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

By Karen Harris
Leicester Hemingway points out the location of the “Republic of New Atlantis” to his wife Doris, and their two children, Anne, 7, and Hilary, 3, in the family’s New York apartment. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Although many people were forced to get acquainted with Ernest Hemingway by their high school English teachers, far fewer are aware of his little brother, Leicester—and old Ernie was probably glad for it. To say that Leicester Hemingway was a bit of an odd fellow would be putting it lightly, having gained notoriety primarily by leveraging an obscure U.S. law regarding bird poop to establish his own country, a micronation he named New Atlantis.

Leicester Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was 16 years old when Leicester was born in 1915, so the younger Hemingway looked up to his big brother almost as a father figure and developed many of the same interests. Like Ernest, Leicester was an avid outdoorsman with a gift for writing, publishing numerous articles on fishing and several books, including the semi-autobiographical The Sound Of The Trumpet in 1953 and the 1962 biography of his famous sibling, My Brother, Ernest Hemingway. The latter earned Leicester Hemingway a good deal of money, which he spent the way many of us probably would, given the chance: starting his own country.

Citing the Guano Islands Act of 1856, which granted any U.S. citizen the right to claim and mine any island with a deposit of valuable guano (A.K.A. soil-fertilizing bird poop) so long as it was not already claimed by another recognized government, Hemingway established his own micronation on July 4, 1964. Even that application of the law was dubious at best, however, because his "island" was actually an eight-by-thirty-foot bamboo raft off the coast of Jamaica. Eight miles from the shore, Hemingway secured his raft to an old car engine, dropped anchor in the shallow water, and declared half the raft as belonging to the U.S. and the other half to the new micronation of New Atlantis.