April 15, 1856 was one of those sultry hot tropical days often described by travelers to Panama. April, the last month of the dry season, usually goes out with a vengeance, but it also preludes the rainy season—a time of debilitating fevers and diseases. Those who could afford it abandoned the city for the more hospitable climate of the interior or surrounding islands; the rest endured as best they could in the crowded barrios. The city was packed with vendors peddling their wares to passengers, most of whom were North Americans on their way to the gold mines of California in search of El Dorado. There were men like Walter Longley Gardner of Harvard, Massachussets, who wrote to his parents, “I have made up my mind to go and go I must. . . .[I]t has given me the California Fever, the hardest kind, and nothing but a voyage will cure it, and this is what I am going to do.”1 Others, like Jack Oliver, alias New York Jack, were returning home from California.

On that April day, about 1,200 such passengers converged on the part of the city known as La Ciénega, which means muddy area, just outside the city walls. A lower-class neighborhood, La Ciénega was the home of freed slaves, laborers, artisans, and newly arrived immigrants who crowded among its run-down huts. It also included the U.S. -owned Panama Railroad Station, the Ocean House Hotel, and the Pacific House Hotel where relatively cheap accommodations could be found. Women and children waited while their “husbands and protectors”2 stood in line at the railroad station to make sure their reservations were in order so they could be on their way to California that day. After all, many horror stories circulated about those who had bought their tickets in New York and “when they get to this place find out that they will in all probability have to wait for weeks.” For example, New York agents told Daniel Horn of Cheraw, South Carolina that he would not have to wait “more than 10 or 15 days,” but, he reported, “I will be here about two months before I get away.” Such an event could easily absorb a man’s savings, especially since many of the passengers “after they have bought their tickets in New York have hardly money enough to pay their expenses across the isthmus, and that is soon consumed here.”3 Likewise, an unexpected delay in such a “miserable dirty hole”4 could bring an early death, because “[m]any a poor fellow has fallen victim to the rapacity of those worse than robbers and their bones lie mouldering in a foreign land.”5 This was the fate of Franklin E. Poor of Charleston, Missouri, who died destitute two days before Christmas in 1853, at the Franklin Hotel “of wounds received on the 2nd. . ..”6

Between 6 and 7 p.m. that night, the tide was still too low for the harbor vessel Taboga to take the passengers on to the steamer John L. Stephens headed for California, and the train from Colón had not yet arrived to carry away the passengers hoping to catch the steamer Cortés on the Atlantic side of the isthmus headed for New Orleans and New York. Jack Oliver and his friends passed the time wandering about between saloons and stores. They approached José Manuel Luna’s fruit stand and asked how much he wanted for watermelon. Luna responded that he wanted “a real [dime].” Oliver picked up a slice and after taking a couple of bites threw it on the ground in disgust and walked away. Luna demanded payment, and Oliver replied, “Don’t bother me; kiss my ass,” to which Luna rejoined, “Take care that here we are not in the United States. Pay me my real and it will be all right.” Oliver said “he would pay with a pistol shot,” and reached for his gun. Luna then defied him: “If you have your pistol, I have my knife.” As tension heightened, one of Oliver’s friends paid Luna the real. Believing the matter settled, Luna walked back to his fruit stand. He then heard a shot, and “upon looking round, saw Miguel Habrahan struggling with the American who fired directly at said Habrahan.”7 In the ensuing struggle, Habrahan grabbed the pistol and ran with it, followed by the North Americans, toward the center of La Ciénega “where the row then became general.”8

Out of La Ciénega, as from an anthill suddenly disturbed, swarmed great numbers of men armed with “stones, machettes [sic], and other weapons,” to defend Habrahan against U.S. aggression. They shouted “Caraho [damn] Americano,”10 and ran toward the Pacific House and the Ocean Hotel where most of the North Americans were gathered. They, in turn, reached for their guns and any other weapons available, and fought back. A few hours later, the Pacific House, the Ocean House, MacAllister’s store, and most of the U.S.-owned businesses in La Ciénega were totally destroyed. A moment of quiet followed before the second violent outburst erupted—this time against the railroad station.11

By then the church bells had warned the city of impending danger. Chief of Police Manuel María Garrido, Governor Francisco de Fábrega, U.S. Consul Thomas W. Ward, and his secretary, Theodore Sabla, all rushed to the scene. The governor and the chief of police attempted unsuccessfully to pacify an electrified crowd suddenly out of control. Bottles, bullets, and stones flew in all directions—one bullet hit the governor’s hat, another struck Sabla’s leg. Believing the shots had come from the railroad station where the North Americans were encamped, the governor ordered the chief of police to take over the station.12 According to Amos B. Convine, a special envoy from Washington who later investigated the incident, the police at this point joined the mob in the attack. Convine quoted Captain McLane, an eyewitness:

At this moment, the long-listened-for sound of the bugle note was heard, bringing relief to many an aching heart; we congratulated each other and in a moment more would have been outside of the enclosure to welcome our deliverers, when there was poured into the station a heavy volley of musketry, accompanied with savage shouts for blood; this volley was quickly followed by others; the dreadful reality came upon us that the police had joined the mob. . ..13

In his report to Bogotá, Governor Fábrega insisted that the North Americans in the railroad station had fired on him and the police, and that therefore he had no choice but to order Chief of Police Garrido to fire back. The governor acknowledged that while the people “in their blind excitement, and fearing an attack by filibusters in the city at the time, furiously attacked the Americans. . . a number of robbers joined in and began sacking the station house.” Both the governor and the chief of police stated that although the North Americans twice attempted to fire a cannon at the authorities, they saved hundreds of passengers by escorting them to the Taboga.14 The riot finally ended about three hours later. The people destroyed the railroad station, along with records and files, tore up sections of railroad tracks, and cut telegraph cables. Several people lay dead and many more were wounded.

