Poinsett, Joel Roberts (1779–1851)

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Poinsett, Joel Roberts (1779–1851)

Joel Roberts Poinsett (b. 2 March 1779; d. 12 December 1851), first U.S. ambassador to Mexico (1825–1829). In 1822, Poinsett, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, accepted a commission as special agent to Mexico, then ruled by Emperor Agustín de Iturbide. He returned to Mexico in May 1825 as U.S. minister plenipotentiary. During these missions he sought, without success, to acquire northern Mexican territory for the United States.

The struggles for influence in Mexico between the U.S. and British ministers were acrimonious. To provide a counterweight to the Scottish Rite Masonic lodges linked to the British ambassador, Henry George Ward, Poinsett helped to establish and regularize York Rite Masonic lodges in Mexico. After the York Rite Masons organized a successful revolt led by Vicente Guerrero, Mexican public opinion could no longer tolerate the U.S. ambassador's blatant interference in Mexico's internal affairs. President Guerrero requested that Poinsett be replaced as U.S. minister, and in January 1830 Poinsett returned to the United States.

He was elected U.S. senator in 1836 and named President Martin Van Buren's secretary of war in 1837. He supported the independence and annexation of Texas but opposed the war of 1846–1847. He introduced the Mexican plant called nochebuena to the United States, where it is popularly known as poinsettia.

See alsoMasonic Orders; United States-Mexico Border; Yorkinos.


Joel Roberts Poinsett, Notes on Mexico, Made in the Autumn of 1822, Accompanied by an Historical Sketch of the Revolution (1825; repr. 1969); Diccionario Porrúa de historia, biografía y geografía de México, 5th ed. (1986).

Stanley C. Green, The Mexican Republic: The First Decade, 1823–1832 (1987), pp. 45, 89, 91-93, 148-149, 158, 167.

Additional Bibliography

Feliú Cruz, Guillermo, and Rafael Sagredo Baeza. La primer misión de los Estados Unidos de América en Chile. Santiago, Chile: Centro de Investigaciones Diego Barros Arana, Universidad de Chile, 2000.

Rich, P.J., and Guillermo de los Reyes. Joel Poinsett: The First Gringo in Mexico. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1995.

                                            D. F. Stevens