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Henry W. Howgate
Personal Information
Born: 1834
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: June 2, 1901 (aged 66–67)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Nickname: (alias) "H.W. Harrison", "Henry Williams"
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army Signal Corps
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Captain
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Unit: 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment[1]
Battles: Battle of Chickamauga;
Atlanta Campaign[1]
Relations: wife/Cordelia Day Howgate
mistress/Nellie Burrell
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Capt. Henry W. Howgate (1834 – June 2, 1901) was Chief Disbursing Officer in the United States Army Signal Corps and responsible for major Arctic explorations. He caused a scandal after embezzling over $133,000, slipping away from authorities while awaiting trial, running off with his mistress, and spending 13 years evading capture, in which time he evaded the Secret Service and Pinkertons Detective Agency, worked as a reporter, and ran a New York City antiquarian book shop.[2]

Personal life[]

Howgate was the son of a British shopkeeper. At age 21, Howgate immigrated to the United States and worked as a reporter.

In 1866, he married Cordelia Day (b. June 8, 1837), daughter of Uriel Day and Olive (Sperry) Day of Macomb County, Michigan.[3][4] Howgate and Cordelia had one daughter, born in 1866.[2]

Howgate met Nellie Burrell of Saline County, Nebraska, early in his military career. She got a job working as a hostess in the United States Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C. through the influence of Senator Algernon Paddock.[5][6] She remained Howgate's mistress for most of his life.

Military career[]

In 1862, Howgate became a Second Lieutenant with the 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and, in 1863, he became a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Signal Corps. By 1866, he had left the Army, returned to Michigan, married, and had a daughter.[2] Then in 1867, he joined the 20th Infantry before re-joining the Signal Corps where he served as property and disbursing officer before becoming responsible for planning all polar expeditions.[2] Under his auspices, he was responsible for polar expeditions at a time when several countries were also supporting polar exploration and scientific studies. Fascinated with the Arctic, Howgate developed an extensive library of Arctic literature.[7]

Howgate Preliminary Polar Expedition (1877–1878)[]

The Howgate Preliminary Polar Expedition had two phases.

  • The 1877 phase was tasked with establishing relationships with local Esquimaux, promoting scientific experiments, and whaling as a source of revenue.[8] Its vessel, the 1851 Wells, Maine built schooner Florence, was a fair sea-boat, but too small for the mission at 56 ton fore and aft. The Florence was captained by George Emory Tyson (1829—1906), Master, who had been Assistant Master/Navigator of the Polaris under Capt. Charles Francis Hall. The Florence crew of 13 included Ludwig Kumlien (naturalist, of the Smithsonian Institution and son of Thure Kumlien), Orray Taft Sherman (meteorologist/photographer of Yale University), and a group of New London mariners.[9]
  • The 1878 phase, to be captained by Howgate, was to join forces with the first crew, and establish polar colonization.[10]

The Florence left New London, Connecticut on August 2, 1877 and first anchored at Niantilic Harbour, western Cumberland Sound, on September 12. It reached the winter harbor of Annanactook, Cumberland Sound, (66°28′N 68°45′W / 66.467°N 68.75°W / 66.467; -68.75) on October 6. While at Annanactook, Mr. Kumlien and Mr. Sherman engaged in notable scientific work, assisted by local Esquimaux.[11][12]

The Florence was unable to leave Annanactook until early July, and when it did embark, on July 5, 1878, it was pressed ten miles east by ice floe before making Kickatiue Island. The expedition arrived in Godhavn Harbor on July 31. There, Tyson learned that the government expedition steamer they were expecting to join forces with had been deferred. With phase one complete and phase two abandoned, the Florence sailed home August 22, reaching Boston harbor on October 30, 1878.[13][14][15]

Howgate Arctic Expedition (1880)[]

