John Lloyd Stephens (November 28, 1805 – October 13, 1852) was an American explorer, writer, and diplomat.
Stephens was a pivotal figure in the rediscovery of Maya civilization throughout Middle America and in the planning of the Panama railroad.
John Lloyd Stephens was born November 28, 1805, in the township of Shrewsbury, New Jersey.
He was the second son of Benjamin Stephens, a successful New Jersey merchant, and Clemence Lloyd, daughter of an eminent local judge.
The following year the family moved to New York City. There Stephens received an education in the Classics at two privately tutored schools.
At the early age of 13 he enrolled at Columbia College, graduating at the top of his class four years later in 1822.
After working as a student-at-law for a year, he joined the Law School at Litchfield, Connecticut. He entered practice after finishing, and returned to New York.
After 8 years, he embarked on a journey through Europe in 1834, and went on to Egypt and the Levant, returning home in 1836.
Stephens wrote several popular books about his travels and explorations.
He was recommended for the post of Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1839, but politics prevented him from securing the post (the one actually chosen for the job was Harmanus Bleecker).
In 1846 he would be chosen as delegate from New York city to the State Convention of New York to revise the Constitution. He was responsible for the introduction and the adoption of a Conciliation Court at the convention.
At the time England enjoyed a monopoly over the ocean navigation to and from the United States. Stephens obtained a charter from the state of New York, and incorporated the Ocean Steam Navigation Company.
The company acquired two steam ships, the Washington and the Hermann which made journeys to Europe.
When the Panama Railroad Company was founded in 1849, Stephens was chosen to be Vice President.
He visited Panama and New Granada to make arrangements for the laying of the railroad. On his way to Bogotá, the capital of New Granada, he fell off his mule and was severely injured.
He was never to recover from the effects of the accident. He returned to the United States, and was appointed President of the railroad company.
He spent the next three years personally supervising the progress of the railroad.
However, he suffered from a disease of the liver, and died after four months of illness at the age of forty-six. He is buried in the New York City Marble Cemetery.
Stephens is the subject of a biography Maya Explorer by Victor Wolfgang von Hagen, first published in 1947.