Jun 27, 2024 - Sale 2675

Sale 2675 - Lot 380

Price Realized: $ 1,625
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 2,000 - $ 3,000
(PANAMA.) George U. Mayo. Letter from a survivor of the ill-fated Darien Exploring Expedition, written shortly after his rescue. Autograph Letter Signed to father Peter Poythress Mayo. 2 pages, 9¾ x 8 inches; folds, short separations at folds. Palma, Panama, 8 April 1854

Additional Details

The quest for a train or canal route across Central America attracted attention through much of the nineteenth century. An 1853 report by a British adventurer provided detailed maps of easy route across Panama--which proved to be completely fictional. The reports inspired the Darien Exploring Expedition under American naval lieutenant Isaac G. Strain, often known simply as the Strain Expedition. It did not go well. Relying upon the fictional maps and assurances of easy travel, the expedition packed minimal supplies for their march into the trackless jungle. Hostile Indians, confusion, starvation, dehydration, and parasites were among their obstacles. See "Darien Exploring Expedition" in Harper's Monthly, March 1855.

This letter was written by one of the expedition's survivors shortly after their return to the fringes of civilization. George Upshur Mayo (1834-1896) was born into a prominent family in Norfolk, VA. He attended the Virginia Military Institute, served as an assistant engineer on the Strain Expedition, was involved in the United States Geodetic Survey, and was later a major in the Confederate Army. Here he writes:

"My dear father, From this filthy native village where our party are brought by the officers of the war steamer Virago, English, whose officers rescued us from a most deplorable condition, starvation, misery & want, for about 70 days without bread or meat, living on roots & nuts from the trees. May the rescue be never forgotten, & I thank & give praises to God for his goodness. We abandoned & buried 4 or 5 in the woods, as unable to keep up. I suffered from the cusano, a worm that gets in the flesh, also from a very bad knee. Almost unable to travel 3 miles a day. Unfavorable reports reached the U.S. concerning us. We are safe & go to Panama when we get well. My mind is out of sorts by medicine & sickness & my hand too weak to write more legibly. Will write from Panama or Aspinwall a respectable letter there. We are 100 miles from Panama. Had the party 8 days provisions only in the woods, yet nothing to shield us from wind & storm, & no change of garments. The suffering was intense, & the rescue came at the most dreadful & important for our safety. I with 3 others on the river bank washing at sundown when the canoes came in sight. Captain Strain had no pants or underdraws to protect him from the briars & vermin. God be praised for rescue. Love to Annie. . . . In all probability will meet the Cyane at Aspinwall."

A remarkable first-hand account of a desperate struggle for survival.

With--a later carte-de-visite of the author by Stanton & Butler of Baltimore, inscribed on verso "To my sister Jess, with prayers for her happiness from her brother G.U. Mayo, Wheeling, W. Va., May 11 1866."