William Shaler

William Shaler (1773 March 29, 1833) was an American government official who served as a diplomat and confidential agent in several foreign locations, including Algiers, Mexico and Cuba.

Life and career

William Shaler was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1773.[1] His mother, Sibbel Warner Shaler, died when he was eight years old, and his father Timothy, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, died when William was 12. The trustee of Timothy Shaler's estate either embezzled or mismanaged it, leaving William, two brothers and a sister to fend for themselves.[2]

Shaler was apprenticed to Phoenix, Ingraham & Nixen, a New York City mercantile firm, where he learned bookkeeping and other business skills. He then became a commercial agent for the firm, sailing to France and back to oversee the acquisition and shipment of goods for sale in the United States. Shaler learned to speak French, and commenced a period of dedicated self-study designed to make up for his lack of formal education.[3]

Shaler subsequently worked as a sea captain, commanding trading vessels that sailed around the world. In 1803 he was Captain of the Leila Bird when his crew and he were forced to fight their way out of San Diego Bay during an extended Pacific voyage because of a dispute with the local Spanish governor. This was one of the first visits to California by an American. Shaler's subsequent written description was widely circulated and led to increased American travel to and trade with California.[4]

In 1810 Shaler, a friend of Secretary of State Robert Smith, was appointed by United States President James Madison as a confidential agent. He was supposed to go to Mexico and observe activities in Veracruz during an effort by Mexicans to overthrow the Spanish government. Attempting to reach Mexico by way of Cuba, Shaler was accused of collaborating with opponents of the Spanish government in Havana and was detained.[5] In 1811 he made his way to the Territory of Orleans, where he made contact with Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara. Shaler advised Guttierez while he recruited an army to fight the Spanish in Mexico. Shaler traveled into Texas with Guttierez during the 1812-13 Gutiérrez–Magee Expedition and was with him when he proclaimed Texas independent.[6]

During negotiations to end the War of 1812, which culminated in the Treaty of Ghent, Shaler was appointed Secretary to the U.S. peace delegation. His efforts were considered to be ineffective, largely because he formed friendships with Jonathan Russell and Henry Clay, which made John Quincy Adams distrustful.[2]

From 1815 to 1828 Shaler served as U.S. Consul in Algiers.[7] Early in his assignment he took part with William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur in a peace mission to end the Second Barbary War.[8]

In 1825 Shaler was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. In 1828 he received an honorary master's degree from the College of New Jersey.[9]

Shaler was appointed U.S. Consul in Havana in 1829, where he served until dying in a cholera epidemic on March 29, 1833. According to published accounts, this epidemic resulted in more than 14,000 deaths. According to Shaler's friend and Vice-Consul, Richard J. Cleveland, so many people were dying so quickly that Cuban authorities abandoned the usual procedures for funerals and interments, opting for mass burials. Cleveland was able to intercede, claiming Shaler's remains and having them interred with an appropriate gravestone in the English Cemetery (also called Foreigners Cemetery or Protestant Cemetery) at La Chorrera, which was then a few miles east of Havana, but is now a neighborhood of the city.[10][11][12][13][14][15] William Shaler was never married and had no children.[16]

Published works


  1. Colonial Society of Massachusetts, The New England Quarterly, Volume 9, 1936, page 72
  2. 1 2 Alf Andrew Heggoy (1 January 1982). Through Foreign Eyes: Western Attitudes Toward North Africa. University Press of America. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8191-2182-0.
  3. Roy Franklin Nichols, Advance Agents of American Destiny, 1956, page 80
  4. Philip Scott Rush, A History of the Californias, 1964, page 51
  5. Thomas F. O'Brien (2007). Making the Americas: The United States and Latin America from the Age of Revolutions to the Era of Globalization. UNM Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-8263-4200-3.
  6. Donald E. Chipman (1992). Spanish Texas, 1519–1821. University of Texas Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-292-77659-3.
  7. American Foreign Service Association, Foreign Service Journal, Volume 42, 1965, page 70
  8. David Foster Long (January 1988). Gold Braid and Foreign Relations: Diplomatic Activities of U.S. Naval Officers, 1798-1883. Naval Institute Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-87021-228-4.
  9. Samuel L. Knapp (May 4, 1832). Memoir of William Shaler. New-York Mirror. G.P. Morris. p. 345.
  10. William Evans Burton (1838). Gentleman's Magazine. Chas. Alexander. p. 205.
  11. Frederick C. Leiner (1 May 2006). The End of Barbary Terror : America's 1815 War against the Pirates of North Africa: America's 1815 War against the Pirates of North Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-19-804095-8.
  12. American Foreign Service Association, Foreign Service Journal, Volume 6, 1929, page 168
  13. Cleveland, Richard J. (Richard Jeffry) (1886). Voyages of a Merchant Navigator of the Days that are Past [1792-1836]. Harper & brothers. p. 236.
  14. Niles' Weekly Register. Hezekiah Niles. April 20, 1833. p. 113.
  15. Mauro García Triana (2009). The Chinese in Cuba, 1847-now. Lexington Books. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-7391-3343-9.
  16. Mary Gardner Lowell (2003). New Year in Cuba: Mary Gardner Lowell's Travel Diary, 1831-1832. UPNE. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-55553-558-2.
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
New position
United States Agent in Mexico
Succeeded by
John H. Robinson
Preceded by
New position
United States Consul in Algiers
Succeeded by
William P. Hodgson
Preceded by
Thomas M. Rodney
United States Consul in Havana
Succeeded by
Nicholas Trist
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.