New Atlantis: How Ernest Hemingway's Eccentric Little Brother Built His Own Nation


Although many were forced to become acquainted with Ernest Hemingway by his high school English teachers, little is known about his younger brother, Leicester – and old Ernie was probably happy for it. To say that Leicester Hemingway was an odd fellow, it would be mildly put, gained notoriety primarily by taking advantage of a vague US law regarding bird hunting to establish his country, a micronation which he called Named New Atlantis.

Leicester Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was 16 years old when Leicester was born in 1915, so younger Hemingway saw his older brother as almost a father figure and developed many similar interests. Like Ernest, Leicester was an avid outsider with a gift for writing, writing articles on fishing and publishing several books, including the semi-autobiographical The Sound of the Trumpet in 1953 and 1962. His famous brother, My Brother, included a biography of Ernest Hemingway. The latter earned Leicester Hemingway a considerable amount of money, which he spent in a way that might have been spent by many of us, given the opportunity: starting his own country.

Citing the Guano Islands Act of 1856, which gave any American citizen the right to claim and mine any island with a deposit of valuable guano (AKA soil-fertilized bird poop), as long as it was already Claimed by no other recognized government, Hemingway established his own micronation on 4 July 1964. Even that application of the law was questionable at best, however, because their "island" was actually an eight-by-thirty-foot bamboo raft off the coast of Jamaica. Eight miles from shore, Hemingway secured his raft for an old car engine, dropped anchor in shallow water, and sent half the raft to the U.S. And declared the other half to belong to the new micronation of New Atlantis.

New Atlantis

It may sound like a joke, but Hemingway took the development of his new "country" seriously. He wrote a constitution (as the constitution of New Atlantis was just the US constitution in which every instance of "United States" was replaced with "New Atlantis"), his wife designed a flag, he created a national flag consisting of carob beans. The currency was established and the shark teeth he called "scruples", and several permanent residents (including public relations specialist Edward K. Moss, his assistant and Hemingway's wife and two young daughters) moved in. An election was held, and Hemingway was voted on as the first president. New Atlantis.

I wish New Atlantis was doomed to fail. Hemingway quickly ran out of money and failed to persuade others to invest in his micronation (i.e., funds to expand his fleet). In 1966, just two years after its founding, New Atlantis broke free of its strings during a storm and was swept into the ocean. Fortunately, no one was injured and many New Atlantis artifacts, such as a postage stamp and a flag, have been preserved to immortalize Leicester Hemingway's dubious ambition.

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