The city was in complete shock. People wandered about aimlessly throughout the rest of the evening and early hours of the morning, trying to understand what had happened to them. At 1 a.m., Margarita Emilia Lustin went to the railroad station and there “saw the body of a woman with a wound on her left arm, the side of her body covered with blood. The woman was wearing a black apron. Shocked by the scene, Mrs. Lustin left the station.” Three hours later, Carlos Clare “found the body of a woman and a young child at the entrance of the railroad warehouse.” At 5 a.m., Nathaniel Brandon and his father-in-law Isaac Oliviero visited the station. They “saw about 6 bodies; someone told them there were 14.”13 Like these witnesses, others went to La Ciénega and were stunned by what they saw. “Eighteen were lying dead. . . in and about the depot and many others were missing [or] badly wounded.”16

The atmosphere in the city remained tense and fearful. The next day rumors began circulating that filibusters from California were on their way from Colón to attack Panama City to avenge the death of the North Americans killed the day before. The rumors originated in La Ciénega, as the tailor Pedro Ramos testified: “I heard it in the barrio of La Ciénega from a certain Julián N., known as Julián Come-ñame.” A crowd, mostly residents of La Ciénega, gathered in the Plaza Santa Ana “for the purpose of organizing the defense of the city.” According to José Isabel Maitín, a silversmith and a participant, while they were arranging to locate arms, a “foreigner arrived with the news that the filibusters were already at the town of Corozal.. . . Immediately the prefect appointed three men, José Paredes Arce, Domingo Cajar, and Maitín to go to Corozal and determine the veracity of the rumors. Because he was unable to get a horse in time to accompany Arce and Cajar, Maitín remained in the plaza.” Tension mounted as men continued to demand arms from the governor for “their defense.” The governor, however, had difficulty locating arms, and the agitated citizens accused him of not caring “about the fate of the city and the people.” Convinced of imminent danger, men ran through the city recruiting friends. Antonio Abad Monteser, a master mason, was sitting outside his home when Pedro Jiménez came by and said, “You are sitting here taking it easy while we are about to be attacked by filibusters arriving from Colón: the trains are already in Corozal, from where a lengua-azul [blue tongue, i.e., foreigner] has arrived with the news.” Abad Monteser immediately ran to Raja-leña, a nearby neighborhood, and came back with more men because “he believed that at any moment the masons would be arriving.” The commotion continued for hours; people ran in all directions looking for arms and safe places for their families. Late that evening, Ramón Meléndez arrived from Colón, and informed everyone that the rumors were false—no filibusters were on the way to attack the city. The crowd dispersed.17

Clearly, fear had led to panic and confusion. Apparently no one even stopped to think that filibusters from California would not be arriving from the Atlantic side as rumored. Furthermore, in the confusion, the aggressors became filibusters and masons, two expressions of a single enemy. Masonry was seen as an element that threatened traditional religion and values: it was associated mostly with foreigners and with local progressives who advocated change. At the same time, filibusters lived in the collective mentality as a constant threat to the safety of the community. The testimonies of the rioters further suggest that they perceived the U.S.-owned buildings as symbols of the foreign presence, for they referred to them as fortifications. Convine was disconcerted: “the ‘fortifications’ to which this and other native witnesses refer are three-quarter-inch white pine weather boarding—this being the material with which the railroad buildings and hotels are made!”18 To the Panamanians, however, it did not matter what they were made of—they represented the foreign invasion. The men and women who were guided by such seemingly irrational notions were, in effect, defending a way of life, a world they perceived to be vanishing rapidly and inexorably. Moreover, as has been the case in other places and other times, their “violence, however cruel, [was not] random and limitless but aimed at defined targets and selected from a repertory of traditional punishments and forms of destruction.”19 Caught at a conjuncture in the history of Panama when society was convulsed by internal and external forces and a stable and coherent world seemed to be fading away, there were some who resorted to violence in order to defend the known and the safe world. It was a moment of contradictions and of conflict, characterized by “movement as much as structure, persistence as much as change, indeed persistence as a striking aspect of change.”20

The new social history has rejected the view that riots and violent collective upheavals are the actions of savage, primitive, mentally imbalanced human beings.21 Guided by a more complex model of human behavior, social historians have approached the study of riots and mobs from a dynamic point of view—an interdisciplinary one that includes psychological, anthropological, and sociological explanations. From this standpoint, the riot that took place on April 15, 1856 in Panama City was not the action of a “black mob” bent on “massacre, rapine, and plunder,” as Corwine and the U.S. press reported.22 The rioters were neither faceless nor aimless, but had identities and goals that were anchored in a concrete historical reality. Their violent collective behavior was a cultural means of defending violated rights, a means of resisting change, and a means of expressing grievances. George Rudé describes this kind of action as the expression of a “leveling instinct, common to all such occasions, which prompts the poor to seek a degree of elementary social justice.. . .”23 The riot at Panama City holds a significance for interpreting Latin American history that goes far beyond the specific events, and can best be understood in terms of culture and mentalité. I shall use these concepts to mean the system of values, attitudes, and ideas that members of a society share regarding the world, society, their place in it, the supernatural, and all aspects of everyday life. Mentalité and culture are closely connected, for the former evolves through the latter.24

Causes of Dissatisfaction

The nineteenth century in Latin America was a time when three-hundred-year-old structures were sorely challenged. A new kind of language was taking shape, changing the meaning of age-old concepts such as work, government, justice, freedom, and society. Independence movements swept the continent from 1810 to 1830, commonly led by men whose liberal ideals regarding political, social, and economic systems met strong resistance from those who rejected change. The confrontation frequently led to conflict and instability, to which external forces also contributed. Great Britain and the United States were competing for influence and markets in the area, and this caused some consternation among the new states, which found themselves caught in the middle.

Not all regions, of course, were affected equally by the activities of competing external powers. Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean were particularly susceptible, and because of its geographic location the New Granadan province of Panama was especially targeted. Between 1822-23 when William Duane of Philadelphia proposed to the government of Gran Colombia that a route be constructed through the isthmus, until the signing of a contract with North American promoters for the construction of a railroad in 1848, many individuals and companies from Great Britain, France, and the United States vied with each other for the rights to the transoceanic route. Under these circumstances, and fearing British intervention in particular, New Granada in 1846 signed a treaty with the United States (the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty) to secure its sovereignty over the isthmus in return for the promise of free transit.

In 1848, almost as soon as the war with Mexico ended and California became a U.S. possession, the government of the United States began subsidizing steamship mail service between New York, New Orleans, and the Pacific Coast. The Pacific Mail Steamship Co. and the United States Mail Steamship Co. signed official contracts and began the service through Panama.25 That same year, James Marshall, a foreman in Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento, California, discovered gold. Overnight, Panama became a short and quick way to get to the gold fields from the east coast of the United States.26 Soon after, William A. Aspinwall, U.S. entrepreneur and owner of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co., became one of the signers of the contract with the government of New Granada for construction of a railroad across the isthmus.27 Aspinwall foresaw that building a railroad across Panama to carry the thousands of men and women suddenly afflicted with gold fever could make him a fortune.

Thousands of North Americans invaded Panama—men and women whose culture and way of life were strikingly different from those of the Panamanians. Between 1848 and 1869, more than half a million migrants passed through the isthmus going to and from the United States.28 But not just North Americans came; Tracy Robinson, an employee of the railroad company, later noted, “All nationalities came flocking like birds of prey.”29 To Panamanians as well as other New Granadans, these “adventurers from every region of earth” seemed “ignorant and immoral, quarrelsome and intemperate, without any other God than gold, nor other law than brutal force,”30 and they became one more disruptive element in a society already under political, economic, and social strain.

