|The Empire City
(The British Empire)
|Capture of the schooner British Empire at Matanzas, Fla., April 3, 1862
Report of Flag-Officer Du Pont, U. S. Navy, transmitting request for the sale to the inhabitants of St.
Augustine of the cargo of the prize.
Port Royal Harbor, S. C., May 3, 1862.
Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that on the 3d ultimo Lieutenant Commanding J. W. A.
Nicholson, of the Isaac Smith, then stationed at St. Augustine, having heard that a schooner had come in
over Matanzas Bar, some 18 miles to the southward, dispatched three armed boats, together with a
detachment of 25 men from Colonel Bell's command, to capture her, which was done and the schooner
brought up to St. Augustine.
The vessel was called the Empire City (British Empire). She had an English register and cleared from
Hassau, New Providence, for St. John, New Brunswick. The crew consisted of 6 men, 2 of whom only
had shipped at Nassau. The schooner is owned by a Captain Willie, of Jacksonville, Fla.; her former
name Rebecca. She sailed from the St. John's River on the 2d of March last with a cargo of turpentine
and resin and succeeded in running the blockade. On her return from Nassau she ran into Matanzas
Inlet, as above stated, and was taken.
Her cargo consisted of provisions, dry goods, medicines, etc., and the vessel is represented as old and
worthless and uttlerly unfit to be sent north.
After her capture Lieutenant Colonel Bell sent an official communication to Lieutenant Commanding
Nicholson, and also a letter from the leading citizens of St. Augustine (copies of which are enclosed),
asking that the cargo might be sold there at once, as the citizens were without the necessaries of life and
with no means of getting them.
In consideration of these facts, Lieutenant Commanding Nicholson sold the cargo, or a portion of it, at
auction, considering that the "overruling necessity" mentioned in Upton, p. 246 authorized his doing so. I
have approved his course, directing him, however, to keep an accurate account of the sales.
The captain of the schooner has since escaped; the rest of the crew will be sent north by the first
opportunity. The information above given relating to the history of the schooner was given under oath at
St. Augustine by the mate and two of the crew.
I would respectfully ask the approval of the Department of the course taken in this case, and also that
instructions be given as to the proper means to be taken to secure the benefit of the capture, if any; to
the officers and crew of the Isaac Smith.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. F. Du Pont,
Flag-Officer, Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington.
Letter from Col Louis Bell
St. Augustine, Fla., April 4, 1862.
Sir: I am informed that the schooner British Empire, lately made a prize to the Isaac Smith, has a large
amount of provisions on board. Very many of the inhabitants of St. Augustine are suffering for the want
of the very article of food this prize has on board, and would be glad to buy it if they had an opportunity.
The destitution of the majority of the city (this city, whose citizens raised the flag of the United States) is
so great that I have been compelled to feed several families from the rations furnished by Government for
the Army, to keep women and children from perishing from starvation. I have the honor to request that
such part of the cargo of the British Empire as may tend to relieve the pressing wants of the inhabitants
of St. Augustine may be sold here. I ask this (through I know the course is unusual) from the extreme
and overruling necessity of the case.
I am, sir, very respectfully,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Fourth New Hampshire Regiment,
Commanding Post of Fort Marion and St. Augustine Barracks.
U. S. Gunboat Isaac Smith
Report of Lieutenant-Commander Nicholson, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Isaac Smith
U. S. S. Isaac Smith,
St. Augustine, Fla., April 7, 1862.
Sir: On the 3d instannt, receiving information that a vessel had come in over Matanzas Bar, I dispatched
three armed boats from this vessel and a detachment of 25 men from colonel Bell's command on shore,
which he had placed at my disposal. Acting Master Gregory, in command of the expedition, after a
tedious pull of 18 miles, boarded and seized the schooner British Empire, and on the 4th instant
succeeded in bringing her off the town. This vessel has an English register, and cleared from Nassau,
New Providence, for St. John, New Brunswick; she is not fit to go to sea for any voyage. Her history is
as follows: She belongs to a Captain Willie, of Jacksonville, Fla.; her name Rebecca: she sailed from
Jacksonville about the 3d day of February last; remained at Mayport Mills till the 2d of March, when she
succeeded in running the blockade; and with a cargo of turnpentine and resin arrived at Nassau, New
Providence. She then took in a cargo of provisions, dry goods, medicines, etc., cleared for St. John,
New Brunswick, but bound for some port in the Confederate States, and brought up at Matanzas Inlet.
this account I have from the mate and two of her crew. I have had them examined before an officer of
the Fourth New Hampshire, who is a justice of the peace, etc. They testified to all the above facts under
oath. The captain declined to answer any question that bore upon the above facts, while two seamen
shipped in Nassau know nothing about her. There were six souls on board whom I have removed to this
vessel for safe-keeping, and I have placed a prize crew on board. Lieutenant-Colonel Bell has
addressed me an official communication, a copy of which I forward; also a letter from the leading citizens
of the town, asking that the cargo may be sold here at once, as the citizens are without the necessaries of
life, and with no means of getting them. In consideration of these facts I have determined to sell the
cargo, or a portion of it, at auction, as I consider that the overruling necessity mentioned in Upton's law
book, page 246, exists.
