POMEROY, Samuel Clark (1816-1891); THOMPSON, Ambrose W. (1810-1882); et al.
Archive: Abraham Lincoln's 1861-62 Chiriqui Colonization Project and Related Kansas Senator Samuel Clark Pomeroy Papers
Washington, DC: c.1858-1895. Archive. Sheet sizes variable. Over 60 ink and pencil manuscripts and typescripts, including copies, ledgers, letters, and US Government correspondence on paper.
This remarkable archive of manuscript materials tells the story of "Linconia," Abraham Lincoln's failed 1861-62 scheme to resettle free black Americans in the Chiriqui province of what is now Panama.
"You having been charged by the President of the United States with the execution of the Acts of the 1st Session of the 34th Congress for aiding in the Colonization of persons of color freed by the provisions of law in some tropical country." - Lincoln's Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith to Kansas Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy, 9/11/1862 This archive of materials related to President Lincoln's Chiriqui Project is important evidence in a story often unacknowledged in American history: that of the US Government's attempts to relocate black Americans overseas. The Chiriqui Colonization Project was a scheme Lincoln pushed to resettle over 13,000 black people, mostly freed formerly enslaved people from Washington DC, to "Linconia," a new colony on land in the Chiriqui province of Northwest Panama, to provide cheap labor for the coal industry. The project was set into motion by Philadelphia shipbuilder Ambrose W. Thompson, with Kansas Senator Samuel Clark Pomeroy acting as Colonizing Agent for the US Government. The Chiriqui Colonization project was not an aberration. From Jefferson to Lincoln, major American politicians throughout the 19th century supported the mission of the American Colonization Society (ACS), which started in 1817 and established the colony for black Americans in Liberia. The ACS was founded by an odd coupling of anti-slavery Quakers and Southern slaveholders who thought free black people would incite slave rebellions. Lincoln had been an enthusiastic supporter of ACS colonization schemes to send black Americans abroad throughout his career and publicly advocated for such projects during the Civil War. The Chiriqui Project was approved just five days before the initial Emancipation Proclamation. These archive materials reveal the totality of Lincoln's views on slavery and race, not just the version seen through the rose-colored glasses of Spielberg bio-pics. The papers in this Chiriqui Project archive also exemplify the folly and fraud that would plague the Republican administrations of Lincoln and Grant. The Chiriqui scheme begins with an enterprising scammer, Ambrose W. Thompson, who repeatedly tries to sell land to the US Government in what is now Panama, land to which he did not in fact hold the title. As early as 1862, Lincoln's Navy Secretary Gideon Welles had told Lincoln that there was "fraud and cheat in the affair." Nevertheless, Lincoln persisted, telling his Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase that he wanted the "Chiriqui coal contract . . . closed." Though the US Government subsequently signed that contract with Thompson, the Chiriqui Project was never realized due to problems with obtaining legal title to the land, strong opposition from white abolitionists and black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, unusable coal deposits, and intense resistance from powers in Central America. Costa Rica, for instance, had a claim to the land where the Chiriqui colony was to be located and its government called the 1861 US colonizing expedition there a "filibustering raid" that was "to be resisted by force if necessary." Douglass put the resettlement plan this way: "the President of the United States seems to possess an ever increasing passion for making himself appear silly and ridiculous." The materials in this archive are fundamental to understanding how this plan was conceived and how it was thought that it would operate. The documents include the Chiriqui Improvement Company's 1858 board meeting minutes which supposedly gave Thompson control of the land; the Colonizing Agent appointment papers from the Secretary of the Interior Caleb Blood Smith to Senator Pomeroy; Pomeroy's ledger sheet for planned costs of resettlement to Linconia; Pomeroy's initial agreement with Thompson; and Pomeroy's estate papers. But the archive also includes more granular information including a great deal of Pomeroy's personal and business correspondence, much of which concerns unpaid debts related to the Chiriqui Project. There are over 60 documents in 4 broad divisions: Chiriqui Colony documents; Correspondence concerning Pomeroy debts; Correspondence between Pomeroy and General S. C. Boynton; and the general correspondence of Pomeroy and his wife Martha Pomeroy. In a post-George Floyd, post-1619 Project America, when more Americans are reckoning with their country's ignominous past and the oppression black Americans have faced throughout US history, this archive on what was to be "Linconia" tells a story whose time has come. Samuel C. Pomeroy was a Republican politician, one of the first two senators from Kansas, who initially moved there from Massachusetts as part of the movement to bring Kansas into the union as a free state. Prior to that Pomeroy was a representative in the Massachusetts House and a railroad man, who even served as the president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad while he was a sitting senator. He introduced the bill that led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Pomeroy lost his seat amid a bribery scandal in which he paid a state senator $7,000 to retain his position. Mark Twain satirized Pomeroy as "Senator Dillworth" in The Gilded Age. Ambrose W. Thompson, head of the Chiriqui Improvement Association, was a shipbuilder and railroad man from Philadelphia who spent decades trying to sell land in Panama to various US Government agencies, land to which he did not have the legal right. He pushed for the construction of early shipping routes across the Isthmus of Panama prior to the digging of the canal. Other parties who appear in documents in the archive include: Edward A. Bowers (1857-1924); General S. C. Boynton; Martha Pomeroy; Major W. H. Ritter; and Secretary of the Interior Caleb Blood Smith (1808-1864).
Bear, Rick. "Lincoln's Panama Plan," New York Times, Aug. 16, 2012. Schelp, " Lincoln and the Chiriqui Colonization Project," The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 37, No. 4. Vorenberg, "Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Black Colonization," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol 14, No. 2, Summer 1993, 22-45.