In its political situation, Panama was subject not just to the rule of faraway Bogotá but to the quarrels and disorders of the dominant factions there, and it was never wholly satisfied with this relationship. Since independence from Spain in 1821, Panamanian leaders had tried unsuccessfully—in 1826, 1830, 1831, and 1840—to free the isthmus from the control of the central government. Panama’s principal families perceived themselves as much more liberal and open to the new ideas emanating from the United States and northern Europe than the government in Bogotá, which they saw as politically unstable and still dominated by colonial values. Above all, Panamanian leaders such as General Tomás Herrera and Mariano Arosemena regarded the conservatism of Bogotá and the protectionism it entailed as an obstacle to their commercial dreams, convinced as they were that Panama was destined to be a global commercial emporium. Crucial to our proper understanding of later events is not so much whether the New Granadan government was backward-looking and conservative but that the leaders of the province of Panama deemed it so, for their actions were based on this perception. In their regionalistic way, they sought to return to the golden age of the Portobelo fairs, and, to the extent that they viewed the policies pursued by New Granada as contrary to their goals, they sought local autonomy in the guise of federalism if not outright separation.31

The election in 1845 of Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera as president of New Granada eased matters somewhat. Though affiliated at the time with the emerging Conservative party, Mosquera was a progressive ruler whose government allowed some commercial franchises and at the same time signed the treaty with the United States that guaranteed free transit across Panama.32 Yet New Granada continued to exercise ultimate authority on the isthmus and to reject requests from Panamanians for greater control of local economic and political affairs. Even after Panama finally was granted the status of federal state in 1855, its commercial development was hampered by the regulations imposed from Bogotá on the nation’s foreign trade.33

The social situation in Panama was inherently unstable too. Power—social and political—had long been in the hands of a few wealthy families. This small elite segregated itself in an area of the colonial Panama City surrounded by walls that symbolized in subtle but real ways its power and social position. In 1915, Matilde María de Obarrio de Mallet, granddaughter of one of Panama’s most prominent merchants, Pedro de Obarrio, commented on the enduring image and meaning of the walled sector: “Inside lived the nobility with their slaves, outside lived the people, and even at the present time when the barrier of the fortifications no longer exists, the idea remains and the best families prefer to crowd inside in discomfort.”34 She referred to the barrio of San Felipe, which politically, economically, and socially was “The City.” Beyond the walls, in Santa Ana and La Ciénega, lived a growing number of “outsiders” who had begun to challenge the elite’s monopoly of power. This challenge was expressed in their overwhelming support of General José Domingo Espinar, a resident of Santa Ana and former secretary to Simón Bolívar, who in 1830 emerged as a political leader with the backing of the less privileged districts. In that year, Espinar went so far as to declare Panama’s independence from New Granada. His rule lasted only a year, however, for when members of the isthmian elite spoke of liberalism they did not mean equality for all, and certainly not for the popular classes. Their notion of patria chica was restricted not only to a small geographic area, but to a few members of the wealthy and powerful families.

To the members of the ruling elite, liberalism meant commercial freedom, freedom from Spain or Bogotá, freedom of the press, freedom from the Catholic church, and, in general, freedom from what they perceived as backward colonial attitudes and values. As long as people clung to outdated tradition, they thought, Panama’s full potential as a commercial emporium could not be realized, and they therefore advocated immigration as one solution to social and economic backwardness. To Mariano Arosemena, one member of this ruling group, exposure to foreign values and attitudes would transform the Panamanians into a more industrious and productive people. Arosemena especially condemned tradition and practices that, in his view, encouraged indolence. He noted that there were more than one hundred holidays a year and that the people wasted time in frivolous activities such as drinking, dancing, gambling, and attending horse races, bull fights, and cock fights. He commented that religious fanaticism, rituals, and superstition, often encouraged by the church, formed an additional obstacle to progress and freedom.35 As things turned out, of course, opening up the country to foreign influence would contribute to both the dreams and the nightmares of these social engineers.

Before 1849, Panama’s economy had gone through both ups and downs. In spite of the vitality and enthusiasm displayed by the minute commercial bourgeoisie, many fortunes of colonial origin had long since evaporated. Panama’s merchant elite had initially built its fortunes during the early and middle colonial period, when the isthmus had held a privileged position, Portobelo being one of the four ports the Spanish crown authorized to handle its commerce with America. After Spain opened other parts of the colonies to legal trade in the eighteenth century, Panama lost this privilege; in fact, the last Portobelo fair, where gold and silver from South America had been exchanged for European products, took place in 1739. To be sure, Panamanian merchants maintained some of their prosperity by trading legally and illegally with Jamaica and South America. The isthmus remained as a regional point of exchange, with local merchants often becoming the agents of British firms that traded between Kingston and the Spanish colonies through Panama. In addition, the crown increased its military spending in the isthmus and continued payment of the situado.36 The eighteenth century, then, was a period of readjustment in which isthmian commerce shifted from the sale of goods and services related to the Portobelo fairs to a role of providing goods and services to the small military establishment and for local consumption—all as complemented by contraband and crown subsidies.

Revived economic prosperity, however, came with new technology. The railroad, completed in 1855, along with steam navigation, made it possible to exploit Panama’s geographic advantage to a greater degree and effectively opened a new era. The dreams of the liberal elite in Panama and the commercial entrepreneurs of the United States now found common ground. Both groups shared a vision: to modernize Panama so that commerce and industry could flourish—to transform the isthmus into a “Great Gate Way of the World’s Commerce. ”37 One immediate goal, accordingly, was the creation of new values, attitudes, and beliefs; a new mentalité that would be compatible with such plans.

This hoped-for transformation of attitudes faced several obstacles. While the new technology brought economic prosperity for some Panamanians, it brought unemployment, inflation, and related ills for many. Steamships and the railroad did away with a three-hundred-year-old transportation system based on the mule, human labor, and sail navigation. That had been a system firmly rooted in the Panamanian experience, and one on which the fortunes and livelihoods of many depended. New jobs in transportation and service industries now arose, but they required skills few possessed, and rail and ship companies imported many workers from other places who competed effectively with the natives.38 In 1855, Robert Tomes was in the city of Colón and noted that “most of the servants in the railroad company’s mess house, many pedlars [sic] selling merchandise in the streets, and carpenters erecting the wooden buildings so prevalent in the town, were Jamaican Negroes.” West Indians “became pedlars of cheap goods; gambling and boarding house attendants or proprietors, domestic servants and shopkeepers. ”39

Panamanian workers suddenly found themselves without jobs and lacking skills to work in the new industries. Under the circumstances, these men and women were not likely to embrace enthusiastically the changes they witnessed. To them, the world unfolding promised very little comfort and the past seemed a golden era. Many employees of the railroad and steamship companies knew well how the natives felt about their situation. Capt. Allen McLean, for example, stated that

there was a bad feeling existing, on the part of the natives or residents of Panama . . . from some if not all the following causes:

The [negotiations of] tax commissioners between the governments of the United States and New Granada, in which the latter was defeated, the effect of the completion of the railroad, throwing out of employment mules, muleteers, cargadores, laborers, etc., and . . . the railroad company receiving and forwarding merchandise, passengers, etc., which before had been done by other parties—some of whom were natives. . . .

