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#114: Pelletier Affair, Part I : Bob Perdue
From: Robert Perdue <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I continue my study of the history of the Dauphin Plantation and the
Fort Liberte area. Any incident here is of interest as well as events
leading directly to or following that incident. I will be sending you
three emails on the Pelletier affair, this, the first, a short summary
based on Leger's account, the other two are typewritten copies of
handwritten documents in the National Archives. Leger based his story
on accounts in "Foreign Relations of the United States."
THE PELLETIER AFFAIR
(The following account is based on J. N.Leger, Haiti: Her History and
Her Dectractors. 1970 (Reprint of 1907 edition). Negro Universities
Press, Westport, Connecticut, pages 232-234 and 238-239)
On March 31,1861, the schooner Guillaume Tell, flying the French flag
and owned by Jules Letellier, entered Fort Liberté harbor. His intent
was to encourage inhabitants to board the ship and then carry them off
to be sold into slavery. This he tried to accomplish by pretending to
the authorities that his ship needed repairs so as to coax workmen
aboard. He further announced there would be a dance aboard the ship.
This conspiracy was betrayed by one of his crew who then deserted him.
Subsequently, the French Consul at Cap Haitien came to Fort Liberté to
investigate and found that the ship's owner was not Letellier but
Antonio Pelletier and the ship not the Guillaume Tell but the Williams
and was not authorized to fly the French flag.
Although Pelletier was born French he became a naturalized United States
citizen in 1852 and was a well-known slave trader. His ship had been
captured in 1859 off the Congo River in Africa by a United States
In January 1861, Pelletier had entered Port-au-Prince harbor with the
Williams flying the flag of the United States. His intent was to take
aboard about 150 Haitiens and sell them in Cuba. He tried to entice
Haitians aboard under the pretext of taking on board a cargo of guano
from Navassa Island. When a crew member informed the authorities that
the Williams was a slaver the police searched the ship and found many
handcuffs and other items typically carried by slave ships. Pelletier
was ordered away and escorted for a distance by a Haitian Man-of-War.
He had been released with the understanding he would sail for New
Orleans but when the Haitian ship turned away Pelltier changed course
and cruised along the north coast of Haiti and subsequently entered Fort
Liberté as explained above.
On April 13, 1861, G. Eustis Hubbard, United States Commercial Agent at
Cap Haitien reported to the United States Secretary of State: "I have no
doubt that the intention of Captain Pelltier was to induce a number of
Haitians to go on board of his vessel, under contract or otherwise, and
then make his escape with them and sell them into slavery".
Pelletier was brought to trial and on August 30, 1861, sentenced to
death by the criminal court in Port-au-Prince. Six weeks later, on
October 14, his sentence was overturned by the Haitian Supreme Court.
Pelltier was subsequently tried again by a court in Cap Haitien and
sentenced to five-years imprisonment. When he became ill in 1863 he was
transferred to a hospital from which he escaped and fled to Jamaica.
Eighteen years later in 1879, the United States Minister in
Port-au-Prince introduced a claim on behalf of Pelltier in the amount of
almost $2.5 M. Under arbitration the amount was reduced to $57,200.
Before the arbiter, G. Eustis Hubbard, United States Commercial Agent in
Cap Haitien in 1861, stated: "It has always been my belief from that day
to this that the Haitian Government ought to have executed the man as a
pirate and confiscated his vessel and property beyond redemption."
After protest by the Haitian Legation in Washington, the United States
State Department put aside the award. United States Secretary of State
T. F. Bayard stated: "I do not hesitate to say that, in my judgement,
the claim of Pelltier is one which this Government should not press on
Haiti, either by persuasion or by force, and I come to this conclusion,
first because Haiti had jurisdiction to inflict on him the very
punishment of which he complains, such punishment being in no way
excessive in view of the heinousness of the offense, and secondly,
because his cause is of itself so saturated with turpitude and infamy
that on it no action, judicial or diplomatic, can be based."