John Slidell, James Murray Mason, George Eustis, J. E. McFarland to Charles Wilkes, USN, Protest at Seizure, November 9, 1861

    Source citation
    "Protest of Mason and Slidell," in Frank Moore, ed., The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. (New York: G.P.Putnam, 1862), III: 327-328.
    Judicial record
    Date Certainty
    Transcription adapted from The Rebellion Record (1862), edited by Frank Moore
    Adapted by John Osborne, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    The following transcript has been adapted from The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. (1862).

    At sea, November 9, 1861 

    SIR: We desire to communicate to you, by this memorandum, the facts attending our arrest yesterday on board the British mail steamer Trent, by your order, and our transfer to this ship.

    We, the undersigned, embarked at Havana, on the 7th instant, as passengers on board the Trent, Capt. Moir, bound to the island of St. Thomas, the Trent being one of the regular mail and passenger lines of the British Royal Mail Steamship Company, running from Vera Cruz, via Havana, to St. Thomas, and thence to Southampton, England. We paid our passage money for the whole route from Havana to Southampton to the British consul at Havana, who acts as the agent or representative of the said steamship company, Mr. Slidell being accompanied by his family, consisting of his wife, four children, and a servant, and Mr. Eustis by his wife and servants.

    The Trent left the port of Havana about eight o'clock A. M. on the morning of the 7th instant, and pursued her voyage uninterruptedly until intercepted by the United States steamer San Jacinto, under your command, on the day following (the 8th instant) in the manner now to be related.

    When the San Jacinto was first observed several miles distant, the Trent was pursuing the usual course of her voyage along the old Bahama or Nicholas channel; was about two hundred and forty miles from Havana, and in sight of the lighthouse of Paredon Grande, the San Jacinto then lying stationary, or nearly so, about the middle of the channel, and where it was some fifteen miles wide, as since shown us on the chart, the nationality of the ship being then unknown. When the Trent had approached near enough for her flag to be distinguished it was hoisted at the peak and at the main, and so remained for a time. No flag was shown by the San Jacinto. When the Trent had approached within a mile of the San Jacinto, still pursuing the due course of her voyage, a shotted gun was fired from the latter ship across the course of the Trent, and the United States flag at the same time displayed at her peak. The British flag was again immediately hoisted, as before, by the Trent, and so remained. When the Trent had approached, still on her course, within from two to three hundred yards of the San Jacinto, a second shotted gun was fired from your ship again across the course of the Trent. When the Trent got within hailing distance her captain inquired what was wanted. The reply was understood to be they would send a boat, both ships being then stationary, with steam shut off. A boat very soon put off from your ship, followed immediately by two other boats, with full crews, and armed with muskets and side-arms. A lieutenant in the naval uniform of the United States, and with side-arms, boarded the Trent, and, in the presence of most of the passengers then assembled on the upper deck, said to Captain Moir that he came with orders to demand his passenger list. The captain refused to produce it, and formally protested against any right to visit his ship for the purpose indicated. After some conversation, importing renewed protests on the part of the captain against the alleged object of the visit, and on the part of the officer of the San Jacinto that he had only to execute his orders, the latter said that two gentlemen (naming Mr. Slidell and Mr. Mason) were known to be on board, as also two other gentlemen, (naming Mr. Eustis and Mr. McFarland,) and that his orders were to take and carry them on board the San Jacinto. It should have been noted that, on first addressing the captain, the officer announced himself as a lieutenant of the United States steamer San Jacinto; the four gentlemen thus named being present, the lieutenant, addressing Mr. Slidell, and afterward Mr. Mason, repeating that his orders were to take them, together with Mr. Eustis and Mr. McFarland, and carry them on board his ship, which orders he must execute. Mr. Slidell and Mr. Mason, in reply, protested, in the presence of the captain of the Trent, his officers and passengers, against such threatened violation of their persons and of their rights, and informed the lieutenant that they would not leave the ship they were in unless compelled by the employment of actual force greater than they could resist, and Mr. Eustis and Mr. McFarland united with them in expressing a like purpose. That officer stated that he hoped he would not be compelled to resort to the use of force, but if it would become necessary to employ it in order to execute his orders, he was prepared to do so. He was answered by the undersigned that they would submit to such force alone. The lieutenant then went to the gangway where his boats were, the undersigned going at the same time to their staterooms, on the deck next below, followed by Captain Moir and by the other passengers. The lieutenant returned with a party of his men, a portion of whom were armed with side-arms, and others appearing to be a squad of marines, having muskets and bayonets. Mr. Slidell was at this time in his state-room, immediately by, and in full view. The lieutenant then said to Mr. Mason that, having his force now present, he hoped to be relieved from the necessity of calling it into actual use. That gentleman again answered that he would only submit to actual force greater than he could overcome, when the lieutenant and several of his men, by his order, took hold of him in a manner and in numbers sufficient to make resistance fruitless, and Mr. Slidell joining the group at the same time, one or more of the armed party took like hold of him, and those gentlemen at once went into the boat. During this scene many of the passengers became highly excited, and gave vent to the strongest expressions of indignation, seeming to indicate a purpose of resistance on their part, when the squad armed with muskets, with bayonets fixed, made sensible advance of one or two paces, with their arms at a charge. It must be added here, omitted in the course of the narration, that before the party left the upper deck an officer of the Trent, named Williams, in the naval uniform of Great Britain, and known to the passengers as having charge of the mails and accompanying them to England, said to the lieutenant that, as the only person present directly representing his Government, he felt called upon, in language as strong and as emphatic as he could express, to denounce the whole proceeding as a piratical act.

    Mr. Slidell and Mr. Mason, together with Mr. Eustis and Mr. McFarland, against whom force in like manner had been used, were taken to the San Jacinto as soon as they entered the boat. When they reached your ship you received them near the gangway, announcing yourself as Captain Wilkes, the commander of the ship, and conducted them to your cabin, which you placed at their disposal. When the undersigned came on board they found the men at their quarters, and the guns bearing on the Trent. After some time occupied in bringing on board our baggage and effects, the San Jacinto proceeded to the northward, through the Santaren channel, the Trent having been detained from three to four hours.

    The foregoing is believed to be a correct narrative in substance of the facts and circumstances attending our arrest and transfer from the British mail steamer to the ship under your command, and which we doubt not will be corroborated by the lieutenant present, as well as by all who witnessed them.

    The incidents here given in detail may not have been witnessed by each one of the undersigned individually, but they were by one or more of them. As for the most part they did not pass under your notice, we have deemed it proper to present them in this form before you, expressing the wish that, if considered incorrect in any part, the inaccuracies may be pointed out.

    With a respectful request that you will transmit a copy of this paper to the Government of the United States, together with your report of the transaction, to facilitate which a copy is herewith enclosed,

    We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servants,


    Captain WILKES,
    U.S. Navy, Commanding San Jacinto.

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