« PreviousContinue »
— the three captains, the engineer Greenwood, and several very intelligent subordinates — unite in the following statements, which I have grouped together for the purpose of brevity. After leaving New York no communication whatever was had with Patterson, the owner in the register; no advice was ever asked, no directions ever sought, but he was utterly ignored by masters, officers, and crew of the steamer, and by the American consuls and local authorities of the ports which she visited. Gen. M. Quesada was uniformly regarded and treated by all these classes of persons as the real owner, and he exercised all the power which an owner can possibly exercise in every emergency and every transaction. In many communications with the American captains and superior officers in their employ, Quesada, Varona, and Alfaro declared that the vessel belonged entirely to the Cubans ; that Patterson had no interest whatever in her: that, his name was used as a mere cover, because it was necessary that an American should appear in the registry as owner; and that she would never return to the United States. Repeated declarations of Patterson to the same effect were also proved. Finally, it is the concurring testimony of all the witnesses who speak on the subject, — including the three captains, — that the American consuls in the various ports which the Virginius entered, and in which she carried on her operations, were fully aware of her true character, ownership, and destination. These gentlemen were not left to any mere surmises, nor to any conclusions drawn from appearances; something more than suspicions, however wellfounded, were raised in their minds: they were actually informed of the facts by the Cuban owners and by the American captains; in every instance they showed by their conversation that they understood and appreciated the information. Yet most of them not only shut their ears to Spanish complaints, but openly, actively, and zealously assisted the Cuban insurgents in carrying out their projects, and in consummating their fraud upon the United States sovereignty. One of them, it is true, at Puerto Cabello, after the pretended sale to the Englishman, expressed his gratification that the ship was at last off from his hands; and another at Maracaibo warned Captain Smith in the following friendly manner: " Why don't you get rid of that damned pirate? She is nothing but a pirate, and you will get caught by and by, and they will hang you, and I want to see you off, anyhow, though I don't care for any of the rest." They all extended to the ship their consular protection, as though she had been a bond fide American bottom engaged in lawful commerce. A statute of the United States requires that every vessel claiming to be national, and registered as such, must bear a number "marked or carved on her main beam, and if at any time she shall cease to be so marked, such vessel shall be no longer recognized as a vessel of the United States." 1 All the evidence shows, and the fact seems to have been admitted, that prior to February 21,1872, the Virginius was without any such official number. On that day, however, the number 25,851 was assigned to her by the Treasury Department, but upon whose application does not appear. After the resignation of Captain Smith at Maracaibo in November, 1872, a Captain Williams became the master. She performed some occasional services in the adjacent waters, was dry-docked and cleaned at Martinique in December, and proceeded in February, 1873, to Magalena River, where she lay idle for three months. In May she was moved to Aspinwall, and her machinery was there carefully repaired, preparatory to another military expedition. The U. S. steamer Kansas was lying in the same harbor, and the Spanish gun-boat Bazan arriving, a correspondence arose between their commanders. Lieut. Autran of the Bazan wrote on the 3d of June to Commander Reid of the Kansas, insisting that the Virginius was liable to capture, on the ground that she belonged to the Cuban insurgents, and had committed an act of hostility to Spain in the landing of troops and arms already described, and requesting " a definite answer to his question whether the Virginius was entitled to fly the American flag." Commander Reid, in answer, announced his determination to protect her at all hazards, because she was entirely an American vessel. The Spaniard replied that he should prevent her departure by all the force at his command; but subsequently withdrew this avowal, and made the "milder, and, as it would seem, very reasonable proposition, that she should be sent to the United States, and should there be proceeded against in the national courts at the suit of the Spanish government. This proposition was declined, and on the 5th of July the Virginius sailed from Aspinwall under the escort of the Kansas. She was laden with arms, which had been
forwarded by the New York branch of the Cuban insurgents, and although ostensibly cleared for New York, she made a successful landing on the coast of Cuba, discharged her cargo in safety, and proceeded to Kingston, where Captain Williams resigned his command. Before describing the events which brought her career to a disastrous end, the testimony of Adolfo de Varona, taken in November last, may properly be introduced. He is a Cuban gentleman, a physician and surgeon, educated at Philadelphia and at Edinburgh, an original participant in the insurrection ; but he became an American citizen in January, 1872. After some detail of prior events, he makes the following statement bearing upon the subject-matter now under consideration.
