Author. He received notoriety as an American from the South with the publication of his 1857 book “The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It.” Often compared to Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 book, “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” his book went into details about the evils of slavery; the victimizing of nonslaveholding whites, who were the majority in the population of the South; and how slavery impacted the Southern economy. Although his book was circulated throughout the Northeast especially by those who would become the Republican Political Party, in the South the book was burned, and even with the United States Constitution giving citizens the “freedom of the press,” people were arrested for having the book. He wrote this book while in Baltimore, Maryland, yet he had to go north to publish the book as Maryland laws prevented the publishing. Upon reading the book, President James Buchanan in the summer of 1857 remarked, “There is gunpowder enough in that book to blow the Union to the devil.” Fearing for his life, he moved from his native North Carolina to New York City. During the 1860 United States Presidential Campaign, his friend, Horace Greeley editor of the “New York Tribune” distributed 500 copies of the book a day. In January of 1861, another newspaper declared that President Abraham Lincoln's election had been due to “the very work of Mr. Helpers and his speeches and documents.” Leaving the United States in November of 1861, he was appointed by Lincoln as consul in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While there he married Maria Louisa Rodriquez before returning to New York on February 2, 1867. He attempted to build a railroad from Hudson Bay, New York to the Strait of Magellan, which is at the most southern tip of South America where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean, but the project lacked the funding. In 1881 he published “The Three Americans Railway,” which explained his proposal. Although he was firmly against slavery, he was not supportive of the newly freed African Americans. At the end of the Civil War, he published three pamphlets supporting that all former slaves be exported back to Africa or Latin America. Besides traveling to Argentina, he traveled to Africa and Europe and he moved from North Carolina, to New York City, to St. Louis, Missouri, before settling in Washington D.C. His wife became blind and took their son, returning to her family in Argentina. In 1900 he was enumerated as “widower.” Brokenhearted and poverty-stricken, he died from suicide by asphyxiation after turning on the gas in his locked boarding house room in Washington, D.C. He was the son of a simple farmer and cabinet maker, Daniel J. Helper and his wife Sarah Brown. His father's family were German with the name “Helfer,” which was anglicized to Helper. The youngest of seven children, he was nine-months old when his father died. Although Helper wrote that his family owned slaves, there is no documentation to support this. In 1836, his mother remarried to John Mullican and had three more children. His wealthy uncle, Thomas Brown, furnished his education. After graduating from Mocksville Academy in 1848, he began a three-year apprenticeship, attempting to learn the printing profession. In 1850 he sailed to San Francisco, California around the tip of South America in hopes to become rich as a prospector in the gold fields but after three years, returned penniless. He worked in one mine for three months for a dollars' worth of gold. After this adventure, he published in 1855 his book “California Land of Gold: Reality vs. Fiction.” This book gave a very negative view of the State of California, in addition it stated he was against having any Chinese immigration or supporting any of the Native American population. He wrote a total of seven books and three were considered very racist even in his day. He was described by historians as being a tall man who was a loner and being very intelligent to the point of being genius but had manic thoughts and ideas. Even with his early publishing success, he spent his life trying to obtain the unobtainable. Being penniless at his death, a burial plot in Forest Lake Cemetery, which is now Cedar Hill Cemetery, was donated and since he was a member, the burial expenses were paid by the Authors Society of New York. Although there is written documentation of the location, his grave remains unmarked. A North Carolina highway historical marker in his honor was placed near Mocksville. In 1941 during World War II, a Liberty Ship was name the SS Hinton Helper but was scrapped in 1961. David Brown's 2006 book “Southern Outcast: Hinton Rowan Helper and the Impending Crisis of the South” is his recent biography.
Bio by: Linda Davis