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"The Lincoln Colony": Aaron Columbus Burr's Proposed Colonization of British Honduras

From: Civil War History
Volume 43, Number 1, March 1997
pp. 5-16 | 10.1353/cwh.1997.0006

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

"The Lincoln Colony":
Aaron Columbus Burr's Proposed Colonization of British Honduras
Janet L. Coryell

Janet L. Coryell is associate professor of history at Western Michigan University. She is co-editor of the forthcoming Southern Women's Lives: Beyond the Conventions and, with James Greiner and James Smither, of A Surgeon's Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D. (1994).


Portions of this article appeared previously in the following: "Duty with Delicacy: Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland," in Women and American Foreign Policy: Lobbyists, Critics, and Insiders, 2d ed., ed. Edward Crapol (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1992), 45-65; Neither Heroine nor Fool: Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1990); and in a paper delivered at the Great Lakes History Conference, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, October 1995. The author wishes to thank Edward Crapol for his comments and April Summit, a graduate student from Western Michigan University, for her research efforts.

1. James Grant to Aaron Columbus Burr, Aug. 31, 1860, Aaron Columbus Burr Papers, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Aaron Columbus Burr's relationship to Aaron Burr, former vice president of the United States, is unclear. Yale University lists A. C. Burr as Aaron Burr's adopted son. Holmes Alexander, Aaron Burr: The Proud Pretender (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1937), refers only to a "young French silversmith named Aaron Columbus Burr, who stoutly claimed to be the Colonel's son" (352). Nathan Schachner, Aaron Burr: A Biography (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1961), calls Aaron Columbus Burr "the product of a Paris adventure," conceived presumably during Aaron Burr's exile from the United States between 1808-14 (513). Milton Lomask, Aaron Burr: The Conspiracy and Years of Exile, 1805-1836 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982), maintains that Aaron Columbus Burr, née Aaron Burr Columbus, was Burr's son by a French-woman (387-88). Burr, according to Lomask, educated and treated Aaron Columbus as a godson.

2. Grant to Burr, Aug. 31, 1860, Burr Papers. Grant consistently referred to Stann Creek as "Stand Creek" in his letters to Burr. Grant claimed high profits were possible despite the fact that overcutting timber in the decade prior to 1847 had depleted the mahogany lands near the coast, and the cost of production had risen so high that an economic depression had set in by 1850 and had not ended by 1860. O. Nigel Bolland, Belize: A New Nation in Central America (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986), 19-20.

3. Grant to Burr, Aug. 31, 1860, Burr Papers.

4. Grant to Burr, Mar. 18, 1861, "General Records of the Department of the Interior," U.S. Department of the Interior, RG 48, National Archives, Washington, D.C. See also W. Weymuss[?] Anderson to James Grant, Mar. 7, 1861, ibid.

5. Current work is searching for a more balanced view of colonizationists, particularly regarding their motivations in the earlier years of the century. See, for example, "Rethinking the American Colonization Society," a session at the Southern Historical Association's annual meeting, New Orleans, 1995, particularly Robert E. McColley, "Was the Colonization Society the 'Christian Right-Wing' of the Anti-Slavery Movement?"; and Douglas R. Edgerton, "Averting a Crisis: The Pro-Slavery Critique of Colonization." For earlier work in a similar vein, see Kurt Lee Kocher, "A Duty to America and Africa: A History of the Independent African Colonization Movement in Pennsylvania," Pennsylvania History 51 (Apr. 1984): 118-53; Frankie Hutton, "Economic Considerations in the American Colonization Society's Early Effort to Emigrate Free Blacks to Liberia, 1816-36," Journal of Negro History 68 (Summer 1983): 376-89; David Lightner, "Abraham Lincoln and the Ideal of Equality," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 75 (1982) 4: 289-308. Compare with Earl Ofari "Let Your Motto Be Resistance": The Life and Thought of Henry Highland Garnet (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972).

6. Burr's methods of trying to convince President Abraham Lincoln and Congress to fund the colony provide evidence of the degree to which citizens felt free to try to participate in major policy decisions during this era. This phenomenon is examined in Harold Holzer, comp...