Mr. Seward to Mr. Koerner

No. 27.]

Sir: This government has learned from the United States consul at Havana that the piratical steamer Florida, under the command of J. N. Maffitt, which had been lying several months at Mobile, having escaped the United States blockading fleet of that port on the night of the 16th of January instant, and having burned the American brig Estelle, of New York, when off the Tortugas and bound to Boston from Santa Cruz, laden with sugar, honey, and molasses, arrived on the 20th instant at Havana at eight o’clock in the evening. That the cargo of the Estelle was shipped at Manzanilla, in the island of Cuba, by Venecia Rodriquez and company, who are Spanish subjects, and that the cargo was Spanish property. That notwithstanding the pirate had committed this depredation and destruction of Spanish as well as of American property on the high seas, she was unhesitatingly admitted into the port of Havana and allowed to land there as prisoners, under pretended parole, the crew of the Estelle, who are citizens of the United States. That the United States consul, immediately upon the happening of these occurrences, addressed a communication to his excellency the governor-general of Cuba, informing him thereof and requesting that the crew of the Estelle should be unconditionally released, and further requesting that directions might be given by the governor-general that when the Florida should sail from Havana, she should be forbidden from capturing American vessels which might have sailed wthin twenty-four hours previously to her departure. That the consul-general of the United States in the same communication informed his excellency the governor-general that the United States despatch steamer W. B. Reaney, belonging to the government of the United States, had actually sailed from that port at 11 o’clock in the forenoon of the 21st of January, and requested the said governor-general to direct that the usual twenty-four hours might be granted to her before the Florida should be permitted to leave the port of Havana.

This government is further informed by the United States consul general that the pirate Florida was permitted to depart, and did depart from Havana, at six o’clock on the morning of the 22d of January, within a period less than twenty-four hours after the United States steamer Reaney had sailed from the port.

This government is further informed that the Florida, on arriving at Havana, at eight o’clock in the evening, was allowed by the authorities at that place to proceed directly to her anchorage, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, and that, on the contrary, when the United States ship-of-war the Wachusett arrived at the same port on the 22d of the same month, at 6½ o’clock in the afternoon, she was not permitted to pass the guard-ship of the port on account of the lateness of the hour, and thereby her commander was prevented from landing, and from obtaining the information which he needed in regard to the proceedings or the direction of the piratical vessel.

This government is further informed by the United States consul-general that his excellency the governor-general of Cuba, on the 21st day of January, replied in writing to the before-mentioned communication of the consul-general of the United States as follows: “Being informed of the contents of your communication of this date, referring to the entrance into this port of the confederate steamer-of-war Florida, and besides the other matters which you state, I have the honor to reply that the proper dispositions have been made in order that international rights may be duly complied with.”

This government is further informed that on the 23d of January the despatch-boat Reaney, having returned from Key West to Havana, bringing a request from the United States Rear-Admiral Bailey that the said consul-general would [Page 968] give all the information in his power concerning the Florida to the commander of the United States steamer Oneida, the Oneida appeared off the port at noon of that day. At one o’clock in the afternoon, the Reaney, having her mails on hoard, started for Key West with directions from Rear-Admiral Wilkes, of the Wachusett, to the captain of the Reaney, to deliver to the Oneida an order to enter the Havana. The Reaney met the Oneida about two and a half miles from the mouth of the harbor, communicated the order and proceeded on her voyage. When about six or eight miles from Havana she was brought to peremptorily by a Spanish steam war frigate, which, in order to do so, fired as many as three shots at the Reaney in quick succession, preceded, however, by a blank cartridge, which the captain of the Reaney says he supposed to be the signal for a pilot. A party from the Spanish war steamer then boarded the Reaney, and informed her captain in the Spanish language to the effect, as was understood by the captain of the Reaney, that he must not communicate with another vessel so near the harbor.

This government is obliged to assume that the information which I have thus recited is true, but it holds itself free to receive from the government of her Catholic Majesty any communication in refutation of it that that government may possess and deem it proper to give. In the mean time, assuming the information to be true, you are expected to state to Mr. Calderon Collantes that the President of the United States, being entirely satisfied with the liberal and cordial spirit which has been on so many and even recent occasions expressed and otherwise manifested by the government of Spain, does not allow himself to suppose for a moment that the proceedings of the captain-general and naval authorities at Havana, in the transactions of which it is now my duty to complain, were directed or authorized by or even known to her Catholic Majesty’s government, and the President confidently expects that those proceedings, so far as they are in conflict with the law of nations, will receive at the hands of that government due disapprobation and censure.

