Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Guano Diplomacy, Part II

Guano Diplomacy, Part I looked at the confict between the U.S. and Peru over the Lobos Islands, mentioned in Millard Fillmore's 1852 State of the Union speech. In Part II, we look at the events referenced in Franklin Pierce's State of the Union speech delivered on December 5, 1853:

Unfortunately, there has been a serious collision between our citizens who have resorted to the Chincha Islands for [guano] and the Peruvian authorities stationed there. Redress for the outrages committed by the latter was promptly demanded by our minister at Lima. This subject is now under consideration, and there is reason to believe that Peru is disposed to offer adequate indemnity to the aggrieved parties.

The outrages referred started with the killing of a pelican.

No kidding.

The American ship Defiance, commanded by Captain Robert McCerren, was laden with guano and almost ready to sail from the Cinchas Islands of Peru in 1853, when at least one of the ship's crew was arrested by the Peruvians for shooting a pelican, a crime which carried a fine of one dollar. The book American Clipper Ships by Octavius T. Howe puts the date of the arrest on August 14, 1853. I say at least one sailor was arrested, because Edmund Beatty, a friend of McCerren's who claimed to be an eyewitness to the events, in a letter published in the New York Times published June 23, 1854, stated that four of the ship's crew were held by the Peruvians. In any case, Capt. McCerren went to the Peruvian authorities, offered to pay the one dollar fine, and requested the release of his crewman (or men). This request was denied, and, according to Beatty, Capt. McCerren was escorted back to the Defiance under armed guard.

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