Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> ''Cash is Conqueror'': The Critique of Capitalism in Simms's ''The Western Emigrants'' and ''Sonnet—The Age of Gold'' >> Page 88

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 88 THE SIMMS REVIEW

greedy—seen in "The Western Emigrants" by the patriarch's desire for
gain—but also as utterly inhumane. Capitalistic practice—what Simms
viewed as the unnecessary pursuit of monetary wealth threatened the
lives of thousands of planters in antebellum Mississippi. A major group
of those threatened was the Choctaw Nation.
In the poem, the patriarch of a family is leaving his native home
of South Carolina for the "Golden stores they promise him" in Mississippi
(41-42). The Choctaws were prominent in Mississippi prior to the 1820s,
and they were largely an agrarian people. Their love of agriculture deeply
contrasted with the capitalist's love of liquid capital. According to Angie
Debo's Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, the Choctaws "were pri-
marily an agricultural people, raising corn, beans, pumpkins, and melons
in the little plots by their cabins" (10).1 American politicians were eager
to capitalize on the tribe's fertile lands. Andrew Jackson believed that
the Indian population "occupied more land than they actually needed"
and stated "that [e]xcessive landowning only foments wars with white
men" (qtd. in Remini 326).2 His plan to eliminate the Choctaws from
Mississippi began in 1820 with their gradual removal to Oklahoma.
This barbaric plan was made possible by the Treaty of Doak's Stand
and continued in 1830 with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which
stipulated that half of the Choctaw tribe "shall depart [Mississippi] dur-
ing the fall of 1831 and 1832," with the "residue" following during the
fall of 1833 three years before Simms completed the "The Western
Emigrants" (1830 Treaty).3
This massive, forced emigration must have affected the author.
Certainly, Simms was familiar with the principals and the setting. His
father owned a plantation near Columbia, Mississippi, and on one of his
trips there, Simms crossed paths with the Choctaw Nation and spent time
with the group, incorporating aspects of what he learned from their cul-
ture into early works such as "Indian Sketch" and "I was a wanderer long
...." During that time, Simms likely learned of the forced emigration.
In a letter he sent from his 1826 visit, one year after the 1825 Treaty of
Doak's Stand, Simms voices his "disgust with greed and materialism on
the [Mississippi] frontier" (qtd. in Guilds 20). In a letter he sent to Henry
Rowe Schoolcraft in 1851 he even more strongly phrases his compas-
sion, not only for the Choctaws but for the entire Native American race
and their plight: "An early and strong sympathy with the Red Men, in
moral and literary points of view, have rendered me in some degree a fit