Virginius Affair
The Virginius Affair was a diplomatic dispute that occurred in the 1870s between the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, then in control of Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

, during the Ten Years' War
Ten Years' War
The Ten Years' War , also known as the Great War and the War of '68, began on October 10, 1868 when sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his followers proclaimed Cuba's independence from Spain...


The Virginius was a blockade runner
Blockade runner
A blockade runner is usually a lighter weight ship used for evading a naval blockade of a port or strait, as opposed to confronting the blockaders to break the blockade. Very often blockade running is done in order to transport cargo, for example to bring food or arms to a blockaded city...

 used in the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. Originally built as the Virgin by Aitken & Mansel of Whiteinch
Whiteinch is a district in the Scottish city of Glasgow. It is situated north of the River Clyde between the Partick and Scotstoun areas of the city...

, Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

 in 1864, she became a prize of the United States federal government when captured on April 12, 1865. She was sold in 1870 to an American, John F. Patterson, who immediately registered her in the New York Custom House. It later appeared that Patterson was merely acting for a number of Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

n insurgents who falsely flew the American flag and were using the Virginius to deliver contraband
The word contraband, reported in English since 1529, from Medieval French contrebande "a smuggling," denotes any item which, relating to its nature, is illegal to be possessed or sold....

 to the insurrectionist Cubans.
On October 31, 1873, then commanded by Joseph Fry, a former officer of both the Federal
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 and Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 navies, and having a crew of 52 (chiefly Americans and Britons) and 103 passengers (mostly Cubans), she was captured off Morant Bay
Morant Bay
Morant Bay is a town in southeastern Jamaica. It is the capital of the parish of St. Thomas. In 1867 it was the starting point of the Morant Bay Rebellion, the only major peasant revolt , in Jamaican history...

, Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

, by the Spanish vessel Tornado, and was taken to Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city of Cuba and capital city of Santiago de Cuba Province in the south-eastern area of the island, some south-east of the Cuban capital of Havana....

. There, after a summary court-martial, 53 of the crew and passengers, including Fry and some Americans and Britons, were executed
Summary execution
A summary execution is a variety of execution in which a person is killed on the spot without trial or after a show trial. Summary executions have been practiced by the police, military, and paramilitary organizations and are associated with guerrilla warfare, counter-insurgency, terrorism, and...

 on November 4th, 7th, and 8th as pirates
Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. The term can include acts committed on land, in the air, or in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons traveling on the same vessel as the perpetrator...

. The intervention of HMS Niobe and her captain, Sir Lambton Loraine, prevented further deaths.

Relations between Spain and the United States became strained, and war seemed imminent, but on December 8, the Spanish government agreed to surrender the Virginius to the U.S. on December 16, to deliver the survivors of the crew and passengers to an American warship at Santiago, and to salute the American flag
Flag of the United States
The national flag of the United States of America consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars alternating with rows...

 at Santiago on December 25 if it was not proved before that date that the Virginius was not entitled to sail under American colors.

The Virginius foundered off Cape Hatteras
Cape Hatteras
Cape Hatteras is a cape on the coast of North Carolina. It is the point that protrudes the farthest to the southeast along the northeast-to-southwest line of the Atlantic coast of North America...

 as she was being towed to the United States, by the Ossipee
USS Ossipee (1861)
|-External links:* Alaska's Digital Archives. Includes transfer ceremony of Alaska from Russia to the United States on October 18, 1867....

. George Henry Williams
George Henry Williams
George Henry Williams was an American judge and politician. He served as Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, was the 32nd Attorney General of the United States, and served one term in the United States Senate...

, the Attorney General of the United States decided before December 25 that the Virginius was the property of General Quesada and other Cubans, and had had no right to carry the American flag.

Under an agreement of the February 27, 1875, the Spanish government paid to the United States an indemnity
An indemnity is a sum paid by A to B by way of compensation for a particular loss suffered by B. The indemnitor may or may not be responsible for the loss suffered by the indemnitee...

 of $80,000 for the execution of the Americans, and another indemnity to the British government.

When the Virginius affair first broke out, a Spanish ironclad happened to be anchored in New York Harbor
New York Harbor
New York Harbor refers to the waterways of the estuary near the mouth of the Hudson River that empty into New York Bay. It is one of the largest natural harbors in the world. Although the U.S. Board of Geographic Names does not use the term, New York Harbor has important historical, governmental,...

, leading to the uncomfortable realization on the part of the U.S. Navy that it had no ship capable of defeating such a vessel. The Navy hastily issued contracts for the construction of five new ironclads, and accelerated its existing repair program for several more. and the four Amphitrite class
Amphitrite class monitor
The Amphitrite class monitors were a class of four U.S. Navy monitors ordered in the aftermath of the Virginius affair with Spain in 1873...

Monitor (warship)
A monitor was a class of relatively small warship which was neither fast nor strongly armoured but carried disproportionately large guns. They were used by some navies from the 1860s until the end of World War II, and saw their final use by the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.The monitors...

 were subsequently built as a result of the Virginius war scare. All five vessels would later take part in the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

of 1898.
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