Arthur MacKenzie, a British citizen, commented to Corwine that there was hostility “by reason of the opening of the railroad, and use of the steamer Taboga having thrown many of them out of remunerative employment. . .” William Nelson had similar comments: “In [my] opinion ... an ill feeling [existed] for some time past on the part of the boatmen and former muleteers, against the railroad and steamship companies, which feeling doubtless arose partly from the fact that their services were no longer required by passengers.”40 Even if the companies were not the only cause of the adverse conditions these Panamanians experienced, they were perceived as such and the people expressed their feelings through violence.

Progress also inflated the value of land. In 1849, José Antonio Bermúdez bought a lot for 90 pesos which he sold a year later to a Frenchman, Pedro Roy, for 1,000 pesos. Likewise, Ramón Arias Pérez bought a lot for 500 pesos in 1854 and sold it that same year to the railroad company for 10,000. The scramble for land soon affected the lower-class barrios, where newcomers preferred to buy land because it was cheaper than inside the city walls. Natives too, even from distinguished families, began investing in the barrios outside San Felipe: Domingo Arosemena and José Manuel Alba bought several lots there in 1850, 1854, and 1855.41 The acquisition of land in and around lower-class barrios created hostility among their residents, who feared losing their homes. In this connection, MacKenzie noted that “an ill feeling has been created among the negroes, owing to the fact that the railroad company had made a demand on the general government for the part of the suburbs of the city known as the Ciénega . . . and . . . they feared they would be driven [out] without compensation.”42 The unemployed residents of La Ciénega and others again saw the railroad and steamship companies as the cause of their plight; thus it is not surprising that they were later targeted for unusual violence.

There were other less tangible but equally significant reasons for the outburst of April 15th. North Americans were seen as carriers of diseases, because of the epidemics that broke out among them, even though the migrants were as likely to have acquired in Panama fevers to which they previously had not been exposed.43 The most devastating cholera epidemics erupted in the towns of Chagres and Cruces, where the largest concentrations of passengers gathered. Moreover, ship captains tended to abandon ill seamen on the isthmus. The story of Joseph Bradley of Williamson County, Tennessee, is a good example. Bradley was in Panama from May until July 1856 suffering from fever. “Being entirely destitute of means,” he was compelled to accept a job on the steamer Cortés at wages half those paid the natives. He fell ill again, and the doctor on board refused to see him unless paid. Since Bradley was penniless, he went into town and sought help from the U.S. consul, but the latter was unable to save him. Like Bradley, many a destitute seaman died in Panama of fevers and other diseases. In July 1856, according to the consul, the captain of the Cortés discharged in Panama City “several men sick on the verge of yellow fever, which is now and has been prevalent here for the past three months.”44 As he was writing these words in July, it may be that an epidemic had just started in April at the time of the riot.

There was also fear of an invasion by the army of William Walker, who was attempting at the time to establish control over Nicaragua. In his report to Bogotá, Governor Fábrega wrote about this fear of an attack by filibusters.45 Similarly, Pedro Alcántara Herrán, Colombian minister to the United States, observed to U.S. Secretary of State William Marcy on August 15, 1856 that “[t]he right, which Walker had to take possession of Nicaragua and to invade Costa Rica[,] he might claim to invade the State of Panama, so soon as it may be possible for him to do so.”46 Fear of invasion could quickly become panic, particularly when deserters from Walker’s army stopped in Panama on their way back home. As Convine wrote to Secretary of State Marcy in March of the following year, “The native population here have manifested considerable ill-feeling towards American citizens. . . . Meetings are nightly held by them, and the greatest excitement prevails. They openly in the streets, and through their press, discuss the probabilities of an invasion ... by troops of the United States.” In the same letter, he noted that “[o]ne hundred and twenty-five deserters from his command [Walker’s] were brought to this port by the Panama ... en route for the United States. . . . [S]ome two hundred more are expected here on the next trip.” 47 However, it was not only the Central American adventure of William Walker that made Panamanians uneasy. The cities of the isthmus had been burnt and sacked by hostile fleets and pirates throughout the colonial period, particularly Nombre de Dios, Portobelo, and Chagres on the Atlantic side. Thus, there existed in the collective memory a particular hostility and hypersensitivity concerning foreign invasions and sudden attack.48

And, in fact, a kind of foreign invasion had already taken place. For the construction of the railroad, the railroad company imported laborers from China, India, and Europe. The majority, however, were from the West Indies. The magnitude of this invasion can only be suggested, as precise statistics are not available. Between 1850 and 1855, five thousand persons from Jamaica alone went to Panama49—a total roughly equal to the population of Panama City as of 1851. The city of Colón, founded as the Atlantic terminus of the railroad, went from eight hundred inhabitants in 1851 to eight thousand in 1856, most of whom were immigrants.50 In addition, there was a constant flow of passengers who, in many instances (particularly during the early years of the traffic), remained in Panama for months. Panama was thus inundated by peoples of diverse languages, views, attitudes, and customs, which only heightened existing xenophobia. The foreigners’ presence was indicative to many—including members of the commercial elite—of a loss of independence and identity, and it filled almost everyone with uncertainty about the future. More and more, the fruits of Panama’s renewed prosperity seemed to end in the hands of foreigners, and benefited the natives very slightly.

Fear, then, was a prevalent emotion in Panama in 1856. Not only did the people dread an invasion, many feared for their livelihood. Others were alarmed that the scramble for cheap land would cause them to lose their homes, and all feared epidemics brought by foreigners. Hence, on the night of the riot, anyone merely dressed as a foreigner became a target of hostility and violence, as suggested by the testimony of José M. Rodríguez. The latter was “passing through one of the bye [sic] streets [when] some woman cried out to him, ‘Sir, don’t proceed, because the people have become infuriated on hearing that Mr. Obamo [sic] has been wounded, and as you are dressed like a foreigner, they may kill you’.”51

The Clash of Cultures

Perhaps the greatest fear, however, stemmed from feelings of uncertainty and uprootedness created by a greater transformation: the shift from traditional to modern ways, particularly increased commercialization. Even Justo Arosemena, a leading liberal, wrote with a certain sense of nostalgia about former times:

Up to the final days of 1848, the province of Panama enjoyed a poor but tranquil existence. While hoping for better times, Panama gave itself over to illusions; its citizens . . . had very little, but enjoyed peace; Panama, poor and modest . . . peaceful and lazy, where a man spent his days satisfied with 20 cents. . . .

