Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Guide to the William McKendree Gwin Papers, 1833-1897
BANC MSS C-B 378  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (121.71 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: William McKendree Gwin Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1833-1897
    Collection Number: BANC MSS C-B 378
    Origination: Gwin, William McKendree, 1805-1885
    Extent: Number of containers: 3 boxes
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Mainly correspondence relating to political affairs in Mississippi, California and Mexico, to property in Panama for the Isthmus Pacific Railway, and to Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian claims. Includes letters from Jefferson Davis, 1875.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], William McKendree Gwin papers, BANC MSS C-B 378, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Scope and Content

    The William McKendree Gwin correspondence and papers were obtained by Miss Hallie M. MacPherson for the Bancroft Library. Mrs. William McKendree Gwin (widow of Gwin's son) gave her the original manuscripts. Miss MacPherson secured the photocopies of the originals as well as the negative photostats of original manuscripts from various manuscript repositories to add to the collection. There are also 4 items from the T. W. Norris Collection and 2 from the Honeyman Collection.
    William McKendree Gwin, born October 9, 1805, in Tennessee, first studied law, then medicine. He practiced medicine in Clinton, Mississippi until President Jackson appointed him U.S. Marshal for the district of Mississippi in 1833. Elected to Congress in 1840 as a Democrat, he declined renomination, and was appointed under James K. Polk, to superintend the building of a new custom house at New Orleans. In 1849, he left for California. Here he took an active part in forming the state government and was elected to a convention held in Monterey in September 1849 to frame the state constitution. Elected U.S. Senator in 1850 and re-elected in 1856, he served until March 3, 1861. As senator he became a member of the finance committee and chairman on the committee of naval affairs, secured the establishment of a mint in California, a survey of the Pacific Coast and the construction of the Mare Island Navy Yard, and carried a bill through the Senate providing for steamers between San Francisco, China and Japan. He was arrested by order of General Sumner at the beginning of the Civil War on suspicion of disloyalty and was imprisoned at Fort Lafayette from November 18 until December 2, 1861. In 1863 he went to Paris, where he met Napoléon III and interested the Emperor in a scheme to colonize Sonora with Southerners. He drew up plans for the project which were approved by Napoléon and submitted to Maximilian. Gwin followed Maximilian to Mexico in 1864, bearing a letter from Napoléon to General Bazaine requesting his full cooperation. Gwin met with no success, however, and returned to France in 1865 to see Napoléon who sent him back to Mexico with re-iterated orders for Bazaine to assist Gwin. As he again failed to receive cooperation, he abandoned the plan. Upon reentering the United States, he was arrested and held prisoner in Fort Jackson for eight months. He remained active in politics, and in 1876 campaigned for Samuel Jones Tilden. He married twice. His first wife, Caroline Sampson, died before 1834. His second wife was Mary Bell. There were two children by the first marriage and four by the second. Gwin died in New York on September 3, 1885.
    The material has been arranged chronologically in each of its three parts. Part I in Box I consists of original manuscripts: Correspondence to Gwin, drafts of letters and proposals written by Gwin and business contracts regarding the Isthmus Pacific Railway. Included are letters from: Andrew Jackson who counseled Gwin in his early political career; James Buchanan, concerning the adverse effect on California of a proposed Nicaragua treaty; John Charles Frémont, about the title to Mariposa Mines; Jefferson Davis, concerning the use of "Hirsch Model" ships in the shallow waters at the mouth of the Mississippi, the possibility of transporting grain economically from California to Europe by correlating services of railroads and ships, and the Southern Pacific Railroad; John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne, about his proposed History of Mississippi and his autobiography, pointing up Gwin's role in politics. An incomplete draft in Gwin's handwriting requests California's admission to statehood. Letters from Gwin to Napoléon III and drafts of various proposals for the colonizing of Sonora reveal his plans and hopes for the area, and the obstacles that finally caused him to withdraw completely. Letters from Collis P. Huntington, William Sharon, E. H. Carmick, Sylvanus C. Boynton, William Clark Pomeroy, Wilkinson Call, A. H. Garland, Smith M. Weed, F. De Soto Money, R. T. Colburn, and Joseph Richardson all deal with Gwin's project of founding the Isthmus Pacific Railway in the Panama.
    Part II in Box II contains negative photostats of most of the items in Part I.
    Part III consists of negative photostats of original documents from various sources: the Department of Interior Archives, Pasadena Public Library, the Library of Congress (Corwin Papers, Claiborne Papers, Polk Papers), the Pennsylvania Historical Society (Buchanan Papers), the Archives of the Foreign Office at Moscow, Vienna National Archives, the New York Public Library (Tilden Papers), the State Department Archives, the Treasury Department Archives, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Permission must be obtained from the New York Public Library, the Pennsylvania Historical Society, or the Pasadena Public Library to publish or to reproduce in any way material photocopied from their holdings. Sources of all the photostats in this section are noted on the individual folders. Miss MacPherson, in her dissertation, William McKendree Gwin, Expansionist, lists the material she obtained from each repository.
    In this section are to be found many letters from Gwin. The thirty-eight letters to John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne reveal the state of economics and politics in Mississippi as well as various business arrangements and partnerships with Claiborne, and follow Gwin's political career in Congress. Two letters from Claiborne to Gwin request Gwin's payment of a longstanding debt. Letters to James Knox Polk discuss tariff bills, the upcoming national convention with Calhoun and Van Buren. Letters to Walker and McClintock Young deal with materials for the construction of the Customs House at New Orleans. A letter to Lewis Cass stresses the profit to California of Pacific Region trade with Siberia. Baron Stoeckl makes a detailed report of these negotiations in his letter to Prince Aleksandr Mikhailovich Gorchakov. There are also letters to James Buchanan and Samuel Jones Tilden. Letters involving John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne, Thomas Hartley Crawford, P. Clayton, Pitman Colbert, R. G. Cortin, Orlando Brown, Thomas Ewing, John Canfield Spencer, Reverdy Johnson, D. C. Soddard and Gwin concern Gwin's claims for payment for services rendered as Marshal in the Chotaw and Chickasaw Indian claims settlements.
    Since the material in each section is arranged chronologically, an alphabetical list of contents for Part I and III is appended.