General History of Indian Key
War of the Rebellion
- Case of the British schooner Telegraph, seized Indian Key, Florida, November 30, 1861. -
By Jerry Wilkinson

     (The following documents are from Series I, Volume 16, South Blocking Squadron, Gulf Blocking Squadron. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1903. I have placed the from and to of each document in [ ]s for ease of reading. J.W.)

Letter from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy forwarding complaint of the British Minister.
[From]             DEPARTMENT OF STATE
                        Washington, March 12, 1862

Sir: I have the honor to enclose to you, herewith, the copy of a note of the 8th instant from Lord Lyons, complaining of the proceedings of Commander Spotts, of the U. S. ship Wanderer, with regard to the British schooner Telegraph, of Nassau, Bahama Islands, and to request that you will furnish me with such information on the subject as it may be in your power to communicate.
         I am, sir, your obedient servant,
                                   William H. Seward.
[To] Hon. Gideon Welles
               Secretary of the Navy
 


[Enclosure]

                    Washington, March 8, 1862 
          Sir: Her Majesty's Government have had under their consideration a complaint made against the proceedings of Commander Spotts, of the U. S. ship Wanderer, with regard to the British schooner Telegraph, belonging to Nassau, in the Bahama Islands.
         Full particulars of the case have been received by her Majesty's Government from the officer administering the Government of the Bahamas.
         It appears from an extended protest which was made before the British consul at Key West, that the Telegraph sailed from Nassau on the 20th of November last and arrived there on the 26th of that month; that on the 28th of the same month she left Key West, bound to Green Turtle Cay, otherwise near [New] Plymouth, in the island of Abaco, Bahamas; that on the 30th, while prosecuting her voyage and near Indian Key, [Florida], she was brought to by United States cutter or schooner Wanderer, Commander Spotts; that her master was ordered  on board the Wanderer with the ship's papers; that the papers were taken from him; that the ship was thereupon detained and taken by the Wanderer back to Key West, arriving on the 3d of December;  that soon after her capture William Jones Fisher, one of her crew, was ordered on board the Wanderer, placed in handcuffs, and kept in them for three days and nights.
      It further appears that after the arrival of the Telegraph at Key West, Henry Augustus Fisher, her master, was informed by the commander of the Wanderer that he might go on shore and see the marshal; that he went to the office of the marshal, who asked him why he had been brought back; that in reply the master stated the fact as above narrated; that the marshal thereupon returned him his ship's papers and said he was all clear and nothing could be proved against him; that on the 6th of December an officer of the Wanderer hailed the Telegraph and informed the master that his vessel was released; that thereupon the vessel returned to Nassau. 
     It is also stated that no person on board the Wanderer ever made charge against the Telegraph or gave reason for her capture.
     The capture of the vessel and the act of placing William Fisher in handcuffs appear to her Majesty's Government on the above statement of facts to have been wholly unjustifiable; and her Majesty's Government have accordingly instructed me to ask for full explanations from the Government of the United States.
      I have the honor to be, with high consideration, sir, your obedient, humble servant,
[From]                                                 Lyons
[to] Hon. William H. Seward, etc.

