Mr. Seward to Mr. Hollister.
Sir: Your dispatch of the 21st of October has been received. You mention that the Haytien corvette Alexandre Petion arrived at Port-au-Prince on the 23d of September last, and at once proceeded, under the command of Captain Nickells, a citizen of the United States, to the port of Petit Groave, with the President on board, for the purpose of capturing the two ships, Sylvain and Liberté, which were in possession of the rebels; that he went within easy range of the Sylvain, with the American flag flying at the peak of the ship, thus using our colors as a decoy to deceive the officers of the Sylvain; that as soon as he was ready for action, he instantly hauled down the American flag and hoisted the Haytien colors, opening fire upon the Sylvain at the same time. You mention that you have written to our vice-consul and other officers residing in the ports held by the rebels, stating that you 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 this was your opinion; also to say that you should immediately take my advice upon the subject. You mention also that you remonstrated with Mr. Pate, the Haytien secretary of foreign affairs/in relation to the same matter.[Page 370]
You were entirely right in denouncing the conduct of Captain Nickells, as also you were right in remonstrating with the secretary of state for foreign affairs in relation to the matter. It is manifest, from your report of the transaction, that President Salnave, if he did not command it himself, at least permitted the abuse of the United States flag on that occasion, a proceeding by which the dignity and honor of the United States are greatly offended. You will, therefore, immediately address a communication to the Haytien government, asking an early explanation, with due satisfaction for that disrespectful and unfriendly proceeding. An inquiry will be instituted, with a view to a punishment of Captain Nickells for his conduct on the occasion referred to.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Gideon H. Hollister, Esq., &c., &c., &c.