Mr. Burlingame to Mr. Seward

No. 124.]

Sir: It is my painful duty to inform you that the United States schooner General Sherman, while on a trading voyage to Corea, was destroyed and all on board murdered by the natives. The news was brought to Cheefoo by Admiral Rose, of the French fleet, the particulars of which please find in Mr. Sandford’s despatch, (A.) I refer you also to the letter of Meadows & Co., (B,) from which you will learn that the schooner was chartered and loaded by them and for what purpose.

As Corea was formerly tributary to China I brought the affair to the attention of Prince Kung, who at once disavowed all responsibility for the Coreans, and stated that the only connection between the two countries was one of ceremonial. I thereupon addressed the letter (C) to Admiral Bell, in which I limit myself to a suggestion as to what action should be taken.

As the French are seeking redress for the murder of their missionaries, (for account of which see Mr. Williams’ despatch, No. 37,) it may be that those on board the General Sherman were by the Coreans confounded with them; this seems the more probable, inasmuch as the crew of the Sherman were heavily armed. Recently an American crew under Captain McCaslin, (see Dr. Williams’ despatch, No. 44,) wrecked in Corea, were treated with the utmost kindness. My colleagues have written to their admirals, and I suppose in the spring there will be a large fleet in Corea. The issue of all will be the opening of the country. If my advice can have weight, it will be that our presence there should rather restrain than promote aggression, and serve to limit action to such satisfaction only as great and civilized nations should, under the circumstances, have from the ignorant and the weak.

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You have seen from my despatch, No. 122, what passions are aroused and to what their indulgence would lead. I am informed that; the French government does not contemplate an expedition against Corea, but after the virtual repulse of Admiral Rose it will be impossible to avoid it.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


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

[Enclosure A.]

Mr. Sandford to Mr. Burling ame.

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that the French fleet returned from Corea, October 3, and on the 4th it was reported here that the American schooner General Sherman had been wrecked, and all on board murdered by the natives. I immediately wrote to the admiral, requesting him to furnish me with what information he could, to which he replied:

“In reply to the letter which you have done me the honor of writing, I can do no better than send you the exact copy of a note that was sent me by Rev. P.Ridel, apostolic missionary: ‘On the 30th of September we were at anchor near Woody island, on the coast of Corea. During the night a Corean boat, with two natives on board, approached the Deroulede. Having recognized in one of them one of the sailors who had accompanied me in the spring on the voyage from Corea to Cheefoo, I succeeded in inducing them to come on board. Among other information, they told me that about the middle of the 7th moon, (about the end of the month of August,) a small vessel from the country of the West had appeared on the coast of Corea, in the province of Phienganso, which is in the extreme northwest of the kingdom. She was endeavoring to ascend the river, and to reach the city of Phiengiang, capital of this province, and had already arrived almost off this city, when she grounded on a sand-bank. The governor at once sent to the King’s father for instructions, whether he should put to death those on board, or should burn them and the vessel together. The King’s father replied, to burn the vessel and all on board. This barbarous order was executed.’ Such, sir, is the only information bearing at all upon the matters to which you allude, that has reached me.”

The General Sherman left here on the 9th of August; she called for water: took Mr. George Hogarth (British subject) as supercargo, and Rev. Mr. Thomas (British) as interpreter. The owner, W. B. Preston, (American) also went with them. Page, captain. Will son, chief mate, (both Americans.) The crew consisted of from 15 to 20, (Malays and Chinese.) Cargo, cotton goods, glass, tin plates, &c, &c. On October 7th, two Chinese junks arrived from Corea and made the following reports respecting the wreck and burning of a foreign schooner, viz: The captain of one of them was engaged by Mr. Thomas to pilot the schooner up the river Ping Yangso, as he was acquainted with him previously: he yielded, and took her up four tides. By this time the alarm had spread amongst the natives, they taking her for a pirate, and would not believe the pilot when he told them she was a peaceful trader.(The General Sherman was heavily armed.) All trade was stopped, and the natives began to collect in large numbers, when his friends on board the junk becoming alarmed, refused to allow him to go any further, saying that if he was killed, they would have no face to return to Yeutai. He, therefore, left them opposite to Little Ping Yangso, about half way up the river. They were still determined to proceed; this was about the middle of the 8th moon. You will notice here a disagreement between the dates given by the French missionary and this man. However, the other junk, it seems, did not reach Corea. On its nearing the coast, a junk put off, and warned them not to go in, as a foreign vessel had been wrecked opposite Ping Yangso, and the vessel, with all hands, burnt, on which the junkreturned to Yeutai.