- - - - - - - - - - - 
- Report of Lieutenant Spotts, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. schooner Wanderer 
[From] "U. S. SCHOONER WANDERER,
 "Key West, April 21, 1862
       "SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of March 14, enclosing a copy of a note addressed to the Secretary of State by Lord Lyons on the 8th of March, complaining of my proceedings in the case of the British schooner Telegraph. In reply to which I have to state a report of the facts was made to Flag-Officer William W. McKean, under  date of the 12th of December last,  the answer to which you will find enclosed and marked " B,'' and is as follows:
      On the 30th of November last, whilst cruising among the Florida Keys, I discovered the British schooner Telegraph coming out from Key Vaccas. Upon examination of her papers I found that she cleared from Key West on the 28th of November for Green Turtle Cay (Abaco), On enquiring what they were doing in at Key Vaccas, the captain informed me that he had been there for wood, and that he was going to stop at Indian Key for baggage belonging to some passengers he had on board. I informed him that this was in direct violation of my orders, that his vessel had cleared for Abaco, was found communicating with the keys.
     You will see from the enclosed order, marked "A," which is a part of my instructions, that it was my duty to seize that vessel and return her to Key West for investigation, which I did. On my arrival here, I communicated with Mr. [Charles] Howe [formerly of Indian Key] , collector of the port, on the subject.  Enclosed you will find his reply, marked "C, " which prompted me  to  release the Telegraph, which I did on the 6th of December.
      The marshal at this place had nothing to do with the Telegraph, as stated in Lord Lyons' communication.
       He also states that "no person on board the Wanderer ever made any charge against the Telegraph or gave any reason for her capture."
       I explained  fully my reasons to the captain of the vessel for taking him to Key West, and he acknowledged that he had laid himself liable to be seized for stopping at the keys without it being entered on his clearance.
       In regard to William J. Fisher, one of the crew of the Telegraph, he was drunk and very abusive to my officers. I ordered the sails of the Telegraph furled, when William J. Fisher said " God damn souls to hell, if you want these sails furled come on board and do it yourselves," and continued abusing the officers in that language. I requested the captain of the Telegraph to stop his abuse. He informed  me that he had no control over him. I therefore brought him aboard this vessel and had handcuffs put on him, as I considered it necessary until his arrival at this port, when I returned him to his own vessel.
     I hope, sir, that the above explanation is sufficient to exonerate me from any censure on the part of my Government. 
       I consider under the circumstances and my orders I simply did my duty on that occasion. I was lenient in releasing the vessel on that occasion, as I thought that the collector was probably more to blame than the party seized.
      I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                    J. H. Spotts
          Lieutenant, Commanding"

[To] Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy Washington D. C."
 


- - - - - - - - - - -
(Enclosure A.)

[From]          Flagship Mississippi 
                    Key West, June 14, 1861.
      Sir:  You will require all vessels and boats leaving the harbor of Key West to obtain a clearance or permit from the custom-house, setting forth the object of their voyage, except pilot boats (on their regular grounds), which permit must be approved by the commanding officer of the port, and if any such vessel or boat is found without such clearance, they will be dealt with as violating the blockade.
     I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                   Wm. Mervine,
            Flag-Officer, Gulf Blockading Squadron
[To] Chas. Howe,
    Collector Of the Port of Key West.

(Enclosure B.]
[From]                     U. S. Flagship Niagra
           Off Fort Pickens, December 19, 1861.
      Sir:  Your communication of the 12th instant is received.
     You will not regard any verbal permission granted at the custom-house for vessels to touch at any of the keys, and will inform the collector of this order.
         I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
                           Wm. W. McKean,
           Flag-Officer, Commanding Gulf Blockading Squadron 
[To]  Lieutenant Commanding, J. H. Spotts 
          Commanding U. S. Schooner Wanderer, Key West, Fla.
[Enclosure C.]
[From]                        Collector's Office,
                       Key West, December 4, 1861.
        Sir:   I have the honor to report that, agreeably to your request, I have examined the papers of the British schooner Telegraph, which you state you found out of her course on her voyage to Abaco and brought into this port.
        I beg leave to remark that this vessel was cleared at this office on the 28th November last for Green Turtle Cay (Abaco), with passengers and baggage and 1 barrel rum.
       I warned the master from going anywhere near the mainland or having any intercourse with the inhabitants thereof. He remarked that he only wished to stop at one of the keys to procure a little firewood for his vessel's use, in which I could see no impropriety. If he has acted otherwise than in good faith and violated any law of the revenue or Navy, he has laid himself liable to its penalties.
      This vessel was reported by the inspector of the customs (Mr. Bissel) as having been at anchor in Key Biscayne Bay on her voyage here, and was supposed to have communication with the inhabitants at Miami River. Taking all these things into consideration, I respectfully suggest the propriety of your turning the case over to the U. S. district attorney for investigation. 
       I  return herewith her papers. 
       With great respect, I am, sir, your obedient servant, 
                 Chas. Howe
                     Collector.
[To] Lieutenant Commanding, J. H. Spotts, U. S. Navy,
          Commanding, U. S. Schooner Wanderer, Key West.
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