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 3

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Speech | 2001, 2002
Transcription Russell and Robert Emmet are faced with death, and "Robert and William Simms,
the men in the world to whose friendship I am most obliged," are "but just
discharged" from prison. Musgrave reported that the two Simmses, "by whose
inflammatory publications they never ceased to rouse the people to a state of
rebellious frenzy, were arrested and committed to Newgate in Dublin; and the
former [that is, Robert] has been since transported to Fort George in Scotland." In
June 1797, the press of the Northern Star was burned and destroyed by the
military. In the meantime, Mary Simms, the sister of William and Robert had
become the close affectionate friend of Thomas Russell.
The Irish bid for freedom in 1798 was, of course, unsuccessful. Tone had
succeeded in engaging French help; but the French landing was abortive. Thomas
Russell, close friend of Mary Simms and one of the founders with the Simms
brothers of the Society of United Irishmen and of its transformation into Ireland's
first republican movement, was hanged by the English in 1803. He was 36 years
old at his death. Wolfe Tone was imprisoned and sentenced to die, but cut his own
throat to rob the English hangman of his pleasure. Samuel Neilson, editor of the
Star, was exiled to America. In 1802, Musgrave reported Robert Simms as
"exiled." No mention is made of William. Both William and Robert survived; and
both died in the year 1843. In 1920, in the Belfast Telegraph, the Simms brothers
were given a tribute as being from "prominent families," and great "patrons of
learning" in Belfast.
It is interesting to note our author Simms's own similarities to his Belfast
Simms namesakes. He too was a patron of learning. He too owned a newspaper
that was a controversial political organ, and stood his ground against his assailant
even when they threatened him with bodily harm. He also was decidedly anti-
English in his writing about the American Revolution. In the 1840s and '50s he
became strongly pro-devolutionary in the struggle for Southern freedom, and for
the South's independence from a power he considered dangerously tyrannical and
But a question of paramount interest presents itself: "Just how much of
this Belfast Simms story did our author know?" If Simms was aware of his
family's involvement, he is silent about it in his Letters. One indication, however,
that he knew much about this epoch in Irish history is suggested in his
biographical essay on his close friend Samuel Dickson, a piece that he did for
Evert Duyckinck's Cyclopaedia of American Literature in 1856. Here Simms
relates that Dickson's parents were from the north of Ireland and "of unmixed
Scottish blood." Dickson family members south of Belfast also took part in the
1798 bid for freedom. And Simms continues that the "maternal uncle of Dr.
Dickson was Samuel Neilson, the editor of the Northern Star, the first paper
published in Ireland advocating Catholic Emancipation, and was one of the first of
the Protestants who became United Irishmen." Simms goes on to say that "He
suffered a long imprisonment after the execution of Emmet, and, being at last
released on condition of expatriating himself, came to this country, and died [in
New York]." I find it unlikely, considering the detail of this recounting, that
Simms's knowledge of Nielson as the editor of the Northern Star did not include