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This page last updated on 07 June 2006

J. G. A. Williamson Marker
Location: near the intersection of Hurdle Mills Road and Industrial Drive, in front of the radio station.

John Gustavus Adolphus Williamson, born in Roxboro in 1793, became the first United States representative to Venezuela. He died there in 1840

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The Coastland Times – Friday, June 15, 1951; pg. 4

A diary covered with the dust of a hundred years and a young woman equipped with a healthy curiosity proved to be a combination good enough to deliver from obscurity a North Carolina man who had been forgotten by the history he helped to make.

The diary was written by John Gustavus Adolphus Williamson who was born in Roxboro, North Carolina in 1793 and became the first United States representative to Venezuela by appointment from President Andrew Jackson.

The young woman was Jane Lucas who discovered the diary in 1942, read it, and used it as the basis of her first book, “Envoy to Caracas”, published in May by the Louisiana State University Press. Williamson’s story is that of a man who served his country to the extent of dying at his post, only to be buried in a foreign country and then literally snubbed by historians who seldom, if ever, gave more than bare mentions of his service.

He left Roxboro (where, incidentally, his maternal grandfather was the first settler) in 1835; it was the last time he saw his native state. Though North Carolina—like the rest of the world—forgot him, Williamson did not forget it. His first Fourth of July in Venezuela brought homesickness, and one another occasion he had reason to compare Venezuelan food with fare he had enjoyed in North Carolina.

Williamson had already spent nine year in Venezuela as consul, but his new post of charge was a promotion—for himself and his country. In Williamson’s time the United States was not a world power; it often had to play second fiddle to more powerful countries such as Great Britain. Now, in his new role, Williamson could—and did—negotiate a trade treaty with Venezuela that gave the U.S. terms on a level with England, who had been favored with a lower tariff.

Besides official business, Williamson’s daily entries also told unwittingly the story of his personal tragedy. His wife, who had never been fully at home in Venezuela, left in May of 1840. Three months later, before he could join her, Williamson died.

His funeral was a state occasion and he was buried with pomp in the English cemetery in Caracas—buried figuratively as well until his diary was uncovered over a hundred years later.

Jane Lucas, now Mrs. Ernest de Grummond, came upon the diary in 1942 while sorting a collection of papers bought by the University Archives. She believes that she is the first person to have read the diary since Williamson closed it after his last entry, for his blotter lay undisturbed between the final pages.

The diary led to a trip to Venezuela for Mrs. De Grummond for research purposes. More important though, it has also led to a revival of interest in one of this country’s earliest—and undeservedly least known—diplomats.


Thanks to Kay Sheppard who spotted this article and took the time to send a note asking about adding this to the Person County NCGenWeb pages.

The book mentioned in the article above is: Envoy to Caracas; the story of John G.A. Williamson, nineteenth-century diplomat. Jane Lucas De Grummond. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press [1951]. Copies of the book are in the collections at Perkins Library, Duke University, D. H. Hill Library, NC State University, and Davis Library, UNC Chapel Hill.

John Gustavus Adolphus Williamson (1793-1840)

John G.A. Williamson was born near Paine’s Tavern in Person County on December 2, 1793. His father, James, a native of Scotland, had settled in the county some ten years earlier. His mother, the daughter of Dempsey Moore (donor of the court house lot), died soon after his birth and his father then married Susan Paine, the daughter of Major Paine of Paine’s Tavern.

In 1813 John entered the University of North Carolina but failed to graduate. His bent at this time, it seems, was more towards business. A career in mercantile activities in New York was short lived, for he returned to Person County around 1821 or 1822. (He had not gone to New York until after 1817).  The next three years, 1823-1825, saw Williamson in Raleigh as a representative in the General Assembly. While there his politics became associated with those of “Calhoun and Jackson”, ultranationalistic. But service to his county was not this Personian’s ambition. What he desired was “a situation . . . that should be a permanent and honorable one to which there might be attached a salary and perquisites, or salary alone sufficient for a genteel living.” Through the efforts of his friends, Bartlett Yancy, H.G. Burton, and Romulus Saunders, he was appointed to such a post, “Consul of the United States at La Guayra, in the Republic of Colombia.” (Williamson was the third United States diplomat to serve in this capacity). 