The 1880 Howgate Arctic Expedition was tasked with scientific and geographical exploration of Greenland in preparation for an 1881 International Polar Year expeditionary force and Arctic colonization. However, the Army and Navy decided, in June 1880, to withdraw support of the Howgate Arctic Expedition as the expeditionary vessel, the steamship Gulnare, was unseaworthy. Howgate, not to be deterred, found private funding.[16]

The Gulnare departed in July, captained by Lt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane. The crew included Sgt. David Legge Brainard,[17] Dr. Octave Pavy (surgeon/naturlaist) and Mr. Henry ("Harry") Independence Clay (1849—1884).[18][19]

On August 3, in a heavy gale, the Gulnare was damaged, but worse yet, it lost a deck boat and the entire deck load. The steamer reached Disko on August 8 and steamer repairs lasted through August 21. Dr. Pavy did not join the crew for the home voyage, instead staying in Greenland to continue scientific studies.[20][21]

"The steamer Gulnare returned to this port (St. John's, Newfoundland), last night, having failed to accomplish the object of her mission. On the 5th of August, only a few days after leaving, she encountered a severe gale, during which she lost her deck cargo and davits, and sustained some damage to her hull. No field ice was met with, but a large number of icebergs were seen, and the weather throughout proved very unfavorable. The Gulnare reached Disco and landed the Doctor and the Secretary, but was unable to proceed farther North." (The St. John's Evening Telegram, September 25, 1880)[22]

Lt. Doane placed expedition failure upon the Gulnare and reported:[23]

"The cruise of the Gulnare is the first acknowledged failure in Arctic annals. We did but little, but left a great many things undone requiring some moral courage to refrain from doing. We did not change the names of all the localities visited, as is customary, nor give them new latitudes to the bewilderment of the general reader. We do not dispute anyone's attained distance not declare it impossible that he should have been where he was. We did not hunt up nameless islands and promontories to tag them with the surnames... We did not even erect cenotaphs... We received no flags, converted no natives, killed no one... The object of this report is to expose a few of the specious pleas, fallacious reasonings, and ill-grounded conjectures which are called scientific, and to place the subject of circumpolar exploration on a basis of facts and reasonable probabilities. One cannot explore the earth's surface from an observatory, nor by mathematics, nor by the power of logic. It must be done physically.

International Polar Year preparation[]

Howgate was active in soliciting international support, including with the French Société de Géographie,[24] for the "Howgate Plan", his vision of an Arctic colony.

Karl Weyprecht, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy who co-led, with Julius von Payer the 1872—1874 Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition that discovered Franz Josef Land made a presentation at the 48th Meeting of German Scientists and Physicians in 1875, where he, too, made recommendations for establishment of fixed Arctic observation stations.[25] In Spencer Fullerton Baird's 1877 Annual Record of Science and Industry, he states that Weyprecht, and others, made recommendations for manned polar stations at this year's International Congress of Meteorologists, adding:[26]

"As these proposed international Polar stations are for purely scientific observations, and as their plan so perfectly harmonizes with the Howgate plan of an Arctic colony, it is to be hoped that our own government will establish, at least, two such scientific stations..."

So while ultimately, the Howgate Expedition of 1880 was an immediate and complete failure,[27] Howgate was able to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars to plan a new expedition to coincide with the First International Polar Year (IPY). Named the "Lady Franklin Bay Expedition" (LFBE), its purpose was to establish and sustain, with adequate supplies, an Arctic colony near the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island.[28] It was based on assumptions that Lady Franklin Bay could be reached every summer by ship, and that ships hindered Arctic adaptation. The colony was to be dropped off and left on its own in 1881 near the coal seam found previously by George Nares,[12] relief supplies were to arrive in 1882, and the expeditionary team was to be picked up in 1883.[29]

Though it was clear that some shared Howgate's enthusiasm for manned Arctic Circle stations, others didn't. Capt. Sir. Frederick Evans, hydrographer with the British Admiralty, made negative comments about the IPY LFBE proposal:[12]

"This... appears to be a renewal of the Howgate Expedition of 1880... which was unsuccessful. There is now engrafted on the Howgate Expedition the taking part in a scheme (not yet matured) for various nations to found stations in the Arctic Circle... the time available, the money voted, the means proposed, all appear to be equally inadequate for the contemplated purpose."

