Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Third Session of the Fortieth Congress
Mr. Sullivan to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Inclosed are copies of the latest correspondence had between the American consul at Carthagena and myself, as to whether he should recognize the acts of the commander of the Colombian war steamer Rayo should that officer now hoist the American flag.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
Mr. Manaberg to Mr. Sullivan.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your official communication No. 5, of date 25th ultimo, and by the same I observe that you approve my action in the case of the crew of the steamer Rayo.
Captain Foster of the Osceola having given his crew liberty here, one of the crew murdered another while on shore, as I have already informed you. On the 2d instant I accompanied Captain Foster to call upon the President of the State, when he expressed to his excellency his regret for what had occurred among his crew in the city, and requested, if consistent with the laws of the country, that the criminal be delivered to him to be tried and punished in accordance with the laws of the United States navy, to which he belonged. His excellency replied that as the offense had been committed on the soil of Colombia and against the laws of this country, the man could not be given up, but should be tried and punished in accordance with these laws. I told his excellency that there were antecedent circumstances in relation to the case, the testimony for which could only be obtained among the crew, and that consequently it would be advantageous for the ends of justice that the criminal be tried where this testimony could be obtainid. His excellency replied that it was impossible to surrender the offender, but if we wished to present this testimony it would be received.
Captain Foster then referred to the case of the crew of the Rayo, and spoke of the injustice of sending those men (many of whom were American citizens) on there in a destitute condition, and dependent on the charity of myself and others for their subsistence after they had been in the service of this country several months. At this stage of the interview General Chacer, rear-admiral of the Spanish navy, who had arrived at this port on the day previous in the steamer Francisco de Abis, came into the palace, and as we had been informed by his excellency the President that an interview had been appointed with this officer for that hour, we considered it proper for us to retire. On leaving, however, I handed his excellency a note, of which I send a copy, in relation to the same matter. His excellency assured me he would attend to it as soon as he could confer with the commander of the Rayo.
The same evening Commander Read called on me, at the request of his excellency, and showed me, attached to his crew list the signatures of the seamen in whose behalf I had applied for wages; which signatures appeared to have been affixed since the vessel was under the Colombian flag.
I told him that in such a case there should be no further interference on my part. He said that the President would give us an answer as regarded the other men by nine o’clock the next day.[Page 1010]
Not having an answer at twelve o’clock the following day, I again called upon his excellency and stated that the Osceola could remain no longer; that sufficient time had been given, if it had been the desire to discharge and pay off those men and send them on board of the Osceola, or to have answered my note; but that as neither had been done, Commander Foster must leave at once, and could only report the matter to the commanding officer on the station.
His excellency then apologized for not having acted more promptly in the case, saying he had been occupied by his conference with the Spanish commander, and that the same had been productive of such favorable results as he thought would also assist to arrive at a satisfactory settlement of the present question. He then informed me that it had been agreed that the Rayo should be released upon the guarantee of his. excellency, as agent of the national government, that she should not be disposed of to any enemies of Spain. He remarked that he presumed that when this circumstance was known to the crew of the vessel in question they would be contented to remain in her; but if not, his excellency assured me that their wages should be paid for the time they had served under the Colombian flag, and their passage paid by the royal mail steamer to Aspin-wall. I told him that this would be satisfactory.
I then reported his excellency’s agreement to Captain Foster, who then left for Aspinwall. On the following day, having to call upon his excellency in relation to other matters, he informed me that the arrangement with the Spanish admiral had not been fulfilled by the latter, who excused himself, saying that he had received orders from the Captain General of the island of Cuba not to release the Rayo except with the guarantee of the national President. It is the general opinion here, however, that reports from on shore, and from the authorities at Santa Martha, influenced the Spanish officer to act as he did. As the mail steamer was to sail yesterday, I applied to his excellency, who gave me a list and the account of seventeen seamen, which had been presented to him by the commander of the Rayo, as being the only persons among his crew who were dissatisfied and had a right to claim American protection. These accounts were made not only for the time the vessel had been under the Colombian flag. I thought it best to accept them, however, mentioning to his excellency that I reserved for these men the right to claim the wages due them up to the time of their arrival at Santa Martha, either from this government or the parties who shipped them at New York. I also intimated to him that I had not had an opportunity to inform myself if those seventeen men constituted the whole of those of the crew who were so situated, and for whom it was my duty to claim.
