From the Collections: From Maine to Mexico and Back Again

by Holly Hurd-Forsyth, Museum Registrar

John and Mary Lane of Hollis had a large family. Their children were given names common in New England at the time: Stephen, Charles, Rebecca, Susan, Ellen, John, Mary, Marquis de Lafayette…

Marquis de Lafayette?

Marquis de Lafayette Lane was born on June 11, 1825, the same month as Marquis de Lafayette’s much anticipated visit to Maine as part of his grand tour of the United States. A celebrated French general who served alongside George Washington in the American Revolution, Lafayette was given a hero’s welcome in Kennebunk, Saco, South Berwick, and Portland, and greeted with parades, speeches, and dinners in his honor.

The name was no coincidence, of course. The Lanes of Buxton, Hollis, and Standish were a notable military family. Marquis de Lafayette Lane’s grandfather and uncles served with distinction in the Indian Wars, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. They may have met Lafayette during their service, but clearly the family admired him greatly, whether they met him or not.

This 1862 letter formalized M. D. L. Lane's appointment as Consul of the United States at Vera Cruz. It is signed by Frederick W. Seward, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of consular affairs for Abraham Lincoln. Seward was the son of William H. Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State.
This 1862 letter formalized M. D. L. Lane’s appointment as Consul of the United States at Vera Cruz. It is signed by Frederick W. Seward, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of consular affairs for Abraham Lincoln. Seward was the son of William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State.

M. D. L. Lane (as he was commonly known) took a different path. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1849 and entered the legal profession, eventually serving as a judge for both the Municipal and Superior Courts in Portland, before his untimely death from typhoid in 1872.

His life as a Maine lawyer and judge took an unusual turn in 1862 when President Lincoln appointed him U. S. Consul at Veracruz, Mexico, a position he held until 1867. The state of Veracruz lays on the eastern part of the country, along the Gulf of Mexico – a world away in all respects from the one he knew in Maine.

Letter written by M. D. L. Lane in Mexico to his young sons Georgie and Tommy back home in Maine. It’s dated December 24, 1866, and begins “This is Christmas Eve and as I am alone I thought I would write you a word. Yesterday was the first day I have been away from my room for four days. I was very sick…”
Letter written by M. D. L. Lane in Mexico to his young sons Georgie and Tommy back home in Maine. It’s dated December 24, 1866, and begins “This is Christmas Eve and as I am alone I thought I would write you a word. Yesterday was the first day I have been away from my room for four days. I was very sick…”

His time as consul is documented in Coll. 188, The Marquis de Lafayette Lane Papers, in the MHS Library. It’s a fascinating window into a tumultuous time in Mexican history. In 1864 the French government, outraged at the cancellation of Mexico’s foreign debt, occupied the Port of Veracruz, and established, with the help of Mexican monarchists, the rule of Emperor Maximilian I. This infuriated Mexican republicans, led by Benito Juarez.  M. D. L.

Lane witnessed much of this turmoil firsthand, and writes about it in letters to his wife and children back home.  He recorded his judgment regarding the Emperor in this letter to his wife dated April 16, 1865. President Lincoln had been assassinated the day before, but of course the news hadn’t yet reached Lane, who wrote:

We are again in the midst of another revolution here – Hard fighting going on in the interior – Those who suppose that the French have conquered this country and that Max [Maximilian I] is quietly seated on his throne are much mistaken and will find it so before many months.

Manet's The Execution of Emperor Maximillian. For more on the series of paintings Manet did on the subject, visit http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2006/Manet/.
Manet’s “The Execution of Emperor Maximillian.” For more on the series of paintings Manet did on the subject, visit http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2006/Manet/.

Maximilian’s short reign ended disastrously: he was executed by a firing squad in June 1867.

In another letter, Lane records a barbed account of the noblemen and women that surrounded the Emperor’s wife, known as Carlota, who was the daughter of Leopold I, the King of Belgium:

My own views, are, privately expressed, that before they leave this country, they will have some of their nonsense knocked out of them – and it wouldn’t surprise much if the time was not very far away – However I don’t care, do you? If I was at home it would not make the least difference with me whether counts, countesses or princesses…

This passage also hints at the homesickness that Lane frequently felt. It was a common theme in his letters home, along with boredom. The position of consul didn’t suit him. “It is dull work here. I have nothing to do and enough to help me do it…I should like to be in a snow-storm. I think that would wake me up.” Lane was dissatisfied with his post, and took several leaves of absence due to illness, including yellow fever. After serving as consul for four and half years he returned to Maine in 1867, relieved to be home again.

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