Cornelius Vanderbilt

True Historical Characters in Adventures of a Victorian Soldier


Cornelius Vanderbilt financed William Walker’s downfall. The owner of the most steamships in the world began commanding a small schooner and was soon known the world over as Commodore Vanderbilt. The hard-swearing, thrifty descendant of poor Dutch immigrants, Vanderbilt died 1877, possessing more money than the U.S. Treasury.

Sources estimate his fortune to have exceeded $185 billion in present-day dollars. That puts him one billion ahead of Jeff Bezos at the beginning of 2021.

He built his massive fortune first on steamboats and ocean steamers plying North American rivers and the world’s oceans, and on his ever-expanding network of North American railroads after the American Civil War. Not bad for a boy who quit school at the age of to work on his father’s ferry in New York Harbor as a boy and started his own ferry service at age 16.

In 1848, while Ireland still suffered the Great Famine, gold was discovered in California. Migrants to from the East Coast and much of the gold returned to the East Coast, went by steamship to Panama, where mule trains and canoes provided transportation across the narrow isthmus until Aspinwall built the Panama Railroad to facilitate a faster crossing. Nicaragua was closer to the United States, and Lake Nicaragua and the San Juan River spanned most of the isthmus from its Caribbean Coast to the Pacific Coast. across by. Failing to attract enough investment to build a canal there, Vanderbilt started a steamship line to Nicaragua, founded the Accessory Transit Company to carry passengers across Nicaragua by steamboat on the lake and river, and built the 12-mile (19-kilometer) Transit Road to carry the passengers in carriages between the Pacific port of San Juan del Sur and Virgin Bay on Lake Nicaragua.

When Walker gave the concession for this lucrative route Vanderbilt had pioneered to Morgan and Garrison in exchange for gold to fatten his war chest, Vanderbilt swore to destroy “that tin-sojer in Nicaraguey.” He sent weapons and funds to the Central America countries allied against the filibuster and financed the scheme to wrest control of the strategically vital San Juan River from Walker.

Reference: Dando-Collins, Stephen. Tycoon’s War. Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

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