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Thomas Mayne Reid

Thomas Mayne Reid (April 4, 1818 – October 22, 1883) was a Scots-Irish American novelist. Thomas Mayne Reid fought in the American-Mexican War (1846-1848). His many works are about American life. In these works, the author described the colonial policy in the United States, the horrors of slave labor, and the lives of American Indians. "Captain" Reid wrote many adventure novels akin to those written by Frederick Marryat and Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a great admirer of Lord Byron. These novels contain action that takes place primarily in places including, but not limited to: the American West, Mexico, South Africa, the Himalayas, and Jamaica.

Thomas Mayne Reid
Mayne Reid.jpg
BornApril 4, 1818 (1818-04-04)
Ballyroney, County Down, Ireland
DiedOctober 22, 1883 (1883-10-23) (aged 65)
London, United Kingdom


Early yearsEdit

Reid was born in Ballyroney, a small hamlet near Katesbridge, County Down, in present day Northern Ireland, the son of Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid Sr., who was a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. His father wanted him to become a Presbyterian minister, so in September 1834 he enrolled at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Although he stayed for four years, he could not motivate himself enough to complete his studies and receive a degree. He headed back home to Ballyroney to teach school.

In December 1839 he boarded the Dumfriesshire bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, arriving in January 1840. Shortly afterward he found a job as a clerk for a corn factor, or trader in the corn market. He stayed in New Orleans for six months. It is said that he left his position for refusing to whip slaves. (Reid later used Louisiana as the setting of one of his best-selling books, an anti-slavery novel entitled The Quadroon.)

From New Orleans, Reid traveled to Tennessee. On a plantation near Nashville, he tutored the children of Dr. Peyton Robertson, who some Reid biographers have confused with the Doctor's father, General James Randolph Robertson. (Some twenty years later, Reid would make mid-Tennessee the setting for his novel The Wild Huntress.) Following Dr. Robertson's death, Reid founded a short-lived private school in Nashville. In 1841 he found work as a clerk for a provision dealer in either Natchez, Mississippi, or Natchitoches, Louisiana (the latter place seems more likely). Although Reid later claimed to have made several trips to the West during this period of his life (on which he purportedly based some of his novels), the evidence for such journeys is sketchy and confusing at best.

Literary careerEdit

In late 1842 Reid arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he began his literary career writing both prose and poetry for the Pittsburgh Morning Chronicle under the pen-name The Poor Scholar. (He also apparently worked as a carrier for the paper.) His earliest verifiable work was a series of epic poems called Scenes in the West Indies.

In early 1843, Reid moved to Philadelphia, where he remained for three years. During this time he worked as a journalist and from time to time had poetry published in Godey's Lady's Book, Graham's Magazine, the Ladies National Magazine, and similar publications, using the same pseudonym he had employed in Pittsburgh. It was in Philadelphia that he met Edgar Allan Poe and the two became drinking companions for a time.[1] Poe would later call Reid "a colossal but most picturesque liar. He fibs on a surprising scale but with the finish of an artist, and that is why I listen to him attentively."[2]

When the Mexican–American War began in the spring of 1846, Reid was working as a correspondent for the New York Herald in Newport, Rhode Island (which would later become the setting for yet another novel). At this time he began using the pen-name Ecolier, in addition to the Poor Scholar.

On November 23, 1846, Reid joined the First New York Volunteer Infantry as a second lieutenant. In January 1847 the regiment left New York by ship. The New Yorkers camped for several weeks at Lobos Island before taking part in Major General Winfield Scott's invasion of Central Mexico, which began on March 9 at Vera Cruz. Using the pseudonym "Ecolier", Reid was a correspondent for the a New York newspaper, Spirit of the Times, which published his Sketches by a Skirmisher. On September 13, at the Battle of Chapultepec, the young Irish-born officer received a severe thigh wound while leading a charge. He was afterward promoted to the rank of first lieutenant for bravery in battle. On May 5, 1848 Reid resigned his commission and in July he returned to New York with his regiment.

Love's Martyr, his first play, played at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia for five nights, in October 1848. He published War Life, an account of his army service, June 27, 1849.

Learning of the Bavarian Revolution, he headed to England to volunteer. But, after the Atlantic crossing changed his mind, and instead headed home to northern Ireland. He shortly moved to London, and in 1850 published his first novel, The Rifle Rangers. This was followed by The Scalp Hunters (1851; dedicated to Commodore Edwin W. Moore, whom he met in 1841), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). This latter book, set in Texas and Louisiana, was "juvenile scientific travelog". It would become a favorite of young Theodore Roosevelt, who would become a huge Reid fan. That same year Reid married the daughter of his publisher G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat, Elizabeth Hyde, a 15-year-old child.

