George Stiebel's Wrongful Imprisonment

After being wrongfully imprisoned for 24 hours in Santo Domingo, George Stiebel sent a letter of complaint to the British Consul to Santo Domingo, Martin T Hood. Mr. Hood immediately wrote home to Lord John Russell, a politician who served as Prime Minister of Britain in 1846-1852 and 1865-1866, in England. Both Mr Stiebel and Mr Hood's letters are included below.

The letters were found in a Spanish publication by Roberto Marte, called "English Consular Correspondence on the Annexation of Santo Domingo to Spain" (this is the English translation of the title, its actual title is "Correspondencia Consular Inglesa sobre la Anexión de Santo Domingo a España").

All letters that in English were translated to Spanish by The General Archive of the Nation of Santo Domingo for inclusion in the publication. We took the spanish versions of the letters below, and translated them back into English for inclusion below. The structure and grammar of the translation may not be perfect in places but the essence of the communication is evident.

George Stiebel's Letter to British Consul - Martin Hood

City of Santo Domingo
March 26, 1861

Respecfully I would like to inform you of the following facts: I am from the city of Kingston on the island of Jamaica. With 3 of the current in Curacao, I signed the Dutch schooner Delia with the purpose of coming to this port to buy a cargo of cattle for Jamaica.

When the boat was ready to sail, the Haitian agent residing in Curacao offered me twenty emigrants for Haiti. I agreed to take them in addition to five cabin passengers. I left the people in Haiti and, knowing about the shortage of coffee in Haiti, I acquired a cargo for that port. There was also a company of equestrian artists in Haiti who wished to embark for Santo Domingo. I took them on board agreeing, in accordance with their wish, to leave them in Azua, which was the closest port to Santo Domingo.

Upon arrival in Azua I found the Spanish flag flying instead of the Dominican one. I went ashore with the captain. When I got off I asked the port officer if we could get the passengers off and their effects, explaining at the same time that we came from Haiti. He replied that passengers could land immediately, but that it was necessary to go to the town (at a distance of about three miles) to search the ship before we could lower the horses.

I went to town with the captain; On our arrival, General Sosa took the papers from the boat and told the captain that he was not going to deliver them until the boat went to Santo Domingo. He said: "You are my prisoner because you are the ship's carrier and you have no right to come here. from Haiti; I'm going to send you by land to the city of Santo Domingo." This was the 21st of the current.

The next day I was sent under escort to Santo Domingo. I arrived there on the 25th, being sent to prison by order of the officer to whom I was delivered by the dragon. He also brought letters from General Sosa to General Santana. At dusk another order was taken to the prison according to which I should be held in detention. On the morning of the next day I was released without knowing by whose order. I have to add that upon entering the river the boat collided with another ship that caused very serious damage and almost killed one of the passengers. I do not need to mention the loss that resulted in the detention of the ship and its consequent deviation from the intended crossing or the suffering of my person being forced to travel all day with a burning sun and at night I entered San Cristobal in the middle of a rain of several hours. It is impossible for me to say now the total amount of my loss. When I arrive in Curaçao, I have to see that to cover the costs, my cargo has not been sold to other merchants who, having known the coffee shortage, have sent it to the same market before my arrival. But I will also have to stay here to repair the boat. Having presented a protest before a notary public and before You, I wanted to leave the matter in your hands on the belief that the British government will not allow this unjustifiable person to run over the person of this citizen and his property to go unpunished.

I am . . .
(signed) George Stiebel
Mr. George Stiebel
Mr. Martin Hood

Martin T Hood's Letter to Lord John Russell

The Honorable
Lord John Russell

Santo Domingo
August 12, 1861

My Lord
In compliance with the instructions contained in the honourable Member's office No. 7 of 20 June, I have the honour to submit to your consideration the following detailed report on the imprisonment of Mr George Stiebel which I have made on the basis of the notes taken by me on the fly.

Mr. Stiebel, who is a British subject and charterer and accountant of the Dutch schooner "Dilia", being in Aux Cayes, a port in Haiti where he had taken some migrants from Curacao, bought a shipment of coffee that he wanted to take back to Curacao. When he had already boarded the cargo, a company of artist riders asked him to transport them to the Dominican Republic, to which he agreed, pledging to disembark them in Azua on his way to Curacao. They boarded and he continued his travel, arriving in Azua on 21 March last when he found the Spanish flag hoisted there. He went to the jetty with the captain and asked the port officer if he could disembark the passengers and their effects, informing him that they were coming from Haiti. The officer told him that the passengers could disembark immediately, but that he could not allow them to unload their assets, among which there were some horses to be unloaded, until the ship was registered at customs.

It is necessary to explain that the village of Azua is located at a distance of about three miles from the boathouse, that it is very sandy and there are no houses or offices there, and that the customs office itself is located in the village of Azua.

