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Henry Shelton Sanford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Henry Shelton Sanford
Henry Shelton Sanford.jpg
Henry S. Sanford in c. 1865
United States Ambassador to Belgium
In office
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Preceded byElisha Y. Fair
Succeeded byJoseph Russell Jones
Personal details
Henry Shelton Sanford

(1823-06-15)June 15, 1823
Woodbury, Connecticut
DiedMay 21, 1891(1891-05-21) (aged 67)
Healing Springs, Virginia
Political partyRepublican
RelationsNehemiah Curtis Sanford – father
Alma materCheshire Academy
Trinity College
Heidelberg University
ProfessionDiplomat, businessman, founder of sanford, florida

Henry Shelton Sanford (June 15, 1823 – May 21, 1891) was a wealthy American diplomat and businessman from Connecticut who served as United States Minister to Belgium from 1861 to 1869. He is also known for founding the city of Sanford, Florida[1] and for successfully lobbying the United States into recognizing King Leopold II's claim to the Congo region in central Africa, the area that would become Leopold's privately controlled Congo Free State.


Early life

Sanford was born in Woodbury, Connecticut into a family with deep New England roots. He was the son of Nancy Bateman Shelton (1800–1880) and Nehemiah Curtis Sanford,[1][2] who made his fortune manufacturing brass tacks and served in the Connecticut Senate for the 16th District. He was a descendant of Governor Thomas Welles,[3] who arrived in 1635 and was the only man in Connecticut's history to hold all four top offices: governor, deputy governor, treasurer, and secretary. He was also the transcriber of the Fundamental Orders.[1][4] Nehemiah C. Sanford's brother was John Sanford, the founder of the Amsterdam, New York branch of the Sanford family.


Henry Shelton Sanford enrolled in Trinity College in 1839, but did not graduate. Trinity College later conferred on him the degree of L.L.D. in 1849. He was also educated at Heidelberg University, Germany from which institution he received the degree of Doctor of Canon and Civil Law or J.U.D. in 1855.[2] He obtained the title of ‘General,’ which he is often noted by, after donating a cannon battery to the Union in the Civil War.[5]

Sanford began diplomatic work in 1847, when he was named the Secretary of the American legation to St. Petersburg. In 1848, he was named acting Secretary to the American Legation in Frankfurt. President Zachary Taylor then appointed him to the same post in Paris, where he would remain from 1849 to 1854, the last year of which after a promotion to chargé d'affaires.

Minister to Belgium

President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as Minister to Belgium in 1861. There, apart from preventing Confederate recognition, he signed a number of significant agreements, including the Scheldt Treaties, concerning import duties and the capitalization of the Scheldt dues (1863), a naturalization treaty, and a consular convention including a trademark article supplemental to the commercial treaty of 1858.

In addition, Sanford co-ordinated northern secret service operations during the Civil War, arranged for the purchase of war materials for the Union, and delivered a message from Secretary of State William H. Steward to Giuseppe Garibaldi, offering the Italian patriot a Union command.

After the Civil War he bought an orange grove in St. Augustine, Florida, from John Hay, who had been one of President Lincoln's secretaries and later served as U.S. Secretary of State. It was the beginning of a large investment in the state. The St. Augustine grove was later developed as a real estate subdivision in the northern part of the city's historic Lincolnville neighborhood. It includes a Sanford Street as a permanent memory of its origins.

Marriage and family

He married on September 21, 1864, in Paris, France, Gertrude Ellen Dupuy, born on June 27, 1841, at "du Puy Place", Banks-of-the-Schuylkill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and died on June 1, 1902, in Derby, Connecticut.[6] She was the daughter of John Dupuy and Mary Richards Haskins. Henry and Gertrude's children were:

    • Henry Shelton Sanford, Jr., born on July 17, 1865, at the U. S. Legation, Brussels, Belgium, and died on October 1, 1891, in New York City.
    • Gertrude Ellen Dupuy Sanford, born on November 16, 1869, in Brussels, Belgium, and died on April 28, 1893, New York City.
    • Frida Dolores Sanford, born on February 28, 1871, in Brussels, Belgium
    • Ethel Sanford, born on September 2, 1873, in Brussels, Belgium. She married her cousin on February 17, 1892, in Sanford, Florida, John Sanford (1851), the eldest son of Hon. Stephen Sanford and Sarah Jane Cochran and a grandson of John Sanford (1803), a U.S. Representative from New York and founder of a carpet manufacturing firm in New York.
    • Helen Carola Nancy Sanford, born April 10, 1876, Brussels, Belgium[7]
    • Leopold Curits Sanford, born July 27, 1880, in Brussels, Belgium and died December 1, 1885, at Chateau de Gingelona, Belgium
    • Edwyn Emeline Willimine Gladys McKinnon Sanford, born on November 27, 1882, Brussels, Belgium

He was nominated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 as U.S. Minister to Spain. His Senate confirmation, which was long discussed, was tabled due solely on the grounds that he was unwilling to move to Spain. As soon as President Grant appointed General Daniel Sickles U.S. Minister to Spain, he resigned his post at Belgium.

Investment in Florida

In 1868 Sanford began to invest his money in Florida, purchasing 12,547 acres of land in central Florida and founding the town which bears his name. He also established the 100 acre Bel Air Grove which at the time was the largest grove in the state. He then began experimenting with 100 varieties of citrus plantings which led to the production of new quality citrus fruits including the Jaffa, Mediterranean Sweet, and the Villa Francean. Sanford continued to travel throughout the United States and the world.