After a short time off to spend with his new bride and honeymoon, he soon returned to writing. Continuing to base his novels on his adventures in America, he turned out several more successful novels: The White Chief (1855), The Quadroon (1856), Osceola (1858), and The Headless Horseman (1865).

He spent money freely, including building in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, the sprawling "Rancho", an elaborate reproduction of a Mexican hacienda that he had seen during the Mexican–American War, where he took to farming. This extravagant living forced him to declare bankruptcy in November 1866 (from which he was discharged in January 1867). The following October he left London and moved to Newport, Rhode Island, hoping to recapture the success the U.S. had brought him earlier. He went back to New York in 1867 and founded the Onward Magazine.[3]

Last yearsEdit

Reid lectured at Steinway Hall in New York, and published the novel The Helpless Hand in 1868. But America was not as kind to Reid this time around. The wound he had received at Chapultepec started to bother him, and he was hospitalized for several months at St. Luke in June 1870. Elizabeth hated America, and following his discharge from the hospital he and his wife returned to England on October 22, 1870, and lived at Ross on Wye, Herefordshire.

Suffering from acute melancholia, he was soon again hospitalized. He tried to write, but completed few projects. He lived mainly off his U.S. Army pension, which was not enough to cover his situation. Reid died in London, at the age of 65, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. A quotation from The Scalp Hunters is on his grave marker: "This is 'weed prairie'; it is misnamed: It is the Garden of God."

Influence and legacyEdit

Books such as the Young Voyagers had great popularity, especially with boys. He was also very popular around the world; his tales of the American West captivated children everywhere, including Europe and Russia. Among his books, many of which were popular in translation in Poland and Russia, were The Rifle Rangers (1850), Scalp Hunters (1851), Boy Hunters (1853), War Trail (1851), Boy Tar (1859), and Headless Horseman (1865/6).[3] Vladimir Nabokov recalled The Headless Horseman as a favourite adventure novel of his childhood years—"which had given him a vision of the prairies and the great open spaces and the overarching sky."[4] At 11, Nabokov even translated The Headless Horseman into French alexandrines.[5] Alexander Bek mentions the well-read K.K. Rokossovky, future Marshal of the Soviet Union, referring to Reid's work in early 1942.[6] Czeslaw Milosz also cites Russian translations of Reid as well-remembered early reading matter, which allowed him to learn Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet. A chapter on Reid appears in his Emperor of the Earth (1976) collection of essays. Anton Chekhov in 'Island, a Journey to Sakhalin" (1893–94) mentions 'Mayne Reid' in Chapter 10: "... the morose, angry sea has spread itself boundlessly for thousands of versts. When a little boy has been reading Mayne Reid and his blanket falls off during the night, he starts shivering, and it is than that he dreams of such a sea."

In his autobiography, United States President Teddy Roosevelt credits Mayne Reid with being a major early inspiration. The shy, asthmatic aristocrat, Theodore Roosevelt, would grow up to pursue naturalistic zoology and adventure travel.

Russell Miller, in his biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, credits Mayne Reid as being one of Conan Doyle's favorite childhood authors and a great influence on Conan Doyle's writings.

Although Mayne Reid called himself, and is listed often as, "captain", Francis B. Heitman's definitive Historical Register and Dictionary of the U.S. Army only shows lieutenant.


Reid wrote about seventy-five novels, and many short stories and sketches.[7]


  1. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 142. ISBN 0-8154-1038-7
  2. ^ Howard Paul, Munsey's Magazine, August 1892. 555.
  3. ^ a b Open Source Books. Internet Archive. Accessed July 14, 2007.
  4. ^ CLASSICS ON CASSETTE: 'SPEAK, MEMORY'. John Espey. Los Angeles Times Book Review; Page 8; Book Review Desk. October 20, 1991.
  5. ^ Artist as Precocious Young Man. Rutherford A. Sunday Herald December 30, 1990.
  6. ^ Quoted from Bek's Strikhi (Strokes) in Dr. Boris Sokolov, Marshal K.K. Rokossovsky, trans. and edited by Stuart Britton, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2015, p 167
  7. ^ "Reid, Captain Mayne" Bio at the Northern Illinois University Libraries
  8. ^ "Reid, Mayne - the Young Yägers, or, A narrative of hunting adventures in Southern Africa / By Captain Mayne Reid ; with twelve illustrations by William Harvey".
  9. ^ "The Young Yägers, Or, A Narrative of Hunting Adventures in Southern Africa". Ticknor and Fields. 1857.
  10. ^ "The Cliff Climbers". 1864.
  11. ^ "The Ocean Waifs: A Story of Adventure on Land and Sea". 1865.
  12. ^ "Ran Away to Sea". 1857.

External linksEdit