You will then represent to Mr. Calderon Collantes, first, that the written answer which was given by his excellency the captain-general to the communication of the consul-general of the United States seems, in the absence of any explanation, to have had less of particularity, directness and explicitness, than the government of the United States would have had a right to expect in any reply which that distinguished officer would make to a communication which was proper in itself and was courteously conceived and expressed.

Secondly, you will represent to Mr. Calderon Collantes that, in the absence of any satisfactory explanation, the permitting of the pirate Florida to enter the port of Havana at eight o’clock in the evening of the 20th day of January, and the refusal to allow the United States ship-of-war Wachusett, which arrived there at six o’clock p. m. on the 22d day, to enter the same port, on the ground of the lateness of the hour, is regarded by this government as a wrongful and injurious discrimination against the United States, for which the authorities of Havana ought to be visited with the censure of the Spanish government.

Thirdly, that the firing into, boarding and detention of the United States despatch-vessel Reaney, upon the cause and for the purpose assigned, if the transaction is fully understood, is regarded by the government as an aggression against the dignity and sovereignty of the United States, which it does not doubt the Spanish government will disapprove.

And finally, you will inform Mr. Calderon Collantes that the President confidently expects that, to the extent that the representations which you are thus instructed to submit to him are sustained by the facts as they may be ascertained, and the construction which this government has put upon them shall be justified, such instructions will be given to the municipal and naval authorities of Cuba as will be calculated to prevent the recurrence of proceedings which [Page 969] are so inconsistent with the good relations happily existing between the two countries, and with the mutual dispositions of their governments.

It will be expected that you present this subject in a manner which shall be at once respectful and courteous, and shall evince that the confidence in the justice of the Spanish government which I have expressed is sincerely felt. With that view you will seek an interview with Mr. Calderon Collantes, and make known to him, informally, the nature of the communication with which you are charged, and wait any reasonable time that may be agreeable to him before you formally communicate the despatch to him for his official consideration. If that reasonable time shall expire without your having received any assurances that the Spanish government will otherwise take the subject into its serious consideration, you will read this despatch to him and give him a copy thereof if requested.

A copy of the aforementioned letter of the United States consul-general to his excellency the captain-general of Cuba is appended to this despatch.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Gustavus Koerner, Esq., &c., &c., &c., Madrid.


Sir: As your excellency is no doubt aware, a vessel styling herself the confederate steamer-of-war Florida arrived at this port at eight o’clock last evening. This morning the master of the American brig Estelle, of New York, reported to me that his vessel had been captured and burned on the 19th instant, by order of the commander of the steamer above alluded to. He further stated that the cargo of his brig was sugar, honey, and molasses, shipped by the Spanish house of Venecia Rodriguez & Co., of Manzanillo, Cuba, and, to the best of his belief, was Spanish property. I deem it my duty to attract the attention of your excellency to this fact, because, while the government of the United States contends that such a wanton destruction of property by a vessel-of-war having no ports in which to order her prizes is an act which alone ought to deprive her of international privileges, yet, as this has not been so regarded by foreign governments, at any rate it becomes to them a matter of question when the property destroyed belongs to a neutral. In this case I have every reason to believe that the cargo of the brig Estelle was the property of Spanish subjects. The master of the Estelle also informed me that himself and his crew had been brought to this port as prisoners, but sent on shore under parole, the commander of the Florida informing him that the necessary documents should be issued to them here. I submit to your excellency that these men are still prisoners, and suggest that they either be unconditionally released, or that the Florida be subjected to article 3d of the royal proclamation of her Catholic Majesty of June 17, 1861, as was ruled by your excellency’s government when that vessel was in the port of Cardenas in August last.

May I request of your excellency, in view of the many American vessels sailing daily out of this and other ports of Cuba, that when the Florida sails from this port she may be required to abstain from capturing American vessels which may have sailed from Havana twenty-four hours previous to her departure. And I further have the honor to advise your excellency that the steamer W. B. Reaney, belonging to the government of the United States, sailed from here [Page 970] today at eleven a. m., and to request that the usual twenty-four hours may be granted to her before the Florida is permitted to leave the port of Havana.

I have the honor to be, with considerations of great respect, your excellency’s obedient servant,

R. W. SHUFELDT, Consul-General.

His Excellency the Governor, Captain-General of Cuba, &c., &c., &c.