that a united Ireland would pose a threat to
their colonial domination of the Irish.
In late 1793, both Simmses and their Belfast compatriot Thomas Addis
Emmet, were arrested by the English, then tried and acquitted. Not intimidated by
this event, the Simmses, with their editor Samuel Neilson of Belfast, continued
the Northern Star in its old ways. In June 1795, Robert Simms, Thomas Russell,
and Samuel Neilson met with Wolfe Tone on the summit of McArt's Fort,
overlooking Belfast, and, in Tone's words, "took a solemn obligation...never to
desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our
country and asserted her independence." He continued in his Memoirs: "Another
day we had a tent..., and a company of thirty of us, including the family of
Simms[es], Neilsons, McCrackens and my own, dined and spent the day together
deliciously. But the most agreeable day we passed during our stay, one of the most
agreeable of our lives, was in an excursion we made with the Simms[es], Neilson
and Russell to Ram's Island...and we agreed, in whatever quarter we might find
ourselves, to commemorate the anniversary of that day, the llth of June [1795]."
In August 1795, William and Robert Simms wrote Tone letters, as he says, "after
professions of the warmest and sincerest regard," to "acquaint me that the state of
the public mind in Ireland was advancing to republicanism faster than ever I could
believe" and pressed Tone to go to France to get aid. France had helped the
American colonies in their bid for freedom. Perhaps they would help the Irish.
William Simms provided Tone the 200 pounds sterling that made Tone's trip
Matters heated up, and in February 1797 both William and Robert Simms
were arrested for publishing treasonous letters in the Star. Tone notes in his
French journal of 1797 that there is "now scarcely one of my friends in Ireland but
is in prison, and most of them in peril of their lives." Tone wrote that Thomas