The Chiriqui Scheme


A strip of land extending from one harbor to the other had been granted to Ambrose W. Thompson and three others by the Province of Chiriqui, in what is now Panama, in 1852 and 1854. These grants had been conveyed to “the Chiriqui Improvement Company.” In 1859, Congress had appropriated $300,000 to pay for the right to use the harbors and a roadway between them. But the Civil War prevented payment and the deal languished. Then, in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln “proposed to colonize free colored inhabitants of the District of Columbia upon the Chiriqui lands.” (“The Chiriqui Land Grant”, New York Times, March 12, 1882)

In his diary entry of September 26, 1862 Gideon Welles, Navy Secretary under President Lincoln, wrote about how at recent Cabinet meetings “the subject of deporting the colored race has been discussed.” This was paired with the proposed Emancipation Proclamation, published subsequent to the Union victory at the bloody battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. (Background: “Tired at Antietam”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of March 30, 2013.) Yes, you can free the slaves – but what then? “Congratulations, you are free. Now go stand in the unemployment line.”

Gideon Welles recalled how, over a year before, the subject of the controversial Chiriqui Grant had been thrust upon him for consideration. Welles decided the Chiriqui Grant “was a rotten remnant of an intrigue” which had been disposed upon the U.S. government by speculators.

But President Lincoln “was disposed to favor it,” meaning he thought the Chiriqui Grant might be legitimate. (Diary of Gideon Welles)

“As early as May, 1861,” wrote Welles, “a great pressure was made upon me to enter into a coal contract with [the Chiriqui Improvement Company]. The President [Lincoln] was earnest in the matter; wished to send the negroes out of the country.”

Gideon Welles further examined the validity of the Chiriqui Grant, and decided “that there was fraud and cheat in the affair. It appeared to be a swindling speculation.” (Diary of Gideon Welles)

But then, consequent to Antietam and the publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, again the question of what to do with the “Freedmen” (image at top) came to the fore. At that time, in Cabinet meetings, an idea of “coal and negroes” was front-and-center. “The negroes were to be transported to Chiriqui to mine coal for the Navy, and the Secretary of the Navy was to make an immediate advance of $50,000 for coal not yet mined…” (Diary of Gideon Welles)

There was even talk at the Cabinet meetings of compulsory deportation, but President Lincoln “objected unequivocally to compulsion. Their emigration must be voluntary and without expense to themselves,” insisted the Great Emancipator. (Diary of Gideon Welles)

Anyway, the coaling stations scheme at Chiriqui, on the Atlantic coast, and the Gulf of Dulce, on the Pacific coast, was abandoned when the government decided instead to use the “freedmen” as soldiers. (New York Times, op. cit.)

Later, during the presidency of Rutherford Hayes, the president’s private secretary, W.K. Rogers, helped push for the expenditure of $200,000 for the “coaling stations.” But then evidence was given meant to show that Ambrose W. Thompson had no right to the land. In 1878 the agreement was canceled. (New York Times, op. cit.)


About ersjdamoo

Editor of Conspiracy Nation, later renamed Melchizedek Communique. Close associate of the late Sherman H. Skolnick. Jack of all trades, master of none. Sagittarius, with Sagittarius rising. I'm not a bum, I'm a philosopher.
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One Response to The Chiriqui Scheme

  1. Pingback: Secret Meeting on Mechanicsville Bridge | Ersjdamoo's Blog

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