Mr. Hollister to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to state that the city of Port-au-Prince is again quiet. General Faubert has evacuated La Coupe, leaving all his artillery in the hands of the President. For miles around the country is in absolute possession of the government. I hope this state of things will continue. I also desire to state that I have just completed a little round of visits to my consuls and commercial agents at St. Marcs, Gonaives, and Cape Haytien, and found everything in as good order as could be expected to exist during a period of insurrectionary war. I have been much complained of in the smaller ports for not visiting them more and giving them the presence of a ship of war, but I did not think it would be prudent to take the ship away from Port-au-Prince until affairs here were in a more settled state; so I have embraced this opportunity to make these visits while there was a lull here.
On my return we put into the harbor of St. Nicholas Mole, and I thought you might like to know the observations which Commander Irwin, of the Gettysburg, and I made of the harbor and its surroundings during the few hours that we spent there. I desired to have the government in possession of the opinion of a candid and experienced naval officer, such as I believe him to be, and I thought it would be worth while to follow his suggestions and take the soundings of such parts of the harbor as were not to be found on the old French charts. Perhaps you have not seen the mole, and I therefore venture a little description of it, although it is so out of the way of the ordinary works of nature that words cannot do it justice. The mole proper must be more than three miles long, is almost of uniform height, and at a distance looks like some vast Roman wall. It is mainly composed of limestone. Before you come to it, as you enter from the west, Cape St. Nicholas, on your right, is the first object that commands your attention. It is magnificently bold and volcanic-looking, and clouds always hide the summits so that you cannot well judge of its height. The harbor may be said to begin where the mole and the cape are at opposite points. In fact the cape proper begins nearly opposite the mole. At this point the cape rises from the water in a series of natural terraces, at proper distances for the mounting of guns. The first three seem as level as a house floor. The others are more rugged. I think there are six in all. As you enter the harbor the mole is on your left, and it stretches along between the ocean and the harbor, until it meets a little neck of land which protects the inner harbor from the ocean on the east. The village is of little consequence except to show how snug and cool and healthy a town would be on that site. It is situated on the right hand as you go in, almost at the entrance of the inner harbor. Just beyond the village, and before entering the little harbor, is an old French fort and magazine in a good state of preservation. The outer harbor is almost too deep for anchorage in some places, but protected enough from storms for that purpose, and would hold all the fleets of the world. Just in front of the fort, and for one-third of a mile further in, is a beautiful sand beach shaped like a crescent, and back of it a plateau extending to the mountain in the rear from a quarter to a half of a mile in width. Commander Irwin took the soundings all along this beach, and they ranged in accordance with a little chart marked A, prepared under his direction, which I herewith send you. [Page 363]The whole of this part of the harbor has a sand bottom, and the water is so clear that I could see the tufts of sponge and the little fish at a depth of eight fathoms. The whole length of this beach above described could be made into a perfect wharf by driving piles into the water at a depth demanded by any kind of ship, and filling in from the shore, so that all classes of vessels could be fastened there by cables in perfect safety. The table land behind the proposed wharf would be entirely practicable for building purposes, and behind the plateau are stone quarries on the mountain side for building materials. Besides this, near by, a river of good fresh water could be made available with little expense, and connected with any enterprise, either naval or otherwise. This river would also supply the city if it were fifty times as large as it is. * * *
It is as healthy a place as Newport. I slept on the hurricane deck in a cot, under an awning, all night, and was obliged to protect myself with a double blanket, and had a fine fresh breeze blowing in my face.
The inner harbor is so remote from the end of the mole that it is perfectly land locked by it. Aside from this, the mainland which forms this little pocket projects far into the water, leaving a deep and narrow channel, but wide enough for the passage of ships. After you get in, you can hardly persuade yourself that you are not on a little country lake surrounded by bold shores. Ships can anchor any and everywhere in this basin, according to their size. The commander went over its whole surface and took the soundings where he thought it necessary, and found them to correspond essentially with the old French chart made I don’t know how many years ago.
The outer harbor itself, with a battery on the end of the mole and batteries on the terraces of the cape, is perfectly unassailable. Besides, no ship could anchor outside the mole or outside the isthmus before described, for the purpose of landing troops, as it is a wild coast, and the waters are without soundings.
Aside from this, both the mole and isthmus are insurmountable, the mole being about eighty feet high, and the other, on the ocean side, I should judge from forty to fifty feet high. The back country a few niiles from the village is said to be exceedingly fertile, and the whole neighborhood is salubrious. * * * * * * *
I take this opportunity to say that in my opinion the firmness and judicious advice of Commander Irwin as well here as in all other ports which we have found it necessary to visit, have aided me here materially in allaying the bad passions of the contending parties, and in giving whatever support it is proper for us to give to a friendly power.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.