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Glyndŵr Pub





Glyndŵr Publishing 446 pages paperback illustrated August 30th 2007 This is ‘The Journal of Lewellin Penrose – Seaman’, and an autobiography of William Williams –

Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship Award of Indiana University.

A review from, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

‘Part 1: 'The Journal of Penrose, Seaman', the first American novel, written by William Williams and based on his experience of living with Indians when marooned on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua. First published in 1815; this publication is edited by Terry Breverton.

Part 2: 'The Author, The Book and The Letters', compiled by Terry Breverton.


This is one of the greatest literary discoveries in the English language, written by an almost forgotten privateer who has been called ‘the first flower of our American culture.’ Not only is ‘The Journal of Penrose, Seaman’ the FIRST AMERICAN NOVEL by some years, it is also beautifully written, and possibly the first instance of what is now known as faction. The author has based the novel on his experience of living with Indians when marooned on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and the book reads like a natural history of the flora and fauna of the rainforest and its coast.
  In his alter-ego of Lewellin Penrose, Williams moves from being a young man ‘familiar with all vices except murder and rape’ to emerge as the wise head of a Utopian society made up of Indians and Europeans. The book’s publication in 1815 in a badly bowdlerised edition was a literary sensation, proof-read by Sir Walter Scott and admired by Byron and Southey.
  More importantly, the novel is anti-genocide, anti-imperialist and anti-slavery at a time when slavery was universal, and Washington and Jefferson had slaves. There are important descriptions of Indian life, and the first descriptions of discoveries that have only been made in the last decade in Nicaragua, such as mammoth bones, the migration of hump-back whales and pre-Mayan obelisks. It is also the first story of buried treasure by some 50 years.
  Its unknown writer, William Williams inspired and taught the greatest American artist, Benjamin West RA, to paint, and Williams’ paintings still hang in galleries in the USA and England. He taught music, wrote poetry and built America’s first permanent theatre.
The novel has over 1000 footnotes, and is destined to be both an important textbook and a rallying-call to stop the continuing extermination of the Rama tribe that succoured him in the rainforest.’

Gwales Review with the permission of the Welsh Books Council:

I would imagine that the revelation that the first American novel was written by a man of Welsh descent will surprise many readers, as it did me. The background to this novel, including information concerning the author, William Williams, has demanded exacting research not only by Terry Breverton for this enterprise but also by other literary historians. This is an edited version of The Journal of Penrose Seaman. The text of the novel runs to over two hundred pages while the very detailed and extensive annotations run to over a hundred pages. In its day, the novel was praised by Byron and Southey.

Williams’s work is, to all intents and purposes, a fusion of fact and fiction, a genre usually referred to nowadays as faction, and focuses on a first-person narrative of a young man’s experiences as a castaway on the South American coast. It remains a compulsive read. As far as we know, William Williams was almost certainly born in Bristol in 1727. But his family was of Welsh extraction. He was a cultivated man who developed a love of art and an antipathy to slavery. The literary academic Dr Moira Dearnley has described Williams’ novel as “a work of considerable literary quality.” It is good that it has been made available to a modern readership in this finely produced paperback." Dewi Roberts

WESTERN MAIL 4 January 2008 by Darren Devine

‘The Welshman in Contention for Title of First American Novelist

New Books says Adventure Tale came before Brown’s volume -

The first American novel was penned by a Welshman, according to a new book. The Journal of Penrose, Seaman is a ‘factional’ account of author William Williams’ adventures in America in the mid-18th century. William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy, published in 1789, has traditionally been regarded as the first American novel. But writer Terry Breverton’s new book The First American Novel suggests Williams’ work was completed at least 12 years earlier.

He also suggests Williams’ book was the first to be written in a recognisable novel format. Hill Brown’s cautionary tale, warning women against the evils of seduction, is written as an epistle or series of letters from an uncle to a niece. Born in 1727, there is little doubt about Williams’ Welshness, according to Breverton. ‘The persona he (Williams) adopts in the book is Welsh all the way through’, he said. ‘He speaks in Welsh in the book, and says he comes from Wales. His children have all got proper Welsh names like Llewelyn and Rees. In the book he says he was born near Caerphilly and he alludes to his Welsh mother and father all the way through.

Mr. Breverton, from Barry, says he has checked some of the parish records within Caerphilly and these detail the births of several William Williams in 1727. Breverton, 61, added ‘The Power of Sympathy was written and published in 1789 and it was not a novel as anyone would recognise today. It’s what they call an epistolary novel – it’s a series of letters, like Dear John letters in The Sun. It’s nothing to do with the novel form as we know it. It’s definite that The Journal was the first American novel. There is no other contender for it.’

Mr. Breverton describes Williams’ novel, whose plot includes a search for buried treasure and a South Sea romance, as a work that influenced power brokers and was hundreds of years before its time. ‘The book contains a number of firsts in literature. The biggest thing is that it was anti-slavery at a time when US Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all owned slaves’ he said.

‘It ticks all the boxes for a book written today. Its attitude towards women, children and even animals and the rainforests mean that it could have been written today. Earl Grey (Prime Minister 1830-34) read it and it could have influenced him because he brought in the first Anti-Slavery Act in Britain. It was passed to him by Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb (Byron’s lover) and the poet laureate Robert Southey also read it. It was read by people who were extremely important at the time.’

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