Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 7, 1874
Mr. Fish to Mr. Bliss.
Washington , November 24, 1873.
Sir: I inclose herewith a copy of the deposition of F. B. Shepperd, former master of the steamer Virginius, taken before Commissioner Joseph Gutman, jr., in May, 1872, in relation to that vessel, and also copies of affidavits of Thomas Anderson and George Miller, seamen on the Virginius at the time Captain Shepperd was master.
It is possible you may find a reference to the statements made by I these witnesses of some advantage to you in the cross-examination of the witnesses now about to be examined on questions connected with the Virginius.
I have to request that you will return the inclosed papers to this Department. As there is no other copy in the Department, it is quite important these should be preserved for its files.
I am, &c,
Southern District of New York, ss:
Francis E. Shepperd, being duly sworn, deposes and says:
- First. That he is a resident of Warrenton, in the State of Virginia, and was master of the steamer Virginius from the first week in September, 1870, to the 12th day of November in that year, when he left the said steamer at Puerto Cabello, in Venezuela.
- Second. That he has read the affidavits of Thomas Anderson and George W. Miller, annexed to this his deposition, and that the same are true, except that portion in which the deponents state what happened in the cabin of the said steamer Virginius after taking on board the cargo of the Billy Butts. The amount of money referred to in the said depositions, as placed in the hands of this deponent for the crew, was $300 in gold, and a draft onmingo Ruiz, of New York, by Emanuel Quesada, for the sum of $2,000. In other particulars the said depositions are true.
- Third. That this deponent was employed by I. K. Roberts, of the city of New York, in the month of September, 1870, to navigate and command the said steamer Virgin, alias Virginius, from the navy-yard at Washington, in the District of Columbia, to the port of New York, which service he rendered during that month; that this deponent was afterward informed by the said Roberts that he had purchased the said steamer from the United States Government, as agent of certain Cubans, among whom he named José A. Mora, of the city of New York, and the aforesaid General Quesada; that the said Cubans, including the said Mora and Quesada, furnished the money for the purchase of the said steamer, and also to pay for the repairs and supplies which were subsequently put thereon; that the said Mora subsequently exhibited to this deponent receipts signed by the aforesaid Roberts, or one J. F. Patterson, for the said purchase-money and disbursements aforesaid.
- Fourth. That the aforesaid steamer, thus purchased by Roberts as the agent of the said Mora, Quesada, and others, was formally placed in the name of the said J. F. Patterson, and so registered in the custom-house at New York.
- Fifth. That about two weeks after the arrival of the said steamer in the harbor of New York from the navy-yard at Washington, the said Roberts informed this deponent that the said steamer was owned by the aforesaid Mora and Quesada with other Cubans, and that she was about to embark in the business of running the Cuban blockade, and other things in behalf of the Cubans, and the said Roberts asked this deponent if he would be willing to take command of her in such business; that this deponent then inquired of the said Roberts particularly in regard to the precise character of the business in which she was about to engage, and was told that he, the said Roberts, would introduce this deponent to the said Mora and Quesada, which he did on that night.
- Sixth. That this deponent thereupon, on that evening, had an interview at the house of the aforesaid Mora, in the city of New York, with the aforesaid Mora, Quesada, Roberts, and Patterson, and a number of other Cubans who were present; that, at said interview, the said Quesada and Mora fully admitted their ownership of the said steamer, and finally an agreement was entered into, by which this deponent was to retain the command of the ship under the directions of the said Quesada; that at said interview the said Mora and Quesada first suggested that the said steamer should proceed in ballast from New York to Fernandina, in the State of Florida, there take on board the said Quesada, his military staff, and a small quantity of arms, proceed thence to Laguayra, Venezuela, subsequently taking on board more arms and munitions of war; that at Puerto Cabello soldiers were to be taken on board and conveyed to the island of Cuba in aid of the insurrection. But at the suggestion of this deponent the voyage was changed so that no landing would be made at Fernandina, but the vessel proceed direct to the island of Curaçoa.
