The Age of Solar Sailing and The Lady Who Sailed The Soul

"Before the great ships whispered between the stars by means of planoforming, people had to fly from star to star with immense sails - huge films assembled in space on long, rigid, coldproof rigging. A small spaceboat provided room for a sailor to handle the sails, check the course and watch the passengers who were sealed, like knots in immense threads, in their little adiabatic pods which trailed behind the ship. The passengers knew nothing, except for going to sleep on Earth and waking up on a strange new world forty, fifty or two hundred years later.

This was a primitive to way to do it. But it worked.

On such a ship Helen America had followed Mr. Gray-no-more. On such ships the Scanners retained their ancient authority over space. Two hundred planets and more were settled in this fashion, including Old North Australia, destined to be the treasure house of them all."

- the beginning of Cordwainer Smith's story "Think Blue, Count Two", one of two stories he wrote that place in the age of solar sailing.


"The Lady Who Sailed The Soul", tells how Helen America became the first woman to pilot a solar sail. She voyaged out to the stars and into a timeless legend of romance



The Secret can now be revealed: it's a Cordwainer Smith space launch!


The first flight of a solar sail will carry The Lady Who Sailed The Soul

On board Cosmos 1on its historic flight will be a CD containing the names of 76,922 members of The Planetary Society and The Japan Planetary Society. The CD also contains letters, stories, and texts, all related to the rich history of solar sailing in science and science fiction.

The CD will carry the Cordwainer Smith story called "The Lady Who Sailed the Soul"

I personally played a part in making this happen. I was the one who first contacted the Planetary Society on behalf of the Cordwainer Smith Foundation and got the two parties together. An agreement was reached and now it's about to happen, sever


The Cosmos 1 CD will also carry this:

 Solar Sails in Science Fiction by author and professor Alan Elms of the Cordwainer Smith Foundation

Original website for Cosmos-1 the First Solar Sail


The solar sail which will carry a CD with The Lady Who Sailed The Soul



Professor Alan Elms of the Cordwainer Smith Foundation and me in front of part of a solar sail at Planetfest 2003 in Pasadena, still keeping the CD launch secret


Contents of the Cosmos 1 CD




Cordwainer Smith fans may find this interesting . . .


Helen America research


There really was a "Helen America" She is today a barely remembered footnote in history and has gone unnoticed by Cordwainer Smith scholars. The following account is from The People's Almanac, Vol. 2.



When she appeared on the American scene in 1838, she was accounted a great beauty, a girl with luxuriant blue-black hair, dark flashing eyes, a bright smile, and a superb figure. A descendant of the explorer for whom America was named, she came ostensibly seeking U.S. citizenship and a grant of land on which to settle.

Her story was calculated to move strong hearts, and it did. She had spent 14 years in a Florentine convent. At 17 her parents had forced her to become a maid of honor to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, but, bored with her life among aristocrats, she had joined a secret society trying to rid Italy of foreign domination. According to the U.S. Magazine and Democratic Review, she had taken part "in the attempted uprising of April, 1832, and in the engagement with the Austrians on the banks of the Rimini she conducted herself with great gallantry and received a sabre stroke on the back of the head from an Austrian dragoon."

Her role discovered by the authorities, she had been given the choice of betraying her friends or exile. She chose exile and "found asylum with the queen of France." And indeed she did have letters of introduction from King Louis Philippe as well as the queen.

In Washington, the girl was "a decided sensation." John Quincy Adams; Dolly Madison, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster sought her company. At a White House dinner for the Supreme Court justices, she was observed sitting at the head table, between Pres. Martin Van Buren, a widower, and Webster. "The President," it was widely rumored, "seemed much struck by the splendid Tuscan and was turning his attention to the study of the Italian language."

Another of her admirers was Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, who presented America's petition to the Senate on Jan. 29, 1839. "She is without a country, without fortune, and without protection," the Missourian pleaded. "She asks that we grant her a corner of the land which bears the name of her glorious forebear, and for the right of citizenship among those who call themselves Americans".

Benton did his best, but two committees ruled against the exile. Sen. Robert J. Walker of Mississippi explained that her requests were without precedent. He advised that the lady should take her case to the American public. “This generous, patriotic and enlightened people will do all that Congress is forbidden to do,” he promised.

