No. 451.
Mr. Evarts to Mr. Lowell.

No. 30.]

Sir: On the 5th of June last my attention was arrested by an item of news which appeared in the public papers of the day, to the effect that, some days previous to that announcement, the Ellen Rizpah, an American whaling schooner, of Provincetown, Mass., and commanded by Capt. John A. Dunham, while engaged on a whaling voyage in the Caribbean Sea, and when off the South Keys, near the island of Cuba, had been overhauled by a Spanish cruising-boat, the master and mate made prisoners, and besides being detained four days, at great inconvenience to the interests of the vessel and her owners, they, the master and mate, were subjected to very gross and apparently wanton outrages at the hands of the Spanish officers in charge of this armed cruiser.

Not permitting myself to believe that the officers of a nation between which and the United States the most peaceful and friendly relations have so long existed could have suffered themselves to become the instruments of a proceeding so wholly unjustifiable, I immediately caused inquiry to be made through the proper officers of this government, and the result of these inquiries, I regret to say, showed that the announcements of the newspapers, so far from either misstating or exaggerating the occurrence, had fallen greatly short of what the facts warranted as to the true characterization of the affair.

[Page 770]

I inclose herewith a copy of the sworn statement of the master, John A. Dunham, and the first officer, Benjamin J. Smith. It will be seen from this statement that the Ellen Rizpah was brought to by a blank cartridge fired from the Spanish boat, and that upon the American captain hoisting his national colors the cruiser immediately charged his gun with solid shot and ranged across the schooner’s stern, bringing his armed vessel within easy range of the unarmed and defenseless whaler; that the master of the Ellen Rizpah was compelled at the cannon’s mouth to leave his own vessel and go on board the Spanish boat; that he was there kept a prisoner, under armed guards, for four days; that he was exposed during much of this time to very inclement weather, in wet clothing, and was not permitted to visit his own vessel to obtain either food or a change of clothing, although that vessel was within easy reach, and kept during the whole time under the guns of her captor 5 and that, although he offered in the frankest manner to give full explanation of the business in which his vessel was engaged, and to exhibit his ship’s papers, the Spanish officer refused to hear these explanations and declined to look at his papers; and that only upon the arrival on the scene of a Spanish steamer at the end of four days was he vouchsafed an inspection of his papers, and then rudely told to go about his business; that even after this, when he attempted to engage in the ordinary and legitimate pursuit of his voyage, and to capture some whales that were in sight, he was again chased for a distance of 20 miles by another armed Spanish cruiser of similar character to that of the one by which he was first molested; nor must the fact be overlooked that when the schooner was first overhauled by the Spanish boat she was at sea, at a distance of at least twenty miles from the shores of the island of Cuba. It would be difficult, by the use of any ordinary language which might be employed to characterize it, to add to the stigma which a mere recital of the facts imparts to this transaction.

The immediate consequences resulting to the master, crew, and owners of the vessel, was the breaking up of the voyage and consequent loss of the hard-earned rewards which might naturally be expected from the peaceful, but at the same time hazardous, enterprise of a whale-fishing voyage. The pecuniary loss is estimated by the master and owners at $5,000, which sum they claim as indemnity; and, from an examination of the facts and circumstances, this amount appears to the Department to be reasonable and moderate.

The surprise, however, occasioned by the affair of the Ellen Rizpah had scarcely ceased, when a similar occurrence, in the same waters, was brought to the attention of the Department.

The Rising Sun, a whaling-schooner of 69 tons burden, is also an American vessel, owned in Provincetown, Mass. She sailed from that port on the 1st of March last, duly equipped for a whaling-voyage, and under the command of Thomas S. Taylor. On the 23d of May following, in the regular pursuit of her voyage, the vessel in question arrived off the South Keys of Cuba; when at least 3 miles from the Keys (which are uninhabited and destitute of vegetation), and about 20 miles from the coast of Cuba, her two boats, one commanded by Captain Taylor and the other by his mate, Mr. John W. Atkins, being out in pursuit of whales, and distant from the schooner about 3 or 4 miles, and visibly engaged in the capture of whales, were fired at from a small Spanish guard-boat, schooner-rigged, and distant from them only a mile.

The firing was from a rifled cannon, the first shot being a blank cartridge, and being immediately followed by two rounds with solid shots, the Spanish boat being between the whale-boats and the schooner to [Page 771] which they belonged. The captain steered for his vessel, leaving the mate, Atkins, to secure a whale which they were just in the act of capturing at the moment they were tired upon. The Spanish boat now bore down on Captain Taylor, and when within shot range fired into his boat three volleys from small-arms. Captain Taylor’s steersman, who spoke Portuguese, was able to understand Spanish sufficiently to apprise Captain Taylor of what was said on board the guard-boat. They said, at first, that they were going to take the schooner and sink her. Captain Taylor was ordered on board the cruiser, and upon his obeying that order, he found the Spanish vessel, although a very small craft, manned with a crew of 12. These, he states, were not in uniform, and upon Captain Taylor’s inquiring what they intended to do, he was answered that he would be detained until a gunboat should come along from Cuba to search his vessel and examine his papers.

The American captain was detained about an hour and a half, and was then only permitted to return to his vessel on the condition that his mate, Atkins, should come on board the Spanish vessel. The mate was detained five days, without change of clothing, although he came on board in his wet whaling suit. Neither the captain nor any of the crew of his own vessel were permitted to visit him during the whole time of his detention. The schooner during these five days remained in the neighborhood, and when, on the fifth day, the looked-for gunboat arrived, an officer from that vessel came on board the Rising Sun, examined the ship’s papers, and called the men aft to answer to their names. Captain Taylor asked the officer why his vessel was detained, and received for answer, in English: “There are a good many scamps in the world, and we don’t know whom to trust.” During all these proceedings the American colors were flying on the Rising Sun.

