Mr. Hanaberg to Mr. Sullivan.
Sir: By a communication received from the consulate at Baranquilla I have been informed of your arrival in the country, and that you intended to leave Baranquilla on the 16th instant for the capital; consequently, I presume, this will reach you at Calamar, which is the port of this city on the Magdalena.
It is my duty to report to you the following circumstances which have occurred in connection with this consulate: On the 21st of last month some of the crew of the steamer Rayo, lying in this harbor as a Colombian war steamer, made their escape from that vessel, and coming to this consulate made complaint that themselves and several others, American citizens, were detained on board of that vessel illegally, and against their will; that they had shipped in the vessel at New York, as the R. R. Cuyler, under the American flag, for a voyage to Aspinwall, where they were to be discharged and receive their extra wages according to the laws of the United States; but that instead of going to Aspinwall the vessel came out to Santa Martha, where her name was changed to El Rayo, and the Colombian flag was hoisted in the place of the American; in consequence of which they refused to continue their service on board of the steamer, but were compelled to do so by threats of confinement in irons. They stated that the most of the men who were in the case stated were married, with families living in New York, where they were anxious to return.
I brought the matter at once to the notice of the President of the State, and sent his excellency two communications on the subject, receiving no answer except a verbal one, that the matter should be brought to the notice of the commander of the national marine and the commander of the Rayo, who, after several days, presented to me a crew list, certified by the collector of the port of New York, in form according to the laws of the United States. By this it appeared that the men were engaged for the steamer R. R. Cuyler, Captain Dollard, for a “voyage to a Colombian port, and from thence to any part of the world, at the orders of the Colombian government, for the term of two years.” But this paper did not contain the signatures of the men; neither has the vessel any articles signed by those men to authorize holding them to service under a foreign flag against their wish; and having taken the sworn deposition of several of them, it was evident to me that they had been deceived; consequently I demanded from his excellency the President that they should be discharged and paid off according to the laws of the United States, by which they should receive three months’ extra wages.
Receiving no answer to my demands, and fearing that those seamen might be imperilled on account of their being in the Rayo, which vessel was in the custody of a Spanish frigate in this harbor, I wrote to the commander of the United States vessel of war at Aspinwall stating the case, and requesting him to come here with his vessel and demand the release of those men, if he should think proper so to do.
On the 6th instant, the United States steamer Osceola, Commander J. P. Foster, came into port. Captain Foster sent his respects to the President, and offered to salute the town. The salute was declined for the reason that there were not the means of returning the compliment. The following day Commander Foster and myself waited upon the President, renewing my complaint, and requested to have the men, a list of whose names I had procured, sent to the consulate to be examined. This was agreed to; and after an examination of the men, and also of the crew list, in connection with the officers of the Rayo, Commander Foster was convinced, and those officers acknowledged, that the shipment of the crew was irregular, and that there was no right to retain those men. Commander Foster then sent a note to his excellency the President demanding the delivery of those men and their payment, and stating that, as he was anxious to leave, he desired to have the whole Case settled by three o’clock p. m. of the 8th. This note was delivered on the morning of that day, and at the same time a note was received from his excellency stating that the seamen would be delivered to the consulate.
In the afternoon thirteen seamen were received from the Rayo and sent on board the Osceola, together with four others who had previously escaped from the Rayo. No payment was made to these men, and they were sent on shore with only their clothes; consequently Commander Foster wrote another note to the President reminding his excellency that, besides the discharge of those sailors, he had demanded their payment, and that, being obliged to return to Aspinwall the next morning, he should leave that part of the matter in my charge for a settlement. I inclosed this note to his excellency in one from myself requesting a settlement as soon as convenient. To this I received an answer from his excellency, inclosing a note from the captain of the Rayo, recommending that, as those men were shipped at New York, where the regular shipping papers must exist, the settlement with regard to their remuneration had better be made in the United States by the government and the representatives of the United States of Colombia at that port. To this I have answered that, unless the full amount claimed by myself is paid to me here, I can only refer the case to the Department of State.[Page 1004]
I have since received a communication from the President of the State communicating a statement of the captain of the Rayo, that there were some twenty-six others of his crew who had been shipped on the same conditions as those who had been delivered, and who wished to leave the vessel; also recommends that I should go on board and examine those men, or have them come to the consulate for that purpose. In answer to this communication, I have informed his excellency that it is the desire of those who have the direction of the affairs of the Rayo to be relieved of so many of her crew, in the same manner as were released those whose discharge was demanded by this consulate. I can have nothing to do in the matter, as I consider it would be both unjust and inhuman to have any participation in the expulsion of those men from the vessel in a destitute condition in a foreign country, as I am not authorized, and have not the means of caring for distressed citizens for account of the government of the United States, although it is my duty to represent them in demanding their rights. I also say that I trust that the acknowledgment of the illegality of their detention may be accompanied by a just reparation and a remuneration for their services; also that the Osceola will probably return here in a few days, and it may be that Commander Foster will give those men a passage to Aspinwall, but that it ought not to be expected that the government of the United States should be at the expense of taking home the crew of the Rayo. I am sorry that I have not had time to prepare copies of the correspondence on this subject to send you, but it was only last evening that I heard that you had arrived at Baranquilla.
I have communicated everything to the Department of State, and shall continue to keep it informed of whatever may transpire in the case.
I expect the Osceola to return here about the 16th or 17th instant. Notwithstanding the national congress passed a law that the navy of the country should be disposed of, we now hear that the President, General Mosquera, has annulled the law by a decree establishing the navy and incorporating the Rayo in the same.
That vessel has, since the 21st ultimo, been lying in this harbor in the custody of a Spanish frigate; the principal parts of her machinery have been taken on board of the latter, and she is daily visited and examined by the Spanish officers.
In company with Commander Foster I visited the Spanish commander, who received us very courteously, and informed us that he was waiting orders from the admiral at Havana as to the disposal of the Rayo, and assured us that he should not resort to any extreme measures without giving due notice and facilities to any American citizens of the crew who desired to leave the vessel.
He inquired if we considered the officers of the vessel as American citizens. I replied, that my opinion was that, having voluntarily and knowingly enlisted in a foreign service, they were not entitled to protection from the United States government.
I presume you will have been informed of the political state of this part of the country. The Colombian steamer Colombia arrived here on the 12th, bringing five hundred and fifty national troops from Santa Martha.
A steamer is momentarily expected here from Aspinwall with the New York mail of the 1st instant.
I have the honor to subscribe, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
General Peter J. Sullivan, United States Minister to Bogota.