His speech touched off a rousing demonstration of faith and affection for the outcast. Senators, representatives and Supreme Court justices contributed varying sums of money to launch a national campaign to help her purchase the “corner” of land she desired. The drive under way, she embarked on a tour that took her to Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Louisville. She was idolized everywhere. “Her path”, one report says, “was strewn with roses, open hands, and confiding hearts.” However, in the spring of 1840 she abruptly terminated her travels. She sailed for Europe, leaving behind the shocking announcement that she did not want the money raised for her because it was not “a national gift.”

The New York Evening Star’s response to this strange turn of events was a long, angry attack founded on some investigation into the lady’s past. The journal charged that she had been involved in a scandalous liaison with the French king’s son, Ferdinand, Duke of Orleans and when the monarch insisted he wed a certain princess, America “was rather an obstacle, and her absence became necessary.” Her journey to the New World was a scheme sponsored by the royal family to get the adventuress out of the way until after the marriage. “It would have been a rare joke indeed if Congress had been caught in the trap!”, huffed the Star.

Unfortunately, the paper didn’t have all the facts; these were left for C. Edwards Lester, American consul in Genoa, to uncover quite accidentally a few years later on a journey to see the Vespuccis in Florence.While interviewing them for the book Life and Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci (Baker and Scribner, New York, 1846), he found America’s parents, Capt. Amerigo Vincenzio and Leopolda Cappelli Vespucci, deeply disturbed by their daughter’s escapades. Born Nov. 29, 1804, the third of their six children, the girl had always been “indocile and unmanageable.” Before her trip to the U.S., the family said, she had been the “mistress of some dozen men.” Further, America was not the girl’s name. She had been baptized Elena. To strengthen her appeal to Americans, she borrowed the name of her youngest sister, Ameriga and exchanged the g for a c.

The public was not aware of these details when, on Nov. 18, 1841, a steamer from Liverpool dropped America off in Boston. She promptly announced herself as "Countessa Helene America"; and six days later, the signorina, wearing a magnificent claret velvet gown, showed up at Faneuil Hall to dance with Boston bluebloods at a glittering social affair. Nobody seemed to recall her curious departure 19 months earlier or the Star's indictment of her. Nobody asked why she was back. She was idolized all over again. Newspapers in Boston, Baltimore and New York described both her and her gown in the most flattering terms.

Months later, America was ensconced in a baronial mansion in the St. Lawrence River village of Ogdensburg, N. Y. She was living, said one journal, "in a state of immoral intimacy" with George Parish, a merchant-landowner, scion of a family of German bankers. How did she get from Boston to Ogdensburg? No one really knows. A bizarre tale cherished by generations of northern New Yorkers is that America took up with Van Buren's son, the dissolute lawyer John Van Buren. Playing poker with Parish one night, John lost $5,000 and in desperation put up America as a stake. "I shall play you the lady against my losses, Mr. Parish . . . on the toss of my last gold piece," he proposed. And, says legend, Parish won America on the flip of that coin.

She lived with George for 18 years, and her letters make it clear that she did love him. However, when she was 56 and her beauty gone, he told her to find herself an apartment in Paris and he would send $3,000 annually through an agent. If she had ever wanted "a corner" of America, George's luxurious home was it. Villagers, who had always scorned her, said she cried pitifully as she left the mansion; but, they insisted, she was only getting what she deserved.


"America Vespucci"

 "America Vespucci's" appearance in The United States Democratic review, Volume 5, Issue 14, February 1839, Pages 239-240, from Cornell University's Making of America digital library


America Vespucci.

"In the midst of the melee of the strife of parties at the seat of government, the arrival of a beautiful young female, a direct and lineal descendant of the famous old navigator whose name she bears, in common with this continent—an exile from country and home, to which she has bid an eternal farewell, on account of the political opinions which an Austrian despotism could not tolerate even in a woman - casting herself with a frank and noble confidence on the magnanimity of the great nation to which she has always felt herself bound by a peculiar tie, which may well
be presumed to have insensibly given its direction to the formation of her character and opinions — such an arrival is too remarkable an occurrence, and too agreeable a relief to the embittered excitement of politics, to be suffered to pass without at least a brief and slight notice in these pages.

The circumstances which have led this interesting young stranger to our shores — if it is not a misapplication of the word to designate her as a stranger, though the soft accents of her native Tuscan are as yet the only language familiar to her lips — may be thus briefly stated.

