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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,411

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This is the grave of Timothy Flint.

Born in 1780 in Reading, Massachusetts, Flint graduated from Harvard in 1800 and went west. This was the moment in which westward expansion was beginning to jump by leaps and bounds and men such as Flint desired to follow it, both for personal and spiritual fulfillment. Being on the front lines of genocide and white settlement was exciting for a lot of people. Moreover, there was a lot of concern that the whites out there would end up unchurched and wild and so missionaries and ministers headed west. Flint’s first position was in Massachusetts, but his health wasn’t super great and he also wanted adventure. So he moved out to the Ohio Valley and really enjoyed it. Flint would spend the rest of his life traveling and preaching in the West and became a popular interpreter of the region for eastern audiences.

Flint started his writing about the West by simply writing letters to his brother back in Massachusetts. But those were such evocative letters that he collected and published them as “Recollection of the Last Ten Years … Passed in the Valley of the Mississippi.” This became a best seller for eastern Americans curious about what was happening out on the frontier. He realized he had a new career here. So he instantly capitalized on it by writing History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley. Then he wrote a really romantic and over the top biography of Daniel Boone, helping to make that man famous again and placing him further into the American consciousness. If Boone doesn’t quite hold that place today, in an era where more Americans are a lot more squeamish about the genocide at the heart of American settlement, he sure did through the 1980s or so. Flint also wrote a bunch of popular romantic novels about life in the West.

Flint became a serious literary figure due to this writing. He moved to New York for a time to edit a magazine called The Knickerbocker. But he really didn’t like the east anymore. So he took over the Western Monthly Magazine, published in Cincinnati. He eventually ended up living in Alexandria, Louisiana. But by 1840, his health was in decline. He decided to visit his brother back in New England and he died while he was up there. He was 60 years old.

I am surprised how little information exists on Flint today, at least on the internet. He’s hardly an unknown guy among historians. But he doesn’t even have a basic Wikipedia entry, which is the coin of the realm in terms of popular knowledge at this point. Given how so many super obscure people have Wikipedia pages (hell, even I have one on the German site, for some damn reason), this really surprised me. But then as the series moves deeper into the figures of the American past, it makes sense that I will be documenting people who were really important during their lives but are almost totally forgotten about today.

Timothy Flint is buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other writers of the American West, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Bret Harte is actually in Frimley, England, speaking of once popular writers whose reputations have totally declined. The great Charles Portis is in Hamburg, Arkansas and Frank Spearman, who was more a hack writing about railroads but was pretty popular back in the day, is in East Los Angeles, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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