Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 7, 1896, and the Annual Report of the Secretary of State
Mr. Olney to Sir Julian Pauncefote.
Washington, May 26, 1896.
Excellency: With reference to previous correspondence concerning fires on cotton ships, and particularly to your note of the 19th of February last on the subject, I have the honor to inclose for your information a copy of a letter of the 23d instant, from the Secretary of the Treasury, transmitting certain responses to inquires made by the Bureau of Navigation in the matter.
I have, etc.,
Mr. Hamlin to Mr. Olney.
Office of the Secretary,
Washington, D. C., May 23, 1896.
Sir: Further replying to your letter of the 1st instant, inclosing a note from the British ambassador accompanied by a letter from Isaac Knott, reporting the discovery of a box of matches and a pin-fire cartridge in a cargo of cotton shipped at New Orleans on the Tuscan Prince, I have the honor to transmit herewith certain responses to inquiries made by the Bureau of Navigation in the matter.
The supplementary report of the president of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange, referred to by the collector of customs, will be forwarded to your Department when received.
Mr. Wilkinson to the Commissioner of Navigation.
Port of New Orleans, La., May 20, 1896.
Sir: In the matter of incendiary fires on cotton ships referred to in your letter (14388–N) of the 5th instant, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, I beg to state that I am in communication with the cotton exchange, the board of underwriters, and insurance agents, Marshall J. Smith & Co.
While awaiting the result of investigation being made by the cotton exchange, I forward copies of letters from the board of underwriters and from Marshall J. Smith & Co. I deem it quite probable, as suggested by the board and by the firm, that the [Page 313] cartridge found on board of the Tuscan Prince had been dropped from the firearms of some of the screwmen, and that the box of matches was accidentally left in the ship.
Attention is called to the fact of there having been only two fires of any consequence in the shipping at this port since last September. Immediately upon receipt of report from the president of the cotton exchange I shall forward same to the Bureau.
Board of Underwriters to Mr. Wilkinson.
New Orleans, May 20, 1896.
Dear Sir: We beg to acknowledge your esteemed favor of the 15th instant, relative to fires on cotton ships loaded at this port.
Referring to previous correspondence with you on this subject, we would now say that since then, a period of little more than one year, we have been comparatively free from such occurrences.
In regard to the specific case of the steamer Tuscan Prince, referred to by Mr. Knott of the Prince Line of steamers, we find that that vessel was loaded here at the time of the levee riots between the white and negro longshoremen, all of whom went to their work bearing arms, and a collision followed nearly every attempt to load a vessel. It was therefore not an unnatural consequence that a cartridge should have dropped from the pockets of one of these men; or it might have been laid aside, together with the box of matches carried for the purpose of lighting their pipes, and forgotten. We do not look upon the coincidence as a willful intention at incendiarism, but rather as careless negligence which is liable to occur at times and difficult to guard against.
Every precaution has been taken through the cooperation of the underwriters and the cotton exchange to eliminate, as far as possible, the damages from cotton fires on the levee and on board ship. The Boylan Detective Agency is employed to keep watchmen day and night along the levee front, and especially at every ship being loaded with cotton, and it is believed that the protection thus afforded is as perfect, as it can be made.
Yours, very respectfully,
Messrs. Marshall J. Smith & Co. to Mr. Wilkinson.
Dear Sir: We have your favor of the 15th, inclosing copy of correspondence in regard to matches and cartridges found among the cargo on steamship Tuscan Prince.
The fact of these particular combustibles being found among the cargo does not indicate to us a concerted plan of incendiarism. Nearly all of the screwmen smoke, and consequently carry matches in their clothing. When they go in the hold of a vessel they often change their clothing, and in this way the matches may have been dropped or been placed on a bale of cotton temporarily and forgotten. Again, it is probable that the cartridges might have been lost in the cargo in exactly the same manner, as the early part of last season there was a great deal of trouble on the levee among the labor organizations and a great many of them are supposed to have gone armed.
We will say that the season which has just ended, i. e., from September, 1895, to April, 1896, has been very free from fires, as far as this port is concerned. We have only had two fires of any consequence here, one being the steamship Bertie, consigned to Messrs. Ross, Howe & Merrow, and the other the steamship Capella, consigned to Mr. Alfred Le Blanc. We do not know of any severe fires on vessels on the sea which had left this port.