The following letter is from a young Scotchman, who married a wife, and set sail from New York for Cardenas; the vessel was taken by a rebel piratical craft, and the party had the pleasure of a visit to Charleston, S. C.:–
MATANZAS, Nov. 11, 1861
We sailed from New York on board the brig Betsy Ames, on October 5th. In all we were six passengers, beside Mrs. Bartlett, the wife of the captain. We were bound for Cardenas, and all went well until the morning of the 17th ult, when we observed a schooner making right for us. There was nothing suspicious about her at first sight, but about nine A. M. she fired at us, her shot falling short about a quarter of a mile. Captain Bartlett then ordered all sail to be made, but the breeze shortly after died away, and the now suspicious schooner made upon us, and fired another shot, which also fell a little short of our vessel. A third shot was fired, but we could not see in what direction it went. They fired a fourth shot, which passed close alongside our brig. This latter result caused our captain to take in sail and jog along more leisurely, till the schooner made up to us about twelve o’clock, M. Still, we could not tell what the little craft was, as she had no color flying.
When she came up to us, the captain of the schooner ordered our captain to take one of his boats and come on board with his papers, to which he responded, “My boats are unfit for service.” The captain of the schooner then said, “I will come on board your brig, then,” which he immediately did. He came in his own boat, with an officer and four men, when the captain and his officer went down into the cabin with our captain, and took possession of all his papers; then told him that he was a prisoner of the Confederate States of America.
While the officers were in the cabin, the men who were left in the boat sprang on deck and into the forehold, from which they took two barrels of potatoes, about two dozen cabbages, and a coil of rope, and put them into their boat.
When the officers came up on deck again, they ordered our crew to the boat, and thence to the privateer, which proved to be the Flying Sally, of Charleston, on board of which there were about sixty men and two pivot-guns. In a short time a prize crew was sent on board, and as our captain had his wife, they did not transfer him.
The prize crew were seven in all. The master was an old cooper, named Joseph Tully, who used to cooper both at Matanzas and Cardenas. He evidently knew nothing of seamanship.
About two o’clock we parted with the pirate schooner and nothing particular occurred until the 24th, at daybreak, when we made land, but did not know where we were. Some of the crew said we were north of Charleston; but, as it turned out, we were south of North Edisto, where we ran aground and lost our false keel, but got off again, and went to sea. On the following day we saw no land, and on the evening of the 27th we made the land of St. Helena, almost the exact place where we were on the 25th. After tacking off and on all night, we were still in the same place. Then we beat up to the North Edisto Inlet.
While beating up we espied a schooner, which fact caused the crowd to take alarm, and, to a man, they rushed below, armed themselves with their swords, knives, and pistols, bagged their clothing and a few little valuables, then prepared for the boats, as they intended to beach the brig. They were apprehensive that the vessel sighted was a United States gunboat. When they came on deck, however, and took another observation, they discovered that it was only a little schooner. Then we made the inlet, when a boat’s crew, armed to the teeth, came on board, and piloted us up to the anchorage, about forty miles inland. There they discharged their prizes, and the vessels were towed up to Charleston by tow-boats.
We arrived at Charleston at about three o’clock, P. M., on the 27th. Next morning the steamer General Clinch took us on board, with our baggage. I may also state, that the steamer Planter towed us up to this safe “pirates’ village ground.”
When we got into Charleston the prize captain took us to a private boarding-house, his agent having closed his office previous to our arrival.
Next morning we strolled about the city, and called upon the British Consul, who told us, strange as it may seem, that he could render us no assistance, as we had done wrong in taking our passage on board an American vessel, knowing that the two countries were at war; therefore, if the owners of the prize had the good feeling to pay our expenses, it was only to be expected from their generous character, but they could not be forced to do so. About twelve o’clock we were called upon to go to the marshal’s office, and when we got there the marshal told us that we were prisoners. We were then sent to the city jail. The captain’s wife, and the other lady of our company, did not accompany us to the jail. We remained in this limbo till half past eight o’clock, P. M., having been released at that time through the exertions of Her British Majesty’s Consul, Mr. Bunce, who had been induced to act then only because an old English captain, who saw us in prison, went to him and prevailed upon him to use his influence in our behalf.
The next day we looked round to see if we could devise any means of getting away. The Spanish Consul informed us that the only schooner which was going for some time had been loaded, and had sailed already for Matanzas. However, we had the good fortune to meet Mr. Salas, the owner of two vessels which were ready for sea, and it appeared that Mr. Bunce had been to him to endeavor to procure us a passage; and as he could not assist us, Mr. Salas offered to take us to Matanzas on credit. That arrangement included the other British passengers, my wife, and myself. The other three passengers were Germans, having American passports, and could not be taken on board the schooner Jasper. The crew on board this craft declared her unseaworthy, after getting their advanced pay, and left. Mr. Salas had therefore to ship another crew, and we got ready for sea. As the bark Rowena was getting her name changed to the St. Helena of Charleston, S. C., having been loaded with a cargo of naval stores, awaiting a favorable opportunity to run the blockade, we waited and went out with her. So, on the night of the 2d inst., she was taken in tow by a steamer, and we followed her as closely as we could out past the United States vessels, and in half an hour were after her, and could see the lights of the United States ships quite distinctly, although none of them seemed to make any movement, and did not observe us. It was about ten o’clock, P. M., when we got clear of their lights. Then we thought ourselves safe on the sea once more. We arrived here safely on the night of Saturday, the 9th inst.
And now, when I think of the scenes I have passed through since I left New York, (the scenes of a honeymoon excursion,) what impressed me most was the almost death-like solemn appearance of Charleston, and the entire absence of anything like business. It appeared as if a Scotch fast day was being observed. At least one half of the stores have “To Let” posted upon the shut doors, and those which are occupied are all closed at noon every day, and every man has to turn out to drill, or be fined by the police the next day.
Another thing which struck me was the almost entire absence of “hard cash.” One of my companions and I went into a bar-room to have a drink, and the only money we had to offer was Spanish. My friend offered a two dollar piece, but the bar-keeper was bewildered; he did not know its value, and asked us what it was worth. Being informed that it was worth two dollars twelve and a half cents in Cuba, he offered two dollars twenty-five cents in paper change. Then a crowd gathered around us, staring their eyes out of their heads, almost, at the novelty of the sight of gold, and many of them seemed really anxious to be the possessors. We saw no small change except pieces of paper, which certify that they are “good for five cents,” “good for ten cents,” and so on.
I must say that men, women, and children in Charleston seem united in the cause of secession. When they found that one of my fellow-passengers and myself were Scotchmen, they treated us very respectfully. Though our Consul did not at first seem to sympathize with us, still he exerted himself well on our behalf when he found that we were in prison. All seemed to have great respect for him in Charleston.
Originally posted 2008-02-18 13:15:44.