Then [Panama] felt a real and strange commotion. Three thousand people loaded with money, consuming everything in greater proportions than an equal number of natives would imagine, found room within its walls, where they remained for months preparing their journey to the land of their dreams. . . .52

Into this world descended a mass of “wild men” who “seemed to feel that a day ashore was what they had been deprived of” and who behaved in unusual ways because their minds were “in such an excited state, owing to the strangeness of everything about.”53 The phenomenon is not, of course, uncommon when the ordinary but powerful controls exerted by one’s own society are removed. As expressed by Daniel Horn, “Most of the Americans appear to have thrown aside all restraint and give loose rein to evil practices. ... I have lost a great deal of the high respect I always have had for the American character. . . .”54 Horn further noted that women as well as men appeared to alter their behavior: “A day or two ago I saw a lady dressed in man’s clothes astraddle a mule. . . . She seemed quite cheerful and I thought was quite amused at her own appearance and the notice she attracted. ”55 The North American presence thus speeded up the process of change and heightened a sense of crisis and tension that in the last analysis reflected the incompatibility of the worldviews, values, and beliefs of those who suddenly met. Indeed, cultural conflict had begun with the first arrivals.

For the most part, North Americans went to Panama for two reasons: to get to California as quickly as possible and to make money exploiting the California traffic. Those who went to Panama to capitalize on the traffic opened saloons, hotels, and restaurants. Horn described them as “men whose only object is to make money at any cost.”56 They even built their own town separate from the Panamanians, soon after the discovery of gold in California in 1848. It was located at the mouth of the Chagres River on the Atlantic side of the isthmus, where the newcomers wanted to create for their customers arriving from the east coast of the United States a settlement that would not be as shocking as the native town located on the other side of the river. Consequently, they flew the U.S. flag, named their hotels after familiar ones in the United States such as the Irving House or the United States Hotel, and served familiar foods like biscuits and apple pie.57 Among the Panamanians this town was known either as “the American town” or, more significantly, as La Furia [The Fury].58

Across the Chagres was the native community, a remnant of colonial days when more prosperous residents welcomed travelers who had arrived in Spanish galleons. To U.S. visitors, nothing of consequence remained in this town except the old Fort San Lorenzo built in 1626 to defend the isthmus against pirate raids. This side of the Chagres made an impact on the passengers nevertheless. In June 1850, Daniel Horn wrote to his mother and sisters about his arrival there. The natives were “full-blooded Negroes, one-third Indians, the balance mixed with here and there a Spaniard.” These natives spoke a “mongrel Spanish,” and their appearance was “not as respectable as our Negroes.” Their houses were only “hovels that, in the States, would not even do for Negro quarters or even for a respectable cow house.”59 On February 19, 1852, Walter Gardner wrote to his father about Chagres in very similar terms. “[It] is a miserable dirty hole. . . . The natives are colored, and speak the Spanish language, some of them English. . . . There are only six or eight thached [sic] houses in the place and two of them are called hotels.”60 These strikingly different towns reflected some basic differences between North Americans and Panamanians. The new town’s reason for being was strictly commercial; it appeared more prosperous, cleaner, and livelier. It was a town of hotels, restaurants, and saloons where few people came to settle down. And it was a predominantly white town where people slept in cots and ate imported foods. In contrast, the other Chagres seemed an old and tired Spanish town built around an equally old and tired fort. Its residents were racially mixed, spoke Spanish, lived in thatched huts, slept in hammocks, and ate foods locally grown with little effort. Likewise, the pace on this side of the river appeared to the immigrants to be incredibly slow. Ambrosio Méndez, a native, described relations between the residents of these two towns: “If the Americans are good, we are good, if they abuse, we are bad. We are black but muchos caballeros [true gentlemen].”61 Relations were obviously marked by racial prejudice and by a feeling among the natives that North Americans abused the hospitality that had been offered them.

Arrival in Chagres was only the first step in a physically and culturally traumatic journey. Before the completion of the railroad, passengers spent from three to four days going up the Chagres in canoes to the towns of Gorgona or Cruces. From there, if they were lucky, they would be able to rent mules; otherwise, they would go on foot over one of the most dangerous passes in the isthmus. Covered with dense forest, this road turned into a river of mud during the nine-month rainy season. It was suffocatingly hot all year, and within its dense forests numerous bandits and robbers hid, adding to the danger. All this combined to create a feeling of strangeness that was not wholly overcome even when the more rapid transit by rail became available. In fact the geographical position of Panama was itself one more clue that this was an exotic and disconcerting land, for the narrow isthmus curves like an ess from west to east, with Central America on the west and South America on the east. Tracy Robinson commented: “To a resident of Colón it will always seem strange that the sun rises inland and sets beyond the sea; in other words, that east seems west and west east. . . . There is a suspicion of something crooked about this.”62

The human scene, though, was equally exotic to North Americans. Daniel Horn, who spent about eight weeks in the isthmus in 1850, meticulously described to his mother and sisters what he saw in Panama. The native dress “in the States would not be decent,” and the food was a “perfect burlesque on the name.” In the town of Cruces, the “three old broken bells” of the church “are rattled several times a day for dear life and make a horrible din.” The natives all “smoke segars [sic], men, women, children.” (He might have added, but did not, that cigar smoking was a way natives kept mosquitoes away from their faces). Horn noticed further that although some of the women were good looking, they wore “no bonnets” but rather “frill as much showy lace as they can about the neck and arms and have a very tawdry appearance.” He observed that the Panamanians were “Catholics, but have no idea of religion. . . . Their worship consists in dipping the finger in holy water, making the cross on the forehead and breasts, bowing, getting on their knees before the altar, muttering something, counting their beads. . . ”All in all, Horn and many other North Americans found Panama disappointing, for it “did not come up to the glowing descriptions . . . frequently read.”63 Though he was a southerner of an apparently well-to-do family, and perhaps a bit more religious than most who went to Panama, Horn shared with all his compatriots a common culture and a distinctive worldview; Panama rattled their conventional attitudes.

