Gilbert Imlay


Gilbert Imlay Famous memorial

Death 20 Nov 1828 (aged 74)
St Brelade, Bailiwick of Jersey
Burial St Brelade, Bailiwick of Jersey
Memorial ID 102435494 View Source

Author, Diplomat. He was one of the earliest American authors, producing two books: A textbook, "A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America" in 1792 and a novel containing some poetry, "The Emigrants" in 1793. His textbook was first published in London a year before it was in the United States and in 1895, was enlarged with another edition. Both of his publications encouraged immigration to the United States and the push west to settle the heartland of America. During the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Army reaching the rank of first lieutenant, yet he describes himself as "Captain Imlay, the Commissioner for laying out Land in the back Settlements". After the war in 1783, he moved south to Kentucky, being appointed a deputy surveyor. Court records document his wheeling and dealing as a land speculator with settlers and mishandling their money, including noted frontiersman, Davy Crockett according to Robert Morgan's biography of Boone. Traveling about, he met many prestigious men of historical interest such as the author of "Common Sense," Thomas Paine. Although he was a proclaimed abolitionist earlier in his life, he lost money in 1786 in an attempt to bring slaves from Africa to the Carolinas on one of his ships, the "Industry." To reinvent himself, he left Kentucky for England and then Paris, France for a post at the United States Embassy. While in Paris during the French Revolution, he met feminist author, Mary Wollstonecraft, who could not return to her home in England while France was at war. They entered into a romantic encounter, which produced a daughter, Fanny, born in May of 1794. Taking shelter at the Embassy, Imlay registered Wollstonecraft as his wife to protect her when the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution put English citizens in danger of the frequently used French guillotine. He was always evasive regarding plans for a future with Wollstonecraft and his daughter. Three months later, he left Wollstonecraft and their newborn daughter. Wollstonecraft's book "An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution" was also published that same year, which provided her and the infant an income. Returning to England and unbeknown to Wollstonecraft, he started a relationship with an actress. He asked Wollstonecraft to travel with their daughter to Scandinavia in search of lost gold from a French ship, but none was found. When Wollstonecraft returned to England in April of 1795, Imlay rejected her plea of reconciliation as he was in a relationship with another woman. At that point, she attempted suicide as Society would also reject her, being an unmarried woman with a baby. In time, she did rally from her depression, began to write again and found a romantic interest. On March 29, 1797 at St. Pancras Church, she married successful author William Godwin. The couple had another daughter, who would become Mary Shelley, the author of the scientific horror story, "Frankenstein." Eleven days after this birth, Wollstonecraft died from mass infection and the widower Godwin became father of the two-and-half-year-old Fanny for a time as Imlay wanted no part of his daughter's life. Eventually, Fanny was sent to live with two aunts, then with her sister before returning to the Godwin bankrupted household. At the age of 22, Fanny committed suicide. In the meantime, Imlay found the highly profitable business of running English blockade at French ports. Little is known about his life after this. He never married. There is no documentation of Imlay returning to the United States. Upon 21st century research, an elderly man named Gilbert Imlay was located in court documents on the island of Jersey in the British Canal. This man was in the furniture business and fruit vending, and the court records document his non-payment of debts. His biography is "Gilbert Imlay: Citizen of the World" by Wil Verhoeven, published in 2017. The love letters from Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay were released November of 2010.

Bio by: Linda Davis

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: civilwarbuff
  • Added: 21 Dec 2012
  • Find a Grave Memorial 102435494
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Gilbert Imlay (9 Feb 1754–20 Nov 1828), Find a Grave Memorial ID 102435494, citing Saint Brelade Churchyard, St Brelade, Bailiwick of Jersey ; Maintained by Find a Grave .