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 Complicating the hunt even further, most of the American records from the project were lost after Congress rescinded the budget of the U.S. Emigration Office in 1864 and effectively closed the main government agency in charge of colonization.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:
Lincoln to Edward Bates, June 6, 1861
Lincoln to Lorenzo Thomas, September 12 and November 4, 1862
Lincoln to Alexander Crummell, May 5, 1862
Lincoln’s Appointment of James Mitchell, August 4, 1862
Chiriqui Contract Addendum, September 15, 1862
Lincoln note for Harry Russell, October 10, 1862
Lincoln to John P. Usher, January 30, 1863
Lincoln to Hodge and Dickson, June 13, 1863
Lincoln to Hodge and Dickson, June 13, 1863 (British version)
Lincoln to John Hay, July 15, 1864
Lincoln to Edward Bates, September 9, 1864
Lincoln note for Thomas Lonergan, January 26, 1865
Lincoln, execution of Pvt. George Rock Brown, January 28, 1865
British Honduras Colonization Project:
British Honduras Company colonization handbill, ca. June 1863
William H. Seward to Lord Lyons, August 10, 1863
James Mitchell to the New York Observer, August 19, 1863
J. Willis Menard to Abraham Lincoln, September 16, 1863
James Mitchell to Ulysses S. Grant, February 16, 1871
Charles Sumner to James Mitchell, July 5, 1871
Gen. Benjamin F. Butler & the “Colonization Interview”:
John Hay to Benjamin F. Butler, April 10, 1865
Ulysses S. Grant to William H. Seward, November 10, 1865
Benjamin F. Butler to Joseph Hallowell, April 6, 1877
New York Times account, August 20, 1884
A case of a smudged date? (SOLVED!)
The missing colonization office papers
Did Lincoln really “slough off” colonization?
Did Ben Butler really meet with Lincoln in 1865?