Legal problems[]

Fearing his embezzlement of government funds would soon be discovered, Howgate resigned his military commission December 7, 1880.[30] In 1881, the Signal Corps was in turmoil over allegations of fraud, scandals, and embezzlement. An investigation began into Howgate's handling of fraudulent U.S. Government vouchers, totaling up to $237,000. Some alleged that Signal Service employees assisted Howgate with the embezzlement.[31] August 15, Howgate was arrested at the Avery House (notable for bath treatments) in Mount Clemens, Michigan.[32] The U.S. Government began actions August 24 to recover $133,000 from Howgate.

Expedition plans for the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition continued despite Howgate's sudden departure and the subsequent investigation.


Howgate was indicted for embezzlement in 1882, but slipped away from authorities April 13, 1882 while on a court-supervised visit to his mistress' home. In absentia, a judgment against Howgate was made May 24, 1883, in the amount of $101,000, plus interest.[33]

Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln authorized Secret Service operatives to stake out Howgate's possible hiding place in New Orleans, but, spotting them, Howgate and mistress departed quickly for Nebraska City, Nebraska. There, Howgate visited former Signal Corps officer, now attorney, Albert S. Cole, for assistance to file a claim that the government actually owed Howgate money.[2] Howgate moved on to Escanaba, Michigan where he assumed the alias "H.W. Harrison"[2] and worked as a reporter. Afraid that the Secret Service couldn't capture Howgate, Lincoln hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency, who tried but failed to bribe Cole for information on Howgate's whereabouts.[2]


Howgate was captured September 28, 1894 in New York City, and spent the night at the Ludlow Street Jail. He was using the alias "Henry Williams", and leading the life of an old book/print dealer at 80 Fourth Avenue, New York City. Howgate was living with Burrell (alias "Mrs. Williams") at 195 West Tenth Street in New York City. Howgate was brought before Judge Charles Linnaeus Benedict who signed the arrest warrant. The New York Times reported Howgate was accused of embezzling $370,000 from the U.S. Government.[34] Found guilty of numerous crimes, Howgate served time in the Albany Penitentiary.


Upon release in December 1900, Howgate moved to his daughter's home in Washington, D.C. where he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1901.[1]


  • (1870). U.S. Signal Office circulars, 1870-1873. United States. Army. Signal Corps. Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce and Agriculture.. OCLC 46980832 
  • (1877). Polar colonization the preliminary Arctic expedition of 1877. Washington?: s.n. (1877). Polar colonization the preliminary Arctic expedition of 1877.. Washington?: s.n.. ISBN 0665070292 
  • (1879). Congress and the North Pole: an abstract of Arctic legislation in the Congress of the United States. (Kansas City, Mo.): Kansas City Review of Science and Industry.. OCLC 32624028 
  • (1879). Polar colonization. Memorial to Congress and action of scientific and commercial associations. Washington, D.C.: Beresford, Printer.
  • Tyson, G. E., & Howgate, H. W. (1879). The cruise of the Florence; or, Extracts from the journal of the preliminary Arctic expedition of 1877-'78. Washington, D.C.: J.J. Chapman. (1879). The cruise of the Florence, or, Extracts from the journal of the preliminary Arctic expedition of 1877-'78. Washington: J.J. Chapman. ISBN 0665152868 
  • (1881). Notes on Florida prepared with special reference to the Howgate grant, on Lake George. New York: B.H. Tyrrel, printer.. OCLC 31164549 

