Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Ephraim George Squier Papers, 1818-1886

Finding aid created by
Bethany Anderson, January 2008

Summary Information
Title: Ephraim George Squier papers
Creator: Squier, Ephraim George, 1821-1888
Inclusive dates: 1818-1886
Bulk dates: 1861-1886
Extent: 43 items
The Ephraim George Squier papers encompass both family and business matters, the latter being mostly diplomatic in nature and covering the period of Squier's life when he was United States Commissioner to Peru (1863-1865) and Consul-General of Honduras (1868-1873).
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1948. M-709.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Ephraim George Squier Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Ephraim Squier (1821-1886) is well known in American anthropology. The son of Joel Squier (1798-1891), a Methodist minister, and Katherine Kilmer Squier (1797-1833), Ephraim was born in Bethlehem, New York. Because of his father's itinerant preaching and sparse income, Squier had little opportunity to receive a formal education and thus attended school intermittently. At his father's behest, he initially began his career as a teacher. Realizing his disdain for pedagogy, Squier then trained to be a civil engineer. This career, however, did not prove to be lucrative. Having an interest in poetry, Squier became increasingly engaged in writing and was eventually drawn to journalism. In the early 1840's, he edited and published several unsuccessful magazines and journals, such as the short-lived Poet's Magazine. He then edited and wrote for The New York State Mechanic, publishing articles on prison reform. His gradual involvement in politics and social issues led to a position in 1843 as co-editor of the Hartford Journal, for which he wrote articles in support of the Whig party. In 1845, he took a job in Chillicothe, Ohio, as editor of the Scioto Gazette, a publication that also had Whig inclinations.

Despite his productive writing career, Squier is best known for his influence in the founding of American archaeology, and for his contribution to ethnology. It was during his time as editor of the Gazette that Squier became interested in the remnants of Mississippian culture in Ohio. Although he continued to engage in politics, as evidenced by his appointment in 1846 as House Clerk to the Ohio House of Representatives, the lure of ancient cultures and their material remains still intrigued him. He proved to be as prolific a writer of anthropology as he was as a journalist. His seminal publications are Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848), which he wrote with Edwin Hamilton Davis (1811-1888), and Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New-York (1849). Both volumes were based on extensive survey work conducted by Davis and Squier in Ohio and Squier himself in New York, and published by the Smithsonian Institution. As serious and ambitious anthropological works, the volumes contain cross-cultural analogies and provide detailed maps of survey work of mounds and earthworks, thus yielding a great deal of insight into the prehistory of New York and the Ohio Valley.

In 1849, Squier was offered a diplomatic position in Nicaragua. During his one-year tenure, he negotiated a treaty with Nicaragua for the construction of an American canal. Despite his diplomatic responsibilities, he was still able to find time to explore local archaeological sites, and to investigate and write on anthropological topics. Thus, his focus shifted to the archaeology of Central America. One publication that he wrote during this period was The Serpent Symbol and the Reciprocal Principles of Nature (1851). In 1852 he then published Nicaragua: Its People, Scenery, Monuments and the Proposed Inter-Oceanic Canal, which addresses both archaeological and ethnohistorical questions.

In addition to Nicaragua, Squier acquired other diplomatic positions in Central America in order to have access to archaeological sites, although he also used his station to promote development in the region. In 1853, he put forth the idea of building a railroad across part of Nicaragua and Honduras. However, the Honduras Interoceanic Railway Project never reached fruition. In the early 1860's, Squier once again returned to journalism, this time as an editor for a publishing firm owned by Frank Leslie (1821-1880). A few years later, he was appointed United States Commissioner to Peru between 1863 and 1865, after which he wrote his last major publication, Peru: Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas (1877). In 1868, he was appointed Consul-General of Honduras. This was his last diplomatic appointment.

In 1873, Squier and his wife, Miriam Florence Follin (1828-1914), divorced. Shortly thereafter, he began to show signs of mental deterioration and was committed to an asylum before eventually becoming the ward of his brother Frank. He died in 1888. Although his anthropological pursuits ceased during the latter part of his life, Squier is nonetheless remembered as a passionate intellectual who attempted to answer theoretical questions about human behavior and the nature of the organization of societies. Above all, he sought to understand trans-historical and cross-cultural similarities between ancient societies, which has earned him a prominent place as one of the forerunners of modern anthropology.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Of the 43 documents in this collection, which date from February 23, 1818 to October 20, 1886, Squier is the author of eight. The remaining items consist of incoming correspondence (not always to Squier), which cover Squier's career as a writer, his involvement in politics, and his diplomatic appointments in Central and South America. Although he is best known for his contributions to the field of anthropology, the letters do not provide substantial information on this phase of his life.

