Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward

No. 308.]

Sir: Reports have reached me from different quarters, written within the last few days, that two suspicious steamers have appeared off the southern part [Page 100] of this coast, under circumstances which have excited the apprehension on my part that they are destined for hostile service, and that they design, if practicable, to enter one of the secluded harbors with which the Algarve district is indented at various points, and from that base to operate against our commerce.

That region, as I have had reason to represent on former occasions, offers peculiar advantage to piratical cruisers, from its natural formation, its geographical position, the character of its population, and the comparative impunity with which depredations may be committed, unless it be strictly guarded.

This government is not able to maintain the supervision which is required by our exposed interests, but I was able to effect an understanding a year ago that still continues in force, by which the duty of the required vigilance was to be performed by our special agent, with such assistance as he could procure, while the government agreed on its part to expedite a war steamer to the spot whenever the agent should report to me a sufficient reason for that purpose. In fact, that was done on two occasions with effect.

His Majesty’s government is really anxious to avoid any form of complication which might possibly arise from the arming, equipping, or harboring of hostile cruisers in the ports of this kingdom or its colonies, and that disposition has been manifested very positively and beneficially at the mid-ocean islands, but its means are limited, and the suggestion is not unreasonable that we should co-operate in preventive measures which look exclusively to the protection of our own commerce.

I have to-day adopted the best expedient which this emergency permits, by sending the special agent heretofore employed down to the Algarve upon my own responsibility, hoping for an approval in view of the imperative necessity of that proceeding. He is active, faithful, and understands the people, their language, and their habits. But as I consider any discretion in this matter on the part of the legation wholly terminated by your despatch No. 142, of the 30th of June last, I beg leave to ask for a particular instruction upon the subject, so as to protect myself while making the endeavor to discharge my duty with efficiency and benefit. Should there be another mode more agreeable to the department, whereby the desired object may be attained, I shall not fail to adopt it with alacrity and zeal.

If the remote and secluded harbors of a sparsely populated portion of this kingdom are used to our injury, as has been repeatedly threatened, against the best efforts of the government, the sufferers will find but cold comfort in the prospect of subsequent reclamation and redress by diplomatic intervention. Such issues ought to be avoided, if possible; and although the suggested co-operation on our side is necessarily attended with expense, it is worthy of consideration whether that cost is not, after all, a real and valuable economy. That question is, however, to be determined by the more enlightened judgment of the department.

The United States steamer Sacramento, which had been in port for several weeks undergoing repairs to her machinery, went out yesterday, at my suggestion, to the succor of an American ship reported to be in distress. I shall request her commander, upon his return, to proceed to the Algarve, and endeavor to establish a means of communication between him and the special agent now on his way there.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.