Guide to the William McKendree Gwin Papers, 1833-1897

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Social Sciences --Anthropology Social Sciences --Political Science --Federal Government Geographical (by Place) --North America (excluding USA) --Mexico Geographical (by Place) --Central America and Caribbean --Panama Geographical (by Place) --California

Guide to the William McKendree Gwin Papers, 1833-1897

Collection number: BANC MSS C-B 378

The Bancroft Library

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, California

Contact Information:

Processed by:
The Bancroft Library staff
Encoded by:
Brooke Dykman Dockter
© 1997. The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

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.

List Of Contents

Materials In Part I


Bancroft, George, (1800-1891)


To Sylvester Mowry (copy) (1830-1871) ca. 1860


Bassano, Napoléon Joseph Hugues Maret, Duc de, (1803-1898)


To Mary (Bell) Gwin Feb. 29, 1866


Bayard, William


To Gwin Aug. 15, 1850


Boynton, Sylvanus C.


Proposed memorandum of agreement with Collis P. Huntington. 1864


Copy of agreement with Gwin and Sharon re Panama projects. Feb. 4, 1884


Agreement with wife to share with Gwin property on Isthmus of Panama, translated into Spanish and certified in Washington. Mar. 5, 1884


To Gwin June 24, 1884

Aug. 28, 1885


To Gwin (son), written and signed by W. H. Ritter and Andrew Wesley Kent (photocopy only) Apr. 10, 1895


Buchanan, James, (1791-1868)


To Gwin Feb. 18, 1849

May 15, 22, Dec. 26, 1850

Mar. 30, 1853


Call, Wilkinson, (1844-1910)


To Evan J. Coleman (copy) (photocopy only) Sept. 30, 1885


To Gwin (son) and Evan J. Coleman (son-in-law) (photocopy only) Sept. 15, 1885


To William Collins Whitney (copy) Aug. 14, 1885


Carmick, E. H.


To Gwin Nov. 9 (incomplete), 17, 26, Dec. 7, 19, 1883

Apr. 21, Dec. 2, 4 (2 letters), 6, 9, 1884

Jan. 6, Feb. 11, 16, Mar. 11, 27, 30, Apr. 4, 6, 1885


Claiborne, John Francis Hamtramck, (1809-1884)


To Gwin Sept. 14, 1878

Mar. 4, 1879


Colburn, R. T.


To Gwin Feb. 18, 28, Mar. 1, 1884


Davis, Jefferson, (1808-1889)


To Gwin Nov. 27, Dec. 6, 1875


Everett, Edward, (1794-1865)


To Gwin Mar. 7, 1854


Farragut, David Glascow, (1801-1870)


To Gwin Jan. 20, Aug. 8, 1857?


Field, Stephen Johnson, (1816-1899)


To Gwin May 17, 1884


Fillmore, Millard, (1800-1874)


To Gwin Dec. 21, 24, 1850


Frémont, John Charles, (1813-1890


To Gwin May 8, ca. 1850

Oct. 20, 1852


Garland, Augustus Hill, (1832-1899)


To Wilkinson Call (copy) Aug. 12, 1885


Gwin, William McKendree, (1805-1885)


To Chester Alan Arthur (draft) 1884


To Thomas Hart Benton (draft) Dec. 1853?


To William Eaton Chandler (draft) 188?


To Mr. & Mrs. Gwin (parents) (photocopy only) Oct. 10, 1833


To Carrie Gwin (photocopy only) June 30, 1885


To William M. Gwin (son) (photocopies only) July 6, 1884

Mar. 21, July 7, 1885


To James Buchanan Jan. 31, 1859


To A. A. Kincannon Feb. 17, 1847


To Gregory Yale Mar. 19, 1860


To ? July 24, 1850


To E. Curtis July 13, 1851


To ? Oct. 26, 1853


To J. W. Maudeville Mar. 18, 1857


To ? Apr. 13, 1844


Incomplete draft of memorial from the Senators and representatives elect from California requesting admittance of California as a state 1850?


Incomplete draft of proposed agreement concerning the construction of a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama 188?


Estimated cost of the Isthmus Pacific Railway, with a copy with some changes in figures in S. C. Boynton's handwriting 1884?


