Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward

No. 404.]

Sir: I received this morning the copy of a note addressed by Mr. Morse, our consul at London, to Mr. Putnam, our consul at Havre, and, as a matter of security, immediately enclosed another copy to our consular agent at Brest, for [Page 23] Captain Winslow, and another copy to our consul at Cadiz, to which port I was notified that the Kearsarge had gone, or was about to go. The contents of that note I thought especially important, and if the facts stated were correct, demanded the immediate attention of the French government. I therefore sought an interview at once with the minister of foreign affairs, but failing in that, immediately addressed to him a note, of which I herewith send you a copy.

This note will best explain itself, as well as the contents of the letters of Mr. Morse above referred to.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.

Mr. Dayton to Mr. Drouyn de l’Huys

Monsieur le Ministre: I have called at the Foreign Office this morning in the hope of seeing your excellency, but finding that you were out, and the hour of your return uncertain, I think it most prudent to send you at once the copy of extracts of a letter received this morning from Mr. Morse, our consul at London. If the statement in these extracts be correct, I am sure that the orders and intentions of this government as to the reparations on the Florida, in port of Brest, have been violated, and that such measures will at once be taken as will cancel the wrong which has been done. Mr. Morse, the consul, writes to me, under date of January 21, 1864, as follows:

“I have learned that the rebel privateers now in the French ports, but more especially the Florida, are being carefully prepared to capture the Kearsarge, if possible. Besides the 80-pounder Whitworth rifled guns which the Florida had on board, she this week received from an English yacht two steel Blakely rifled cannon, with steel-pointed elongated shot to fit them. These guns were taken to Dieppe from the English coast; I think from New Haven by steamer, and put on board there, and taken thence to Brest by the yacht, and put on board the Florida. I learn also that the Florida is very heavily armed and manned. About one hundred and fifty have been sent there from this country Within the last two or three weeks.”

Our consul adds in his letter to me: “I have also been informed, by a person who saw them put on board, that gun-carriages have been received on board the Rappahannock since arrival at Calais. They were sent from this country. There are strong grounds for believing that her guns have been received in the same way. The custom house examinations at Calais afford no protection against arming her there, Should a dozen or twenty cases be sent to the Rappahannock, however large or heavy, only one will be opened, and that one will be selected or made up for such official examination.”

I cannot but believe that our consul has in some way been deceived in reference to this last statement; but the report, made from the prefect or other authority at Calais, to the minister of marine, enclosed to me with your excellency’s despatch, dated January 13, 1864, is so much at variance with my understanding, and the apparent understanding of the British government, of the facts in reference to the Rappahannock, that I respectfully submit the extract to your consideration.

That vessel was a British ship-of-war, now claiming to be, not a mere commercial vessel, but a confederate cruiser, which escaped by night from Sheerness, without papers and without a crew, and, as admitted by the report of the prefect or local authority above referred to, with her masts even insecured. She could [Page 24] not be said to have suffered from stress of weather, but came directly into the port of Calais, where men were awaiting her arrival, and which men, I am informed, were subsequently taken on board. It is admitted by all that she was not in condition for sea. If she did not mean to come directly across the channel into the port of Calais, she must have intended to come into some other neighboring port; and this, so far as the principle of law is concerned, would not vary the question; Since she has been at Calais she has been engaged in shipping a crew, not for a vessel of commerce, but for a vessel of war. The copies of affidavits which I have heretofore submitted, and others, to wit, the affidavits of Andrew McEune, Thomas Bryant, and William Fewson, which I now enclose, prove this, I think, beyond a doubt. The rule which your excellency informed me would be applied to the Florida, that she will not be permitted to ship more men than she brought into port, nor her fighting force increased, is not, I submit, being applied to the Rappahannock, unless it be intended, which I can scarcely suppose, to extend that rule so far as to say they may ship as many sailors or fighting men as there were workhands or mechanics on board, temporarily employed in making repairs; and even in that case I know not how the account would stand.

Accept, sir, the assurances of high consideration with which I have the honor to be, your excellency’s very obedient servant,


His Excellency M. Drouyn de l’Huys, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paris.