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A Ferry Tale

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Posted 4 years ago

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One of the early prize court cases of the Civil War involved the steamer Nuestra Senora de Regla and the cover below which was presented as evidence of a legal siezure. The steamer was built in New York on behalf of a Spanish owned railway company in Cuba to be used as a ferry between port of Havana and the railroad terminus.

In November 1861 the steamer was forced for want of coal and poor weather to put into Port Royal, South Carolina (near Charleston). This after being allowed by the Blockade Squadron patrol to pass as a Spanish
vessel. What happened next was described in the 21 December 1861 New York Times:
"After her entrance into Port Royal some suspicious circumstances induced Gen. SHERMAN to order a search to be instituted; when Major BEARD, the Provost Marshal, and Capt. SAXTON, Chief Quartermaster, discovered, (found in the cabin, and belonged to a party that slept there) hidden beneath the false bottom of a trunk, and in a
carpet-bag under the pillow of the engineer, the mail for Havana, and other papers under the Consular seal. These were letters of credit from the Bank of Charleston on influential firms in Liverpool, and letters proposing the opening of business relations between rebel houses and merchants abroad." (emphasis added, parenthetical correction printed the following week)

After several months of use by the US Navy, the ship was brought to New York and condemned in prize court. Henry H. Elliot, the commissioner, initialed the cover below as evidence in the case. Addressed to the Spanish Consul in Charleston, it is one of the very covers discovered in the false bottom trunk. On 20 June 1863, a
decree of restitution was ordered as the court ruled that the seizure had been without cause.

Posted by Richard Frajola

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