To Board of directors of the Isthmus Pacific Railway Co. (photocopy only) July 30, 1884


To Charles Jean Tristan Montholon, Marquis de Montholon (incomplete draft) Oct. 15, 1865


To Napoléon III (drafts) Jan. 5, Sept. 12 or 21, 1864

July 3, 1865


Rules and regulations for carrying into effect the treaty between France and Mexico (3 drafts) 1864?


Éclaircissement sur le projet de colinisation des états de Sonora et de Chihuahua (French translation of plan for colonizing Sonora) Mar. 1864


Memorandum on the colonization of Sonora [prepared for Napoléon] Mar. 1864?


Memorandum on the colonization of Sonora [prepared for Napoléon] (draft of a French translation) Mar. 1865?


Gwin, William McKendree, Estate of


Contract with Sylvanus C. Boynton (photocopy only) May 29, 1886


Hamblen, Samuel


To Dr. W. M. Gwin at Fort Jackson near New Orleans 1865-1866, typescript extract from Hamblen's autobiography ca. 18?


Haviland, John Von Sontag?


Metrical description of a fancy ball given in Washington 19th Apr. 1858, dedicated to Mrs. Senator Gwin (printed book) 1858


Huntington, Collis Porter, 1821-1900


To Gwin Nov. 30, 1883


Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845


Friend (printed newspaper extra) 1835


To Gwin July 3, 1834 (photocopy only)

Dec. 25, 1840

Jan. 27, May 17, June 15, 1841

Jan. 16, 1843

May 9, 1845


Keasbey, A. Q.


To Gwin Nov. 22, 1884

May 7, 1885


Loysel, C.


Military Passport for Gwin Jan. 18, 1865


MacGinnis and Blackwell


To Gwin (son) (photocopy only) Mar. 17, 1897


Mann, Ambrose Dudley, 1801-1889


To Gwin Aug. 29, 1876


Money, Hernando de Soto, 1839-1912


To Gwin Apr. 17, 1885


Morny, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, Duc de, 1811-1865


To Gwin Mar. 6, 1865


Napoléon III, 1808-1873


To Gwin Mar. 10, 1866


Paris. Corps Municipal


Invitation for the Gwin family to the Fête de la Ville June 1867


Pomeroy, Samuel Clarke, 1816-1891


To Gwin Aug. 24, 1884

Sept. 1, 1885


Prentice, George Denison, 1802-1870


To Mary (Bell) Gwin Apr. 2, 1866


Richardson, Joseph


To E. H. Carmick Feb. 20, 1884


To Samuel Clarke Pomeroy Oct. 28, 1884


Ringgold, Cadwoleoer(?), 1802-1867


To Gwin May 26, 1853


Rucks & Yerger, firm


To F. S. Hunt Jan. 14, 1843


Sharon, William, 1821-1885


To Chester Alan Arthur (copy) ca. 1884


To Gwin Jan. 18, 1884


Slidell, John, 1793-1871


To Gwin Apr. 22, 1850


Tyler, John, 1793-1862


To Gwin Dec. 12, 1850


Tyler, John A.


To Gwin Mar. 18, 1853


U.S. Treasury Dept.


To Gwin. Signed by James Guthrie. From the T. W. Norris Collection Oct. 3, 1854


Vera Cruz (District) Mexico. Prefectura Política


Passport for Gwin from Vera Cruz to Mexico City June 28, 1864


Walker, Robert John, 1801-1869


To Gwin Feb. 20, 1849


Webster, Daniel, 1782-1852


To Gwin Dec. 31, 1850

Jan. 31, 1851


Weed, Smith M.


To Gwin July 6, 1885


Wise, Henry Alexander, 1806-1876


To Gwin Dec. 25, 1850


Galley proof of biographical sketch of Gwin published in: Alonzo Phelps: Contemporary Biography of California's Representative Men... ca. 1880

Materials in Part III


Claiborne, John Francis Hamtramck, 1809-1884


To Thomas Hartley Crawford, 1786-1863 Aug. 25, Nov. 5, 1843


To Ralph Graves Aug. 25, 1843


To Gwin Mar. 10, 15, 1845


To James Madison Porter, 1793-1862 Nov. 5, 1843


Clayton, P.


To Orlando Brown, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Mar. 30, 1850


Colbert, Pitman


To Orlando Brown Mar. 27 (2 letters)

Mar. 30, 1850


Corwin, R. G.