I then received from his excellency an order for the money due the men on their accounts, and pay their passage to Aspinwall. This I paid to those men who were delivered to me on board the royal mail steamer, by which I sent them yesterday. Commauder E. J. Read, of the Rayo, called on me and stated that he had been employed by the Colombian minister at Washington, General Salgar, to procure and fit out certain vessels for the Colombian government, also to obtain officers and crews for the same; that under such instructions he had procured the “R. R. Cuyler,” an American steamer, which was allowed to leave the port of New York to come to this coast, where she was to assume the Colombian flag, with the knowledge of the President of the United States and all such authorities as were competent to interfere in the matter, and with their consent. He has shown me his authorization from Mr. Salgar. He says that in accepting his commission, himself and the officers of his vessel expected to transfer their allegiance from the United States of America to the government of Colombia in good faith, with the change of flag of the steamer.
But he now has reason to suppose that the steamer may not be recognized as a Colombian vessel, and himself and companions as officers of the Colombian navy, either by this government or Spain; and that in such a case the change of nationality, both as regards the vessel and the officers and crew, has been illegal, and consequently they shall claim to be still American; and he desired to know from me if, in such a case, he should hoist the American flag on the vessel and claim protection for himself and the officers and crew, whether I would recognize and protect them. As this is a serious matter, I declined answering him until I could refer the matter to yourself.
I trust, therefore, that you will instruct me how to act in such a case. It is evident to me that the officers of this vessel are dissatisfied with their position, and I think it is probable they may take some step of this kind very soon.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
General Peter J. Sullivan, United States Minister, Barranquilla.
Mr. Sullivan to Mr. Hanaberg.
Sir: Your dispatch of June 2, No. 15, relative to the nationality of the war steamer Rayo, and the intimation of her commander, Captain E. G. Read, to hoist the American flag if protected by you, reached me but yesterday.
As to the nationality of this steamer I have no other evidence before me than the verbal statement of the American commercial agent at the port of Santa Martha, which is: “That the said Read, when at that port, very adroitly (without giving up the register under which, as he said, he had brought this steamer from the port of New York) changed her name from Cuyler to Rayo, and her nationality from that of the United States of America to that of the United States of Colombia.”
Under what register, under what flag, was this steamer and her commander acting at the time she was taken possession of by the Spaniards? By what means had he procured the registry of this steamer from the collector of the port of New York? By what authority does he now claim the right to hoist the American flag, and thus change this war vessel from the Colombian to the American navy? I know of none.
Captain Read cannot, in the absence of justifiable evidence, which has not yet been produced to me, claim protection under, the register and flag of the United States, which he had bartered at Santa Martha for the Colombian register and flag.
You must not take his mere assertions as to any knowledge or approval of the United States of the character and extent of his employment by the Colombian government.
In my dispatch to you of the 25th of May (No. 5) I had stated my views on the employment and detention of the crew of this vessel; but can the officers claim protection of the United States on the ground of their ignorance of the true character of this steamer at the time they had procured her for the Colombian service?
Should Captain Read, under these circumstances, now hoist the American flag, he would, in my opinion, have committed a high crime against the laws of the United States, for which you would, I think, be justified in arresting and sending him home for trial.
But, again, I advise you to be cautious in this matter; and I am clearly of the opinion that you should be guided by the suggestions which you will find in my dispatch above alluded to.
I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,
Aug. S. Hanaberg, Esq., U. S. Consul at Carthagena, United States of Colombia.