After spending, like most of the young Italian ladies of rank, fourteen years of her youth in a convent for her education (the convent of Le Signore della Quiete, in the environs of Florence) she was introduced into the midst of the brilliant society of the capital and court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, at the age of seventeen. She was placed by her parents in the service of the Grand Duchess, as a “demoiselle de compagnie,” or maid of honor. There she was of course surrounded with all the seductive influences of European aristocratic life, in the midst of the splendors and luxuries of the Pitti Palace. Her mind had, however, already—by its own self-derived impulses, as it would seem, for it was certainly entirely at variance with all
the natural bias of such an education and such a position— taken a decided direction in the movement of liberal ideas which is the leading characteristic of the age, and which in no country has exercised a stronger influence upon the imagination of ardent youth than in Italy. Possessed of rare natural talents, highly accomplished by reading and cultivation with remarkable force of character, vivacity of imagination, and energy of will, it will not be a subject of surprise, that, during the agitations that were fermenting in the north of Italy immediately after the French Revolution, she was one of the few females whose social position and personal qualities gained
them admission to the secret societies which were conspiring to rid Italy of the dominion of a foreign despotism, and to unite the whole of that beautiful and unhappy land under a single sovereignty, which might again restore it to a rank amidst the family of nations. But we are not aware of any others whose ardor carried them beyond the private machinations of conspiracy, to the actual field of battle and blood.

In the attempted rising of August, 1832, and in the engagement with the Austrians on the banks of the Rimini, in which it will be remembered by our readers that young Louis Bonaparte took part ,she conducted herself with great gallantry, and received a severe sabre stroke on the back of her head, from an Austrian dragoon (to whom, however, though nameless, the justice ought to be done to state that he did not know her to he a woman;) and in her fall to the ground, her right arm was broken by the weight of her horse falling upon it. Though suspected, her disguised
participation in this affair could not be proved, and after her recovery from her wounds she spent two years at her father’s house in Florence, though under a vigilant surveillance. This resulted in the interception of a letter to her, as secretary of one of the sections of the Society of “La Jeune Italie," which made it apparent that she could disclose its entire organization in Tuscany. She was accordingly required either to betray her associates, or to quit Florence within twenty-four hours. Her choice between these two alternatives does not need to be stated. She found a
present asylum under the protection of the Queen of the French; and it is under the auspices of the French flag, and the highest guarantees of the genuineness of her title to American sympathy and friendship, in all points of view, of character, conduct, family, and position, that she is now here, in the country to which she has always looked as her natural home of refuge and protection. Her letter to Congress, already before the public, presents her case to that body and to the country with an elegance and eloquence to which we can add nothing further, to support
her simple and dignified appeal to the generous magnanimity of the great nation “christened,’ to use her own language, by the ancestor who has bequeathed to her, as to it, his imperishable name. Our limits permit us to quote only its concluding paragraphs:

“America Vespucci will make no demand on the American Government. Those who make demands are presumed to have rights to be established or justice to claim. She has neither. She knows that the Americans have been magnanimous towards all who have rendered services to the nation; that they have been generous towards all who have done a noble act for their country; and that they have, moreover, granted protection and even assistance to emigrants from other nations. There is but one Vespucius who has given his name to a quarter of the globe. Will the Americans do nothing for the descendant of Americus? She desires a country, she seeks a land that will receive her as a friend. She has a name; that is all her inheritance, all her fortune. May this hospitable nation grant her a corner of that land in which it is so rich, and may the title of citizen be bestowed upon the poor emigrant!

“If Americus Vespucius were now alive the Americans would rush in crowds to offer him honors and rewards. In the nineteenth century will this civilized nation forget that in the veins of his descendant flows the same blood? America Vespucci collected all her little fortune in order to reach this country; now, she desires only to make known her position to the Congress of this great nation, feeling confident that the Americans will never abandon her. She will not ask, having no other claim than that of bearing the name of America, but she will receive a gift from the nation by which she hopes not to be regarded as a stranger. That will not humiliate her. Such an act of generosity will console her feelings, honor her name, flatter her family, and even her country. The gifts of a nation always honor those who receive them. When the world shall know that the American nation has done an act of generosity in favor of the descendant of Vespucius, will not the approbation of all man kind be a glorious recompense? And true gratitude will remain in the heart of AMBRICA VESPUCCI."


