Mr. Hollister to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to state that the Haytien corvette Alexandre Petion arrived in this port on or about the 23d September last, and at once proceeded, under the command of Captain Nickells, an American citizen, to the port of Petit Goave, with the President on board, for the purpose of capturing the two ships Sylvain and Liberte, which were in possession of the rebels. He went within easy range of the Sylvain with the American flag flying at the peak of his ship, thus using our colors [Page 365]as a decoy to deceive the officers of the Sylvain. As soon as he was ready for action, he instantly hauled down the American flag and hoisted the Haytien colors, opening fire on the Sylvain at the same moment. This affair has caused much excitement in the country, and all the rebel chiefs have written to me in regard to it, some of them in a threatening way, and intimating that our flag would not be respected by them unless the thing was explained. Of course I have not felt at liberty to reply to their letters, but I have written to our vice-consuls and other officers residing in the ports held by the rebels, stating that I considered such a use of the American colors improper, and contrary to the practice of civilized nations upon the high seas, and authorizing those officers to say to such persons as they might see fit to communicate with, that such was my opinion; also to say that I should immediately take your advice upon the subject, and if I found that I was wrong, I should inform them by the first mail.
I have also remonstrated with Mr. Pate, the secretary of foreign affairs, in relation to the matter above communicated. He did not claim to approve of what had been done, but seemed disposed to think that I had been misinformed in regard to the facts. I am sure that I have stated them correctly, for I have them from Captain Nickells himself. Please advise me in the premises.
On the 5th instant, the American steamship Maratanza arrived in this port. She had been sent here by Messrs. A. S. & W. G. Lewis, of Boston, to be sold to the government, if terms could be agreed upon. As it was necessary for me to visit our consular agent at Jeremie, and as I could not ask the commanders of the British, French, or Spanish ships of war constantly kept here, and as I had no American ship to carry me, I begged the privilege of going on board the Maratanza, with the promise that I should be landed at Jeremie for the purpose aforesaid. When we arrived off Jeremie, we found that the Alexandre Petion was there, with the President on board, bombarding the town. I asked to be sent on shore under a flag of truce, in order that I might see Mr. Wiener, and assist him in protecting American interests. I was told by the captain of the ship that he could not comply with my request, as he was informed by the captain of the Alexandre Petion that the rebels in port had fired upon a flag of truce the day before, and that he would not be responsible for my safety, or that of his men, if I attempted to go ashore. Within a few hours the President came on board the Maratanza, and, soon after, I was informed that the government of Hayti had bought the ship. The American colors were at once hauled down, and replaced by the Haytien flag. Not long after, I saw preparations were being made on board for bombarding the town. I requested the officers of the ship not to do it until I could be landed, if not at Jeremie, at some other convenient place. They disregarded my request, and opened upon the town, discharging, I think, eight shots.
I am informed by Mr. Wiener that five hundred and seventy-five shells have been thrown into the place with very little damage.
The President left Port-au-Prince yesterday, as is supposed, for Jeremie, and it is thought that his intention was to renew the attack. I would be much obliged to you, if it is possible, to send me a ship of war, in order that I may visit Jacmel, Aux Cayes, Jeremie, Miragoane, St. Marc, and all other places where there are American interests to be protected. It seems more important now than heretofore that I should have such a ship. All the other powers represented here regard it as highly important to their citizens that they should be so protected, and our [Page 366]interests here are much more important than theirs. I will advise you from time to time.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.