Mr. Wilson to Mr. Seward

No. 7.]

Sir: I beg to make known to the department that on the 13th ultimo there arrived at the port of La Guayra, from London, the Venezuelan war steamer Bolivar, lately purchased in that city for this government. She was officered and manned by officers and men, it is said, of the royal navy, who had been granted leave of absence for one year to enter the service of the republic. The contracts made by the consul of Venezuela were such, so far as concerned the officers and crew, that the government felt they could not be complied with under the provisions of the federal constitution, of which Captain Focke was duly apprised. Meanwhile the crew became clamorous for their pay, alleged to be due under the contract.

While these matters were under discussion, and before any conclusion had been arrived at, Captain Focke went aboard his vessel on the evening of the 30th ultimo at about nine o’clock; the Venezuelan portion of the crew was shortly after put into an open boat without oars, and the vessel took flight for parts unknown.

To what extent the captain is personally guilty is here a disputed question, for it is stated by some, on the authority of the Venezuelan sailors, that as soon as he went on board he was locked up in his cabin, and the orders to raise anchor given by the first officer; while by others it is asserted that the captain only carried out his previously expressed determination, to which latter opinion I am inclined.

However it may be, the vessel has disappeared, and the government of Venezuela, as you will perceive from the enclosed translation of a note from Mr. Seijas, dated October 31, 1866, received by me on the 5th instant, (which translation [Page 448] is marked enclosure 1,) asks that, in case she has taken refuge in the waters of the United States, she may be attached and delivered to her lawful owners.

I have not deemed it necessary to enter into many of the details of this extraordinary transaction on account of their contradictory character, and also because of the full statement of the affair in the communication of the minister of foreign relations, which I submit for your consideration.

With much respect, I am, sir, your obedient servant,


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

No. 1.

Mr. Seijas to Mr. Wilson


Third year of the law and eighth of the federation.

The minister of foreign relations of the United States of Venezuela has the honor to address the minister resident of the United States, and by order of the executive of the nation make known to the legation the following facts.

The steamer Bolivar, which arrived from London on the 13th of the present month, was purchased in that city, for the republic, on the 31st of January last, with the intention of employing her in its naval service. She was furnished with a Venezuelan commission in that understanding, and brought out an English commander, officers and crew, according to contracts made by the consul of this country in the city of London.

The government could not approve them, as it was agreed, among other things, that Captain John Focke should not be required to serve under the orders of any officer unless he were of the English navy, and of a higher rank than himself, and that in case a change of officers and crew took place the English portion should never be reduced to less than half of their whole number.

It being, moreover, an attribute of the national legislature, according to article 43, paragraph 25, of the constitution, to permit or refuse to foreigners admission into the public service, it was shown to the captain that this was a serious difficulty, and that the only means of remedying it, and avoiding others that might result from their being British subjects, (under the supposition that they continued in employ on other terms,) was that they should renounce their character (cualidad) of foreigners, otherwise the administration resolved to relieve them, paying what it owed them up to the day, according to stipulation maintaining them until an occasion presented itself for their departure, and defraying the expenses of their return home.

The captain assented with good will to this solution, and even stated that he himself had expected it would be so, because the government could not act differently, but that with respect to the officers and crew it was necessary to consult them. He went from here to La Guayra with this view, presenting on his return propositions on the acceptance of which depended his annulling the previous contracts. As exorbitant and unbecoming they were refused, and the government maintained its announced determination.

General Benjamin Arriens, chief of the squadron, was sent on board of the vessel, and as an order of his was disobeyed the captain was again called, and it was resolved that he should return to La Guayra in company with the minister of war and marine, in order that he might deliver over the command to his appointed successor.

All went on board of the vessel and General Aniens was recognized as commander of the same.

After disembarking, the captain, who in everything had shown himself in perfect accord with the government and the views of the executive, hinted that the best way to come to an understanding with the crew of the vessel was for him to go alone to see them and offer them payment for the month, which expired on the 27th instant. His wish being granted he went on board, and instead of returning to shore, he fled with the vessel at midnight. They left the Venezuelan crew (which had been placed on board) in a boat without oars; they were saved because they had the good fortune to fall in with a fisherman’s smack, which brought them to the shore at one o’clock a. m.

Such scandalous rebellion, which constitutes a real act of piracy, (because the vessel [Page 449] belongs to Venezuela, and as such flies her flag and pennant, carries her arms carved on the stern, and said officers and crew were considered in the service of the republic,) has caused the citizen primer designado to order, in consideration of this statement, that a demand be made for the attachment and delivery of the steamer Bolivar, with all her appurtenances, in the belief that her course may have been directed to the waters of the United States. And it is hoped from the kindness of the minister resident that he will be good enough to communicate these facts to his government, recommending and urging the just request of Venezuela.

The undersigned renews to Mr. Wilson the assurance of his distinguished consideration.

God and federation!