Category Archives: 1820s

The Symmesonian Letters (1824)

The “Symmesonian” Letters
Cincinnati, 1824
No. 1.[2]
Having been informed Mr. Editor, that your countrymen always require of every person when first introduced to them, a regular account of himself—including his name, his business, whence he came, where he is going, &c. &c. I shall commence this communication by informing you that I am desirous of concealing my name, and that all other matters concerning myself will be revealed to you in the course of several communications which I intend making. At present, I shall merely inform you whence I came, and my business here.
My country is that part of the concave surface of this sphere lately discovered by Capt. Symmes of this city, and named by him Symmesonia. I have been induced to undertake the dangerous and fatigueing journey from thence to this city, in consequence of a report by some of the red men of the north, (who have, as they say, been driven quite into the concave regions by your encroachments on their territory,) that an expedition was fitting out here under the command of Capt. Symmes for the purpose of visiting my country. From the character given of you by your red neighbours and their accounts of your conduct toward them, very great alarm has been excited in Symmesonia; and I have been deputed to undertake the journey to this place, in order to ascertain whether the character that has been given of you is correct, and if it be, what measures can be adopted to prevent the threatened expedition of Capt. Symmes; or if this cannot be done, what will be the most judicious course for the Symmesonians to adopt in order to ward themselves from the evils with which it threatens them.
The most difficult as well as the most important part of my business is to acquire a knowledge of the character of the Americans. Of this difficulty the contradictory opinions I have formed at different times on the same subjects may serve as exemplifications. Previous to my departure from Symmesonia, I was informed & believed that the most striking characteristic of your countrymen, was the desire of possessing lands; but long before I reached your city, I found that you I owned immense tracts of which no use whatever was made, and therefore, concluded that my information in this respect was entirely erroneous; in which conclusion I was confirmed by seeing how very small a part was cultivated of that which is settled. I was, however, soon driven back to my original opinions upon learning (soon after my arrival here,) that it is customary with your citizens, to buy and sell not only large tracts of land which they cannot possibly use, on earth, but also quite as large quantities in the moon, and these being more distant and not so valuable as those in Symmesonia, my fears were excited anew.
I was informed by your red neighbours that your government was in the habit of buying their lands, and paying for them principally by treaties,—things that they have no use for and know very little about, but which they consider as very dangerous articles, being liable to get broken; and when this happens, they say that you immediately send out armies to mend them by cutting the throats of those to whom they were given—a course of proceeding which altho’ of a very quieting and composing nature, would not suit the taste of the Symmesonians. Since I have been among you, however, I have heard that your practice of exterminating your neighbours is a trouble you take merely from benevolence and humanity,—which is a thing I cannot yet comprehend.
I was told that attempt had been made, at a place called Zanesville, to dig a passage to Symmesonia through the earth, and first directed my course towards that place in order to ascertain whether they were likely to succeed; but before I arrived there, I was told that they were merely digging for silver,—since I arrived here, however, I have been informed that this could not have been the case, as it was impossible that so many people as live there should be ignorant that silver is never found in such places as that where they were seeking it. Thus I am kept in a state of doubt and uncertainty, and cannot acquire the knowledge respecting your country, which I am seeking, as fast as Capt. Symmes acquires knowledge of Symmesonia, although so far distant from it. This is the reason of my opening a correspondence with you, (for I consider it necessary to keep myself concealed, lest I should be seized upon and compelled to guide those invaders to my country, whom I am endeavouring to discover the means of keeping from it); I hope that you will enable me to obtain correct information, without wasting too much of my time in search of it.
I perceive that I have little time to lose, for the expedition to the moon which is fitting out at Lexington, is an additional subject of apprehension with me. I suppose the object of that expedition must be to look after the lands that have been purchased in that quarter; if I am correctly informed, all that are contained in that planet, will not be sufficient to fulfil the contracts that have been made for them; those, therefore, who are disappointed in getting their supply, will naturally turn their attention to Symmesonia; the course to which country they will perceive on their route homeward.
The only circumstance that affords me any consolation is the indifference towards Capt. Symmes and his project that prevails among all classes; should this continue, I shall consider my country safe, but if otherwise; I dread the fate prepared for her.
No. 2.[3]
As you seem desirous of concealing your name, and announcing only the country or nation from which you came, I am under the necessity of addressing you by the vague appellation which you have assumed. The primary object of your visit to these upper regions appears to be, to determine the truth or falsity of certain flying reports amongst the northern aborigines prejudicial to our character as honest men and good Christians; and moreover, the probability or improbability of our furnishing Captain Symmes with an outfit sufficient to enable him to pay your country a visit. This information you suppose may be obtained from the editor of this paper. Here you are probably mistaken; as this gentleman, having acquired his knowledge principally from colleges and books, must necessarily be imperfectly acquainted with the true genius, principles, and usages of his own countrymen; while I, on the contrary, having read a little and travelled much, am consequently somewhat better qualified than him to set you right (as your information has been egregiously incorrect) on the important objects for which you visited our country.