Different ideas about work were another source of conflict between North Americans and Panamanians. The former valued enterprise and hard work. In contrast, Panamanians seemed “indolent and sloven,” and not at all interested in making money through industry. Horn noted: “If the people would make good use of their opportunities they could make their fortunes, but the majority ignore its value and spend their money as fast as they make it.” To North Americans on the other hand, Panama was a place where hard work would quickly enable one to make money. “This country in the hands of an industrious, enterprising people like the Americans would be the finest in the world.”64

On the whole, visitors from the United States perceived the isthmus as a strange country inhabited by an obstinate and proud “mongrel race” which was “too indolent, and unaccustomed to labor.” The natives could not “be depended on to any great extent,”65 and their religion came close to “idolatry.”66 Moreover, their language was difficult to understand —it, too, was mongrel. In 1847, John L. Stephens, the railway builder who had traveled extensively throughout Central America, commented to William H. Aspinwall, “Nothing of a progressive nature has occurred here since the departure of the Spanish in 1826 [sic]. We must realize at all times that we are dealing with a population as backward as any on the face of the earth.”67 On his part, Amos B. Convine, the U.S. diplomat sent to investigate the incident of 1856, concluded that the Panamanians were a people “imbued with all the characteristics of the Spanish race, as pride, haughtiness and obstinacy, which will have to be overcome before we can expect to effect a peaceful satisfactory solution of our difficulties.”68 And Tracy Robinson, a North American living in Panama, summed up the feelings of many when he acknowledged that it was “difficult to understand fully, and express an intelligent opinion upon the social life of people of another race and language, other ideas and customs, other standards of action.”69 To these observers and others, Panama and its people remained an enigma.

North Americans had much less difficulty sizing up themselves during the nineteenth century. A typical expression of national self-esteem was the article that appeared in January 1859 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, entitled “Tropical Journeyings.” It briefly described Panama and the Panama Railroad project, but more than anything it praised the Americans who had built the railroad. Those larger-than-life “bold merchants . . . large-minded capitalists, whose integrity and straight-forwardness were undoubted” and whose “pioneering spirit. . . [was] inherent in the blood of the Americans,” represented the very spirit of the United States. Such men had already created a rich and brave nation; the Panama Railroad enterprise, a fantastic undertaking, was to North Americans a clear example of their own abilities. “New Granada, unable herself to attempt so great a work, had freely offered the privilege ... to any rich and brave enough to undertake it.” England was not brave enough, for although it had “looked toward the project with longing eyes . . . [it] quailed before the magnitude of the project.” Similarly, France “surveyed and entered into contract . . . but too many millions were found necessary for its completion, and it was lost by default.”70

Order, Race, and Society

Because of the wide gap that divided their respective cultures, the actions of North Americans inevitably came to be seen by Panamanians as offensive and abusive. Ideas about justice, order, work, and race were particularly in conflict. With regard to justice, North Americans found it difficult to accept what to them seemed a slow, legalistic way of dealing with crime. They believed that criminals should be punished immediately, and if the authorities failed to do so, it was the duty of the citizens to take the law into their own hands. By the 1850s, this had become something of a U.S. tradition: vigilantism was common in the United States during the nineteenth century, and North Americans in Panama City resorted to it in order to handle a situation they considered to be out of hand. Thus, they established the Runnels Isthmus Guard headed by a “Regulator” from Texas, Ran Runnels, who kept order with a “posse of vigilantes” mostly by hanging criminals along the sea wall.71 Similarly, in 1854, U.S. Consul Thomas W. Ward—frustrated by what he perceived as Governor Urrutia Añino’s slowness in punishing the murder of a North American—himself gathered volunteers to search for those responsible. Ward and his men found the criminals, but, before attempting their capture, he wrote to the governor, saying, “[S]hould your Excellency deem it wise and expedient to order some of the native citizens to join in the undertaking, their service and assistance will be most gladly accepted.” It was Ward’s intention to castigate the alleged murderers with or without the governor’s assistance —in effect to take the law into his own hands. The incident thus generated extensive correspondence between the irate and impatient consul and the equally irate governor and chief of police.72

Having been accused of neglect of his duties, Governor Urrutia Añino pointed out that Panama’s police force was too small to handle the increasing crime which, in any case, was a direct result of the foreign presence. In his view, the authorities were dealing with the problem as best they could. Justice in Panama moved too slowly for North Americans, but to Urrutia Añino, foreigners in the isthmus enjoyed the same advantages and disadvantages as the natives.73 The editors of El Tiempo agreed: “Like our natives, foreigners who come to this country must endure the inconveniences that an imperfect political or administrative system causes.”74

The notion that local authorities were unable to keep order in the isthmus inevitably contributed to tension and mistrust. As North Americans increased their investments in Panama and came to consider the transisthmian route both economically and politically crucial, they felt that the maintenance of public order and political stability was imperative; and for this reason Convine emphatically recommended that the United States take over the isthmus. “I feel it a duty incumbent on me to recommend the immediate occupancy of the isthmus, from ocean to ocean, ... as the best practicable mode to insure safety and tranquility to transit.”75 The editors of the New York Daily Times echoed similar feelings. “The sooner the isthmus passes into the hands of a people able to govern it the better.”76 Or, in the words of the U.S. minister in Bogotá, James B. Bowlin, writing to Secretary of State Marcy: “[Panama must be] in the hand of a powerful nation, who could protect it from depredation, and whose character was a guarantee that its pledges were sacred. . . .”77 Such sentiments, shared by countless ordinary U.S. citizens and scarcely concealed by them, did nothing to lessen the fears aroused by the massive foreign presence.

Race was still another issue on which North Americans felt strongly. The question of what to do with the blacks in the United States deeply divided the white population, although there the division was fundamentally caused by the question of slavery, not race. On race, most North Americans agreed: blacks and whites were different and the two could not mix. The “homogeneous character” of America, said an abolitionist, constituted the “cement of social life. ... To allow the mixing of the races would create a mongrel race ... of all shades and colours,”78 and such a mixture would seriously threaten stability and order. To Minister Bowlin, Panama was a perfect demonstration of this, for he commented,

Out of a population [in Panama] of 138,108, only 14,000 are of the common white race—and 97,658 are Mestizos or descendants of whites and Indians. The balance, . . . with the exception of 6,000 savage Indians, is composed of various mixtures of Negro race, and all exercise political privileges. With such a varied population, with so many exciting causes constantly arising to bring about a conflict of races, the statesman may readily comprehend the difficulty of maintaining a stable Government in such a country.

