Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 7, 1874
Mr. Hall to Mr. Davis.
Havana , November 12, 1873. (Received Nov. 18.)
Sir: Referring to my No. 294 and No. 295 of 5th instant, 297 of 7th, 298 and 301 of 8th instant, relating to the capture of the Virginius by a Spanish vessel of war, off the coast of Jamaica, 1 now transmit herewith copies of correspondence received from Santiago de Cuba, to which I respectfully call the Department’s attention.
From the statement made by the governor of Santiago de Cuba, in his reply to Mr. Schmitt; the vice-consul, it appears that Ryan did not allege his American citizenship. The consul at Kingston, Jamaica, informs Mr. Schmitt that the Virginius was under the flag of the United States, and was regularly cleared at that port for Colon, (Aspinwall.)
Late last evening the news was published of another massacre. It appears that on the 7th and 8th instant the captain and thirty-six of the crew of the Virginius and sixteen others were shot.[Page 1063]
It must be charitably supposed that these executions took place before orders (if any have been sent) from here could reach Santiago de Cuba for their suspension.
I further inclose an extra “Voz de Cuba,” published last evening, containing the statement above alluded to, and respectfully call the Department’s attention to the files of “Diario de la Marina,” and “Voz de Cuba,” transmitted to day, of which I have not time to take extracts or make translations.
I am, &c,
Mr. Schmitt to Mr. Hall.
Santiago de Cuba , November 8, 1873.
Sir: I addressed you yesterday, and forwarded through the kindness of the French consul the copies of several documents, originals of which I forwarded by mail. I do the same with this present communication, and forward duplicate of a dispatch I sent the commandant-general this morning. You will please excuse this action, as there is so much mystery in this affair, of trials under martial law, and military tribunals in session night and day, that none can tell what may happen to ordinary correspondence.
I now have to inform you, after my mail of yesterday afternoon some one hundred and odd persons of those captured passed from on board of the steamers Virginius and Tornado in front of my residence on their way to the jail, fastened together by fours. Last night a court-martial was convened at the jail for the purpose of trying Varona a Bembeta. This morning the trial of a number of others, chosen by lot, is still going on.
Early this morning Governor Burriel sent for Ramon Cespedes, the President’s brother, and had a secret interview of an hour with him, result not known; but, as I am privately informed, it was to find out whether he could manage the presentation of his brother the President, and arrange matters without compromising himself, and that he replied that he could with his brother.
Five of the prisoners, namely, Quesada, Jesus del Sol, Ryan, and Harris, were presented to the Spanish officers appointed for their trial and interrogatory. It is rumored that they will be executed immediately, under the responsibility of the commanding general, Burriel, who takes it upon himself until further orders come from the new captain-general, probably for the rest, as certain preparations at the jail look as if the execution might come off to-night or to-morrow at daybreak.
No reply to my communication of yesterday to the general had reached me up to 9 o’clock this morning. I have, therefore, sent another dispatch to the same authority, as per copy inclosed, which may serve you to transmit to the Department of State. As events follow each other so rapidly, I have no time to write to the Hon. Secretary of State.
As you will perceive, I have not been admitted to the jail nor on board, although I have been several times to see about it, but have not as yet (3 p.m.) received any permit to do so, nor any answer whatever from his excellency. Pity that an American war-ship is not here to sustain my claim, and the cable telegraph uninterrupted, that I might inform you of what is going on, although, perhaps, the brigadier would not allow my telegrams to pass; and the cable-agent says he cannot do any better than he stated in answer to my communication to him on the subject, and, consequently, you will yourself be unable to inform me here what you may obtain from the captain-general in regard to this case and in favor of some of these unfortunates. Such proceedings on the part of brigadier-commandante, General Burriel, of not answering official dispatches, ought to be reported to the captain-general.
In case I do not receive a satisfactory reply from his excellency, I shall have to protest against all informalities, and of his excellency, and against the trial of the American citizens detained and imprisoned, for not having been permitted to see them at and during their examination.
I have, &c,
Mr. Schmitt to General Burriel.
Santiago de Cuba , November 3, 1873.
