Ernest Hemingway's (Less Famous) Brother Created His Own Country
Having Ernest Hemingway as a brother meant that Leicester Hemingway’s life was always going to be a struggle to get out of his brother’s shadow. Leicester did something that Ernest didn’t, though. He founded his own tiny island nation called the Republic of New Atlantis.
New Atlantis was less of an island and more of an 8x30-foot raft made out of bamboo anchored down by an old Ford engine. New Atlantis was located southwest of Jamaica, strategically in a location that was not under any legal jurisdiction. With his raft, Leicester Hemingway declared the Republic of New Atlantis a country on July 4, 1964.
Is that something a person can do, just decide that they have their own country? Well, sort of. No one told Leicester not to, anyway.
In a move that feels like something Ernest Hemingway would come up with, Leicester justified his actions with the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This obscure law essentially encouraged American citizens to go out and do imperialism. Guano (a fancier term for dried bat and bird poop) is a good fertilizer and gunpowder component, and to have a greater supply of it, the U.S. government allowed civilians to go claim islands on behalf of the United States. Leicester Hemingway claimed half of the “island” that made up New Atlantis for the United States and the other half for his new country.
As for how Jamaica felt about their new neighbor, there’s no indication that they were upset about it. One of the main purposes of New Atlantis (besides giving Leicester Hemingway something he could claim he did on his own) was to fund and conduct marine research. This would be beneficial to Jamaica, so New Atlantis posed no threat.
Leicester Hemingway needed more than just a physical location to have a country, so a constitution, flag, and currency were created. The New Atlantis Constitution was quite literally just the U.S. Constitution with the name of the country and a few minor details changed. The flag was created by Doris Hemingway, Leicester’s wife.
For the country’s currency, Leicester opted for the humorous name of the “Scruple.” The definition of scruple is to hesitate on a moral basis, which was intended as a joke that those with too many Scruples should question their ethics. Additionally, the Scruples used in New Atlantis would not be printed paper bills. Instead, Scruples were shark teeth and other specially-marked nautical items.
The Republic of New Atlantis also needed a president, and as the country’s founder, Leicester Hemingway was the logical choice. The New Atlantis populace, which consisted of his wife, his two children, a PR specialist, and an assistant, elected him. Ernest Hemingway could never claim to be president of any country!
In the short existence of New Atlantis, the country’s biggest undertaking was launching postage stamps. Leicester thought this could be a moneymaker, which would then fund the marine research projects. One stamp, a poorly-aged time capsule from 1964, proclaimed Lyndon Johnson as the “protector of the entire free world.” It didn’t get New Atlantis international recognition, but it did earn the new country a White House thank-you card. Unfortunately, that’s all the stamps could get New Atlantis. They were not recognized by the Universal Postal Union, the U.N.’s specialized agency revolving around mail laws, which made New Atlantis stamps worthless.
And with this, the story of Leicester Hemingway’s young country essentially ended. Despite Leicester’s efforts in 1964 and 1965, New Atlantis was eventually abandoned, and a tropical storm carried the “island” away.” He didn’t seem too bothered about this and never tried to rebuild the micronation.
In the end, for better or worse, the Republic of Atlantis remains the second most famous thing Leicester Hemingway ever did. The first was a biography … of his much more famous brother.
Top Image: US National Archives