The report spread abroad by our tawny neighbours of the north, that the government of the United States are in the habit of paying them for their lands in treaties, or, which is the same thing, cheating them out of them altogether, is totally incorrect. It is well known that they receive from our government a stipend annually, for a given number of years, as full satisfaction for the soil, even admitting they had a good title to it. Either a blanket, a cotton shawl, or a butcher knife, though not of the most superfine kind, is surely adequate remuneration for a million of acres over which a plough has never passed. Besides, we occasionally give them a little cash for pocket money, out of pure good nature; and if they pay it back to traders authorized by the government, for whiskey at a dollar per gallon, why that is their own look-out; and if they get drunk on the aforesaid liquor, and commit assault and battery on the whites, they ought not to think hard when an army is sent out with orders to extirpate whole tribes. The evil is of their own seeking.
But I lay down the position that the aborigines of this country, have no just right to the soil. We have a book amongst us called the Bible, of great antiquity and much value, and by the precepts of which, some of the knowing ones have clearly proven (to themselves at least) that the natives, being heathens, and consequently excluded from heaven, may of right be expelled from this continent—nay, from the whole earth, by us who are the chosen favorites of heaven, and who of course are alone worthy to possess the fat things of the earth. We have moreover another book, written by one Knickerbocker of standard value, which though composed in a more recent period o time, is much more valued, and referred by our Scavans. In this invaluable work a vast body of irrefutable arguments are adduced, all which go to prove conclusively that the aborigines of this continent have (a the lawyers say) “No claim, right, no title whatever to the premises abovementioned.” I regret that my present limit will not permit me to marshal before you this host of circumstances and arguments in order to convince you that the native have not, nor ever had, the shadow of claim to the soil of this continent—that therefore the government is not bound in duty to give them any thing in exchange for it—that they ought to consider all that we have given them, or agreed to give the in our treaties, as so many donations—and that we are perfectly justifiable in driving them whenever we choose to do so, not only from their present locations, but from the whole American continent. So much for the base aspersions on our character by you informants, the Arctic red men.
As to our purchasing and selling land which do not exist any where, or lands in the moon—the fact we do not pretend to deny; but clearly justify our conduct on the score, that we pay for them in funds that also have no existence—according to the old adage, “come easy go easy.” If you have come amongst us a little earlier, you would have seen that all our land speculation were bottomed on Bank notes, which were any thing but money, and cost us nothing. This was appropriately denominated moonshine, and was therefore a currency well adapted to pay for lands in the moon; and such traders might well be termed lunatics. This term, however, is not now used among us as one of reproach; as all our poets and lovers, to say nothing of millions besides, admit its applicability to them, and boast of the honor.
From what I have said you will perceive we are not that unjust, avaricious, and blood-thirsty people which those we have done so much to benefit have represented; and that therefore, you need not be alarmed for the safety of your nation when we shall have arrived amongst you, which, by the way, will be very shortly. We shall doubtless treat you pretty much in the same fair, humane, and religious manner in which we have treated your brother heathens, who, if different at all, are better than you—being above you on the globe, and therefore your superiors. In the first place, we shall probably offer you a few blankets, looking glasses, penknives, jews-harps, &c. &c in exchange for whole islands and continents, and if you do not see fit to accept this generous offer for lands to which, as I have shown above, you have no reasonable claim, we shall drive you from the whole at the point of the bayonet, an instrument with which you are probably yet unacquainted, but to which we shall introduce you in good time Meanwhile, as we shall be kindly packing you off very liberally to “another and a better world,” we shall send a large supply of missionaries to convert you to the “true faith,” (as yours is doubtless not orthodox) before giving you “the world to come” in exchange for a few dirty acres in this. This being the course we have pursued on similar occasions, we shall most likely pursue the same with you—a course in justification of which my reasoning has, I hope, convinced even yourself.
A consideration of the manner in which Capt. Symmes intends to discover your concave region—the way in which the means are to be raised—the correctness of his facts and reasoning, and the weakness of those of his opponents—together with sundry other relevant matters, I must postpone to another time, after barely premising that I am a true devotee to his theory, and the possibility of testing it by actual observations. S. R.
No. 3.[4]
The reasonings of S. R. in your last, could not fail to convince me of the justice of the course adopted with respect to your Indian neighbours, and the propriety as well as probability of the same course being pursued towards the Symmesonians. I was aware that, in “extinguishing the Indian title” to lands, you always found it expedient to extinguish the Indians also; and expected no other course to be pursued towards us. But however just and proper this might be, we could never be brought to relish it heartily, and I have been endeavouring to devise some plan to avoid it. I could not discover any place to which we could make our escape, except the midplane space, where we might be employed at the blacksmith’s business, at the forges of which your volcanoes are the chimnies—but this being not suited to our taste, I have relinquished the idea of it and have since discovered a plan of safety for my country, which I think will prevent the necessity of our emigration.
I observe that the British are fitting out an expedition by sea and another by land, which will undoubtedly penetrate to Symmesonia, and tho’ at first I was led to fear them as enemies, I have since discovered the means of making them our friends and protectors.
I have learnt that when these people visit any foreign country, their minds are sure to be out of health and require the discharge of a great deal of ill humour before they can be recovered; this discharge generally commences by cursing the country they are in, for a d——d outlandish place, where nothing can be got fit to eat or drink, and where they have no respect shown them, on account of their being Englishmen. This checked, as it is very apt to be in this country by the resentment it excites; prevents