In 1870, Sanford paid $18,400 to former Confederate General Joseph Finegan to acquire his extensive land holdings along Lake Monroe and founded the city of Sanford, Florida.[2][4][8] He founded an orange plantation at Lake Monroe that offered some promise to revive his flagging fortunes, but it did not prove profitable in the long term. In fact he poured quite a bit of precious capital into land speculation and town building in Florida in the hopes of turning around a family economy that spent far more than it took in, but with no success. The commitment of his time and resources to cashing in on the postbellum Florida land boom was a miserable failure in the end. His wife was so disgruntled with his booster schemes that she lamented in a letter to her husband that Florida was "a vampire that... sucked the repose & the beauty & the dignity & cheerfulness out of our lives."[9] Sanford had numerous other business interests, some in the Congo after his work for Belgium, but none were profitable.

Work for Leopold II of Belgium

In 1876 he was named acting Delegate of the American Geographical Society to a conference called by King Leopold II of Belgium to organize the International African Association with the purpose of opening up equatorial Africa to civilizing influences. Leopold II used Sanford to convince Henry Morton Stanley to explore the Congo basin for Belgium in 1878. He then hired Sanford in 1883 as his envoy to the United States to try to gain American recognition for his colony in the Congo Basin, which became known as the Congo Free State[2][10]

In 1886, Sanford organized in Brussels and dispatched to the Congo and its tributaries the Sanford Exploring Expedition for the purpose of scientific and commercial discovery and for the opening up of an interior trade. His steamboats "Florida" and "New York" were the first commercial steamers to penetrate the waters of the upper Congo. Sanford employed Roger Casement from September 1886 to February 1888 on the Expedition, working on river transports. His project did not prosper partly because the Congo State was becoming increasingly restrictive in its attitude to other commercial interests.

Sanford remained loyal to the Belgian king until 1889, when serving as the American representative at Leopold's Anti-Slavery Conference, Leopold betrayed his earlier free trade plans for the Congo and asked for the imposition of customs duties so as to aid the destruction of slavery in the Congo.[11]

Further business ventures

His efforts on overseas matters resulted in his Florida groves failing as a lucrative business. To meet his labor shortages, Sanford brought 100 workers from Sweden, agreeing to pay for their passage after one year of labor. His workers eventually formed the settlement called New Uppsala. In 1881 Sanford brought seventy-five more Swedish workers to his groves under the same arrangement. Sanford then founded the "Tropical Garden" research station which conducted remarkable experiments in plant and fruit growth.


Sanford died at Healing Springs, Virginia on May 21, 1891. He is buried in Long Hill Cemetery, Shelton, Connecticut.[2][12]


In her will of 1901, Gertrude Sanford expressed a desire that the city of Sanford, Florida have her husband's library as his memorial. Her daughter, Carola Sanford-Dow fulfilled this wish and in 1957 the Henry Shelton Sanford Memorial Library and Museum was built to house the books, papers, and decorative arts collection of Gen. Sanford. The museum was expanded in 1973 and again in 1993, at which time the name was changed to the Sanford Museum.

He also appears in Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel Prize–winning novel, The Dream of the Celt.


  1. ^ a b c "Mr. Sanford's Services". The New York Times. November 6, 1877. Retrieved August 21, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Obituary of Henry Shelton Sanford" (PDF). The New York Times. May 23, 1891. Retrieved August 21, 2010.
  3. ^ McGhan, p.385
  4. ^ a b "General Henry S. Sanford". Sanford Historical Society. Retrieved August 21, 2010.
  5. ^ Hochschild, p.58
  6. ^ "Obituary of Gertrude Sanford" (PDF). The New York Times. June 8, 1902. Retrieved August 21, 2010.
  7. ^ Obituary: "Abbot Low Dow" The New York Times. May 6, 1914.
  8. ^ Clark, p.159
  9. ^ Fry, pp. 170–175
  10. ^ Hochschild, p.77
  11. ^ Hochschild, p.93
  12. ^ Gen. Henry Shelton Sanford at Find A Grave


  • Clark, James C. 200 Quick Looks at Florida History Publisher Pineapple Press Inc, 2000. ISBN 1-56164-200-2
  • Fry, Joseph A. Henry S, Sanford: Diplomacy and Business in Nineteenth-Century America, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1982.
  • Hochschild, Adam King Leopold's Ghost Publisher Published in the US by Mariner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-618-00190-5.
  • McGhan, Judith. Genealogies of Connecticut families: from the New England historical and genealogical register Baltimore: Publisher Genealogical Publishing Company, 1983 ISBN 0-8063-1030-8.
  • Meyer, Lysle E. The Farther Frontier: Six Case Studies of Americans and Africa, 1848–1936 Publisher Susquehanna University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-945636-19-9.
  • Nolan, David, Fifty Feet in Paradise: The Booming of Florida,, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984, ISBN 0-15-130748-2
  • Siemiatkoski, Donna Holt. The Descendants of Governor Thomas Welles of Connecticut, 1590–1658, and His Wife, Alice Tomes Baltimore: Publisher, Gateway Press, 1990.

External links

Preceded by
Elisha Y. Fair
Ambassador to Belgium
Succeeded by
Joseph Russell Jones
This page was last edited on 26 September 2019, at 05:54
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