A Cast of Characters who Journeyed to Gilded Age Guatemala City

The decade of 1890s accumulated a number of sobriquets, among them The Gay Nineties, The Progressive, and The Gilded, Age. The Central American nation of Guatemala entered the decade in the mild but despotic control of General Lisandro Barillas and exited in the autocratic clutches of dictator Estrada Cabrera. Despite these bleak historical bookends the middle years between 1893 and 1897 were mainly bright and hopeful. There the title of bella epoca matched the happy labels applied by the English-speaking world. Those years marked the election and presidency of General Jose Maria Reina Barrios and were characterized by high prices on the nation’s main export, coffee, and an influx of foreigners bringing wealth, technology, and ‘know-how.’ Bolstering the lofty dreams of Guatemaltecos was the promise of a railroad project connecting the Atlantic and Pacific and turning The Land of Eternal Spring into the bridge between Asia and Western Civilization. Inspired by the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and designed to highlight their envious position astride two oceans Reina Barrios staged the International Exposicion Centro-Americana in 1897. Here we turn to that period to trace the lives of seven ex-patriot Estadounidenses (U.S. Citizens) who journeyed to Guatemala inspired by the promise and with their own dreams of better lives.

Our Cast:
General Pierce M.B. Young (C.S.A.) of Georgia, Minister Plenipotentiary to Guatemala and Honduras
Billy A. Clarke of Louisiana, African American Boxer, Promoter, and Entrepreneur
Reverend Edward Haymaker of Missouri, Presbyterian missionary and ethnographer
Francis Forrester-Brown of Tennessee, Mahogany Harvester
Juan W. Knight of Alabama, Gold Miner and “The Negro King of Guatemala”
Henry Martyn Jones of Kansas, Adventurer and Contractor
Algeria Benton de Barrios of Louisiana, First Lady

 

(This blog began during two weeks spent at the Doing Digital History 2016 NEH Summer Institute, July 11 through July 22 on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University.)

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