Stability could only be attained when the population became “more homogenious [sic].”79 North Americans felt, furthermore, that blacks were not only physically and mentally different but clearly inferior. As Lincoln himself noted, “We can not, then, make them equals. . . . Physical differences . . . made political and social equality between Negroes and whites impossible. . . .”80

Viewed within this cultural context, and in light of this attitude toward black people, Corwine’s report and the testimony of the North American witnesses on the events of April 15, 1856, acquire a clearer and deeper dimension. If there is one factor that stands out in these documents it is that of race. The native population is always defined by these men in racial terms. And implicit in Corwine’s report is the notion that because the Panamanian witnesses Luna, Habrahan, and Díaz were black, their testimony against whites was unacceptable. It was, in fact, a deeply held belief of many North Americans in 1856 that a black man could not validly testify against a white man. Regarding Luna, Convine noted that he was “a colored man, a native of Parita”; quoting Dennis Shannon, Robert Lake, David Fisher, and James McAlur, he observed further that Luna was “a negro, who had a large knife in his hand . . . the negro spoke English and used violent language.” Concerning Miguel Habrahan, also a Panamanian witness, Convine wrote that he was a “light-colored native”; later on he stated that “he, too, is a colored man . . . and it is the universal opinion of respectable foreigners residing in Panama that no faith or credit should be given to his statement.” Another witness, Sebastián Díaz, was “a negro, who is notorious for having obtained . . . money under false pretenses from Americans crossing the isthmus.”81 In contrast, all those from the United States were “witnesses of the highest credibility.” Their testimony was “clear, direct, and positive, showing conclusively that the first hostile demonstration by the actual discharge of a loaded pistol at an American citizen, with evident intent to kill, was committed by a colored man.”82 In a message to Lino de Pombo, New Granada’s minister of foreign affairs, Bowlin described the incident as originating in “a sudden quarrel between a drunken passenger and an impudent negro” who lived in La Ciénega, “the negro quarters of a small city.” Jack Oliver, although “drunken,” only “drew the pistol on the negro who was abusing him about a dime.”83 Given the U.S. view of what a black man was and his appropriate position in society, the incident of April 15th seemed unforgivable, even if Oliver was drunk.

Governor Fábrega’s report was a world apart from Corwine’s. Whereas the U.S. commissioner saw the world mostly in racial terms—literally in black and white—the Panamanian governor saw it less in terms of race and more in terms of class and nationality and thus culture. Indeed, the questions asked the witnesses in the official investigation of the riot suggest that, for Panamanians, the greatest significance attached to religion, occupation, place of birth, and place of residence, all of which could be clear indications of one’s position in society. Further, in a city where people of many nationalities and races gathered, it was particularly important to determine who was a “countryman” and who was not—religion and birthplace again served as indicators.

In this last connection, the governor’s report reflected a clear tendency to see the outsider as responsible for disorder. “It is unjust to blame the sons of the land for these crimes, since it is well known that there are among us a number of perverse individuals of all nationalities who play an important role in incidents such as I am describing. ”84 It was thus the foreigner who had created such a state of instability and chaos. Officials in Bogotá were quick to take the same approach. Former President Mosquera, currently a national senator, pointed out that “the crimes committed [are] almost always instigated by evilly disposed foreigners.”85 New Granada’s foreign minister also noted in a rather sad tone the numerous travelers who had invaded the isthmus

when the gold of California had made its flattering appeals to emigration and to the spirit of enterprise and avarice. . . . Numerous adventurers, from every region of earth, constantly traverse our soil; . . . men, who, claiming to be civilized, have not, however, yet shaken off the most hostile prejudices; men, who look with contempt on the native population and ... in whose eyes beings with African blood are unworthy of any consideration. . . .86

It is worth emphasizing that among this group of undesirables North Americans were especially targeted on April 15th, while members of other nationalities seemed to have been spared. Alexander Henríquez, a Jamaican and an employee of the railroad company, testified that on that night some of the crowd attempted to kill him but on learning that he was Henríquez they let him go.87 Likewise, Edward Allen testified that during the attack one of the natives forced open the door of the station house and “threatened to shoot the boy left in charge of the establishment but desisted in learning that he was a Chinaman.”88

Clearly, by the 1850s many men and women of Panama faced instability and uncertainty, and not a few felt themselves caught between a vanishing way of life and a new and confusing one. The true meaning of the events of April 15, 1856 can thus only be understood within a wider social, political, and economic context. For Panama, the postindependence years under New Granada were a time of both instability and frustrated aspirations, as local leaders sought in vain for political and economic autonomy. Then, by midcentury, Panamanians came into contact with a large group of foreigners whose fundamental attitudes and culture were a world apart. The events of April 15, 1856 were a social expression of this cultural encounter, and a reaction against threatening change. By letting the actors speak for themselves we catch a glimpse of the relationships, attitudes, and values of the time and place under study—a world otherwise largely inaccessible to us. And if the expressions and behavior of these men and women sometimes appear contradictory and ambiguous, this only makes them the more believable.

Through violence, Panamanians attempted in April 1856 to deal with what they perceived as the source of their discomfort—the foreigners, particularly the North Americans. The rioting was a way of defending violated rights, resisting change, and expressing grievances; it was not simply an irrational outburst of criminal minds. The expressions and behavior of the rioters reveal their fears and feelings, but also tell us how they perceived the North Americans as a latest wave of the “filibusters” who had historically attacked the isthmus. They referred to them as such, and, as in the old days, they rang the church bells to warn the city of impending attack and hid their families in safe places, gathering in the plaza to “defend themselves and the city.” The filibusters were foreigners, English-speaking, non-Catholic, and mostly North Americans—Monteser called them “masons,” Jiménez called them “blue tongues.” The people sought to defend themselves against these latest invaders, and their targets were the most visible symbols of the invasion, the U.S.-owned businesses and, in particular, the property of the railroad and steamship companies that they saw as causes of their plight. The North Americans were indeed a double-edged sword, both a symbol of the material prosperity the liberals dreamt of and a symbol of disruption and disorder through increasing crime, inflation, unemployment, and illness. On that hot April day, all combined to bring about an explosion.


Quoted in John Walton Caughey, ed., “A Yankee Trader in the Gold Rush: Letters of Walter Gardner, 1851-1875,” Pacific Historical Review, 17:20 (Nov. 1948), 413-414.


Amos B. Corwine to secretary of state, Panama City, July 18, 1856, in U.S. National Archives, General Records of the Dept. of State, Record Group 59, microfilm series, Despatches from U.S. Consuls in Panama City, Panama 1823-1906, M-139 (hereafter USNACD, RG 59, M-139), roll 5.


Daniel Horn quoted in James P. Jones and William Warren Rogers, “Across the Isthmus in 1850: The Journey of Daniel Horn,” HAHR, 41:4 (Nov. 1961), 548-549.


Gardner quoted in Caughey, “A Yankee Trader,” 411.


Horn quoted in Jones and Rogers, “Across the Isthmus,” 548-549.


William Ward to secretary of state, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 3.


Gaceta del Estado (Panama City), Apr. 26, 1856.


Convine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.




The London Times, May 18, 1856; The New York Daily Times, Apr. 30, 1856, p. 2.


Convine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.


Gaceta del Estado, Apr. 26, 1856, p. 1.


Convine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.


Gaceta del Estado, Apr. 26, 1856, pp. 1-4.


Bartolomé Calvo, secretary of state (of State of Panama), to prefect of Panama, Aug. 4, 1856, Archivo Nacional de Panamá, Archivo Histórico, Período Colombiano, (here-after AN, Colombia), tomo 2,160, cajón 850, fols. 266-269.


The London Times, May 14, 1856. Official documents reported 18 foreigners killed and 22 wounded and 2 Panamanians killed and 13 wounded. Reports varied, however.


