Watermelon Riot (Panama Riot)

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Watermelon Riot (Panama Riot)

Watermelon Riot (Panama Riot), an incident in Colón, on the isthmus of Panama, the part of New Granada (later Colombia) on 15 April 1856. Under the Bidlack Treaty of 1846, New Granada granted the United States the "right of way or transit" across Panama in return for a U.S. pledge to guarantee the "perfect neutrality" of the isthmus and maintain uninterrupted transit. With the discovery of gold in California, U.S. investors completed a tran-sisthmian railroad in 1855, increasing the number of travelers passing through Panama.

In the spring of 1856, the refusal of a U.S. citizen to pay a Colón street vendor for a piece of watermelon resulted in an altercation in which a shot was fired. An outraged mob of 600 local residents attacked U.S. citizens wherever they found them, and shots fired by both sides resulted in eighteen North American and two Panamanian deaths and sixteen North American and thirteen Panamanian wounded.

The incident, the first known anti-American riot in Panama, led to a U.S. decision to permanently station warships off the coast. This response, in turn, led to the first U.S. armed intervention in Panama when 160 marines landed at Colón on 19 September 1856 to protect U.S. citizens and preserve order, thereby preventing the outbreak of civil war. A subsequent claims commission awarded U.S. citizens $160,000 in damages for losses resulting from a dispute over a piece of watermelon worth ten cents.

See alsoNew Granada, United Provinces .


E. Taylor Parks, Colombia and the United States: 1765–1934 (1935).

Graham H. Stuart and James L. Tigner, Latin America and the United States (1975).

J. Fred Rippy, The Capitalists and Colombia (1976).

Additional Bibliography

Arosemena, Pablo. El incidente de la Tajada de Sandía: El motín del 15 de abril de 1856. Panamá: Editorial Portobelo, 1997.

Lindsay-Poland, John. Emperors in the Jungle: the Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama. Durham, NC: Duke University, 2004.

Shields, Charles J. Panama. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003.

                              Kenneth J. Grieb