Skip to main content

Miles Rock Papers

Identifier: MSS-4209

Content Description

Materials in this collection pertain to Miles Rock, chief of the Guatemalan Boundary Commission from 1883-1898, and his efforts to demarcate the Mexico-Guatemala border. Items include letters and telegrams to and from a number of government officials in the United States and Guatemala regarding travel arrangements, salary requirements, surveying tools, and other matters. Files also contain correspondence to and from individuals in Peten, Guatemala, and various Rock family members. Some of the correspondents include US Secretary of State Frederick Frelinghuysen; Major John Wesley Powell, director of the US Geological Survey; Edward T. Cobb, an engineer and observer of day-to-day activities on the Guatemalan Boundary Commission; Clodoveo Berges, chief official of the district of Peten; Antonio Batres, Guatemalan minister for foreign affairs; and Guatemalan Secretary of State Fernando Cruz.

The collection also contains cartographic sketches; sextant observations of Guatemalan localities; minutes of conferences with Rock’s counterpart Manuel E. Pastrana, chief of the Mexican Boundary Commission; and copied excerpts from speeches by Mexican President Porforio Diaz.

There are two oversize items: a letter copying book that contains Rock’s notes; and a hand-drawn map depicting the part of the way between Sacluc, Guatemala, and Tenosique, Mexico, immediate to the line of division between the two countries.

Over half the materials in the collection, including many of Rock's own letters, are in Spanish. The other materials are in English.


  • 1883-1920

Language of Materials

Materials are in Spanish and English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal implications, for which The University of Alabama assumes no responsibility. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

Miles Rock was born on October 10, 1840, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He entered Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, but left after the outbreak of the Civil War to fight with the Pennsylvania Volunteers until the war ended. He entered Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1866. Rock graduated from Lehigh in 1869 as a civil engineer. He married Susan Clarkson in 1870. From 1870-1873, he was astronomical assistant to the director of the Cordoba Observatory, Argentina. He worked as a surveyor with the US Navy from 1874-1877, measuring latitude and longitude in Central America and the Caribbean region. He later did similar work in the western United States. In 1880, Rock was appointed assistant astronomer with the US Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.

In 1881, Guatemala and Mexico disputed over territory on the border between the two nations, particularly Soconusco, a region in the state of Chiapas. The countries reached a treaty in 1882 to formalize the border. In January 1883, Antonio Batres, Guatemalan minister for foreign affairs, wrote to the US government on behalf of the Guatemalan president, asking US officials to recommend an “engineer-astronomer to go, in [Guatemala’s] name, to trace the dividing line with Mexico” according to this recent treaty of limits—as Guatemala did not have anyone qualified to do so at the time. US officials asked Miles Rock, who began work as chief (“jefe”) of the Guatemalan Boundary Commission in 1883. He held the position for fifteen years.

Rock continued to live in Guatemala after his service on the Boundary Commission ended in 1898. He frequently visited Washington, DC, where he was a member of several scientific groups, including the Washington Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. Rock died on January 29, 1901, at age 61. He was buried in Guatemala City “with public honors under the personal direction of President [Manuel Jose Estrada] Cabrera,” according to a 1901 obituary of Rock published in the journal Science.


1.6 Linear Feet


Miles Rock was an assistant astronomer with the US Naval Observatory and was the chief of the Guatemalan Boundary Commission from 1883-1898. This collection contains correspondence, memoranda, meeting minutes, cartographic sketches, and other materials primarily related to his work on demarcating the Mexico-Guatemala border.


Files are arranged in chronological order. File names were derived largely from existing folder titles.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The University of Alabama Libraries acquired the Miles Rock Papers in 2017.

Related Materials

Embeck, William. “The Late Miles Rock.” Science 13, no. 338 (1901): 978-980.

Processing Information

Processed by Erin Ryan, December 2017.
Guide to the Miles Rock Papers
Erin Ryan
December 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266