Calvo to prefect of Panama, Aug. 4, 1856, AN, Colombia.


Convine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.


Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford, 1974), 154.


Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (New York, 1974), 32.


See E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd,” Past and Present, 50 (1971), 76-136; Davis, “The Rites of Violence,” in Society and Culture; and George Rudé, The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England 1730-1848 (London, 1981).


The New York Daily Times, Apr. 30, 1856, p. 2; The New York Times, Sept. 23, 1856, p. 2.


Rudé, The Crowd in History, 224.


See Jacques Le Goff, “Mentalities: A History of Ambiguities,” in Constructing the Past: Essays in Historical Methodology (New York, 1985); Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York, 1973); and Robert F. Berkhofer, A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis (New York, 1969).


John H. Kemble, The Panama Route 1848-69 (New York, 1972), 15-30.


Stewart Edward White, The Forty-Niners: A Chronicle of the California Trail and El Dorado (New Haven, 1918), 55-66, 96-105.


Joseph L. Schott, Rails Across Panama: The Story of the Building of the Panama Railroad 1849-1855 (Indianapolis, 1967), 7-8.


Kemble, The Panama Route, 253-254. This figure represents only those names published in the New York, Panama, and San Francisco listings, therefore it is a conservative estimate. Names of passengers in steerage were not always given.


Tracy Robinson, Fifty Years at Panama 1861-1911 (New York, 1907), 235.


Lino de Pombo, minister of foreign affairs, to James B. Bowlin, U.S. minister in Bogotá, June 18, 1856, in Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States: Inter-American Affairs 1831-1860, 12 vols., William R. Manning, ed. (Washington 1935), V, 735.


The following authors, among others, have written on the question of liberalism vs. conservatism in Panama-New Granada relations: Alfredo Castillero Calvo, Alfredo Figueroa Navarro, Omar Jaén Suárez, and Celestino Andrés Araúz.


Schott, Rails Across Panama, 8.


Araúz, La independencia de Panamá en 1821: Antecedentes, balance y proyecciones (Panama City, 1979), 97; Castillero Calvo, “Transitismo y dependencia: El caso del Istmo de Panamá,” Lotería, 210 (July, 1973), 34 and “El movimiento anseatista de 1826. La primera tentativa autonomista de los istmeños después de la anexión a Colombia,” Tareas, 4 (May-June 1960), 3-25; Alfredo Figueroa Navarro, “Tensiones sociales en el arrabal según la corespondencia consular francesa (1850-1880),” Tareas, 39 (July-Sept. 1977), 87-95; Jorge Conte Porras, “Buenaventura Correoso y las luchas políticas del siglo XIX en el istmo de Panamá,” Lotería, 203 (Oct.-Nov., 1972), 1-23.


Lady Mallet, Sketches of Spanish Colonial Life in Panama (New York, 1915), viii.


Quoted in Figueroa Navarro, Dominio y sociedad en el Panamá colombiano (1821-1903) (escrutinio sociológico) (Panama City, 1978), 216-217.


Araúz, La independencia de Panamá, 19-34.


Bowlin to Secretary of State W. L. Marcy, Aug. 12, 1856, in Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 754-755.


Jaén Suárez, La población del Istmo de Panamá del siglo XVI al siglo XX: Estudio sobre la población y los modos de organización de las economías, las sociedades y los espacios geográficos (Panama City, 1979), 233-334.


Velma Newton, The Silver Men: West Indian Labor Migration to Panama 1850-1914 (Kingston, Jamaica, 1984), 113, 161.


Convine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.


Figueroa Navarro, Dominio y sociedad, 282-284.


Convine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.


John Berry Biesanz, The People of Panama (New York, 1955), 52.


Thomas W. Ward to secretary of state, July 17, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.


Gaceta del Estado, Apr. 26, 1856, pp. 1-2.


Herrán to Secretary of State Marcy, New York, Aug. 15, 1856, in Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 758.


Corwine to secretary of state, Mar. 18, 1857, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 6.


Richard Hakluyt, Hakluyt’s Voyages to the New World, David Freeman Hawke, ed. (Indianapolis, 1972), 160-201; Juan B. Sosa and Enrique J. Arce, Compendio de historia de Panamá (Panama City, 1911), 104-110.


Newton, The Silver Men, 91.


Jaén Suárez, La población del Istmo de Panama, 32.


The New York Times, Sept. 23, 1856, p. 2.


Quoted in Octavio Méndez Pereira, Justo Arosemena: Obra premiada en el concurso del centenario (Panama City, 1970), 201.


Gardner quoted in Caughey, “A Yankee Trader,” 415-418.


Quoted in Jones, “Across the Isthmus,” 547.




Ibid., 535.


Horn quoted in Jones, “Across the Isthmus,” 536.


Jorge Patiño, “El acuerdo istmeño-norteamericano de 1851,” Lotería, 336-337 (Mar.-Apr. 1984), 57.


Quoted in Jones, “Across the Isthmus,” 534-535.


Quoted in Caughey, “A Yankee Trader,” 416-417.


Quoted in Patiño, “El acuerdo istmeño,” 57.


Robinson, Fifty Years, 178.


Quoted in Jones, “Across the Isthmus,” 536-539.


Ibid. 543, 547.


Oran, “Tropical Journeyings,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Jan. 1859, p. 148.


Horn quoted in Jones, “Across the Isthmus,” 544.


Quoted in Schott, Rails Across Panama, 3.


Corwine to secretary of state, Mar. 1857, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 6.


Robinson, Fifty Years, 232-233.


Oran, “Journeyings,” 146.


Biesanz, The People of Panama, 36.


T. Ward to Urrutia Añino, Panama City, Feb. 10, 1854, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 3.


Urrutia Añino to T. Ward, Panama City, Mar. 29, 1854, USNACD, RG 59, M-129, roll 3.


El Tiempo (Bogotá), Feb. 23, 1858.


Corwine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.


The New York Daily Times, July 15, 1856, p. 3.


Quoted in Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 754-755.


James Kirke Pauling quoted in Louis Ruchames, ed., Racial Thought in America: A Documentary History (Amherst, 1969), 428-429.


Quoted in Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 700.


Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (Chicago, 1961), 277-278.


Corwine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.




Quoted in Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 739-741.


Gaceta del Estado, Apr. 26, 1856, pp. 1-4.


Star & Herald (Panama City), Jan. 6 and 7, 1857.


Quoted in Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 735.


Gaceta del Estado, Apr. 26, 1856, pp. 1-4.


Corwine to secretary of state, July 18, 1856, USNACD, RG 59, M-139, roll 5.

Author notes


I thank Richard Graham for his advice, suggestions, and comments during the preparation of this article. Likewise, I would like to thank Susan Deans-Smith for her comments on an earlier version.