American history features two men called John Cleves Symmes, who were uncle and nephew to each other.

The older one was born in 1742 on Long Island, New York. He served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War; and became an associate justice of New Jersey state supreme court, from 1777 to 1787 as well as a delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey in 1785-86. After that, he acquired a patent to settle a large area of land (buying it from the U.S. government at less per a dollar per acre) in what is now Ohio, between the Great and Little Miami rivers. This area now contains Cincinnati and North Bend. His selling off the land he'd bought sparked a lot of the settlement in this area, and Symmes and his 19-year-old daughter Anna moved out to this Northwest Territory themselves, Symmes' wife having died some years before. (At least one source says Symmes was unable to pay for all the land and the settlers he had sold it to had to re-buy their land from the government.) In 1795 Anna would marry William Henry Harrison against her father's wishes. Eventually John came around, though he would not live to see his daughter become First Lady years later. Symmes was a judge here as well as a land speculator, and became a justice of Northwest Territory supreme court, 1788-1802. He died in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1814. and was buried at Congress Green Cemetery, North Bend, Ohio.

His nephew, also John Cleves Symmes, was born in New Jersey in 1779. He joined the U.S. Army in 1802 and advanced to the rank of captain; he served during the War of 1812 (and as his son Americus Symmes phrased it on the monument erected to his late father in the 1840s, "performed daring feats of bravery in the battles of Lundy's Lane and sortie from Fort Erie." After the war, Symmes lived in Ohio, and in 1818, he released the pamphlet that would guarantee him a different kind of place in history than his uncle's.


I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking. He started out:

Of Ohio, Late Captain of Infantry.

N.B.—I have ready for the press, a Treatise on the principles of matter, wherein I show proofs of the above positions, account for various phenomena, and disclose Doctor Darwin's Golden Secret. My terms, are the patronage of this and the new worlds.

I dedicate to my Wife and her ten Children.

I select Doctor S.L. Mitchill, Sir H. Davy and Baron Alex. de Humboldt, as my protectors. I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season, with Reindeer and slays, on the ice of the frozen sea: I engage we find warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 62; we will return in the succeeding spring.

He sent this to every college and scholar in the U.S., saying that the Earth was not only hollow inside, but that it contained multiple other hollow spheres, and that you could go down into the inside of the earth at giant holes near the North and South Poles and live inside. (Within ten years, he would change his mind about the multiple spheres, but always he insisted that the earth was hollow and the inside accessible.)

In 1820 a book appeared under the name of Captain Adam Seaborn, called Symzonia; it purported to describe an actual trip inside the earth. Some think that Seaborn was a pseudonym for Symmes; others feel that someone was satirizing his ideas -- a bit too well, if so, because the book's tone seems deadly serious.

Symmes got the support of a millionaire, James McBride, to do lecture tours around the country explaining his ideas. In 1823, a proposal was submitted to the U.S. Congress for the country to fund an Arctic expedition led by Symmes to find the entrance to the earth's interior. (The proposal was defeated 56 to 46.) In 1826, McBride wrote Symmes Theory of Concentric Spheres to explain his friend's ideas further.

Symmes died in 1829, but his ideas lived on; his son kept publishing his father's lectures and erected a monument to him and his ideas in Hamilton, Ohio, and Edgar Allan Poe used the ideas in his The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.


Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.