"Ameriga Vespucci"

"In Ogdensburg, the Frederic Remington Art Museum , 303 Washington St., showcases dozens of Remington works, besides holding special exhibits and programs. The Old West master's widow lived here from 1915 to 1918, and the place has been a museum since 1923. Before that, it was the 1810 George Parish mansion--and home, until 1859, of the lonely Ameriga Vespucci, descendant of the explorer for whom this country was named. Local legend used to say that Ameriga haunts the premises. "


The museum

"Madame Vespucci"

Excerpt from "Historic Rossie" (overlooking the Indian River in St. Lawrence County, northern New York state

"On the hill is the Parish cottage behind which was a large coach house. Here George Parish stayed over night & changed horses on his way from Ogdensburg to antwerp. Madame Vespucci was often his guest at the cottage. There love affair has been told by Walter Guest Kellogg in his novel "Parish's Fancy."

Book Description 1: "Mr. Kellogg has made a flavorsome story of this romantic episode in our history. Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren, the lovely Ameriga [Vespucci] and the men she loved are brought to life again in a singularly appealing narrative." 293pp. Originally published in 1929.

Book Description 2: "Ameriga Vespucci was real, tale of her alliances (Daniel Webster, John Van Buren) is woven from fact, legend and imagination."

Book Description 3: "...... biography of Ameriga Vespucci, a woman who added a romantic episode to American history with Daniel Webster and President Martin Van Buren."


Several used copies are available at, including a few signed by the author.


"Madame Vespucci"

The following was found in the Watertown (New York) Daily Times files - with Brownville Hotel information. The article is undated - the author is not indicated. Here is the relevant excerpt from


Most of these old taverns have long since gone but a few notable examples remain. In addition to the Old Stone Tavern at Denmark there is the Union House overlooking the lake at Sackets Harbor, the century old stone hotel at Brownville and the celebrated “Brick Hotel” at Evans Mills where according to legend “Prince John” Van Buren, son of the president, and George Parish, the landed proprietor, gambled for Madame Vespucci.


"Ameriga Vespucci "

Reference in the St. Lawrence University "Odyssey" newsletter, 1995, regarding "current library exhibits"

Parish's Fancy: Ameriga Vespucci and George Parish were the scandal of Ogdensburgh, living together without benefit of clergy, until one day duty called and George set off alone to take up his duties as Baron of Senftenburg. 


"Signora Vespucci"

There is an article about her in the Saint Lawrence County Historical Association Quarterly

It appeared in Volume XXVIII, #3, July 1983 and is still available

1) A Healthy, Fertile Location - A Historical Synopsis of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center

2) Bert Susice and the Loup-Garou

3) The Day Billy Sunday Came to the Fair

4) America's Ingratitude for its Naming: The Tribulations of Signora Vespucci

"Marie Helene America Vespucci" in the National Archives


I discovered that she is used as an example by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on the page at:

Chapter 12. Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and Predecessor Committees, 1816-1968"

12.11 "Also found for many Congresses are records relating to individuals or groups of individuals seeking passage of private relief bills. An interesting example is the 1838 petition of Marie Helene America Vespucci, a descendant of Amerigo Vespucci, for a grant of land and American citizenship (25A-G18.2). Cities and towns also sought legislation authorizing the donation or sale of Federal lands for their own public purposes; these petitions frequently were accompanied by maps of the property and other information of local interest. One such 1832 request from sundry citizens of Cook County, IL, contains a map drawn by petitioner James Herrington and other items relating to the history of Chicago in the early 1830's."


Amazingly, Eli Waste is also used as an example by NARA. He was a great-uncle of mine who lived from 1746 - 1833 in Vermont.


"America Vespucci"


"The Naming of America: Vespucci's Good Name" by Jonathan Cohen, in "Encounters" (Vol. 7, pp. 16-20). The following excerpt is the beginning of the article.

 "America, we learn as schoolchildren, was named in honor of Amerigo Vespucci who discovered the mainland of the New World. We tend not to question this lesson about the naming of America. By the time we are adults it lingers vaguely in most of us, along with images of wave-tossed caravels and forests peopled with naked cannibals. Not surprisingly, the notion that America was named for Vespucci has long been universally accepted - so much so that a lineal descendant, America Vespucci, came to New Orleans in 1839 and asked for a land grant "in recognition of her name and parentage." Since the late nineteenth century, however, conflicting ideas about the truth of the derivation have been set forth with profound cultural and political implications. To question the origin of America's name is to question the nature of not only our history lessons, but our very identity as Americans."