Burning of Colon by Pedro Prestan

March 30, 1885

On March 30, 1885, the town of Colon was burn to the ground with the exception of the buildings belonging to the Panama Railroad, the French Panama Canal Company and the Pacific Mail Steamship Line. The loss was estimated to be about $6,000,000 US dollars and 10,000 people were left homeless and 18 people lost their lives.

The fire was reported to have been started by a mulatto from Cartagena, Pedro Prestan, (he was at one time a member of the Assembly from Colon) and a group of his followers, during one of the many so called "Revolution" that took place between the Conservadores and Liberals, in Colombia, but were fought in Panama. 

Prestan and his group of desperados and marauders, took possession of the town of Colon around March 16, 1885. They proceeded to raid several business, and forced them to give him, loans of arms, food and money. On March 29, and American mail ship arrived in the port of Colon, from New York, with a cargo of arms and munitions to the insurgents. But, by order to the Colombian government, the weapons were not delivered. Out raged, Prestan proceeded to arrest Mr. Wright, the American consul in Colon; Captain Dow, the general agent of the Pacific Mail Steamship Line, and the local agent, Mr. Conner; and Lieutenant Judd and Midshipman Richardson of the U.S.S. naval warship, Galena, that happened to be in port. He also took procession of the mail ship, boarded it to search for the weapons, which he did not find. He then sent the midshipman to the commander of the Galena, instructing him to hand over the weapons, and then the prisoners would be released. He was also instructed not to make any move to land any troops or the prisoners, and all Americans in Colon  would be killed. He also threaten to fire on the Galena, with the shore batteries.

Prestan then threatened to execute his 4 remaining captives, unless all of the weapons were delivered to him. The American consul ordered the arms to be turned over to Prestan. When Prestan was given the weapons, the prisoners were released. 

During the night, the captain of the U.S.S. Galena, Captain Kane, landed a force of sailors, marines and some artillery, and was able to recapture the mail ship. He also was able to rescue the officials of the steamship line, that had been re-arrested by Prestan. The next day, a force of Columbian solders arrived from Panama and the combined force attacked the insurgents. Prestan and his forces were defeated after a battle that lasted several hours, and had to flee, but not before they set torch to the town of Colon. Due to the strong winds that were blowing at the time, the fire spread very rapidly and most of the town burned down.

Prestan was later captured and brought back to Colon where he was court-martialed and hanged on August 18, 1885, along with several of his companions. His principle accomplices were hanged on May 6th of that year.

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May 28, 2002