In 1870 Gen. M. Quesada and he were sent on a mission, of which Quesada was the head, particularly to the United States, the object of which was to procure arms, ammunition, and all warlike material, and to enlist soldiers, and to transport the same to Cuba. They arrived in New York in February, 1870, and proceeded at once to organize their forces by combining the different associations, and by raising money for their purposes. They purchased the Virginius, and the arms and other material which was sent out in the Billy Butts to be transferred to the steamer. As secretary of the mission, Varona had personal knowledge of these purchases, and of the funds from which the payments were made. In regard to Patterson, he says that an arrangement was made by which Patterson was to be the nominal owner; that he was present at the house of Mora, in company with Captain Shepperd, Quesada, and others, and there met Mr. Patterson, but does not recall the man, only remembering the name, and that there was a person to whom the name belonged. He was one of the party which went on board the Virginius from the tug Virginia Seymour, and acted as Quesada's secretary until, after reaching Curacoa, he was detailed for other duties. He corroborates Captain Shepperd's testimony in every particular, and declares in the most emphatic manner that Quesada had a right to control the Virginius as owner; that there could be no doubt of his right. It is proper to add that De Varona expressed his continued sympathy with the insurgent cause. Under any proper conception of sovereign rights and obligations, this fraudulent use of our national flag, so openly and unblushingly extended through several years, this series of attacks upon a friendly power under the assumed garb of a nationality which was avowedly feigned, — was a far deeper insult, a far greater outrage to the honor of the United States, than the constructive violence done to the flag in the final capture made by the Spanish gun-boat.
We left the Virginius at Kingston. Preparations were at once made for a third hostile expedition. Captain Joseph Fry, a United States citizen, arrived in July and took command. A cargo of arms, ammunition, and other warlike material which had been accumulating was placed on board. A considerable number of persons intending to join the insurgents also embarked, a few of whom were American citizens or British subjects. All these proceedings were open, notorious, without an attempt at concealment. On the 23d of October, 1873, the steamer sailed from Kingston, having cleared at the United States Consulate as a United States vessel, for Port Simon, Costa Rica. Proceeding to the coast of Cuba with the design of effecting a landing, she was intercepted by the Spanish gun-boat Tornado. A chase of eight hours long ensued, and ended by her capture on the 31st of October, at 10 P.m., at a point about eighteen miles distant from the east end of Jamaica, as Captain Fry declared under oath. During this chase and at the moment of capture she was flying the United States flag. The Virginiut was carried to the port of Santiago de Cuba on the 1st of November, when all the persons on board — numbering 155 — were placed in close confinement. A courtmartial was immediately organized, which condemned most if not all the prisoners to death, — this summary proceeding being, as ia alleged, in accordance with the Spanish laws, so far at least as the character of the court and the nature of the judicial forms employed are concerned. Four were executed on the 4th of November, twelve on the 8th, and thirty-seven on the 13th, among which number was Captain Fry. Further executions were suspended by peremptory orders from Madrid. Of the crew fifteen survived, and of the so-called "passengers" eighty-seven.
II. THE DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENCE.
It would be useless to go through the correspondence conducted by Mr. Sickles with the Spanish cabinet, and with the State Department, for it led to no results except that gentleman's loss of office. The Secretary of State soon perceived that the manner in which Mr. Sickles chose to perform his delicate duties, the intemperance of his language, and his evident personal desire to widen instead of close the breach, would speedily render any settlement absolutely impossible, and he quietly transferred the negotiations from Madrid to Washington. We may be permitted to remark in passing that, if out of every evil there comes some compensating good, the balancing benefit of the Virginius case must have been the vacancy which it caused in the ranks of our foreign ministers. The consular correspondence is even less important than that of Mr. Sickles. The official communications between Mr. Secretary Fish and Admiral Polo de Bernabe", the Spanish minister, began on the 12th of November and continued almost daily until the 23d, when the definite agreement between the two governments was signed. This correspondence may well be regarded as the ideal of a candid, upright, judicious, Christian diplomatic negotiation. Each of the two plenipotentiaries showed a strong desire to reach a peaceful result, so far as that might be consistent with the truth and with the honor of his nation. When we recall the popular excitement which raged in both countries, and the fact that persons occupying positions and wielding means of influence were endeavoring to inflame this excitement to yet higher degrees of intensity, whether Americans or Spaniards, we may unite in feelings of reverent thankfulness towards the two representatives who, calm amidst the turbulence, averted the danger of a wicked war, and agreed upon terms of a settlement alike satisfactory and honorable to each of the high contracting powers, because, while recognizing rights of each that had been invaded, they admitted wrongs done by each to the injury of the other. It is sufficient for our purpose to indicate the general tone and the substance of this discussion without entering upon any minute analysis of the details. Mr. Fish planted himself upon the position, which he never forsook, that the Virginius, having been registered as a United States vessel carrying official documents, regular upon their face, which certified her nationality, and bearing the United States flag, was entirely beyond the jurisdiction of any other power while on the high seas in time of peace; that if she had in fact committed a fraud upon the United States, if her papers were obtained through false representations and perjuries, if she had violated the statutes of this country, she was responsible only for such wrong to the government winch she had offended,