Ephraim George Squier Papers
Scope and Contents
1835-(1835-1872). A collection of correspondence, clippings, documents, and manuscripts of the journalist-diplomat, Ephraim George Squier, relating to his travels in Central America and Peru. Included are valuable historic photographs and stereographs of Honduras and Peru. 1,082 pieces.
The collection is comprised of materials from the years between 1835 and 1872 with the majority of dating to the period between 1849 and 1872; however, some undated items may have been written or published after 1872. The collection was acquired by the Middle American Research Institute of Tulane University as part of the legacy of William Gates in 1924, who himself had purchased the material in 1917. The very bulk of Squier's correspondence and documentation is astonishing, for the papers of this collection, numerous as they are, actually constitute only a small portion of the documentation extant.
The Tulane collection is valuable not only for the documentation it provides for Squier's own career, but also for the light it throws on the contemporary state of anthropology, ethnology, and archaeology in America, the tortuous course of United States relations with Latin American nations, and the heroic struggles of various groups of entrepreneurs, engineers and adventurers to construct some form of transportation across the Isthmus.
- Ephraim George Squier (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Open to the public. No known restrictions.
Biographical or Historical Information
Ephraim George Squier (1821-1888), born in Bethlehem, New York, the son of a Methodist Minister, led a varied and distinguished career that spanned the greater part of the nineteenth century. As the documents of this collection illustrate, his language, opinions, talents, and actions reflected the spirit of that period of Anglo-American history.
While working on a farm as a youth, Squier studied civil engineering until financial problems during the Panic of 1837 forced him to consider education and law as careers. Finding neither fame nor fortune in these occupations, he turned to journalism in hope of finding at least fame. In 1840 he edited the Literary Pearl of Charlton, New York. During this time he was planning a literary history of Portugal which he never finished. Always a sensitive man, he soon abandoned his work in Charlton to take up the cause of the working classes by going to Albany in 1841 to work for a unionist magazine, the New York State Mechanic. Meanwhile, he was trying to publish what he thought would be a national repository for American poetry, the Poet's Magazine, and to secure a diplomatic appointment to China. Two issues of the Poet's Magazine appeared in 1842 but, containing many of Squier's own poems, it was doomed to fail. Yet in that same year his great interest in the Far East prompted him to edit the notes of G. Tradescent Lay and subsequently to publish The Chinese As They Are. In 1843, however, the New York State Mechanic failed, and Squier, disgusted with what he called the ingratitude of the working classes, accepted a position as editor of the Whig Daily Journal of Hartford, Connecticut, and became an important state organizer for the Whig Party as well as a staunch supporter of Henry Clay in the 1844 presidential election. With the defeat of Clay and the sale of his paper to the leading opposition paper, a bitter Squier moved to Ohio.
In Chillicothe, Ohio, Squier came to the editorship of the Scioto Gazette in 1845. By 1847 he had quit that post upon his election as clerk of the Ohio House of Representatives. Yet he took those duties rather lightly and spent a large portion of his time researching the Indian mounds of the area. Although he had already shown some interest in archaeology while in New York, the result of this research, conducted with the help of a Chillicothe physician, Dr. E.H. Davies, became his most influential and famous publication, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848). Thus Squier launched himself into a new career and finally found the fame he had sought for so long.
This new career as a scholar of antiquities soon drew Squier's interest to the great ancient civilizations of Central America. Accordingly, he conceived the idea of a diplomatic appointment as a means of getting there to study the aboriginal ruins, upon the election of the Whig, Zachary Taylor. Unlike his attempt to go to China, this effort proved successful and in 1849 he became the United States Chargé d'affaires to Central America. Despite his quick involvement in a clash between the United States and Great Britain he had considerable time for archaeological studies during his two years there. His principal accomplishment as a diplomatic agent was to convince the British of the seriousness of United States aims in Central America, thus persuading them later to agree to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. Moreover, Squier also negotiated an agreement with Nicaragua (never ratified by the U.S. Senate) for the United States construction of an interoceanic canal. Despite his short term of office as Chargé d'affaires, he thereafter became the leading publicist of Central America in the United States.
Among his most important works are Nicaragua: Its People, Scenery, Monuments (1852), Notes on Central America: Particularly the States of Honduras and San Salvador (1855), The States of Central America (1858), Travels in Central America, Particularly in Nicaragua (1853), and Honduras: Descriptive, Historical, and Statistical (1870), portions of which appear in the manuscripts of this collection.
In his remaining years Squier continued to pursue an array of activities. In 1853 he worked diligently as Secretary of the Honduras Interoceanic Railway Company until the project utterly failed. After getting married to Miriam Florence Folline of New Orleans in 1858, he worked as the Chief Editor of Frank Leslie's Weekly. In 1862, however, President Lincoln sent Squier to Peru as United States Commissioner. His diplomatic duties there were of small consequence, but his studies and travels produced another extremely popular book, Peru; Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas (1877). Large portions of his notes in preparation of this book are included in the collection.
In 1868 Squier became the Consul General of Honduras in New York, and he was very active until 1871. However, following his divorce in 1873, he began to lose his mental grip, and in 1874 he was declared insane. His previous energy was now sapped and the sudden lack of documentation in this collection after that date reflects that change. He died in Brooklyn in 1888.
Language of Materials
The collection is arranged as follows:
I. Correspondence, 1835-1871, 37 pieces. Box 1, Folders 1-36. See Calendar that follows.
II. Financial and Diplomatic Documents, 1849-1872, 16 pieces. Box 1, Folders 37-53.
III. Manuscripts and notes, 1850s-1860s, 25 pieces. Box 2, Folders 1-25. See listing that follows.
IV. Miscellaneous; A. Poetry by Squier, 23 pieces. Box 2, Folders 26-48. B. Pencil drawings, 8 pieces. Box 2, Folders 49-56.
V. Photographs (detailed description follows), 257 pieces. A. Steropticon views and miscellaneous photographs, Boxes 2-5. B. Oversized photographs, Box 6. C. Japanese photographs, Box 6.
VI. Clippings, 852 pieces. Boxes 7-11.
Existence and Location of Copies
The print content of the collection has been digitized and is available on microfilm (4 reels plus printed guide) for purchase through ProQuest titled, The Papers of Ephraim George Squier, 1835-1872. The following link provides a ProQuest catalog with more information: ProQuest microfilm catalog
- Architecture, Colonial -- Peru Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Central America -- History -- 1821-1951 Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Central America -- Politics and government -- 19th century Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Description and travel -- Central America Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Description and travel -- Peru Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Lima, Peru Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Ephraim George Squier Papers
- Manuscript Collection 22, Manuscripts, The Latin American Library, Tulane University
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description