Sir: I would most respectfully inform your excellency that it has come to my knowledge that the steamer Virginius, which was brought into this port at half-past 5 o’clock p.m. on the 1st instant, convoyed by the Spanish war-steamer Tornado, as a vessel captured on the high seas, having on board a great many passengers, besides the captain and crew, was cleared from Kingston, Jamaica, and, as I understood that the said steamer sailed under the American colors, I therefore, as the representative of the United States Government at this city and port of Santiago de Cuba, went yesterday morning at 9 o’clock precisely to the office of the Submarine Cable Telegraph Company to transmit a telegram to the United States consul at Kingston, Jamaica, asking the nationality of the steamer Virginius, and if cleared under American papers; which telegram was objected to and detained by your excellency, as I had the honor to communicate to your excellency by my letter of yesterday, 2d instant, of which I am surprised at receiving no reply relative to the subject, which under such pressing circumstances would be of great value to the numerous American citizens concerned., and which answer I am anxiously awaiting.
I would also beg your excellency, (having not received any communication from any of the Spanish authorities, and particularly from your excellency, of the event,) considering that I ought to have been notified, and also permitted to call on the American citizens detained at the jail in this city, as well as the captain and crew of the aforesaid steamer, to allow that I be admitted to the jail and on board of the vessels where the latter are detained as prisoners, to enable me to fulfill my duties as consul-representative of the United States Government.
I have, &c,
Mr. Schmitt to General Burriel.
Santiago de Cuba , November 3, 1873.
Sir: I would most respectfully inform your excellency that until this hour, half-past 6 p.m., November 3, I have not had the honor to receive any reply from your excellency to my official communications of 2d instant and of this morning, referring to a telegram directed to the United States consul at Kingston, Jamaica, detained by your excellency and not forwarded, and also to not having received any communication from any of the Spanish authorities, and particularly from your excellency, of the affair of the steamer Virginius, which was, according to the last reports published in the newspapers and publicly known, in the neighboring island of Jamaica, as a national American steamer, under the flag of the United States of America, with all her papers and clearance legally authenticated and sealed with the arms of the said United States; and to my request to be permitted to call and communicate with the American citizens, captain, crew, and passengers of the aforesaid steamer, either in jail or on board of the vessels in port, having to fulfill my consular duties as the representative of the American Government, and according to the treaty between Spain and the United States of the year 1795.
And as I have not been in any way or manner attended to by your excellency, in consideration of my reiterated requests in this matter, and not having admitted any of them, neither knowing what has been done as to the rights of the American citizens, as well as those of the captain, crew, and vessel, in accordance to the aforesaid treaty between Spain and the United States, article seventh, I must respectfully protest, your excellency, against the authorities and the Spanish government, as I, in the name and as representative of the United States, do solemnly protest against the Spanish government, and all and every person or persons, for their performances, irregularities, trials, and condemnations that may occur to any and every American citizen or citizens concerned, detained, and imprisoned, for all damages, prejudices, whether personal or otherwise, which may happen to any or every one of the American citizens who were on board of the American steamer Virginius, as well as to all interests or value of the aforesaid steamer which may be claimed by her owners, or whomsoever interested; all of which shall be transmitted to the consul-general at Havana and to the Department of State at Washington.
I am, &c,
General Burriel to Mr. Schmitt.
Eastern Department of the Island of Cuba.
I have received your communications, one dated the 2d instant and the remaining two others the 3d instant; the first inquiring if it was true that a telegram had been detained by my orders which you had addressed to the United States consul in Kingston, Jamaica, asking information as to the nationality of the steamer Virginius, seized on the high seas as a pirate by the Spanish war-steamer Tornado. In my desire to correspond duly to the exquisite zeal which you show in this matter I would, have replied at once to your communication, but as I received it precisely at the moment of important and peremptory affairs, to which I had to devote myself exclusively; further, the past two days were holidays, upon which the officials do not come to the offices, being engaged, as well as every one else, in the meditation of the divine mysteries of All Saints and the commemoration of All Souls days, as prescribed by our holy religion; consequently, it was impossible for me, until early this morning, to comply with your wishes, as well as my own, to answer your communications.
Upon doing so, I have to inform you that, although I regretted to do so, I gave the order to the chief of the telegraph station, to which you refer, to detain your telegram, acting thus by virtue of the powers granted me by the regulations, according to which this service is performed on this island and approved by government.