Will you please send orders how to proceed with the papers and case, that it may be properly
adjudicated, as there are no courts here, and it is not possible for the vessel to go north.
Her cargo is worth about $3,000 and will probably bring that sum or more here, while the vessel is
worthless or nearly so.
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. A. Nicholson,
Flag-Officer Saml. F. Du Pont, U. S. Navy,
Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, S. C.
(Editor: James Williams August Nicholson)
Letter from Flag Officer Du Pont, U. S. Navy, to Lieutenant Nicholson, U. S. Navy, approving
the disposition fo the cargo of the prize schooner British Empire.
Port Royal Harbor, S. C., April 22, 1862.
Sir: I have received your several communications dated the 7th, 8th, 17th, and 20th instant, but have
heretofore been unable to reply to them.
Your proceedings in disposing of the cargo of the British Empire, captured by you in Matanzas Inlet,
under the circumstances, I approve but I wish you to keep a strict account of the sales and enter in the
log book such parts of the cargo as were taken and remain on board your ship. Send up the crew to
Port Royal by the first favorable opportunity; hand over the vessel itself to the authorities at St. Augustine
for safe-keeping at present.
The Garibaldi you will take with you into St. John's where she may be used as a tender and dispatch
vessel to the navqal forces in that river and to communicate with me.
I appreciate your anxiety in endeavoring to fulfill my orders by the Bibb, but unavoidable circumstances
have detained you, and to this necessity we must submit.
S. F. Du Pont,
Lieutenant Commanding J. W. A. Nicholson,
U. S. S. Augusta, off St. John's
Order of the Secretary of the Navy to Flag-Officer Du Pont, U. S. Navy to furnish a full report
to U. S. District Attorney regarding the sale of cargo.
Navy Department, May 12, 1862.
Sir: Your letter of the 3d instant, in relation to the prize Empire City (British Empire) has been
received, with its enclosures.
The Department presumes that, under the circumstances stated, no exception will be taken to the
disposition made of the captured property; but a full report of the facts should be made to the U. S.
attorney for the district into which the prisoners or captured crew are sent, and the proceeds of sale are
to be held subject to the order of the U. S. court for the same district.
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Flag-Officer S. F. Du Pont,
Comdg. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Port Royal, S. C.
Additional report of Lieutenant Nicholson, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Isaac Smith
U. S. S. Isaac Smith,
St. John's River, East Florida, July 11, 1862
Sir: In conformity with the provisions of circular from Navy Department, dated 14th May, 1862, I make
the following report:
On the 3d of April last I dispatched a boat from this ship (then at anchor at St. Augustine) to Matanzas
Inlet, 18 miles to the southward, and there seized the schooner British Empire, just arrived from
Nassau, New Providence. She had a British register, made out at Nassau, New Providence; her crew
consisted of 6 persons, of whom the captain mate, and two of the men were from Jacksonville, Fla.,
while the other two shipped in good faith (they said) at Nassau, bound to St. John, New Brunswick. The
schooner was quite old, built at Wilmington, Del., owned by Captain Willie, of Jackswonville. She
leaked badly, having knocked her false keel off in getting over the bar at Matanzas. Shortly after I
brought her to St. Auguswtine, the colonel commanding the town addressed me a letter stating that the
citizens were in a starving condition; the leading citzens also addressed me a letter of the same import,
and requesting me to sell the cargo, which was composed of articles such as were needed. I therefore
sold'a portion of the cargo to relieve the distress, and the residue I took on board of this vessel for
safe-keeping. I sent the crew to Port Royal, by order of Flag-Officer Du Pont, and he also approved of
my proceedings. The vessel being unseaworthy anchored her close to the town, giving her in charge of
the civil authorities to hold till claimed by competent authority from the United States; this also was done
by order of Flag-Officer Du Pont. The proceeds of the cargo, amounting to the sum of $3,371.73, I
turned over to the paymaster of this ship for the use of the vessel, taking his receipt therefor. Of the
cargo received on board, I have used for the vessel some articles, of which I send the bill and
appraisement, as required. I also enclose a list of officers and men on board of ship at the time of
capture. No United States vessels were in sight at that time.
I am, respectfully, your ob,edient servant,
Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.
|Flag Officer Du Pont
|U. S. S. Walbash
|Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles
|Col. Louis Bell 4th New Hampshire
|U. S. S. Isaac Smith
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