In consequence of this seizure and detention Captain Taylor’s voyage was broken up, and he estimates the pecuniary loss to himself and the owners of the vessel at $6,000. The mate, Mr. Atkins, from the harsh treatment and exposure to which he was subjected while on board the Spanish gunboat, suffered severely in health. He has not yet recovered, and is even alarmed by his condition as to ultimate recovery. He claims $2,500 as pecuniary compensation for the personal injuries and losses thus entailed upon him.

Still another case of no less aggravated character remains to be enumerated. The whaling-schooner Edward Lee, also of Provincetown, cruising after whales in the same neighborhood in March last, was—the master, Captain Atkins, writes his owners—chased by a Spanish gunboat and fired into, at first with solid shot, then with grape, and finally with shell. Fortunately, being a fast sailer, his vessel escaped without being struck, but was driven out of those waters, and his peaceful and legitimate pursuit rudely interfered with. The particulars of this assault upon the Edward Lee have not yet reached this Department, as the vessel is now said to be in South American waters. Proper measures have, however, been adopted to obtain verified statements of the occurrence, so soon as the master of the vessel can be directly communicated with by the owners, or by the proper officers of the Treasury Department.

Sensible of the cordial and uninterrupted friendship which has so long existed between the United States and Spain, this government did not permit itself to believe for a moment that these unfriendly proceedings on the part of the colonial officers of His Catholic Majesty would find any shelter in the sanction or approval of the home government; hence it was with unmixed satisfaction that the Department received [Page 772] through Señor Mantilla, the distinguished representative of the Spanish Government at this capital, the assurances of His Majesty’s Government that these acts of the subordinate officials connected with the service of the colonial government met with its unqualified disapprobation; that pecuniary compensation would be promptly made to the citizens of the United States who were the immediate sufferers from them, so soon as the amount of their losses in that regard could be reasonably and approximately ascertained, and that measures would be adopted by the Spanish Government to prevent a recurrence in the future of like unfriendly acts, so detrimental to the peaceful commercial pursuits of the citizens of this country, and so dangerous to the peace of both nations.

These assurances were received in the same frank and cordial spirit in which they were given, and the then acting Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, gave expression to the sentiment of the President no less than to my own, when he represented to Señor Mantilla the earnest desire of this government for a continuance, and, if possible, a still closer cementing of those happily existing friendly relations between the United States and Spain. The frequent recurrence of late, of these unfriendly, and, as they must be considered by this government, clearly unwarrantable, visitations from the armed vessels of the Spanish naval force to the unarmed merchant vessels of the United States, has nevertheless caused the President much anxiety for the consequences which may, at any moment, and must sooner or later if continued, result to the peace of the two nations, unless the most energetic and effective measures are speedily adopted and put in force to prevent a possible recurrence of such incidents as I have, with every feeling but that of pleasure, felt obliged to bring thus plainly to the notice of the Spanish Government.

It will not do to urge the maritime jurisdiction of Spain at a distance of 20 miles or more from the shores of Cuba, especially in the Antilles, where a glance at the map shows the territorial possessions of four different sovereign nations some of them scarcely more than twice 20 miles distant from each other, and the southern limit of this Republic barely 60 miles distant from the shores of the Spanish colony of Cuba.

The government of His Catholic Majesty cannot, moreover, be insensible to the fact that in this republic, where the popular will has so large a share in the governmental affairs of the nation, its citizens are more than ordinarily jealous of the maintenance of their national dignity, more sensitive to anything that may have even the appearance of an insult to their country’s flag, than they are regardful of personal injury or pecuniary loss, and that a continuance, or even a single repetition of such surveillance over their commercial industries and pursuits as these recent occurrences in Cuban waters, might tax their forbearance to a degree which would render its control difficult even to their own government.

Still further, it is a fact, however much to be regretted, that this government has been more than once called upon to notice in the interest of its citizens that the Spanish authorities in Cuba are not unfrequently disregardful of the expressed wishes of the supreme government at Madrid, when those wishes come in conflict with their local prejudices or supposed local interests.

The President, therefore, directs me to instruct you that, in bringing the subject of this dispatch to the notice of the minister for foreign affairs of Spain, you will be careful to express to the minister the President’s earnest desire that such measures shall be early adopted by the Spanish Government, and at the same time means provided for their enforcement, as will at once put an end to these causes of complaint on [Page 773] the part of citizens of the United States so exasperating in themselves, and at the same time so hazardous to the continuance of the friendly relations of the two nations.

An earnest and faithful observance of the stipulations of the eighteenth article of the treaty of 1795 would no doubt fulfill these requirements, but such observance, to be effectual for the accomplishment of the object intended, must be real and substantial, and, if necessary, be enforced by each government on its own citizens and officers.

Experience has too often already shown that an interpretation of its obligations cannot always with safety be committed to subordinate officials of the Spanish Government in Cuba.

You will, therefore, embrace the earliest opportunity of bringing this subject to the notice of the Spanish Government, at the same time assuring the minister for foreign affairs that the speedy adjustment of the claims for indemnity now presented on behalf of the masters and owner of the two vessels, Ellen Rizpah and Rising Sun, and above all the speedy inauguration of the prevention and precautionary measures indicated in this instruction, will at once serve to allay apprehensions, excited to an unusual degree by these recent occurrences among a large class of the citizens of the United States directly and indirectly engaged in the whale fishery, and to meet at the same time the just expectations of the President that no proper efforts of the Spanish Government will be spared to prevent all future cause of complaint from these sources.

You are at liberty, in case you shall deem that course most desirable, to read this instruction to Señor Silvela, His Majesty’s minister for foreign affairs, and if he shall desire it, to furnish him with a copy.

I am, &c.,