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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

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"The Lincoln Colony": Aaron Columbus Burr's Proposed Colonization of British Honduras Janet L· Coryell In August i860, Aaron Columbus Burr, a leading New Yorkjewelry merchant and importer, received a letter from James Grant of British Honduras, offering land for sale in Stann Creek and Belize.1 He had sold some ofhis property in 1858, but the buyer failed to deliver the promised amount. So Grant repossessed the property and wrote to Burr, who had written to him earlier with an inquiry about the land, presumably with an eye to expanding into some international holdings. Grant's letter details the crops and benefits of the land and surrounding territory. The major crops for export were mahogany and coconuts, and the settlement of Stann Creek, located on the water, promised an ease of transportation that the other mahogany companies in the area, cutting two hundred miles inland, did not enjoy. Grant pointed out to Burr that those companies suffered extraordinarily high costs of transportation that anyone who invested Portions of this article appeared previously in the following: "Duty with Delicacy: Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland," in Women andAmerican Foreign Policy: Lobbyists, Critics, andInsiders, 2d ed., ed. Edward Crapol (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1992), 45-65; Neither Heroine nor Fool: Anna Ella Carroll ofMaryland (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. ' James Grant to Aaron Columbus Burr, Aug. 31, i860, 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 ofExile, 1805-1836 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982), maintains that Aaron Columbus Burr, née Aaron Burr Columbus, was Burr's son by a Frenchwoman (387-88). Burr, according to Lomask, educated and treated Aaron Columbus as a godson. Civil War History, Vol. xliii. No. 1 © 1997 by The Kent State University Press 6 CIVIL WAR HISTORY in his lands would not suffer. The lower transportation costs Grant enjoyed with his coastal location meant any buyer could undercut the competition, and the popularity of mahogany in building nineteenth-century furniture seemed to promise any new owner considerable profits.2 Grant asked $65,000 for a lot in the capital city of Belize, the land in Stann Creek, and the mahogany works. The available labor supply, he wrote, could be provided by Carib Indians who already lived on the land. Not only were they experienced loggers, but the brickworks at Stann Creek also employed them. Despite any racial concerns, it would be cheaper, said Grant, to hire them than to pay them to move away and hire white workers.3 Burr continued to pursue the purchase of land, but by the following spring, he introduced the idea that the land would be promoted as a haven for freed blacks. Political matters in the United States were heading toward civil war by February of 1 861, when Grant reiterated his price to Burr, and Burr must have requested more information on the political status that would be enjoyed by any free black émigrés. Grant explained that an 1 855 act granted immigrants a twenty-one-year process for achieving naturalization, but that aliens could own property as long as they paid their taxes.4 This important fact established, Aaron Columbus Burr began to contemplate founding the "Lincoln Colony," a federally sponsored colony in British Honduras for freed slaves. Burr's attempt to...