Shortly after signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Abraham Lincoln approached the British government with a proposal to establish settlements for African Americans in the Caribbean. He eventually reached an agreement with colonial officials from British Honduras, or modern day Belize. Lincoln’s order authorized British agents to recruit and transport of ex slaves to British Honduras and Guiana, resulting in an agreement between the State Department and the British Legation in Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, uncovering the details of this little-known venture proved to be an unusual research challenge. Lincoln’s negotiations occurred under the shroud of diplomatic secrecy, leaving behind a sparse paper trail. Complicating the hunt even further, most of the American records from the project were lost after Congress rescinded the budget of the U.S. Emigration Office in 1864 and effectively closed the main government agency in charge of colonization.
A handful of the records from Belize still managed to survive, though not in the usual places. Some were copied into log books at the British Legation in Washington, D.C. and transferred back to London where they sat untouched for 150 years until their recent rediscovery in the British National Archives. Others ended up in the hands of James Mitchell, Lincoln’s colonization commissioner, who relocated to Georgia after the Civil War. While the hunt for documents turned up almost as many new questions as it did answers, it also yielded a treasure trove of historical material.
They include several new discoveries from Lincoln’s own hand, as well as other papers documenting his involvement in colonization policy. Many have not been published before now, and did not appear in Roy P. Basler’s otherwise comprehensive Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. We look forward to making some of these records available here for the first time to scholars and history buffs alike, along with supporting information and transcriptions.
Abraham Lincoln Documents:
British Honduras Colonization Project:
Gen. Benjamin F. Butler & the “Colonization Interview”:
A case of a smudged date? (SOLVED!)