- Seventh. That this deponent further states that at the aforesaid interview at the said Mora’s house, and subsequently in the city of New York before the departure of the said steamer on her voyage, the said Mora, in speaking to this deponent in regard to inducements for his undertaking the risk of the voyage, stated thatdoubtless there would be opportunities for this deponent to make a good deal more than the sum agreed upon for his compensation through the possibility of his being able to capture and confiscate the cargoes of any Spanish merchant-vessels that he might fall in with on the cruise. This possibility was more than once referred to by the said Mora in speaking to this deponent; and this deponent did, at that time, understand and believe that it was among the purposes of the said Mora and the said Quesada to use the said steamer to capture or destroy Spanish merchant-vessels on the higb seas.
- Eighth. That the said steamer departed from the port of New York, as is set forth in the aforesaid affidavits of Anderson and Miller, took on board the aforesaid Quesada and his party, as therein described, and proceeded to the island of Curaçoa, and arrived there at the time stated in the aforesaid affidavits; that when not far from the island of Hayti, the said steamer came near a sailing-vessel, the nationality and character of which could not at first be discovered. Soon after said vessel was seen, General Quesada, through his interpreter, Dr. Varona, suggested to this deponent the propriety of capturing-the said vessel, should she turn out to be a Spaniard; that this deponent only formally objected to the proceedings, stating that in order todo so the said Quesada with his party would have to appear to have taken forcible possession of the ship by putting this deponent and the first officer in irons, which plan was agreed upon; but it turned out that the vessel in sight was English and not Spanish.
- Ninth. That this deponent left the said steamer at Porto Cabello on or about the [Page 1103] middle of November, and within two months thereafter arrived in the city of New York, where he had an interview with the aforesaid Patterson and Mora; that at such interview the said Patterson complained to said deponent that he, as captain of the said steamer, had not taken advantage of the formal paper-title of the said Patterson and brought the steamer to New York; that this deponent represented to the said Mora the complaint of the aforesaid Patterson, and thereupon the said Mora denied that the said Patterson had any real ownership in the steamer, and exhibited to this deponent receipts for the purchase-money thereof, and for the supplies and repairs put thereon in the port of New York before her departure.
- Tenth. That this deponent did not regard the Virginius as a cruiser or privateer, though it was suggested to this deponent by the said Quesada, as before stated, to use her to capture Spanish merchant-vessels should she fall in with any, but that the principal object of her service, and for which this deponent was employed, was to land troops and arms on the island of Cuba.
- Eleventh. That this deponent cannot, at this late day, enumerate correctly or specify particularly the receipts referred to as shown him by the said Jose A. Mora, but from the conversation this deponent had with said Mora regarding the purchase-money and the disbursements of the said steamer, together with the receipts shown him by the said Mora, this deponent was informed, beyond adoubt in his mind, that the said steamer Virginius was the property of certain Cubans, together with and represented by the said Mora and the said Quesada and the said Manuel Ruiz, and that the said Mora informed this deponent that such was the case, and, moreover, explained to this deponent in part the manner in which the funds were raised for the purchase of said steamer and the disbursements of her voyage and enterprise.
The deponent having made the foregoing declaration, he was examined by H. E. Davies, jr., esq., assistant district attorney for the southern district of New York, who appeared in behalf of the Department of State of the United States at Washington, and deposed as follows:
The vessel called by me the Virgin, and Virginius are identical, both referring to the same vessel. My first employment for this vessel came from Mr. Roberts, who is an American citizen. He told me he had a vessel at Washington which he wished me to bring to New York. These instructions were given me in New York. I then went to Washington for the vessel, and I found her at the navy-yard. Mr. Roberts accompanied me, and 1 went on board and took possession of her by virtue of consent obtained by him from the officers of the navy-yard. I shipped a temporary crew in the District of Columbia, and in a few days thereafter I sailed the vessel to New York. The vessel was not cleared at the custom-house at Washington, but left under a letter from the Treasrury Department, she having been bought from the Government. On arriving at New York, I took her first to Hoboken, and a few days thereafter to the dry-dock on the East River in New York, in which she remained about two days; then took her to the Knickerbocker Ice Company’s wharf, North River, where she lay until ready for sea. On reaching New York, I discharged all the crew that I shipped in the District of Columbia, except about three. The first knowledge I had of her registered ownership was on the day of taking out the papers at the custom-house, which was the day of sailing. One