On the night of the 27th instant, the two French missionaries, who had been concealed in the mountains in Corea, reached this place. They state that a foreign vessel was wrecked opposite Ping Yangso; after some fighting between the natives and those on board the schooner, the natives succeeded by strategy in drawing the men on shore, when they were surrounded, and their hands tied behind their backs. They were then made to kneel down on the shore, and were decapitated. The missionaries report there were 20 thus put to death.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. SANDFORD, United States Consul.

Hon. Anson Burlingame, Minister of the United States, Peking.

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[Enclosure B.]

Messrs. Meadows &c., Co. to Mr. Burlingame.

Sir: We, the undersigned British firm, beg leave to bring to your excellency’s notice the following circumstances, in order to obtain your excellency’s assistance in getting redress

During the latter half of July last the American schooner General Sherman arrived at this port, and was consigned to our care by Mr. Preston, the owner, who had come passenger on the vessel for the sake of his health. After we had taken delivery of the inward cargo, Mr. Preston and we came to an arrangement that we should load her with a cargo of foreign merchandise, and despatch her to Corea with a supercargo to sell the goods there. We accordingly loaded her with foreign merchandise, and on the 29th of July last she left Tientsin. Mr. Hogarth, one of our clerks, who went as supercargo, left previously in the steamer Shaftesbury for Cheefoo, in order to have a pilot and shroff ready on the General Sherman arriving there, and thus save delay. On the schooner reaching Cheefeo, Mr. Hogarth, accompanied by a Chinese pilot and a Cantonese shroff belonging to our firm, went on board; also Mr. Thomas, who having expressed a wish to visit Corea again, in order to extend his knowledge of the Corean language, went as passenger. From the day the vessel left Cheefoo till now we have received no written advices from Mr. Hogarth or Mr. Preston, or, in fact, from any one on board when she left Cheefoo.

On the 8th of October current we received letters from the partners of our firm in Cheefoo acquainting us that the French admiral’s vessel had come to Cheefoo, from Corea, with the news that the King of Corea had caused the General Sherman to be burnt with all on board, while proceeding up the Ping Yang river.

We immediately addressed Dr. Williams on the subject copy of our letter herewith enclosed.

On the 20th of October current we received further advices from our partner in Cheefoo, informing us that he had seen a junk captain who had piloted the schooner for four tides up the Ping Yang river, when he left her and returned to the mouth of the river to his junk, and finally to Cheefoo. This man stated that the Coreans had told him their king was opposed to foreign intercourse with his country. We imagine that this man, who understands something of the Corean language, knows something more about the vessel than he is inclined to divulge, fearing, Chinese-like, to mix himself up in the matter with the authorities to question him later on the points.

As the act of visiting Corea for the purposes of trade was not an act which could, in the eyes of civilized western nations, justify the Corean government in destroying those who committed it, we, the undersigned, have taken the liberty of addressing you for the purpose of bringing the above matters to your excellency’s notice, with the request that you will be pleased to beg his excellency Admiral Bell to make inquiries regarding the destruction of the vessel and her people, and take steps to cause the Corean government to make redress as far as such in the nature of things is practicable.

We have the honor to be, sir, your excellency’s most obedient servants.


Hon. Anson Burlingame, United States Minister Plenipotentiary.

P. S.—We beg to enclose copy of our letter to H. B. M.’s consul, Mr. Mongan, on the loss of the General Sherman, and requesting the British admiral’s assistance in the matter, Mr. Hogarth and Mr. Thomas being both British subjects.

M. &CO.

[Enclosure C]

Mr. Burlingame to Admiral Bell.

Sir: I find that the Chinese government disavows any responsibility for that of Corea, and all jurisdiction over its people.

Consequently the occurrences there relating to the General Sherman are beyond my jurisdiction. It may, however, strengthen your hands to receive a suggestion from me, that if consistent with your instructions, it may be well to send a vessel of war to inquire into the facts of the case, to the end that they may be reported to the government for its instructions. Having great confidence in your discretion, I leave the matter in your hands, where it prop erly belongs.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


H. H. Bell, Acting Rear-Admiral Commanding U. S. Asiatic Squadron.