Letter from William MacKinnon to Henry Shelton Sanford (December 19, 1879)


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Letter from William MacKinnon to Henry Shelton Sanford (December 19, 1879)

Alternative Title

MacKinnon to Sanford (December 19, 1879)


MacKinnon, William, 1823-1893
Sanford, Henry Shelton, 1823-1891


A letter from Sir William MacKinnon (1823-1893) to Henry Shelton Sanford (1823-1891) dated December 19, 1879. In this letter, MacKinnon discussed about his health and his recovery from an unspecified illness. He also informed Sanford that, in his absence, he had "left Florida matters" to Edwyn Sandys Dawes (1838-1903), a co-founder of Gray Dawes and Company and an eventual board member of the Florida Land and Colonization Company (FLCC). MacKinnon added that Dawes would handle the financial arrangements and the search for subscribers while he was away. MacKinnon also indicated that he had met with Somerset Beaumont (1835-1921), a former British Member of Parliament (MP), noting regretfully that he did not have a chance to broach the subject of Beaumont "taking a share with [the] Florida venture." The letter concluded with a discussion of updates regarding a Belgian expedition of the Congo, one that included four Indian elephants shipped from British India. MacKinnon remarked that he was shocked to hear that at least one of the elephants had died in the midst of the expedition.

With its frank discussion of personal health and activities, this letter demonstrated the relatively close relationship between Sanford and MacKinnon. It also highlighted the efforts of MacKinnon and others to help Sanford in recruiting investors for his "Florida scheme," what would become the Florida Land and Colonization Company (FLCC). The diversity of topics covered in the letter exemplified the multitude of interconnected business and political interests shared by the two men.

Sir William MacKinnon was a Scottish ship-owner and businessman who established significant trade networks and commercial interests in British India and later in East Africa. Among other business ventures, he founded the British India Steam Navigation Company and the short-lived Imperial British East Africa Company. During his lifetime, he was one of the leading ship-owners in the British Empire. By the 1880s, he controlled more shipping tonnage than any other individual in Britain.

MacKinnon met Henry Shelton Sanford sometime in the late 1870s and the two began corresponding regularly in 1879. MacKinnon's interest in Sanford stemmed from the former American ambassador's close proximity to King Leopold II (1835-1909) of Belgium and the Brussels inner-circle of businessmen, politicians, and diplomats. Sanford, living in a château in Brussels, provided a valuable lifeline for MacKinnon, who sought Belgian business connections to support his expanding commercial ventures, particularly in East Africa. He was a vital factor in the formation of the Florida Land and Colonization Company, going so far as to lend Sanford £8,000 in early January 1880. He also played an essential role in helping Sanford court early participants in the investment plan. Many of the board members of the FLCC, like Dawes, were close associates of MacKinnon. With his business ventures strongly tied to British and Belgian development schemes in Africa, MacKinnon had no ostensible interest in Florida land investment. His participation in Sanford's Florida ambitions was thus directly linked to his interest in maintaining strong relations with Sanford and his valuable connections in Belgium.


MacKinnon, William


Original letter from William MacKinnon to Henry Shelton Sanford, December 19, 1879: box 127, folder 2, subfolder 127.2.23, Henry Shelton Sanford Papers, General Henry S. Sanford Memorial Library, Sanford Museum, Sanford, Florida.

Date Created


Is Format Of

Digital reproduction of original letter from William MacKinnon to Henry Shelton Sanford, December 19, 1879.

Is Part Of

Box 127, folder 2, Henry Shelton Sanford Papers, General Henry S. Sanford Memorial Library, Sanford Museum, Sanford, Florida.




727 KB


7-page handwritten letter






Balinakill House, Clachan, Scotland, United Kingdom

Accrual Method



History Teacher
Economics Teacher


Originally created by William MacKinnon.
Donated to the Connecticut Historical Society after 1901.
Loaned to the Tennessee State Library and Archives for processing until June 1, 1960.
Acquired by the General Henry S. Sanford Memorial Library, Sanford Museum in 1960.

Rights Holder

The displayed collection item is housed at the General Henry S. Sanford Memorial Library, Sanford Museum in Sanford, Florida. Rights to this item belong to the said institution, and therefore inquiries about the item should be directed there. RICHES of Central Florida has obtained permission from the Sanford Museum to display this item for educational purposes only.


Fedorka, Drew M.

Digital Collection

Source Repository

External Reference

Fry, Joseph A. Henry S. Sanford: Diplomacy and Business in Nineteenth-Century America. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1982.
Munro, J. Forbes. “"Shipping Subsidies and Railway Guarantees" The Journal of African History 28, no. 2 (1987): 209-230.
Boulger, Demetrius Charles. The Congo State or, the Growth of Civilization in Central Africa. London: Thacker, 1898.



Dec. 19. 1879

Dear Mr. Sanford

I arrived here yesterday afternoon without feeling much fatigue. The weather continues [?] and I had a long walk today to the end of the road I am walking on the hill [?]. Perhaps I did a little too much. Mrs. MacKinnon is taking great care of me. I hope she want [?] me by [?] much nursing she and her sister Mrs. Jameson deserve me to send kindest remembrances to Mrs. Sanford and you.

Before leaving London I left Florida matters in Mr. Dawes’ hands. He will do all he can in my absence and will look after the financial arrangements we talked about finding a sufficient number of subscribers to begin with.

I regret very much that my illness prevented me [?] me while I was in London. In a day or two after I have had a little time to recruit I shall write you at greater length and I shall also hope to write Brand and Morrison I think the way in which you put the matter as to [?] of cash when subscribed total [?] £40,000 and not over £60,000 should quite meet the case.

I have used the marked articles in the South Florida Journal. They quite hear out and [?] [?] out your own views.

Mr. Somerset Beaumont called on me after you left [?] at [?] [?] but we did not get into the question of him taking a share with Florida venture [?] for [?] [?] the [?] in. I returned his call but he had gone to [?] Sunday [?] country. Just as I was starting on Tuesday morning I had a note from him explaining his regret at not seeing me again.

I am very sorry about the second shipment. I cannot believe that the story Carter gives on the authority of the elephants can be true. I see it repeated in the “Globe” a cutting from which I send you [?]. My own impression is the animal died from overwork and want of the “comforts” it had been accustomed to from its youth upwards.

I see references made in the article to [?]. I am so sorry to hear Colonel Strauch is suffering so much from cold, but hope he will soon be quite better. I hope tomorrow to write him a long letter. I have a good deal to tell him. [?] no doubt has been determined by the frost, as transport was entrusted to the agency of I. C. McCracken who was much recommended to me for such work by [?] [?]. I hope [?] [?] then [?] Count John and that it meets his approval.

Please remember me very kindly to Mrs. Sanford and Believe me
Very Sincerely Yours,

W MacKinnon

If the weather keeps here and you have a day or two to spare before you start for New York you may be [?] to take a room down here?

Document Item Type Metadata

Original Format

7-page handwritten letter


MacKinnon, William, “Letter from William MacKinnon to Henry Shelton Sanford (December 19, 1879),” RICHES, accessed April 14, 2024, https://richesmi.cah.ucf.edu/omeka/items/show/4058.