J. F. Patterson was there and there registered as her owner. I found him so registered. I know Mr. Patterson. He is an American citizen. Mr. Roberts did not mention the names of the parties who owned the vessel, but said tome previous to her departure from New York that she belonged to them, meaning certain Cubans, but that she would have to be in his name, as they, meaning certain Cubans, could not own an American vessel, and also to prevent interference on the part of the United States authorities. Mr. Roberts told me that the vessel was to be engaged in running the Cuban blockade, and in other things. He did not specify anything beside running the blockade. Mr. Mora intimated to me, while speaking to me about my pay, that in case I fell in with a Spanish merchant-vessel I would make a great deal more than what my pay itself would amount to. Mr. Mora was the person with whom I made my bargain and with whom I agreed upon the terms under which I would go. Mr. Roberts brought me to Mr. Mora. Mr. Mora gave me no instructions to look out for Spanish ships and capture them. I did not regard that as a thing I woulddo or as anything that I had been ordered todo by the owners of the vessel at the time of sailing. When we cleared from New York, that is, I mean, when we left the wharf, we had nothing on board but coal and provisions and about twenty empty tierces and three thousand feet of plank and scantling. I took on board General Quesada inside of Sandy Hook, with some eighteen or nineteen others. They came as passengers, intending to go to Curaçoa, that being the point to which the vessel was cleared. They had a small quantity of arms in five or six boxes, which contained pistols, ammunition, and a few rifles. We proceeded then direct to Curaçoa. General Quesada, while on board of the vessel, generally communicated with me through an interpreter. When Quesada proposed to me to capture a vessel, supposed to be a Spanish vessel, I objected. I declined to take any part in the proceeding. The steamer was not armed when she left New York; had no guns on board nor any equipments of war as a cruiser. She [Page 1104] was provisioned beyond what was necessary for her own crew and the passengers we took on board, I mean with respect to the staple articles, such as bread and meat. We had about 100 barrels of bread, I think, and about adozen barrels of pork. We put these into the fore peak, separate from the ship’s provisions. We reached Curaçoa about the 12th or 13th of October. While in that port we took on board nothing of a warlike character; did not add to our equipment in any way. When we took on board supplies from the Billy Butts, we took no ship’s guns—no guns except the four brass howitzers mentioned in the annexed depositions. After getting these goods on board, the men demanded to know the object of the voyage. I consulted with Quesada, and then informed them that the ultimate object was “to land men and arms on the island of Cuba. These were the only specified objects of the voyage. I told them we were going to Laguayra before reaching Cuba, and that they could be discharged there and sent home if they so wished. We first went to Laguayra after leaving Curaçoa, and there General Quesada and a portion of his staff left us. We then went to Porto Cabello, which is about fifty miles from Laguayra. About three weeks after arriving at Porto Cabello I resigned command and left the vessel. At the time of resigning I wrote a letter to the consul at that place, stating what is contained in the copy of a letter hereto annexed, marked A. The statements contained in that letter were all true. From Porto Cabello I returned to New York. Here I met Mr. Patterson, the owner of the vessel. He complained that I had not protected his rights in not bringing the vessel home to the United States. My reason for leaving the vessel was that it was intimated to me by General Quesada that she was to go into the Venezuelan service, and from the preparations ordered by him to be made such was clearly indicated. At Porto Cabello the voyage ended, Quesada insisting on a new enterprise, and one not contemplated by the owners or myself before we left New York, and the character of which Quesada refused to divulge to me. I therefore left the vessel and also the seamen, leaving on board the firemen and engineers.
United States Commissioner, Southern District of New York.
Exhibit A.—J. G., Jr.
December 9, 1870.
Sir: For your own satisfaction, as well as for the information of whom it may concern, I beg to state that during the time I commanded the steamer Virginius she violated no law or custom of commerce, and never exhibited any other than the American flag; that she cleared and entered regularly at each port, and, so far as I know, she is intended as nothing else than an ordinary merchant-vessel.
Yours, very respectfully,
Dr. A. Lacombe,
United States Consul, Puerto Cabello.
Southern District of New York, ss:
Thomas Anderson, being duly sworn, deposes and says:
- That he is a seaman by profession, aged about thirty-two years.
- That on the 3d of October, 1870, in the city of New York, he shipped as a seaman on board the steamship Virgin, and signed articles for a voyage to the coast of Florida, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico; that Frank E. Shepperd was captain, and there were also on board two mates, a carpenter, four seamen, three engineers, two oilers, and fifteen firemen and coal-passers; the said ship left the port of New York on her voyage on the 4th day of October, 1870.
