Derby History Quiz

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Henry Shelton Sanford

In 2008, he was inducted into the Derby Hall of Fame.


Henry Shelton Sanford lived in the Caroline Street building pictured on the left above.  You can also see it in the earlier picture on the right overlooking Water Street and the canal below which no longer exists. Sanford served as America's Minister to Belgium during the Civil War and helped secure armaments needed for the Union victory. He was also a very successful lawyer and businessman. After the war, he moved to Florida where he founded a city that now bears his name. He, David Humphreys (Ambassador to Spain) and Ebenezzer D. Bassett (Ambassador to Haiti) were all Derby residents who served in the highest ranks of the U. S. foreign service.

Sanford was actually born in Woodbury in 1823, but moved to Derby in 1836 when his father (N. C. Sanford) formed the very prosperous Shelton Tack Company with N. C.'s brother-in-law Edward N. Shelton. The family lived on Caroline Street, but the business eventually moved to Shelton. Henry found himself a very wealthy young man at the age of 18 when his father passed away and left him with a hefty inheritance.

Asthma, an eye ailment, and a desire to make a career for himselg led him to travel and work in the diplomatic service.

He studied in Europe at Heidelberg, where in 1854 he received the degree of J.U.D. He was secretary of the United States legation in Paris in 1849-'53, and then charge d'affaires. He resigned from the position in a dispute over how a citizen in the diplomatic service should dress. Eventually the U.S. Congress recommended that the appropriate dress for US citizens should be the citizen attire favored by Sanford. 

Sanford worked in several embassies before being appointed Minister Resident to the royal court of Belgium by Abraham Lincoln. He held the position until 1869and was influential in helping to keep Belgium from diplomatically recognizing the Confederacy and for securing needed weapons for the Union.

In 1877 he was one of the founders of the International African association (now the Independent state of the Congo), and became a member of the executive committee, representing on it the English-speaking races. As its ambassador at Washington he secured its recognition by the United States in April, 1884, and he was sent as a delegate of the United States government to the Berlin Congo conference of 1885-'6, which opened to free-trade and neutrality a territory of 1,000.000 square miles, with a population of 50,000,000.

In 1870, with a distinguished reputation as a diplomat, businessman and lawyer bought 12,548 acres of land in Florida which shortly thereafter became the city of Sanford which came to be known as the "Gate City of South Florida".  He dabbled in a variety of businesses including efforts to cultivate citrus products.

In 1870, Henry, by then a distinguished lawyer, purchased  of land west of Mellonville, Florida. He planned a new city which he dubbed “the Gate City of South Florida,” in the belief that it would become the transportation hub for all of southern Florida. In 1877, the city of Sanford was incorporated and Mellonville was annexed into the new city six years later. Sanford, Florida is the county seat for Seminole County in Florida, but that probably would not be the case if it were not for former Derby resident Henry Shelton Sanford. In 1880, Henry Sanford formed the Florida Land and Colonization Company in London to encourage investment in the city. That same year construction began on the South Florida Railroad with a terminus in Sanford.


Henry died in 1891, and he is buried in the Long Hill Cemetery in Shelton.

Interestingly, one of Sanford's daughters (Helene Carola Nancy Sanford Dow - known in Europe as the "Marchesa di Poggio") after spending a lifetime traveling and writing in Europe and Asia lived in the Caroline Street residence which was known as the "Homestead" until her death on August 9, 1962, and she is also buried in the Long Hill Cemetery in Shelton.

Correct answers were received from: Marsha Pettingill, Robert Hyder, Randy Ritter, Henry Wajdowicz, Mary Lou Boroski, Mayor Marc J. Garofalo, Gene Wajdowicz, Dave Petz, C. F. Douglass, Frank from St. Pete., Paul Comkowycz, Ben Jones, Joan Driscoll, Markanthony Izzo, Rick Dunne, and John Coscia.

To see our other earlier quizzes and learn more about Derby's unique history, click here.