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John Cleves Symmes Prospectus,1818

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John Cleves Symmes Prospectus




Kentucky Historical Society. Special Collections & Archives.Frankfort, Kentucky 40601-1931

Conditions Governing Access note

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Preferred Citation Note

[Identification of item], John Cleves Symmes Prospectus, 1818, 92SC78,Library Special Collections and Archives, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort.


1 item


John Cleves Symmes, a native of New Jersey, was the nephew of the noted jurist of the same name. He entered the army in 1802, and was commissioned a captain in the War of 1812. He left military service in 1816 to reside in St. Louis and embark on a brief career of supplying the army and trading with the Fox Indians. Symmes had earlier developed a theory of the earth's formation, following his studies of mathematics and the natural sciences. He began to promulgate his theory of "Concentric Spheres and Polar Voids," while still living in St. Louis. Symmes believed the earth was hollow and contained a number of solid concentric spheres. He thought openings at the poles would allow discovery of the inner spheres.

In 1819, Symmes moved to Newport, Kentucky. He began to travel around the country and give lectures concerning his theory. In 1824, he relocated to land given him by his uncle near Hamilton, Ohio. That same year he modified his theory to assert merely that the earth was hollow, rather than containing concentric spheres. J. N. Reynolds, a Newport resident, became associated with Symmes in the promotion of the theory. Reynolds also traveled and lectured in the hopes of obtaining support for an expedition.

Reynolds and Symmes came to differ on plans for the expedition. Symmes thought the explorers should start from Siberia in the fall season with reindeer and sleighs over the ice-covered seas to the North Pole, expecting to find warmth past the eighty-second degree of latitude. Reynolds advocated a southern route, permitting geographical discoveries along the way, as earlier expeditions had not travelled in that direction.

Ill health curtailed Symmes' lecture activities in 1827. He returned to Hamilton, Ohio, and died there in 1829. Reynolds persuaded Congress to authorize a southern expedition in 1828. Appropriations were not provided until 1836. The expedition became a voyage for geographical discovery alone, and Reynolds was not invited to take part.

Scope and Content

This is a copy of a prospectus, dated April 10, 1818, issued by John Cleves Symmes to all the world seeking support for his proposed exploration of the earth's interior.

Symmes issued the prospectus in this collection from St. Louis, then in Missouri Territory. He asked for the world's support for his exploration of the earth's hollow. The prospectus referred to his plan to depart from Siberia by "Reindeer and slays" (sleighs), and he asked for "one hundred brave companions, well equipped," to accompany him. He stated his expectation of finding "warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals if not men," and that the party would "return in the succeeding spring."

Arrangement: Correspondence is arranged chronologically.

Variant Name: Lexington College

Creator's Occupation: Military officer, theorist, lecturer.

County: Fayette

This prospectus was addressed to Lexington College and an identical copy is also among the papers of the James Taylor and Family Collection.

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