Seven letters in the collection pertain exclusively to family correspondence. Of these, Squier's father, Joel Squier, wrote four, and his uncle, Ethan Squier, wrote two. These letters make reference to Squier's position as editor of the Scioto Gazette and his election as House Clerk by the Ohio House of Representatives.

Most diplomatic correspondence represented in the collection was written between 1851 and 1886, and are in English or Spanish. The letters primarily concern relations between the United States and the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, and, to a lesser extent, Peru. Two letters are from members of the United States and Central American Exploring and Mining Company (September 11, 1851), and the American Geographical and Statistical Society of the State of New York (August 18, 1862) to the government of Honduras, asking for permission to live and work in the country. Also of note are six letters, exchanged between Secretary of State William H. Seward and Luis Molina, Honduran Minister to the United States, in which Seward informs Molina of a blockade of ports in many southern states (April 27, 1862) and Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of the draft (May 9, 1863), among other matters.

Letters written to Squier during this period consist of correspondence from Senator Charles Sumner, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, President of the Republic of Honduras Jose Maria Medina, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Honduras Ponciano Leira, and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Honduras Ignacio Gomez. They primarily discuss Squier's appointment as Consul-General of the Republic of Honduras, the Interoceanic Railway Project, etc.

Squier's sole mention of anthropology is in a letter he wrote in 1874, in which he refers to the Anthropological Institute of New York. Formerly known as the American Ethnological Society, the Institute was founded by Squier and others who wanted to form an organization modeled after anthropological societies in Europe. Squier writes, "…Our Anthropological Inst. hangs fire. There are few here who can be enlisted in promoting it…I fear my days of hard work are pretty much over…" (April 26, 1874).

Also in the collection are 15 items, housed in the Graphics Division. These include a photograph of "Hacienda of 'Coltos'," and several watercolors and pencil sketches depicting villages and people in Central America, as well as some miscellaneous items. The sketches and watercolors bear Squier's name, so it is plausible that he is indeed the artist.

The Ephraim George Squier papers thus provide substantial information on diplomatic relations between the United States and Central America as well as on Squier's role in these relations. While not representative of his career as an anthropologist, the collection does hint at the final days of a man whose inquisitiveness is still evident.

Subject Terms

    • Anthropology--History--19th Century.
    • Archaeology--Latin America.
    • Archaeology--Mississippi River Valley.
    • Archaeology--South America.
    • Central America--Foreign Relations--United States.
    • Diplomatic and consular service, American--Central America.
    • Diplomatic and consular service, American--Hondurans.
    • Diplomatic and consular service, American--Nicaragua.
    • Diplomatic and consular service, American--Peru.
    • Diplomatic and consular service, Honduran--United States.
    • Diplomatic and consular service, Nicaraguan--United States.
    • Draft.
    • Honduras--Foreign Relations--United States.
    • Journalism--Political Aspects--United States History--19th Century.
    • Nicaragua--Foreign Relations--United States.
    • Ohio--House of Representatives.
    • Ohio--Politics and government--19th century.
    • Peru--Foreign Relations--United States.
    • Railroads--Honduras.
    • United States--Foreign Relations--Central America.
    • United States--Foreign Relations--Honduras.
    • United States--Foreign Relations--Nicaragua.
    • United States--Foreign Relations--Peru.
    • Whig Party (U.S.)
    Genre Terms:
    • Photographs.
    • Sketches.
    • Watercolors (Paintings)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   40, Small Collections  
    Ephraim George Squier papers,  February 23, 1818-October 20, 1886 [series]
    Folder   39  
     February 23, 1818-February 12, 1847 (6 items)
    Folder   40  
     September 11, 1851-November 26, 1860 (4 items)
    Folder   41  
     April 11, 1861-July 20, 1863 (7 items)
    Folder   42  
     July 23, 1863-February 20, 1866 (7 items)
    Folder   43  
     April 7, 1866-May 27, 1868 (5 items)
    Folder   44  
     February 7, 1869-January 14, 1872 (6 items)
    Folder   45  
     February 26, 1872-October 20, 1886 (6 items)
    Folder   46  
     Undated (2 items)
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Corporate Name Index

    • American Geographical and Statistical Society of the State of New York
    • Central American Exploring and Mining Company
    • Central American Transit Company
    • Honduran Interoceanic Railway Company
    • The New York and Honduras Company