To Orlando Brown Jan. 24, 1850


Crawford, Thomas Hartley, 1786-1863


To Gwin Jan. 11, 1843


Memorandum to John Canfield Spencer, 1788-1885 Jan. 21, 1843


Davis, Jefferson et al


To John Buchanan Floyd, 1807-1863 Dec. 16, 1851


Eugénie, Empress Consort of Napoléon III, 1826-1920


To Charlotte, Empress Consort of Maximilian (excerpts), 1840-1927 Sept. 28, 1865


Ewing, Thomas, 1789-1871


To Orlando Brown Mar. 8, June 26, 1850


Gwin, William McKendree, 1805-1885


Bill to U.S. for mileage allowance June 1847


To James Buchanan Jan. 8, 26, 1848

Dec. 29, 1850

Mar. 27, May 2, Dec. 22, 1853

July 23, 1854

Dec. 5, 1856



To Lewis Cass June 4, 1858


To John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne June 3, 11, Sept. 25 (2 letters), 28, Oct. 9 (2 letters), 14, Nov. 5, 26, 1839

Jan. 22, Feb. 1, 8, June 11, Aug. 13, Nov. 7, 25, 1840

Jan. 10, May 8, Aug. 8, 24, 31, Sept. 8, Oct. 5, Nov. 8, 1841

Mar. 10, 19, July, Dec. 19, 1842

Jan. 3, 18, 23, Feb. 19, Apr. 11, May 13, June 4, 10, 22, 28, 1843



Articles of copartnership entered into by J. F. H. Claiborne, John D. Freeman and Gwin Oct. 14, 1839


Promissory note Oct. 14, 1839


Legal paper delegating power of attorney to Claiborne for firm of Halsey & Gwin Oct. 15, 1839


Legal transaction for firm of Gwin and Freeman Oct. 24, 1839


Marshal's report Feb. 20, 1840


Appointing Claiborne as deputy marshal Apr. 3, 1840


Instructions for Col. Claiborne Aug. 5?, 1842


Memorandum of agreement signed by Gwin, Claiborne & Halsey May 28, 1844


To Crawford, Thomas Hartley Aug. 19, 1842

Jan. 3, July 4, Dec. 31, 1843


To Corwin, Thomas Jan. 13, Mar., Apr., June 14, 1851


To John D. Freeman Jan. 9, 1844


To Halleck, Peachy & Van Winkle firm Nov. 29, 1855


To Abram Stevens Hewitt Hodge Oct. 3, 1876

Feb. 18, 1858


To A. A. Kincannon Jan. 28, 1843

May 1, 1844


To Daniel Lowe Aug. 29, 1842


To Willliam Learned Marcy Sept. 12, 1853


To H. Northrop Feb. 5, 1842


To James Knox Polk Aug. 27, Nov. 5, 1842

July 11, 30, 1844


To John Cook Rives May 22, 1854

Feb. 16, 1860


To J. S. Skinner Nov. 16, 1841


To R. Smith Sept. 19, 1847


To Jesse Speight Apr. 20, 1845


To John Canfield Spencer Jan. 13, 1843


To Samuel Jones Tilden Nov. 21, 1875

July 26, Aug. 7, 8, Nov. 22, 1876


To U.S. Treasury Dept. Dec. 6, 1848


To Robert John Walker Aug. 28, 1847 (2 letters)


To Daniel Webster Dec. 23, 1841

Jan. 3, 1842

Dec. 12, 1851

June 6, 1852


Johnson, Reverdy, 1796-1876


To Thomas Ewing Jan. 3, 1850


McCulloh, James William


To Gwin June 24, 1848


Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, 1832-67


To Napoléon (excerpts) Dec. 27, 1864


Murray, James


To Gwin July 15, 1842


Soddard, D. C.


To Orlando Brown Jan. 12, 1850


Stoeckl, Eduard de, Baron


To Prince Aleksandr Mikhailovich Gorchakov Jan. 4, 1860


Tilden, Samuel Jones, 1814-1886


To Gwin Aug. 12, 1876


U.S. Treasury Dept.


Report to Thomas Ewing Jan. 1, 1850


Walker, Robert John, 1801-1869


To Denis Prieur & Alcée La Branche May 7, 1847


Wayne, Anthony, 1745-1796


Certificate commending Lt. Col. Louis de Fleury (copy) July 25, 1779