Mr. Stiebel therefore took the ship's papers and, with the captain, went to the village of Azua, where he was ordered to first appear in person with General Sosa, who commands this district. The officer seized the ship's papers and told the captain that he should take the ship to the port of Santo Domingo, as there was no officer to send him with the commission, and told Mr. Stiebel that he had to remain a prisoner because he had no right to come to this country from Haiti and that he would be sent by land and under escort to the capital. Mr. Stiebel asked permission to go in the "Dilia", but General Sosa refused saying that Mr. Stiebel prisoner constituted the only assurance that the ship would go to Santo Domingo.

On March 22, he was sent with an escort to this city where he arrived on the 25th, travelling day and night without regard to the sun or rain.

Upon his arrival here he was taken to a common prison from where he sent me a message making me aware of the reported occurrences, on which I went to the chief of police to investigate the matter. This officer claimed complete ignorance of the facts and promised to investigate them, but he told me that if the ship came from Haiti his arrest was perfectly justified. I explained however that it was a mistake because, whatever the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the relationship between Haiti and Spain were friendly and that there was no law, Dominican or Spanish, that prohibited a foreign boat from trading between the ports in Haiti and those of Santo Domingo, including during the period of the independence of the latter state.

It seems that General Santana received dispatches from General Sosa through the escort that led Mr. Stiebel here and, I presume that because of those dispatches, General Santana sent a message to Mr. Stiebel that he had to remain in detention as prisoner. This message was the response to a request he had made to the prison authorities for parole or otherwise.

The next day he was released as a result, as the chief of police informed me, of my errands to his benefit; at my suggestion, Mr Stiebel sent me a letter and issued his protest from which I attached a copy in my office No. 17 of March last.

After the inquiries I made on that occasion, I have reason to believe that the former is a correct and true account of what happened.

The reason or the motive for which Mr. Stiebel was arrested, as he told me in his letter and was later confirmed by the chief of police, was that he had come from a port in Haiti. No other reason was given, on the grounds that this was a sufficient motive. However, when he came from Haiti to a port in Santo Domingo, Mr. Stiebel has not broken any laws of the last republic or of Spain. There was by no means any prohibition of such an exchange and General Sosa's conduct constituted in this case an arbitrary use of power which I can only explain in this way: General Sosa knew that the province of Azua has always been the most decidedly opposite to General Santana; he intuited that the change of nationality was here more unpopular. He saw himself alone (while no Spanish troops had arrived), surrounded by disaffected and probably threatened by a Haitian invasion or a revolution brought about by the Haitians, and in his fear he did not hesitate to see an invasion or a horde of secret agents and n the innocent arrival of a small schooner with equestrian artists. [JGH: General Santana was in support of the Annexation]

Although this assumption cannot be an excuse for General Sosa, it now gives rise to the conduct of the authorities who held Mr. Stiebel twenty-four hours in prison after knowing the cause of his arrest, ratifying General Sosa's action through The message transmitted to Mr. Stiebel during his arrest.

Mr. Stiebel has not only not violated any law or regulation, but he is fully convinced that he had made a legal journey as it has already happened several months before an English schooner, the Elisa, of which he was the shipowner, came from Port-au-Prince to this port where he took a load of six oxen for Jamaica. It is true that at first the Elisa was not given permission for the same reason given for Mr. Stiebel's arrest, namely that he came from Haiti, but in presenting the case to General Santana, he admitted that such a course was illegal and was allowed free exercise, after only a few hours of detention and that on a Sunday.

Shortly thereafter Mr. Dutton, the British vice-consul at Aux Cayes, the very port from which Mr. Stiebel came, he acquired a small boat that he sent to this port under the British flag with the shipwreck crew of a Dominican schooner as I informed Su Your Honor in my office No. 32 of 30 September 1860, and that ship was not disturbed in any way.

Neither Mr. Stiebel nor I was given any explanation when he was released. The prison doors were opened and he was ordered to leave.

For the reasons detailed in my office No. 17 d on 30 March last, I abstained from presenting a protest on this matter to the authorities, so that I am not in a position to inform the honourable Member what explanation or excuse they could have given me at that time; given the circumstances of the case, however, there is no possibility that Mr Stiebel's imprisonment could have been attributed to another reason; nevertheless perhaps they could have apologized.

In referring the case to the honourable Member, I feel that in my office I did not give details that I considered unnecessary as they were stated by the same part in the documents attached, for I thought, as I had said nothing to the contrary, that it would be considered as given that I believed in Mr Stiebel's arguments, since he would not otherwise have referred them to the honourable Member or explained in what I disagree with them.

I beg you to accept my humble apology for this omission.

I have the honor of being,
with the greatest respect,
my Lord, Your Honor,

the most obedient and humble servant Martin J. Hood

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