Stephens, John Lloyd (1805–1852)

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Stephens, John Lloyd (1805–1852)

John Lloyd Stephens (b. 28 November 1805; d. 12 October 1852), U.S. diplomat, author, and president of the Panama Railroad Company (1849–1852). Stephens served as U.S. minister to Central America in 1839 and 1840. His diplomatic mission—to renew a treaty of commerce and seek trans-isthmian railroad and canal routes—failed due to the collapse of the Central American Federation. Stephens proved more interested in archaeology than diplomacy. He visited a number of Maya ruins during his first and second (1841) trips to Central America and Mexico. Stephens's Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (1841) is probably the most interesting and useful nineteenth-century traveler's account of Central America.

Stephens played a pivotal role in building the first trans-isthmian railroad. He helped William H. Aspinwall secure a concession for the Panama route from the Colombian government in 1848 and later became president of Aspinwall's Panama Railroad Company. Stephens spent a great deal of time in Panama during the railway's construction. He contracted a fever there and died in New York City before the railroad began operation in 1855.

See alsoPanama Railroad; Travel Literature.


John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (1841).

John Haskell Kemble, The Panama Route, 1848–1869 (1943).

Joseph L. Schott, Rails Across Panama: The Story of the Building of the Panama Railroad, 1849–1855 (1967).

Victor Wolfgang Von Hagen, Search for the Maya: The Story of Stephens and Catherwood (1973).

Additional Bibliography

Evans, R. Tripp. Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820–1915. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

Glassman, Steve. On the Trail of the Maya Explorer: Tracing the Epic Journey of John Lloyd Stephens. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003.

                                        Steven S. Gillick

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Stephens, John Lloyd (1805–1852)

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