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Henry W. Howgate Dead" (PDF). The New York Times. 1901-06-01. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Harper, Kenn (October, 2007). "Henry Howgate". Nunatsiaq News. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  3. Eldredge, Robert F. (1905). Past and Present of Macomb County, Michigan. S.J. Clarke. pp. 521. 
  4. "Capt. Howgate's Property" (PDF). .pdf (The New York Times). 1881-08-26. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  5. "Howgate's Land Investments" (PDF). .pdf (The New York Times). 1894-10-04. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  6. "Capt. Howgate is guilty" (PDF). .pdf (The New York Times). 1895-06-22. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  7. Todd, Alden. "Adolphus Washington Greely". Arctic Profiles. University of Calgary. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  8. Tyson, George E.; Howgate, Henry W. (1879). The cruise of the Florence; or, Extracts from the journal of the preliminary Arctic expedition of 1877-'78.. Washington, D.C.: J.J. Chapman. OCLC 6180781. 
  9. "The Howgate Polar Enterprise" (PDF). The New York Times. 1877-08-03. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  10. Stevens, John Austin; Compiled by Abbatt, William (1893). The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries. A.S. Barnes. pp. 234. OCLC 18894531. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  11. "The Howgate Polar Expedition: New-London {Conn.} Telegram" (PDF). The New York Times. 1877-07-16. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Levere, Trevor Harvey (1993). Science and the Canadian Arctic : a century of exploration, 1818-1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 310. ISBN 0521524911. 
  13. "The Howgate Polar Expedition" (PDF). The New York Times. 1878-07-28. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  14. "Wilson Bulletin, June, 1936, XLVIII, pp. 86-93". Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  15. "The Cruise of the Florence, additional details of the expedition, Capt. Tyson's disbelief in the existence of an open polar sea" (PDF). The New York Times. 1878-10-28. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  16. "Notes from Washington" (PDF). pdf (The New York Times). 1880-06-15. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  17. Hamersly, Lewis Randolph (1904). Who's Who in New York City and State. New York City: L.R. Hamersley Co.. pp. 85. OCLC 1673904. 
  18. Kleber, John E. (2000). The Encyclopedia of Louisville. Louisville, KY: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 205. ISBN 0813121000. 
  19. Apple, Lindsey, "In search of a star: a Kentucky Clay goes to the Arctic". Filson Club History Quarterly 71 (January 1977): 3-26
  20. "The Gulnare's Arctic Voyage" (PDF). pdf (The New York Times). 1880-09-26. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  21. Pavy, Lilla May (1886). "Dr. Pavy and the Polar Expedition". Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  22. "Howgate Expedition". Twillingate Sun. 1880-09-25. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  23. "Polar sarcasm, Lieut. Doane, of the Howgate expedition, presents an ironical report." (PDF). pdf (The New York Times). 1881-04-11. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  24. Société de géographie d'Anvers (1879) (pdf). Bulletin de la Société de géographie d'Anvers. Anvers: Impr. Guil. van Merlen. pp. 149, 150, 159, 231, 235, 236, 233, 234, 236, 196. OCLC 34564166. 
  25. Koerbel, Hermann F. (2003). "History of the Austrian Polar Exploration". Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  26. Baird, Spencer Fullerton (1878). 1877 Annual Record of Science and Industry. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 64. OCLC 6138330. 
  27. Scott, Kim Allen (2007-01-16). "Early explorer of Yellowstone finally gets his due". Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  28. "The Lady Franklin Bay Expedition". New York Sun. 1881. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  29. Andrews, E. B. (1903). The United States in our own time; a history from reconstruction to expansion; being an extension of The history of the last quarter century. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.. pp. 424–430. OCLC 670878. 
  30. "U.S. Supreme Court, Moses v. United States, 166 U.S. 571 (1897)". 1897-04-19. Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
  32. Leeson, M. A. (1980). History of Macomb County, Michigan: containing ... biographical sketches, portraits of prominent men and early settlers : the whole preceded by a history of Michigan. Chicago: Leeson (1882). HISTORY OF MACOMB COUNTY. pp. 517. OCLC 6930550. 
  33. "U.S. Supreme Court, MOSES v. U S, 166 U.S. 571 (1897)". 1897-04-19. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  34. "Howgate must go to Washington" (PDF). .pdf (The New York Times). 1894-09-29. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 

External links[]