their restoration to health and (very properly) makes them your irreconcilable enemies. But if it be encouraged by submission and flattery,—if you allow them to boast as much as they please, to tell how they have beaten the French and Spaniards at all times, and every other nation when they pleased, if in addition to this, you drink the porter they bring with them and declare it the best in the world—if you suffer them to show you how to cook your victuals, and after it is done, agree that it is the best possible mode—if you then acknowledge them to be the richest people in the world and ask to negotiate a loan from them, you will make them your firm friends, and if you wish to carry on a war against any other country they will furnish you with ships, armies, and every thing necessary, and money to pay your expenses, and if you want any thing belonging to any other people, they will rob them in order to give it to you.
I have therefore, only to instruct my countrymen as to the course they are to pursue on the arrival of the British expeditions, and after adopting it, we shall be so far from fearing any thing from this country, that we shall require of you such a course e conduct as we may please to dictate: as by stating it to be necessary to keep up the “balance of power” between the concave and convex surfaces of the globe, and by sending Symmesonian stocks to the British exchange for sale, we can not only get Great Britain, but all Europe to take up arms, and compel you to allow us whatever we please to demand.
My mind being now relieved from the fears and cares that have oppressed it ever since left home, I shall spend some time in your country, and make observations respecting such of your manners and customs as I may have opportunities of seeing, and perhaps may communicate some of them to you. I may also want some information, which I trust that you or some of your correspondents will furnish me: in return for which I shall communicate such information respecting the concave as I may think it safe to entrust you with.

[1] Under this title, a series of communications appeared in the ”Cincinnatti Literary Gazette” in 1824, dealing with the hollow earth theories of John Cleves Symmes.
[2] Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Feb 28, 1824. p. 66
[3]Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Mar 6, 1824. p. 76
[4]Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Mar 20, 1824. p. 90

Comments Off on The Symmesonian Letters (1824)

Filed under 1820s, Hollow Earth