- That, in the afternoon of that day, the steamer proceededdown the bay of New York, and when three or four miles outside, and abreast of Sandy Hook, met the steam-tug Virginia Seymour, and took therefrom eighteen passengers, whom this deponent judged, by their appearance, to be Cubans, together with General Quesada, Mr. Mora, and Eloy Camacho. There were also taken on board a few boxes, some of which this deponent saw open, containing ammunition, revolvers, military trumpets, and flags, and, after shipping the before-mentioned persons and things, the steam-tug Seymour left, taking with her the pilot of the Virgin, whom, as he was going on board the tug, this deponent heard the captain of the vessel tell not to say anything about it.
- That, after the tug left, the Virgin proceeded on a coursedown the coast, and on Saturday, the 15th day of October, at 10 o’clock in the morning, reached Curaçoa Harbor, in the island of Curaçoa; that she lay in that harbor till the next Tuesday, when the schooner Billy Butts, from New York, arrived; that, about the middle of the next day, Wednesday, the schooner put out to sea again, and in the evening of the same day the steamer Virgin proceeded after her and took and kept the schooner in tow until the next morning, when they reached a small island called Buenayre, which lies about thirty miles to the southward and eastward of Curaçoa, where the cargo on board the schooner was transferred to the steamer.
- This deponent saw the cargo transferred from the schooner to the steamer as aforesaid, and assisted therein, and he knows of his own knowledge that it consisted of about rive hundred cases of shot, shell, and ammunition; over one hundred cases of arms; two or threedozen boxes of leather goods; adozen or so of caps; about six carriages for guns; and six or eight boxes of hardware. There were also four brass cannon.
- That, on the afternoon of the next Friday, the steamer having taken on board the cargo as before mentioned, proceeded to the port of Laguayra, on the northern coast of Venezuela, where she arrived at 9 o’clock in the morning of the next day, Saturday, the 22d of October.
- After the cargo of the schooner Billy Butts had been taken on board, and the steamer was ready to proceed on her voyage, the seamen, engineers, and crew all collected on deck, amidships, and demanded of the captain, who was standing on the bridge above, where they were going. He answered, “To Laguayra.” The crew then demanded a guarantee of some kind that the steamer was going to Laguayra, and not to Cuba. Thereupon the captain with some of the Cubans wentdown into the cabin, followed by some of the crew, and there the Cubans placed in the hands of the captain a large sum of money as security that the steamer should go to Laguayra, as promised, I and all hands then went to work, and the steamer got under way, and arrived at Laguayra as before stated, where Quesada, with two or three of the Cuban passengers, went ashore and did not return to the steamer.
- That, on the evening of the next day, Sunday, the 23d of October, the steamer left Laguayra and proceeded due west to Porto Cabello, on the coast, where she arrived at 6 o’clock on the evening of the next day, which was Monday, where the steamer lay until the 11th day of November.
- That, after the arrival at Porto Cabello, this deponent saw the steam gunboat Oriental, armed with four guns and flying the Venezuelan nag, sail out and proceed in the direction of Laguayra; and before this deponent left Porto Cabello the said gunboat returned, having on board General Quesada and the Cubans who left the Virgin with him as before mentioned at Laguayra; and, immediately after General Quesada came on board the Virgin, she was directed to haul alongside the wharf to take in coal, which was immediatelydone, and then Quesada ordered the whole ship’s crew of the Virgin to come aft, where a person standing immediately in front of Quesada announced that he, Quesada, wished to know who of the ship’s crew were willing to go under Quesada’s command, adding that those who did not wish to go would be sent home. This deponent thereupon, together with a number of coal-passers and firemen, and all the seamen, left the ship; but a portion of the firemen subsequently returned. The captain of the Virgin subsequently left that steamer. That this deponent remained in Porto Cabello some twelve days after leaving the steamer as aforesaid. The Virgin, after she left, proceeded along the coast to the eastward, and this deponent was told by the firemen on board of her that she transported troops from one place to another along the coast, and when the Virgin returned to Porto Cabello she had two cannon mounted on her deck, as this deponent himself saw.
