Hopkins, Edward Augustus (1822–1891)

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Hopkins, Edward Augustus (1822–1891)

Edward Augustus Hopkins (b. 1822; d. 10 June 1891), U.S. diplomat and entrepreneur active in Paraguay and Argentina. The son of an Episcopalian bishop in Vermont, Hopkins was twenty-two years old when he decided to abandon a faltering career in the U.S. Navy and try his luck as an entrepreneur in South America. He obtained a commission as U.S. agent to Paraguay in 1845.

President Carlos Antonio Lopéz welcomed the young man as though he were a full-fledged ambassador. Hopkins actually encouraged this attitude by exaggerating his own authority, claiming that he was empowered to mediate between the Paraguayan government and the porteño dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. Eventually, the U.S. State Department had to repudiate the grandiose claims of its agent and order his return to Washington.

Hopkins refused to give up. Over the next few years, he returned to Paraguay five times. He explored its rivers and gained a comprehensive knowledge of its commercial potential. Though somewhat chastened by his earlier experience, López agreed to extend a series of trade privileges to Hopkins if the United States were to recognize Paraguayan independence.

In 1853, when the United States recognized Paraguay, Hopkins returned to Asunción as consul and quickly moved to take advantage of López's offer. He had already organized a corporation—the United States and Paraguay Navigation Company—and with the capital it provided, set up a half-dozen enterprises in Paraguay. These included a cigar factory, a brick factory, a sawmill, and a distillery, all of which operated under license from López. The Paraguayan president even extended loans to Hopkins as well as the labor of state prisoners for the various projects.

Things did not go as planned. Hopkins's blustering personal style had always irked the punctilious López, but the North American's open-ended promises had always caused him to ignore his instincts. López, however, revoked the concessions granted Hopkins and, in 1854, expelled him from the republic.

By this time, the bad feelings between the two men had grown into a diplomatic incident that ultimately resulted in an abortive U.S. naval intervention. López reluctantly agreed to mediation to settle the dispute.

After his Paraguayan fiasco, Hopkins stayed on in the Platine region. He lived for another thirty-seven years in and around Buenos Aires, where he made a name for himself promoting telegraph companies, steamships, and railroads. Throughout this time he maintained a quasi-official position within the Argentine government and was a personal friend of many highly placed Argentine politicians. In the early 1890s, he returned to the United States as secretary of the Argentine delegation to an international railway conference. He died in Washington, D.C.

See alsoParaguay: The Nineteenth Century; Rosas, Juan Manuel de; Water Witch Incident.


Harold F. Peterson, "Edward A. Hopkins: A Pioneer Promoter in Paraguay," in Hispanic American Historical Review 22, no. 2 (1942): 245-261.

Thomas L. Whigham, The Politics of River Trade: Tradition and Development in the Upper Plata, 1780–1870 (1991), pp. 145-147.

Robert D. Wood, The Voyage of Water Witch (1985).

                                Thomas L. Whigham