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Denison: Mary Denison vs. the United States of Columbia

Denison Mary letter to Department of Statew

    In 1876, after Noyes Raymond Denison's death in Groton, Connecticut, widow Mary Denison tied up loose ends which included business transactions.  A letter dated July 1, 1878 found within the Denison scrapbook illustrates Mary's resolve to complete business even in the face of her husband's death. Acting as the administrator of her Noyes' estate, Mary Denison doggedly pursued the far away Columbian government for payment due on a "small steamer." As this is the only letter within the scrapbook referring to this exchange, all information and supposition about the case are derived solely from its content. 

     As noted at the top of the first page of the letter, it is a copy of one sent to American Secretary of State William Maxwell Evarts (1818-1901). Mary requested that Evarts intervene on her behalf, particularly against Miguel Borbia (Borbua, Boboia, Bobuia,Boebua, de Borbia...). Borbia had acted as an agent for the Columbian government when ordering the steamer. Mary noted that he handled all transactions with the exception of payment. In the letter to Evarts, Mary stressed she had a "just and an honest debt" against Borbia and the Columbian government. 

     Mary had originally contacted James Thorington (1816-1887) the United States consul to Aspinwall (Colón, Panama) about the matter.* In the letter, she summarized information provided by Thorington. Due to Borbia's position as the prefect of Colón, Borbia wielded power and vast influence, which rendered Thorington's intermediation useless. In fact, it was Thorington who advised Mary to write the Secretary of State Evarts.Denison Mary letter to Department of State 2w

     In the letter to Evarts, Mary repeated that the debt is a "just claim against the Columbian Government." She also told Evarts that Thorington advocated that Borbia and the authorities be reminded of the "atrocities at Bogota, and at Panama."** This is in reference to an uprising of Roman Catholic conservatives in 1877 which affected Columbia and Panama. Although relatively brief, the resulting battles were swift, bloody, and many civilians were killed. Undoubtedly, Thorington hoped the mention of the events might remind Borbia that positions were not set in stone. Furthermore, the "President of the state of Panama" was an agent for the United States in Bogotá. The hope was that Borbia would pay up, rather than be ordered to do so and risk dismissal. 

      In one final plea before summing up, Mary used poignant and telling words and asked for Evarts involvement on behalf of her "helpless family." She ended the letter by cataloging enclosed copies of letters which included a copy of one sent to Borbia by Thorington.  According to Mary, "Borbia has never deigned to notice."

      How did this situation end? Is the resolution lost to history? Perhaps one of the Denison family members knows what happened. As it stands, I found no record of cases against the Columbian government, Miguel Borbia (or any version of his name), Colón, or Panama which involve the Denison family. Hopefully, Borbia's hand was forced and the Mary Denison's family received the money she claimed was owed. 138 years ago, today. July 1, 1878...Best, Pat

Denison Mary envelope front

Note: The stamp collector, who is probably the reason the ledger still exists, removed the stamp from the envelope. I am glad it was saved, no matter the reason.

Denison Mary envelope reverse

*The Maritime Heritage Project: Aspinwall

Aspinwall, Panama, Central America Seaport History during the 1800s. The Maritime Heritage Project. Sea Captains, Ships, Merchants, Merchandise, Immigration and Passengers.

The Embera People live in the Darien of Panama and the department of Choco in Colombia. In Panama they inhabit the same areas as the Indigenous group Waounan with whom they share many cultural similarities. The Darien of Panama is also home to a few Kuna communities and more and more latino homesteaders in search of land for cultivation or cattle.

 ** Dixon, Jeffrey S. and Sarkees, Meredith Reid. A Guide to Intra-state Wars: An Examination of Civil, Regional, and Intercommunal Wars. CQ Press, 2015, page 1954.

A Guide to Intra-state Wars: An Examination of Civil, Regional, and Intercommunal Wars, 1816-2014 (Correlates of War)

Internal Sources:

A Fine Boy: Announcement to Mary Denison

Denison Ledger/Scrapbook: Entries for June 1894

Denison or Miner Family Artist?

 The Noyes Ramond Denison and Mary Augusta Miner Family

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Email Pat at

 External Sources:

     I want to make readers aware of the Denison Homestead, an active and on going historical project in Connecticut. Although Mary and Noyes Denison did not apparently live at the homestead, there is probably a familial connection.

Denison Homestead Home Page " The Denison Homestead Museum

History of the Denison Homestead museum and family farm in colonial 18th century Mystic, CT. Residents of this historic site in New England.



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