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The Mayan civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. until the late 15th century when Spanish explorers arrived in the Americas. After conquering Mexico, conquistador Hernan Cortes commissioned Pedro de Alvarado to explore the areas to the south, and in 1523 and 1524, Alvarado defeated and subjugated the Mayan groups of Guatemala.

Map of New Spain.
Map of New Spain,
New Galicia and Guatemala. 1625
Spanish School of Art

As happened in countries around the world, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people died due to violence, but more often from diseases brought in by their conquerors to which they had not developed immunities: smallpox, malaria, measles, typhus, influenza and common colds.

In the 17th century, Antigua became one of the richest capitals in the New World. Always vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, floods and earthquakes, Antigua was largely destroyed by two earthquakes in 1773. Guatemala's third capital, Guatemala City, was founded in 1776, after Antigua was abandoned.

Guatemala gained independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821. It briefly became part of the Mexican Empire and then, for a period, it belonged to the federation called the United Provinces of Central America. However, Guatemala had only brief periods of representative government. 1871 to 1898 marked the era of Gen. Justo Rufino Barrios' liberal regime, under which widespread land expropriations were made. Barrios built Puerto Barrios on Amatique Bay.

During the 1800s, about 5,000 German's were in Guatemala managing coffee plantations. Central America, and particularly Guatemala, produces some of the finest, if not the finest coffees in the world. Coffee is a valuable crop traded around the world.

In addition to shipping crops around the world, orchids were introduced from Central and South America to Europeans. One John Lindley (1799-1865), as "orchid authority for British horticulture," began receiving orchids from world ports.

John Lindley, Professor of Botany

Orchidaceious Plants, Illustrations.

The original books were bound in leather and included handcoloured lithographed plates; the original book is now worth approximately $40,000 but reasonably priced copies can be found.

Upon his death, his orchid herbarium was acquired by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; his general herbarium by the department of botany, University of Cambridge. His private library, rich in botanical tracts and pamphlets, became the foundation of the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society of London .

September 9, 1878, IRON, London, United Kingdom

GUATEMALA. A narrow-gauge railroad has been proposed in Guatemala, and agents are now in San Francisco for the purpose of interesting capitalists in the scheme. It is understood that a section of thirty miles, to penetrate the coffee region, will be first built, and, if successful, the road will be extended to the capital of the State. Should the necessary capital be secured in San Francisco, it is claimed that the trade of Guatemala will be attracted to that city. If the necessary aid can not be secured there, an appeal will be made to the capitalists of the East or of Europe.

February 16, 1887, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

T. P. H. Whitelaw Goes to England to Buy Three Steamers

T. P. H. Whitelaw, the well-known shipping man, leaves for England to-day. He has received a commission to buy three staunch steamers to be employed in running between the port of San Diego and the port of San Joee de Guatemala. Mr. Whitelaw is interested in the company called the "Mexican International Steamboat Company of the Pacific and Gulf of California." This company received a concession from the Mexican Republic, dated April 16, 1886. By the terms of the contract, the company are to furnish three steamers of not less than 800 tons burthen each, to carry the Mexican flag. For the first five years the subsidy to be paid for each voyage, both ways, from San Diego to San Jose de Guatemala is $8,000; for the second five years, $6,000, and for the remaining ten years, $4,000. The company may make their own freight and passenger tariff, giving due notice to the Government and the public of the alterations, but they must not exceed the following rates:

First-class passenger, 10 cents per mile of 60 miles to the degree; second class, 5 cents per mile; third class, 8 cents per mile. Merchandise— First class, 6 cents a ton of 40 cubic feet per mile; second class, 4 cents per ton; third claes, 2 cents per ton per mile.

December 7, 1898, IRON, London, United Kingdom

Counsul Beaupre Tells What
Goods Will Sell Well in Guatemala.

Washington, December 5 — Mr. Beaupre, consul general at Gautemala, in his annual report to the state department says that the United States has maintained her lead in imports into Guaemala during the past year, and in some important lines the gain has been most gratifying. With Great Britain and Germany she practically controls the foreign trade of Guatemala. He says that the bulk of United States goods are too good for this market. They should be made to sell cheaply, but should be showy with colors and tinsel. Most of the granite ware comes from Germany being low in price, but it is so light and cheap that it cannot last long.

The United States established the United Fruit Company (UFCO) in 1902, which included ownership of a railroad and 40 percent of the country's most fertile land, in addition to control of the port facilities in Puerto Barrios, which they turned into Guatemala's main port. Ships from around the world docked in Puerto Barrios.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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