Mr. Williams to Mr. Seward,
Sir: I have the honor to bring to your notice the case of the shipwrecked crew of the American schooner Surprise, the treatment which they received at the hands of the Corean and Chinese officials, and the kindness extended toward them by a French missionary who met them on their journey. I have condensed the principal facts of their history from the narrative of Captain M’Caslin.
On the 24th of June the crew left the schooner in a sinking condition, and reached an island, whose few inhabitants supplied them with rice, but wished them to leave as soon as they had eaten it, which, however, a storm prevented their doing until the next day. Going on nearly 20 miles toward the northwest, they saw a village on the mainland, which they thought best to reach, if possible, in order to obtain food and rest. On approaching it from the beach, they were surrounded by about 200 natives, who would not allow them to move until an officer arrived and was ready to receive them. This was done in the open air, and by means of the Chinese cook they were able to make him understand their condition, after which they were comfortably provided for during two days. Another official then arrived who likewise interrogated them minutely, but would not let them leave the village, keeping the party under a guard of soldiers within a small enclosure. On the fourth day a third officer came from the capital, bringing with him a Chinese interpreter, who henceforth took charge of them, giving them abundance of good food, tobacco, and even medicines for the sick.
After remaining in this village for 24 days, a special courier arrived from the capital to conduct the whole party to the Chinese frontier. The first day’s journey of 14 miles on foot, over a rugged mountainous country, brought them to a large city, where they were courteously treated, furnished with suits of clothes, and well fed. From this place two days’ riding brought them to the [Page 415] large frontier town where they; were comfortably lodged until notice could be given to the Chinese, and another escort arrived on the tenth day. Meanwhile they were placed in a government building, under a guard, and each man furnished with a suit of clothes. Chickens, beef, corn and rice were served out to them, and on three occasions they were invited to dine with the authorities of the town, when each of them received a catty of tea and a fan.
Two days journey on horseback from this city, through a wild and uninhabited country, brought the party to a wall about 30 feet long and 20 feet high, in which was the gate that divides Corea from China; they stopped in a town near it that night, and the next morning went to a walled town about 10 miles off, where they were delivered to the Chinese authorities, and remained two days. Their food was insufficient, and of the poorest quality; and during the journey to Mukten which city they reached after six days’ hard travelling, they had only an allowance of millet and corn. The officer at Mukten would give them nothing, and the escort took them to an inn outside of the city, where a French missionary, hearing of their distress, sent for them; but the escort refused to let them go. However, Captain McCaslin and two others did go, and were kindly received and supplied with a good meal. The next day the authorities again declined to receive them, and they all went back to the inn to spend the night; but before going to bed all went on to the Pere Gillie’s house, who furnished them with a dinner.
Next morning they were again brought before the city authorities, who gave them in charge to four people, one of whom furnished mats for sleeping, and the others took them to a kind of lock-up, where several hundred criminals were detained. The filthiness of the place was unendurable, and some of the men managed to rush about and get outside of the enclosure, from whence they all ran beyond the city gates, and reached Père Gillie’s house only a few moments before the policemen came to carry them back. He refused to let them go, until a proper place for lodging was provided, and sufficient food. After two days, he went with them into the city to the authorities, and, according to Captain McCaslin’s belief, it was entirely owing to his energetic remonstrances and intervention that the party were saved from death through starvation and exposure in Mukten by being immediately sent on to Niuchwang. They were furnished with mules the next day, and reached Yingtsz after seven days’ journey, where they were delivered to the United States consul nearly two months after they were wrecked.
On learning the particulars here narrated, I addressed a letter of thanks to the French charge d’affaires in this city, (enclosure A,) who has forwarded it to Mr. Gillie. I respectfully request, too, that if you deem it proper, a testimonial of some kind may be sent to him as a mark of approbation for his kind succor to our unfortunate countrymen. The danger they were afraid of in dying from neglect was not imaginary, for travellers visiting Mukten have come across Russian sailors in the streets, who had been living there a twelvemonth in great destitution, their existence being unknown to the Russian consuls.
In my despatch of August 8th, (No. 37,) I referred to the hostile proceedings of the French naval commander against the Corean government. Before Admiral Rose had sent any vessels to that coast, another American schooner was wrecked, and the hull burned by the Coreans, as is their usual wont; but, according to the reports which have since come here from Chifu, they murdered all her company. This consisted of five foreigners, (three Americans and two British—one a passenger,) and 19 Manillamen, as sailors. I have not been able to learn more than that she had gone over on an experimental trading voyage. The Surprise had very little, if any, cargo on board.
The reports concerning the fate of these men being doubtful and conflicting, I addressed a note (enclosure B) to the Chinese officers, which they promised to send off the next morning to Manchuria. If anybody from the General Sherman [Page 416] should be given to the authorities there, I hope they will receive better usage.
I hear that the French have already effected a landing in Corea, but nothing more of importance has been learned of their movements. The force now there consists of six ships. I enclose a copy of the notification of blockade, (enclosure C,) and shall apprise the department of the operations that are made public. I suppose the expedition will result, in throwing open to the western world the last country which now forbids intercourse with other lands, and whose rulers have jealously guarded their subjects from the least acquaintance with their fellow-men. It is full time that Corea was introduced into the family of nations.
I have, the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D, C.