Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward

No. 377.]

Sir: I have the honor to enclose a copy of the correspondence which has passed between this legation and the minister of foreign affairs since my last communication, in relation to a seizure of powder on board the schooner William L. Richardson, Captain Goodwin, in the gulf of California. The Marquis de Moustier proposes to postpone the final consideration of this claim until the organization of a mixed commission, which he informs me has been strongly urged upon his government by the cabinet at Washington, and to which the Emperor is ready to accede.

As I have been advised of no negotiations modifying my instructions No. 43 and No. 287, and as the Marquis de Moustier’s predecessor had never suggested the suspension of this claim upon any such pretext, I gave his excellency yesterday to understand that I presumed my government would have advised me of any negotiations pending at Washington or elsewhere, if it intended that they should in any way modify my conduct here; that I had received no intimation of the kind from Washington, though I could readily see many advantages in [Page 361] referring claims of this class to a commission with powers; and that for the present I should content myself with referring his communication to my government for further instructions.

His excellency then remarked that he was also awaiting additional information from the minister of marine.

I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,


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

Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Drouyu de Lhuys

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the note verbale which your excellency addressed to this legation on the 26th of March, 1865, in relation to a hundred barrels of blasting powder, seized on board the American schooner William L. Richardson, in the gulf of California, by one of the vessels of the French naval division on the Pacific.

Your excellency informs me that an application, made through my immediate predecessor by some California merchant, to ship blasting powder monthly to certain Mexican ports for use in the mines of Mexico, has been refused on the ground that powder delivered at any point where actual war prevailed must be regarded as contraband of war, and that the government of the Emperor already had knowledge of operations of that character which had worked to the advantage of its enemies.

Your excellency further states that the case of the schooner Richardson falls within the foregoing rule, from which your excellency represents that there was the less occasion to depart, as the French authorities were in possession of reliable information that the powder with which she was laden was destined to the use of guerillas whom Señor Vega was trying to organize in the States of Sonora and Sinaloa.

Though my government entertained no doubt that the destination of the schooner Richardson was correctly represented in the statement of Captain Goodwin, which I had the honor to transmit to your excellency on the 9th of March, 1865, and that the cargo of powder was designed exclusively for mining purposes, the doubts which you express in regard to the correctness of the representation led me to refer the case back to Washington, whence I have received some additional proof, which I now have the honor to submit to you in the annexed enclosures, marked, respectively, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and to which I invite your attention. I do not know what authority your excellency may have for stating that the cargo of powder on board the William L. Richardson was shipped for La Paz; but whatever it may be, the testimony which I have now the honor to submit, and that which I have submitted on a previous occasion, constrains me to think that your excellency has been misled. The manifest of the schooner, the sworn statement of Captain Goodwin, the formal declarations of the director and engineer of the Arizona Mining Company, the letter of the United States consul at La Paz, and, finally, the written admission of the French officer who made the seizure, all concur to show that the powder in question was shipped to Arizona, and not for La Paz, or any other Mexican port.

Had there been any question at La Paz about the destination of the powder at the time of its seizure, Captain de la Canrè would hardly have given Captain Goodwin a certificate, in which he speaks in so many words of his seizure “of the one hundred kegs of powder, shipped in San Francisco on the schooner William L. Richardson, to be delivered to Paul Helder at Fort Yanca, Colorado river,” &c.

These documents seem to prove by the highest order of testimony—

1. That the schooner William L. Richardson was an American vessel, bound from one American port to another.

2. That the powder seized was of a kind known as blasting powder, and was designed to be used for industrial purposes at Tubac, in Arizona, and within the territory of the United States.

My government is in possession of no evidence which tends to impeach the testimony of any of the witnesses to whose statements I have referred, or to invalidate the conclusions to which it has conducted me. I venture to believe that it will prove upon perusal equally satisfactory and conclusive to your excellency.

Assuming, as I feel authorized to do, that the powder on board of the Richardson was bound from one American port to another, it can make no difference, so far as the owner’s right to indemnity is concerned, whether it was contraband of war or not. The United States, while recognizing the right of France to prevent contraband of war from reaching Mexican territory, will not be expected to allow any exercise of that right to interfere with perfect freedom of trade between her ports. The most rapid and inexpensive, and in fact the only [Page 362] available mode of shipping merchandise from the United States to the Arizona Mining Company, is by the route taken by Captain Goodwin through the gulf of California and the Colorado river. The freedom of the navigation of that gulf and river are guaranteed to us by a solemn treaty still in unimpaired vigor, and if any of the exigencies of war should lead to an unlawful seizure in these waters of American merchandise, I am aware of no principle of equity or law by virtue of which full indemnity for the damage sustained by the owner of the property can be refused.

The length of time which has elapsed since this seizure was made authorizes me to express the hope that this case will receive your excellency’s early attention.

I avail myself of this opportunity to renew to your excellency the assurances of high consideration with which I have the honor to be your excellency’s very humble and very obedient servant,


His Excellency Monsieur Drouyn de Lhuys, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paris.

Mr. Moustier to Mr. Bigelow

Sir: I have examined the reasons that have delayed, up to the present time, the final settlement of the claim which you have made upon the Emperor’s government in behalf of the owners of the American schooner W. L. Richardson. My predecessor had only proposed to postpone the examination of it until the claims which we have to make against the government of the United States should themselves be put in the way of settlement. You are doubtless informed that we have been for some time in negotiation upon this subject with the Washington cabinet. This cabinet has been very urgent that the mixed commission which it was proposed to establish for this purpose should be authorized to act at the same time upon the French claims made against the United States and upon the American claims made against us. We have assented to this proposition, and it is not owing to us that we have not already arrived at a complete understanding upon this question. You will comprehend, therefore, that we were waiting until there should be a definite agreement between the two governments in regard to the manner in which it would be best to proceed in relation to the claim which you have recalled to my notice. It is indispensable, in any case, that my department should obtain, in relation to this affair, fuller information from the ministry of marine, and I shall immediately request that department to furnish it to me.

Accept assurances, &c., &c.