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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zachariah Pearson

Zachariah Pearson

Troubles and Trials of a Blockade Runner

Published in the New York Times, February 25th 1864.

Mr. Zachariah Charles Pearson, Ex Mayor of Hull, who went so largely into the Blockade-running business, with such an unsatisfactory result, both for himself and his creditors, has had a hearing before the Bankruptcy Court. Some of hi creditors seem to have opposed his discharge, and he was examined by the Commissioner as to his past transactions. He seems to have been in the condition of the man whose tombstone told his story as follows: “I was well; I wished to be better; I took medicine, and here I am.” In 1860 Zachariah’s business was “in a flourishing state.” H was well. But he wished to be better, and took to Blockade-running, and like almost all men who go into an illegitimate trade, he found himself very speedily bankrupt.

He accounts for the result by two facts: First, he says that “as soon as it became known as Lloyds that the “Federals were seizing English vessels, the scale of insurance rapidly rose,” and this rise, “from 15 to 60 per cent,” as he says elsewhere, compelled him to borrow money to meet payments, from the house of Overend, Gurney & Co, who had sold him vessels and held already mortgages upon them for purchase-money – and the inference is, though it is not stated in so many words, that the mortgages were foreclosed and the vessels scarificed.

But the prime cause of his difficulties was that our cruisers persisted in capturing his vessels. He tells a most melancholy tale of it. Six of them were captured in one year. Two of them were captured in one day, besides having another burnt in the Thames on the same day, and, by the three vessels, he lost £80,000. During seven months of 1862, he lost £120,000. No wonder that he broke down, or that his estate seems to have been unlucky to all concerned. One of his assignees, he says, is in difficulty; another insured one of the vessels; another “supplied the gunpowder consigned to America;” and the fourth “had a little interest in the consignments;” and so all of them suffered with him because of the astonishing performances of our cruisers in “seizing English vessels.”

Mr PEARSON seems to have thought that it was enough that his vessels were English vessels, to secure them immunity in any transaction. That tradition of Brittania ruling the waves, doubtless occurred to him, and he did not dream that any Yankee would have impudence enough to inquire into the proceedings of any vessel which claimed Brittania’s protection. He has probably learned better by this time.

But perhaps we do him injustice. It is at least fair to him to give his own story. He says, “I dispatched my ships to the American ports upon the faith of the proclamation by President Lincoln,” having previously ascertained that other persons had made 300 or 400 per cent, in similar transactions.

What proclamation it was that this victim of misplaced confidence relied upon he does not state. We can only guess that he means the proclamation of announcing the blockade, and that he relied upon his vessels being simply warned off on the first attempt to break the blockade, and only captured if caught on the second trial. We cannot think of any other provision of any proclamation which he could, by the furthest stretches of the imagination, claim to rely on in sending vessels to blockaded ports. And it is difficult to believe that he could have acted “on the faith” of any such idea, for long before 1862 our courts had held that the proclamation could not be construed to give any such license to a vessel to try once to break the blockade without punishment, and his losses, the heaviest of them, were not till June, 1862.

We call to mind the published letter of this same man, in which he said that the Circaasian was not run into any blockaded port, although the charter of the vessel, which he supposed was destroyed, expressly provided for her doing so, and we cannot help doubting the exact good faith of this statement of his. It looks to us like a desperate excuse of a man who has betaken himself to unlawful means of going to excuse or palliate his fault. He cannot claim that it was not an unlawful course of trade. The proclamation of England’s neutrality told him better than that. It told him that if he undertook it, it must be at his own risk. He chose to run the risk. He chose to endanger the peace of the two countries and to help the slaveholders. He failed in his undertaking and ruined himself, and very little sympathy will he get from this side of the water.

Nor have his misfortunes taught him to abandon his unlawful business. He appears to have been an active party in the sale of the Rapphannock to the rebels – receiving a commission of £750 for his services. Other parties engaged in that affair have been proceeded against criminally. Wether Zachariah’s share was such to as to render him liable criminally, we cannot tell from the evidence which we have. And probably public opinion in England is not yet in such a state as to be felt as adverse by those who undertake theses dealings with the rebels. But we have no doubt that the time is coming when men in England will no more acknowledge that they helped buy vessels for the rebels, than they would acknowledge that they had bought them for the Slave trade.

Comment: It was this guy who gave us Pearson Park for Rocky to walk in and claim as his territory.

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