My Cousin the Dictator of Nicaragua

William Walker

Actually, he was my first cousin 3 times removed to be precise.

Thus he was my great grandfather’s first cousin.

How many people can make that statement?

Further he was executed by a firing squad in 1860 in Honduras.

On October 5, 1860, The New York Times published a brief article about the execution of William Walker, former president of Nicaragua, at Trujillo, Honduras. The un-named Times correspondent wrote:

I yesterday sent to Charleston… ” news” of the execution of WILLIAM WALKER at Truxillo (sic) on the 12th inst. [September]…. WALKER, it appears, was not permitted to have any communication with any of his followers previous to his execution. He marched from his cell to the place of execution with a steady step and unshaken mien. A chair had been placed for him with its back towards the Castle. Having taken his seat, he was blindfolded. Three soldiers stepped forward to within twenty feet of him and discharged their muskets. The balls entered his body, and he leaned a little forward; but, it being observed he was not dead, a fourth soldier mercifully advanced so close to the suffering man that the muzzle of the musket almost touched his forehead, and being there discharged, scattered his brains and skull to the winds. Thus ends the life of the “Gray-eyed man of Destiny….”

William Walker was the son of Mary Norvell Walker and her husband James Walker.

Mary was the sister of my great-great grandfather John Norvell, a newspaper editor, politician, and U.S. Senator from Michigan. Thus William was my great grandfather’s first cousin.

A history of William Walker’s life written in 1902 notes that by the time he was 25 he had already tried three professions: medicine, law, and journalism

By 1850, Walker, ever restless, now began to see himself as a “Filibuster” – a military adventurer or soldier of fortune. In October 1853, Walker began his military adventures in Mexico where he hoped to conquer Lower California and Sonora. Recruiting American supporters of slavery and Manifest Destiny, he hoped to form an American colony in Mexico which might eventually take its place as a part of the American Union, as Texas had done. After capturing two towns – La Paz and Ensenada – he named himself president of the new “Republic of Sonora.” Lack of supplies and unexpectedly strong resistance by the Mexican government forced Walker to retreat. Although his first filibustering adventure had ended in failure, it was not be his last. From his adventures in Mexico, Walker now looked to Central America. In 1854, a civil war erupted in Nicaragua between the “Legitimist” party based in the city of Granada and the “Democratic” party in León. The leader of the Democrats, Francisco Castellón sought military support from Walker.

To begin military actions, Walker sailed from the United States with 57 men called “the Immorals or the American Phalanx.” Upon landing in Nicaragua, this force was reinforced by locals and more Americans. With Francisco Castellón’s consent, now “Colonel” Walker attacked the Legitimist-held city of Rivas, near the trans-isthmian route. On October 13, 1855 he conquered the Legitimist capital of Granada, taking control of the country. Over the next year, commanding forces mostly loyal to him, he consolidated his power through a series of deals, negotiations, and executions. In July 1856 Walker was inaugurated as president– -in effect the dictator of Nicaragua. On November 10, 1856, Franklin Pierce administration in Washington recognized the Walker government. About this time, Walker began a program to Americanize Nicaragua by reinstating slavery and encouraging immigration from the United States. Further, not content with just this, he began to think of broader conquests in the region to bring other countries under his control. In this doing, Walker alarmed his neighbors in Central American, who now began to plan military action against him. In May, 1857 forces, composed of exiled “Legitimist” Nicaraguans, other central American countries, and mercenaries funded by American economic interests who opposed Walker, drove him from Nicaragua. He returned to the United States, where he plotted his return.

In 1860, Walker landed in Honduras, where he was captured and authorities in Trujillo executed him on September 12, 1860.

Since his death, 21 novels, histories, and other literary works have been written, and a film, “Walker” was released in 1987 based loosely upon his exploits.

What family doesn’t have its secrets?


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Family History, Genealogy, Michigan History, Nashville History, Nicaragua, Norvell Family History, Social History, Tennessee History, William Walker and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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