Reynolds, J. N.

by Peter F. deCataldo (2000)

REYNOLDS, J[EREMIAH]. N. (1799?-1858). Details of the life of J. N. Reynolds are sketchy, and his lingering reputation today is mainly the result of his influence upon major works of Edgar Allan Poe (The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym [1838]) and Herman Melville (Moby-Dick [1851]). Reynolds, who was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, raised in Clinton County, Ohio, and attended Ohio University for three years, first came to the public’s attention in 1825 as a staunch proponent of an Antarctic exploring expedition that might authenticate the existence of the so-called Symmes Hole as postulated by John Cleves Symmes in 1818.

According to this theory, which was popularized by 1820 in a fantasy-fiction, Symzonia, A Voyage of Discovery (published by one “Adam Seaborn” in 1820 but usually thought to be written by Symmes himself or possibly by Reynolds), the earth was hollow and “habitable” at the poles. Reynolds’ determination to prove this theory bordered, at times, on the obsessive. During the 1820s Reynolds petitioned Congress for funds to explore and chart the Antarctic, but the early interest of John Quincy Adams’ administration was replaced by the indifference of Andrew Jackson’s, and Reynolds managed to secure only enough money to fund a combined voyage of discovery and sealing in southern waters under the command of Captains Nathaniel Palmer and Benjamin Pendleton. This “American Antarctic Exploring Expedition” set out in 1829 with Reynolds himself aboard but reached no farther south than the Palmer Peninsula. Four years later, Reynolds returned to Boston aboard the U.S. frigate Potomac and wrote an account of his travels on this vessel, Voyage of the Potomac (1833). He then renewed his efforts to launch a full-scale expedition to the Antarctic and was asked to present his case before the Congressional Committee on Naval Affairs. In 1836 Congress finally approved the funding necessary for the polar expedition, the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842 (better known as the Wilkes Expedition), but Reynolds himself was excluded from participating in the voyage, an exclusion that Poe labeled “shameful” and “scandalous.”

Reynolds’ bitterness over this slight led him to withdraw from public attention except for occasional contributions to magazines and periodicals, the most famous of which, “Mocha Dick” (1839), is an acknowledged source of Melville’s masterpiece.

“Mocha Dick: or The White Whale of the Pacific,” Knickerbocker Magazine (1839)

Voyage of the Potomac (1833)

keywords: white, male

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