logo of university of south carolina

Charles Stevens Dwight Papers

This collection of approximately four hundred fifteen manuscripts and eleven manuscript volumes, documents, through correspondence, journals, and related materials, the post-Civil War emigration of South Carolinian Charles Stevens Dwight (1834-1921) to British Honduras and his later work with various railroad and bridge construction projects throughout the southeastern United States.

Particularly noteworthy is C.S. Dwight's journal which offers a first- person narrative of the experiences encountered by expatriate Confederate emigres to Latin America. Beginning with the account of his voyage from New Orleans on 3 December 1867 and concluding with the preparations for his return to the United States on 6 February 1869, Dwight's journal relates details of the geography, economy, labor system, and social order of British Honduras, all of which are chronicled from the perspective of a visitor on foreign soil. The journal also evidences Dwight's fastidious accounting of work details which, he reported on 25 June 1868, were first put down in a memorandum book and then carefully transferred to his private journal. Ultimately, it tells the story of a failed scheme to colonize British Honduras and the diarist's abandonment of a plan to transplant members of his immediate family from Reconstruction-ravaged South Carolina to the quiet seclusion of the Honduran countryside.

Born on 11 July 1834 at Somerset plantation in St. John's, Berkeley, Charles Stevens Dwight attended Winnsboro's Mt. Zion Academy and was graduated from the College of Charleston in 1854. He subsequently studied engineering while working with railroad construction in South Carolina and Tennessee. Volunteering for military service in December 1860, Dwight served first in the Palmetto Guard stationed on the South Carolina coast and later in Kershaw's brigade in Virginia. He attained the rank of captain and, after his capture near the war's end, was imprisoned at Ft. Johnson, Sandusky Bay, Ohio.

After the war, Dwight found conditions hopeless on his South Carolina plantation. After working first as an assistant engineer on the Edisto and Ashley Canal, then with the Union Rail Road in Baltimore, Md., he accepted employment as chief engineer of surveys for Young, Toledo & Co., a New Orleans firm leading the fight for the colonization of British Honduras.

Like many of his compatriots, Dwight was compelled to emigrate by three major factors--the defeat of the Southern Confederacy, Reconstruction, and the destruction of a traditional way of life. There can be little doubt that he was familiar with such guide books as The Emigrants Guide to Brazil (1866) by Lansford Warren Hastings and Hunting a Home in Brazil (1867) by South Carolinian James McFadden Gaston, both of which purported to teach the survival skills necessary to establish a new home in the tropics. Inserted in his journal, an undated newspaper clipping, "Correspondence of the Courier," signed "CAROLINA," attests to the fact that the colonization effort was well publicized in South Carolina newspapers even while Dwight was en route to British Honduras.

The Honduran settlement at Toledo was founded in 1867 by voluntary refugees from the American South, a small group of whom emmigrated to Belize and took up land between the Moho River and the Rio Grande. After examining several parts of the colony for lands, the earliest colonists decided on a tract owned by Young, Toledo & Co. Other settlers followed, and a grandiose scheme of settlement was drawn up, complete with plans for temporarily housing refugees at Cattle Landing, one and one-half miles north of Punta Gorda. The Toledo settlers were faced immediately with the problem of clearing the tropical rain forest, and an outbreak of cholera in 1868 severely reduced the numbers of the community.

Realizing what he perceived to be the failure of the colonization scheme in early 1869, Dwight determined to return to his native land. Little is known of the reception he faced upon his return to South Carolina; yet, from family correspondence and business papers present in the collection it is known that in later years he was employed as an engineer on various railroad construction projects, and his last public work was as engineer for the Columbia, Newberry, and Laurens Rail Road in the construction of a bridge over the Broad River near Columbia. He died on 6 September 1921 and is buried at Winnsboro.

Chief among the collection's correspondents is C.S. Dwight, represented here by some one hundred eighteen letters to various family members, including his wife, Maria Louisa Gaillard Dwight; daughters Marie Gaillard, Louise DuBose, Martha Porcher, and Natalie Dwight; and son Charles Stevens Dwight, Jr. Among the business letters addressed to Dwight are eight from Thomas B. Lee of the Piedmont & Northern Railroad Line. The collection also contains congratulatory letters to Louise DuBose Dwight on the occasion of her marriage to Eugene C. Cathcart; letters of recommendation supporting C.S. Dwight's applications for employment; and World War I era letters concerning Eugene Cathcart's work with the Y.M.C.A. War Work Council. In addition, the collection contains biographical information on C.S. Dwight; genealogical notes and charts on the Dwight, Gaillard, and allied families; erection plans for Broad River bridge, Columbia; and "Christmas at Pooshee Plantation, Berkeley County, S.C.," a memoir by Samuel Wilson Ravenel.

Among the collection's eleven manuscript volumes, 1853-1914 and undated, are the British Honduras journal previously described; a July 1853 travel journal describing Dwight's travels from Charleston to Philadelphia, New York, Boston, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Montreal, and Quebec; five volumes of surveyor's notes, sketches, and engineering notes; a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, 1898-1911; and an undated autograph album.

| 1994 Manuscripts Collections | 1994 USCS Program Menu | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright 1996-97, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1994/dwight94.html