Mr. Webb to Mr. Seward
Sir: The European and American mail, by the French steam packet Guienne, reached me on Tuesday evening, the 19th, at 7 o’clock, and brought full reports from our consuls at Bahia and Pernambuco of the doings of the pirates Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, on this coast. By their reports, [Page 1266] copies of which they forwarded to the Department of State, I was informed that the Alabama and Georgia were lying in the harbor of Bahia, and receiving the hospitalities of those ports; while the Florida was in Pernambuco refitting and repairing her engine, to enable her to renew her depredations upon American commerce. They also reported that they now had on hand about 250 of crews and passengers of the American vessels captured and destroyed by the pirates; and as the law makes no provision for the support of ship-masters and passengers in foreign ports, they asked instructions from me in relation to the course to be pursued by them now, and under similar circumstances hereafter.
At 6 o’clock on the following morning I was on my way to this city; and at 11.30 was in the foreign office, where I learned that the Marquis d’Abrantes was with the Emperor at the palace of St. Christoval. I called again at 3 p. m., just as the office was being closed, and was informed that he was still at the palace, and that when he left there he would go direct to his residence at Botofoga bay, which is four miles from here, (the United States consulate.) I was at his residence twice during the evening, and left word with his private secretary that I should call at half-past eight on the following morning.
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I got at work at 12 m., and at 1.22 p. m. placed in his hands at Botofoga my despatch herewith, marked No. 1. Please bear in mind that this was written, copied, and delivered in person, four miles from here, in my brief time, and that the necessity for accuracy was paramount to all other considerations; and find therein any apology necessary for deficiency in the manner of doing the work.
This morning at a quarter before nine I was again with the Marquis, when he assured me he was then engaged in preparing a preliminary despatch, which would be satisfactory, and which I should have in possession late this evening, or early to-morrow, Sunday—the steamer not sailing until Monday. This will give me time to finish this despatch.
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Our consuls at Bahia and Pernambuco having exhibited great energy and judgment in the discharge of their duties, in the embarrassing position in which they were placed, I addressed to them each an official letter, in reply to their communications, a copy of which, marked 2, is enclosed. All the prisoners, both male and female, were robbed by the pirates, our consul to Cherpoo being the only one who saved a few dollars by throwing them into his boots. Passengers and masters are alike destitute; and being rendered so while under our flag, I think I cannot be wrong in having directed the consuls to care for them, precisely as if the law embraced their case.
The pirate fleet—for such it has become—now consists of six vessels; and will very shortly consist of fifty, if the pirates can manage to possess themselves of the necessary guns to arm their prizes. How far they succeeded in Bahia and Pernambuco, I cannot say; but we know that the Alabama had armed the ships Lapwing and ————, and the Florida had armed the Clarence, from this port to Baltimore. There is no difficulty about getting crews, as the foreigners on board our vessels promptly volunteered to serve on board the pirates; one of the conditions being, as Semmes admitted to the ladies landed in Bahia, who sought to recover certain family relics, that his men may plunder and pillage all crews and passengers captured, but must abstain from rape and murder! Thus these steamers are not only pirates themselves, but they assume the right of converting all their prizes into pirates. What commerce can exist under such proceedings, and who is it that reaps the reward?
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I enclose herewith, marked No. 3, a letter from an intelligent German [Page 1267] gentleman, who came passenger in the Guienne, and saw the Mohican at St. Vincent, and the Florida, Alabama, and Georgia at Pernambuco and Bahia, by which it appears that the Alabama claims to have captured 49 vessels besides the Hatteras, the Florida 10, and the Georgia 2—sixty-one in all. Semmes, however, is said to claim that the Alabama alone has destroyed 64 vessels; and the possession of nearly 200 chronometers, which he displays in his cabin, would appear to sustain the claim; and as our unprotected commerce is just as much in danger from her armed prizes, with one gun, as from the steamers, and as he avows his purpose to convert every fast-sailing prize into an armed pirate, and is actually doing so, the destruction of the fleet, wherever met with, appears to be a duty which overrides all considerations of comity between nations, and respect for neutral waters.
Semmes says he is bound for the Pacific, from which I infer that he is going round the Cape of Good Hope, and into the China seas; while, probably, the Florida and Georgia will go into the Pacific, all of them first cruising near St. Helena in the track of our homeward-bound Indiamen.[Page 1272]