When he arrived in Venezuela Williamson found that he could not present his credentials to any of Simon Bolivar’s officials, as they were in Peru with the revolutionary leader directing the efforts of other South American countries at in-dependence. So, rather than chance potential difficulties, Williamson did not approach Paez, who himself had revolted against Bolivar’s government. His cautiousness paid off, for Bolivar returned early in 1827, reestablishing himself in La Guayra. Williamson was ‘summarily recognized. 

The next several years were spent in acquiring knowledge of the “commercial possibilities of Venezuela” as well as an “understanding of her political uneasiness.” When Venezuela separated from Great Colombia in 1829, Williamson lost no time in endearing himself to the newly elected president, Paez Bolivar’s old adversary. In fact, Williamson’s diary is cited as one of the most valuable sources of study in this period of Venezuelan history due to his close contact with various South American leaders.

Williamson returned home to the United States in 1832, and before proceeding to Person, detained himself in Philadelphia long enough to marry Frances Travis. The next year, 1833, he ran for the United States Congress as representative of Person, Orange, and Wake counties. Hoping to win the election as “an ardent and eloquent supporter of Jackson”, he was defeated.

A hasty return to Venezuela was prompted by “a rather stern letter” from Secretary of State Louis McLane. Some months later, Williamson desired to return to the United States for his wife. Upon his return he discovered President Jackson’s intentions of sending a charge to the newly recognized Republic of Venezuela. Primarily as a reward for his “electioneering efforts in 1833,” the President chose Williamson, who now re-ceived a salary of $4500 and the additional sum of $4500 with which he might purchase his “outfit.” (He also received $6,000 from his father’s estate that same year, certainly allowing him the sufficiency of “genteel living.”)

John G.A. Williamson’s diary presents a number of prominent persons, though as Lucas suggests, “Mention . . . does not imply . . . intimacy with all of them.” The most readily identifiable of these persons were Daniel O’Leary, Lord Henry Peter Brougham, Simon Bolivar, Jose Antonia Paez, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (to whom Williamson referred as “rib of her ribs”), and Henry Clay.

Williamson’s wife was most unhappy in Venezuela and determined to leave—with or without the Ambassador. Not long after her departure, on August 7, 1840 Williamson died. The British consul Sir Robert Ker Porter saw to the arrangements of his friend and colleague. Williamson was interred in the English cemetery in Caracas, where a chapel was erected at Sir Robert’s “sole expense.” Miss Lucas reports that after the consul returned to England in 1841 the cemetery was left unattended and “rank grass grew so tall it was impossible to see the graves. Soon the whole place was covered with ant-hills several feet high.” Her epitaph for Person’s son —“Unaware of the ant-hills or the chapel, John Gustavus Adolphus Williamson lies undisturbed and forgotten ‘in a foreign situation.’”


Nancy Jane Lucas, “Caracas Exile,” in North Carolina Historical Review, XXIV, October, 1947, 485-493.

Stephen B. Weeks, “John Gustavus Adolphus Williamson,” unpublished typescript in the Charles L. Noppen Collection, Duke University Library.

J.G.A. Williamson, Personal Diary (1826-1840), Nancy Jane Lucas (editor) ; unpublished typescript in the Louisiana State University Library.


Citation for this article:
Historical Sketch of
Person County. Stuart Thurman Wright. Danville, Virginia: The Womack Press, 1974. 91 – 92.

Internet Resources

US Department of State
Name: John G.A. Williamson
State of Residency: North Carolina
Title: Chargé d'Affaires
Appointment: Mar 3, 1835
Presentation of Credentials: 30 Jun 1835
Termination of Mission: Died at post Aug 7, 1840

De Grummond, Jane Lucas. Papers, 1834-1835, 1840, 1893-1970, n.d. 143 items and 12 printed vols. Location: UU:172. Professor of Latin American history, LSU. Research materials used for the editing of the Journal of John G. A. Williamson, first diplomatic representative of the United States to Venezuela. Venezuelan newspapers, clippings, and periodicals illustrating politics and public opinion in 1958. For further information see manuscript card catalog. Mss. 2463.

Venezuelan-American Diplomacy
Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Navigation and Commerce Between the United States and Venezuela; May 31, 1836
(Text of a treaty signed by John G. A. Williamson)

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