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Chesapeake

 

(ScStr: t. 460)

 

Chesapeake was the wooden steamer Totten, built in Philadelphia in 1853 and first registered there. She was rebuilt in 1857, being renamed Chesapeake 27 August and described at that time as schooner-rigged with single funnel, owned by H. B. Cromwell & Co., New York. She was involved in the Caleb Cushing (q.v.) affair in June 1863, being one of the ships that set out from Portland, Me., to recapture the revenue cutter.

 

She was sailing as a regular New York-Portland liner on 7 December 1863 when she became a cause celebre upon being taken over as a Confederate vessel by a group acting in the name of the Confederacy under alleged authority of a second-hand letter of marque issued 27 October to the former captain of a privateer sold as unseaworthy in Nassau some months earlier— whereas her relief captain, mastermind of this later expedition, was found to be a British subject, having acted under an assumed name and without authorization by the Confederacy. The Halifax, N.S., Court of Vice-Admiralty found, 15 February 1864, that the capture "was undoubtedly a piratical taking. But in its origin, * * * in the mode of the recapture, in short, all the concomitant circumstances, the case is very peculiar." Chesapeake was restored to her owners and served in commerce until 1881. The captors were dismissed: "This court has no prize jurisdiction, no authority to adjudicate between the United States and the Confederate States, or the citizens of either of those States. The prisoners were not surrendered to the United States under the Ashburton treaty for trial "on charges of murder and piracy."

 

"Colonel" John Clibbon Braine, Henry A. Parr and a dozen fellow-conspirators took over Chesapeake 20 miles NNE of Cape Cod, 7 December, having boarded her two nights before in New York as passengers. In the takeover, her second engineer was killed and her chief officer and chief engineer wounded; Captain Isaac Willett, his bona fide passengers and all but five of his crew were landed at St. John, N.B., 8 December; Capt. John Parker (actually Vernon G. Locke) joined in the Bay of Fundy and took command. They coaled at Shelburne, N.S., the 12th, shipped four men and were seeking enough fuel to make Wilmington, N.C., when USS Ella & Annie (v. William G. Hewes)captured Chesapeake, the morning of the 17th, in Sambro, a small harbor near the entrance to Halifax, N.S., with three crewmen—only one being of the boarding party.

 

Comdr. A. G. Clary, USS Dacotah, prevented Ella & Annie from taking the recaptured prize into Boston and accompanied her that day to Halifax, where she was turned over to local authorities the 19th—conceding that her recovery in neutral waters of Canada had been extra-legal—and the prisoners with her.

 

Eight Federal ships hastily summoned to search out Chesapeake returned home the 19th; the same day Secretary of State J. P. Benjamin appointed James B. Holcombe special commissioner to represent the alleged Confederate raiders in Halifax and try to gain possession of the prize steamer. Holcombe found ultimately, "That the expedition was devised, planned, and organized in a British colony by Vernon G. Locke, a British subject, who, under the feigned name of Parker, had been placed in command of the privateer Retribution by the officer who was named as her commander at the time of the issue of the letter of marque.***Locke assumed to issue commissions in the Confederate service to British subjects on British soil, without* **authority for so doing, and without being himself in the public service of this Government. ***there is great reason to doubt whether either Braine, who was in command of the expedition, or Parr, his subordinate, is a Confederate citizen * * * Braine *** after getting possession of the vessel and proceeding to the British colonies, instead of confining himself to his professed object of obtaining fuel for navigating her to a Confederate port, sold portions of the cargo at different points on the coast, thus divesting himself of the character of an officer engaged in the legitimate warfare.***The capture of the Chesapeake, therefore,***is disclaimed.***men who, sympathizing with us in a righteous cause, erroneously believed themselves authorized to act as belligerents against the United States by virtue of Parker's possession of the letter of marque issued to the privateer Retribution" could not be accepted after the fact as Confederate volunteers.