National Affairs: Who Would Be King

Posted in Arts, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2015-12-02 22:39Z by Steven

National Affairs: Who Would Be King


Word came to the U. S. that William Henry Ellis, who preferred to style himself Guillermo Enrique Eliseo, died in Mexico City. Mr. Ellis was one of the most remarkable men who ever acted as agent for the State Department. He was known chiefly for the famous incident in which he delivered a commercial Treaty from this country to King Menelik of Abyssinia. But his unusual history began much earlier.

He was born in Victoria, Tex., in 1864 and claimed to be of Cuban parentage, on account of which he used the Spanish form of…

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Passing the Line

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2015-02-06 20:45Z by Steven

Passing the Line

Karl Jacoby

Karl Jacoby, Professor of History
Columbia University, New York, New York

Who was Guillermo Eliseo?

Such was the question that any number of people asked themselves during the Gilded Age as this enigmatic figure flitted in and out of an astonishing array of the era’s most noteworthy events—scandalous trials, unexpected disappearances, diplomatic controversies. To many, the answer was obvious. The tall, exquisitely dressed figure with the carefully coifed mustache, was an upper-class Mexican—in fact “the wealthiest resident of the City of Mexico” and “a prominent Mexican politician.”

For confirmation, one needed to look no farther than his elegant appearance and his frequent journeys south of the border. Indeed, based on his connections with Latin America, he was widely believed to be, if not a Mexican, than a “Spaniard” or “a Cuban gentleman of high degree.” At least a few observers, however, ventured a quite different answer: despite the widespread acceptance of Eliseo’s “Latin-American extraction,” he was not of Hispanic descent at all. Rather, he was just “an ordinary American mulatto” named William (or W.H.) Ellis, who had managed to play an elaborate game of racial passing

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