Regarding the first of the two communications which I received yesterday from your consulate, in which you are pleased to state your surprise at not having received an answer to that of the previous day, and especially for not having been called to the jail, nor notified of the capture of the pirate vessel, which, as you have heard, was sailing under American colors, and the interests of numerous American citizens therein concerned, you undoubtedly referring to the so-called passengers of the Virginius, I have to state in reply, that you ought not to have been surprised at riot receiving my answer as much on account of the short period of time between one and the other communication as for the circumstances which prevented my doing so, as I have already stated.
And as to being surprised at not having been notified, I regret on that account the concern which you show, as although in effect the Virginius sailed under American colors, (a phrase not very intelligible for me, supposing you mean to say that she sailed under cover of the flag of the nation you represent, as, in this sense, there are as many American colors as there are nations in both continents of the New World, and even in some of the islands,) you will permit me to say in reply that I could not, for my part, decide upon the act of notification you desired. In the first place, every one knows, for the fact wifts public and notorious, in Europe as well as in America, that the steamer Virginius, destined by its successive and numerous owners to aid the insurrection in this island, bringing to it, secretly and piratically, arms, munitions of war and men, was accustomed to sail under all colors, making use of the national distinctions of different nations, even those of Russia, China, or Japan, according as their wicked, piratical plans might require, although more often covering themselves with the respectable flag of the United States, inferring thereby, in my opinion and in that of honorable men of all civilized countries, a grave insult to the noble nation you represent, and whose liberality has been so abused by the said vessel. Besides, as the vessel and her crew are now held to the action of a court, the only competent authority to judge of the convenience, justice, and necessity of giving information to a foreign consulate concerning their proceedings, my authority was and is not sufficient to decide on the convenience and necessity of doing as you requested.
Neither could I foresee your desire to repair with such haste to the jail where the prisoners were incarcerated, much less that you desired to do so, showing an officious-ness so marked, when you had received from none of them any remonstrance whatever, which they would have made at once, through my conduct, if their conscience had permitted them to even suppose that they were innocent and worthy of the protection of your vice-consulate, undoubtedly impelled thereto on this occasion for unknown and suspicious purposes.
These purposes I may suppose were only those of coming to the defense of your countrymen, if they were unjustly molested, or their lives or property in danger, and such noble and honorable intentions would exalt your conduct; but, as upon the occasion to which you refer in your communications, nor upon any other, has there been any reasonable motive of complaint or of alarm to be entertained by any foreign subject, principally North American, who has observed the respect due to Spanish laws, to the tranquillity of the country, and to the preservation of the public peace, conditions which every man of honor should comply with in order to live in a foreign country, you will permit me to state, also, that although in the crew and among those whom you call passengers by the Virginius there maybe one or more American citizens, the mere fact of being found in company of the most conspicuous chiefs of the [Page 1066] insurrection which desolates this island, would he sufficient, if it were not known that some of them, erroneously supposed to be of the former, were comprised among the latter named, would be sufficient for them to lose, in conformity to international law, all kind of protection whatever from the countries from which they came, because these countries, if they insist upon defending criminals of this class, will incur in the responsibility, at least moral, which the law is in duty bound to exact of them.
Furthermore, you may address to whomsoever you please all the protests you deem necessary, as you state and do in your third communication, as I am satisfied on-my side that the same are and will be unfounded for the fact to which you refer in your three communications. And so unfounded are they, that Mr. O’Ryan, for whom” you came in person to speak with me and obtain permission to witness the will he desired to make as a North American citizen, as you stated and incorrectly assured me, has himself confessed he was a British subject and born in Canada.
Such conduct, especially after you were advised by the fiscal that Mr. O’Ryan was an Englishman, obliges me to apply to the government, and propose that your exequatur to perform the duties of your vice-consulate may be withdrawn, as an officer who addresses protests so slightly founded, and who, after that, attempts to surprise the intention of the Spanish authorities, accustomed to act with the rectitude and loyalty known by all, cannot help compromising the honor of the country he represents and being the cause of vexatious questions between friendly nations which should mutually respect each other.
God preserve you many years.