Mr. Seward to Sir F. Bruce

Sir: With reference to your communication of the 5th of January last, in regard to the shooting of George Holmes, a native of Jamaica, by the sentinel of the United States gunboat James Adger, while she was lying alongside one of the wharves at Colon, I have the honor to enclose for your information a copy of a letter of the 15th instant, and its accompaniments from the Navy Department.

I have the honor to be, sir, with the highest consideration, your obedient


The Hon. Sir Frederick W. A. Bruce, &c., &c., &c.

Mr. Welles to Mr. Seward

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of the finding of the material facts by a naval court of inquiry in regard to the killing of George Holmes, colored, said to be a British subject, at Aspinwall, United States of Colombia, on the 10th day of November, 1865. I also return herewith all the papers transmitted by the Department of State relative to the affair.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant.

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy.

Hon. W. H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.


The naval court of inquiry convened on board the United States steamship James Adger at Aspinwall, United States of Colombia, on the 20th of February, 1866, by order of the Secretary of the Navy of the United States, to investigate the shooting and killing of George Holmes, (colored,) was in the words following:

The court, after maturely considering the evidence adduced in the case, find the following facts established:

That the United States steamer James Adger, on the night of November 10, 1865, was lying alongside the Central wharf at Aspinwall, United States of Colombia, having hauled in for coal and stores.

That two sentries from the marine guard of the James Adger were posted on the wharf, inside the gates, to protect the property of the United States on the wharf, and to prevent desertions from the ship.

That to land marines from United States ships of war for such duty, and for other purposes, has been and still is usual at Aspinwall and Panama.

That James Kinsilla was one of the sentries on that Central wharf on the night of November 10, 1865, and that the orders for his post were “To allow no one to pass through the gate except officers of the United States steamship James Adger.”

That the post of Kinsilla was No. 1, and that the other sentry, Gallagher, was post No. 2, being at the side of the wharf opposite to No. 1 post, and divided from it by a raised platform with stores upon it and by railroad cars. The post of Kinsilla, post No. 1, being the only one with means of entrance to and exit from the wharf—the gate by Gallagher’s post, post No. 2, being closed.

That several negroes had been allowed in the early part of the evening to pass in at Kinsilla’s post, post No. 1, by special permission of Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander John MacDearmid, commanding the United States steamship James Adger, to sleep upon the wharf, and that others who had been employed upon the wharf during the day had been permitted to remain there after working hours, to sleep, and that all these negroes had been made to lie down near the ship and not allowed to remain near the gate, nor near the centre of the wharf where the United States stores were.

That on the night in question the space from the gate where Kinsilla was posted to the ship was well lighted with ship’s lanterns.

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That at about 11 o’clock of the night of November 10, 1865, a colored man approached the post of Kinsilla from the town, and was challenged and ordered to halt by the sentry. He did not halt, but advanced upon the sentry with a club in his hand and endeavored to pass his post.

That the sentry, Kinsilla, remaining at his post within the gate, brought his musket to a charge, bayonet unfixed, and again ordered the negro to halt.

That the negro seized the musket, advanced one foot within the gate, and struck the sentry, Kinsilla, twice—once on the left arm and once on the left hand, still endeavoring to pass his post.

That the discharge of the sentry’s musket followed the last blow from the club immediately, and that by this discharge the negro man was shot dead in attempting to force his way past the sentry’s post.

That the discharge of the musket was consequent upon the encounter between the negro and the sentry, and was not a deliberate or premeditated act on the part of the sentry.

That the sentry on post No. 2, Gallagher, heard the sentry on post No. 1, Kinsilla, at about 11 o’clock p. m., order a man to halt, but did not hear any conversation following this order.

That the corporal of the guard, Whelan, who was at the gangway of the James Adger when the musket was discharged, went instantly to the gate, where he found the sentry, Kinsilla, at his post, and saw the body of a black man lying just outside the gateway, apparently dead.

That the sentry, Kinsilla, reported to him that the man had attempted to pass after he had ordered him to halt, and had struck him twice with a club, and that the blow had discharged his musket and shot the man. Which statement Kinsilla made in substance to the chief engineer, Mr. Whipple, and the surgeon’s steward, Mr. White, who immediately followed the corporal of the guard to the gate. And that the sentry made the same report to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander John MacDearmid, who came upon the wharf soon after and interrogated him; and that these facts were so reported to the officer of the deck, Mr. Holloway, by the corporal of the guard.

That none of the negroes who were sleeping on the wharf were sufficiently near to overhear what was passing between the sentry and the man who was shot.

That there is no reliable testimony to show that any one was sufficiently near outside the gate to hear what was passing between the sentry and the man who was shot.

That the alcalde of Aspinwall afterwards visited the wharf, and after hearing from Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander MacDearmid a report of the affair, demanded that the sentry should be delivered to him, which demand Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander MacDearmid refused to comply with, but consented to produce the sentry before him at his office on the following morning, which he did.

That on the following morning Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander MacDearmid took the sentry, Kinsilla, on shore to the office of the alcalde, that he might be examined in. regard to the occurrence of the preceding night; and while so at the alcalde’s office the prefect demanded that Kinsilla be delivered up as a criminal, which Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander MacDearmid refused to do, and the sentry, Kinsilla, was returned on board the James Adger. The proceedings of the authorities on shore were subsequently in the nature of correspondence with the United States consul at Aspinwall, and copies of all letters on the subject are annexed to the record.

That private Kinsilla bears an excellent character on board the James Adger, and is particularly noted for his peaceful disposition. His appearance and demeanor before the court confirm this favorable testimony as to his character.

The court desire to add to this summary of the testimony the further statement, that so far from the shooting of persons on shore at Aspinwall by sailors or marines of the United States being a “not unusual occurrence,” the evidence taken on this point shows that the instance in question is the only one within the knowledge of the present United States consul, who has resided on the isthmus for fifteen years. It will appear from the record that the British vice-consul at Aspinwall, Mr. Thomas Cathcart Taylor, was invited to be present, either himself or by deputy, during the proceedings of the court, and was also desired to furnish the names of witnesses competent to testify in the case.

The correspondence between the court and Mr. Taylor shows why he was not present at the session of the court, and is appended to and made part of the record in the case.

WM. REYNOLDS, Commander United States Navy, President of the Court

H. E. Daniels, Judge Advocate.