- That, on the morning of the 24th day of November, this deponent was in Porto Cabello, and saw the steamer Virgin take in tow the armed gunboat Oriental before mentioned, and proceed out to sea. On the evening of that day this deponent left and proceeded to Philadelphia, and thence to New York.
Southern District of New York, ss:
George W. Miller, being duly sworn, deposes and says:
- That he is by profession a seaman, aged about twenty-five years.
- That deponent shipped on board the Virginius, formerly called the Virgin, about the 3d of October last past. That he has heard read the, affidavit of Thomas Anderson, dated 21st of December instant, and says that the same is in every respect true.
- That upon meeting the tug Virginia Seymour, as in paragraph three of said affirdavit, [Page 1106] he saw Ms brother-in-law, Edward Perry, on said tug, who held the position thereon of second pilot. This deponent then asked his said brother-in-law where they in the Virginius were going to, and the said Perry replied that they in the said steamer were going to Cuba, and that the persons who were then going on board the Virginius, as mentioned in said paragraph, were Cuban officers.
- That the Virginius proceeded on her course as stated in said affidavit, and as mentioned in paragraph seven thereof. This deponent was one of those who wentdown into the cabin and saw the money deposited by one of the Cubans as security that the ship should proceed to Laguayra and not to Cuba; and at this time the captain of the Virginius and General Quesada informed them that each sailor should have $150 when they reached Laguayra.
- From Laguayra the Virginius proceeded to Porto Cabello, where she discharged all her cargo, consisting of riftes, cannon, ammunition, and stores, with the exception of two twelve-pound howitzers, and placed part of her said cargo in the fort, and part thereof upon the gunboat Oriental.
- That after remaining at Porto Cabello some twelve hours, General Quesada sent his interpreter—by name Verona—in a small boat, in which this deponent was an oarsman, a short distance from the steamer, toward the fleet of Venezuelan insurgents which was lying there; and the said Verona, when about half wary, was met by the commander of the said vessels. A conversation then took place between them, during which a small island, about three miles from the harbor, was pointed out by the said commander to said Verona. Some hours afterward, at five in the evening, General Quesada left the Virginius in the said small boat, this deponent being therein, and the said Quesada had no more than left the steamer before he made his way to the bow of the boat and tied a Cuban flag to the staff. The boat then proceeded to the before-mentioned island, where the said commander again met them and had a conversation of some two hours duration with Quesada.
- On the 24th day of November, the Virginius left Porto Cabello, taking the said gunboat Oriental in tow, and proceeded under full steam out to sea, and in about nine hours—at six o’clock in the evening—came within hail of seven schooners, of which the Virginius took five in tow, and the gunboat the other two, and proceeded to Laguayra. The Virginius remained there about eight hours, and then started for the island Curaçoa, mounting a couple of small cannon on deck as she proceeded. Quesada was then in chief command, Captain Shepperd having left the steamer at Porto Cabello because Quesada would not inform him where the steamer was bound for. This deponent left the-at Curaçoa, and arrived last Tuesday at this port.
United States of
Southern District of New York:
I, Joseph Gutman, jr., a commissioner duly appointed by the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of New York, in the second circuit, under and by virtue of the act of Congress entitled “An act for the more convenient taking of affidavits and bail in civil causes depending in the courts of the United States,” passed February 20, 1812, and the act of Congress entitled “An act in addition to an act entitled ‘An act for the more convenient taking of affidavits and bail in civil causes depending in the courts of the United States,” passed March 1, 1817, and the act entitled “An act to establish the judicial courts of the United States,” passed September 24, 1789 do hereby certify that on the 2d day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-two, I was attended by Sidney Webster, esq., counsel for the Spanish legation, and by Henry E. Davies, jr., esq., assistant United States attorney, on the part of the Department of State of the United States of America, and by Francis E. Shepperd, the witness, who was of sound mind and lawful age; and the witness was by me first carefully examined and cautioned and sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and the foregoing deposition was, by my clerk, reduced to writing in my presence, and in the presence of the witness and from his statement, and after carefully reading the same to the witness he subscribed the same in my presence; all of which Ido hereby declare, publish, and certify.
United States Commissioner, duly appointed by the Circuit Court of the United States; for the Southern District of New York, in the Second Circuit.