    Personal Name Index

    • Baiz, Jacob
    • Chase, Salmon P., 1808-1873
    • Clark, S. Morton
    • Clarke, Robert
    • Cooke, Jay
    • Davis, Edwin Hamilton, 1811-1888
    • Fish, Hamilton, 1808-1893
    • Gomez, Ignacio
    • Grinnell, Henry, 1799-1874
    • Gutierrez, Carlos
    • Hamilton, A.J.
    • Hunter, William, 1805-1886
    • Johnson, Andrew, 1808-1875
    • Leira, Ponciano
    • Leslie, Francis, 1821-1880
    • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865
    • Medina, Jose Maria, 1826-1878
    • Molina, Luis
    • Seward, William H., 1801-1872
    • Shinn, Earl, 1838-1886
    • Sigley, John N.
    • Squier, Catherine Kilmer, 1797-1833
    • Squier, Charles
    • Squier, Ethan, b.c. 1779
    • Squier, Ephraim George, 1821-1888
    • Squier, Francis, b.c. 1840
    • Squier, Joel, 1798-1891
    • Squier, Miriam Florence Follin, 1828-1914
    • Stebbins, H.G.
    • Stevens, Henry, 1819-1886
    • Stout, Francis
    • Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874
    • Tallmadge, H.F.
    • Viada, Eduardo
    • Voebel, Charles
    • Waldeck, Jean-Frederick Maximilien de, b.c. 1766-1875
    Alternate Locations

    Photograph of "Hacienda of 'Coltos' 12,314 ft above sea," (C.6.10.1) Ephraim George Squier Papers, Graphics Division.

    Manilla (8 x 11) Envelope from the "Maya Society Quarterly" (P.2153.1), Graphics Division.

    4 copies of a printed notice issued by Squier as Consul General of Honduras (P. 2153.2), Graphics Division.

    Envelope (3 13/16 x 8 5/16) addressed to the president of the Republic of Honduras (P. 2153.3), Graphics Division.

    4 Pencil sketches of Central American villages (P. 2153.4), Graphics Division.

    Pencil sketch of an "Indian Woman, Lousinate (?), San Salvador" drawn on the back of an invitation sent by "Mr. and Mrs. E. George Squier" (P. 2153.5), Graphics Division.

    Watercolor of "Our Dormitory Uchusuma" (P. 2153.6), Graphics Division.

    Watercolor of village and boats (P. 2153.7), Graphics Division.

    Wash drawing of "Sacks on backs -- Water Carriers -- Lake Mataya" (p. 2153.8), Graphics Division.

    Related Materials

    Claims Brought before the United States and Peru Mixed Claims Commission (1863-1864), Call Number: HOLLIS 2390607, Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.

    E.G. Squier Papers (1845-1870), Call Number: MS 2446, Manuscripts Collection, Western Reserve Historical Society.

    Ephraim Squier Papers (1835-1872), Call Number: F1423.5.S68 2000, The University of Alabama (from the Latin American Library, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans).

    Ephraim George Squier Papers (1847-1848), Box "S," Manuscript Department, American Antiquarian Society.

    Ephraim George Squier Papers (1838-1905), Call Number: M 0262, Manuscript Collections Department, William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society.

    Letter to "Dear Gov." and portrait of Ephraim Squier (1866), Collection 245, Special Collections, Haverford College.

    Papers of E.G. Squier (1841-1888), ID: MSS41087, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

    Squier Collection (7 maps), The Luso-Hispanic World of Maps, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

    Squier Family Papers (1746-1888), Manuscript Division, New York Historical Society.


    Barnhart, Terry A. Ephraim George Squier and the Development of American Anthropology . University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, 2005.

    Sabin, Joseph, ed. Catalogue of the Library of E.G. Squier to be Sold by Auction. Bangs, Merwin, & Co.: New York, 1876.

    Seitz, Don C. Letters from Francis Parkman to E.G. Squier. Torch Press: Cedar Rapids, 1911.

    Squier, Ephraim George. Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New-York. Smithsonian: Washington D.C., 1850.

    Squier, Ephraim George. Collection of Rare and Original Documents and Relations concerning the Discovery and Conquest of America . Charles B. Norton: New York, 1860

    Squier, Ephraim George. Nicaragua: Its People, Scenery, Monuments, and the Proposed Interoceanic Canal. D. Appleton & Co.: New York, 1852.

    Squier, Ephraim George. "Report" inJournal of the Anthropological Society of New-York . 1871-2.

    Squier, Ephraim George and Edwin Hamilton Davis. Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. Bartlett & Welford: New York, 1848.

    Squier, Frank, ed. A Collection of Books by Ephraim George Squier. Frank Squier Paper Company: New York, 1939.

    Stansifer, Charles L. "E. George Squier and the Honduras Interoceanic Railroad Project," inThe Hispanic American Historical Review. Feb. 1966: 46.1 (1-27).