Digital Content

This collection has been digitized and can be viewed through links in the container list.

Abstract

Papers of George Fearing Hollis, United States Naval Officer and United States Consul to Cape Town, now South Africa. The papers consist mainly of correspondence Hollis wrote to his mother and wife during the Civil War (1861-1865) describing both personal and war-related activities aboard three different vessels engaged in blockading activities on the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico; appointments, promotions, and official acts; and memoirs written after the Civil War documenting his role in various naval battles, expeditions, and rescue missions conducted during the war. The files also contain correspondence regarding his tenure (1888-1893) as the United States Consul in Cape Town, focusing largely on the aftermath of the 1892 murders of a ship captain and his wife aboard the ship William Hales.

Biography

George Fearing Hollis was born on February 16, 1838, in Cohasset, Massachusetts, the fourth son of Hannah Sweet (nee Pratt)(the granddaughter of Thomas Fracker, a Boston shipbuilder who is reported to have participated in the Boston Tea Party) and William Owen Hollis, a whipmaker. Hollis served in the United States Navy during the Civil War (1861-1865), returning briefly to Massachusetts to marry Eliza A. (also known as Lizzie) Simmons of Augusta, Maine, in August of 1863. Their children were William Stanley, Lucy G. and George S. Lizzie died in 1870, possibly as the result of childbirth complications. Hollis then married Louese M. (nee unknown). The 1870-1880 censuses list Hollis as living in Arlington, Massachusetts, as a tin ware manufacturer, but his activities from 1865 through 1887 are not documented in the collection.

In 1888, Hollis was appointed United States Consul to Cape Town, now South Africa, a post he held until 1893 when his resignation was requested due to his alleged mishandling of valuables belonging to a murdered ship captain and his wife. Although eventually vindicated, he did not return to consular service. His first son, known as W. Stanley Hollis, took over the Cape Town consul agent position on his father's recommendation to the State Department, and had a long diplomatic career serving at Port Natal, Lourenco Marques (now Maputo, Mozambique), Pretoria, Beirut, and Lisbon. W. Stanley is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Civil War Period:

On July 24, 1861, Hollis became an acting master's mate in the United States Navy on a 295-ton commercial steamship re-fashioned into a gunboat, the USS Louisiana. The ship began blockading operations off the North Carolina coast and on expeditions up enemy-held rivers. Hollis participated in the capture of Roanoke Island and New Bern and the capture of several Confederate schooners. In August, 1862 he was promoted to ensign.

Hollis was then transferred to the USS Octorara, a 981-ton side-wheel gunboat built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Octorara participated in blockading activities in the Western Gulf, as well as the southern Atlantic region. After the capture of the English sloop Brave, filled with sacks of salt, Hollis was tasked to take the ship to Key West for adjudication. Hollis participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay (Alabama), bombardment of both Fort Powell and Fort Morgan, and in the eventual capture of Fort Morgan. In April of 1865, the Octorara helped capture the city of Mobile.

In June, 1864, Hollis was promoted to acting master and reassigned to the bark USS Fernandina blockading the waters of Ossabaw Sound near St. Simon's and St. Catherine's islands off the Georgia coast near Savannah. Here, Hollis would help to rescue some two hundred former slaves hiding in a rice swamp and establish one of the first freedman's colonies on St. Catherine's Island. Hollis was among the first to make contact with General Tecumseh Sherman's advancing army as they neared the city of Savannah and relayed this intelligence to the fleet commanders. He would later try, unsuccessfully, to document that he was the very first to deliver the news of Sherman's arrival. Hollis was officially detached from the Navy on April 18, 1865.

Cape Town Consulship Period:

In August of 1888, Hollis became the United States Consul at Cape Town, in what was then the Orange Free State (Oranje Vrystaat in Afrikaans.) In the 1850s the independent Boer Republics (Transvaal and the Orange Free State) were created but discovery of diamonds in 1870 and gold in 1886 caused a much-resented influx of "uitlanders," (Afrikaans for "foreigner," Europeans, mainly British, immigrants) and foreign investment. Thus, Hollis became consul during a period of great tension, midway in the twenty-year period between the first Boer War (1880-1881) and the second Boer War (1899-1902). Hollis appeared to be sympathetic to the Boer position and was well regarded during his consulship. Part of Hollis' job was to protect American citizens and their property and it was false allegations about his performance of these duties that led the State Department to request his resignation as consul in 1893.

In 1892, Captain Buckley and his wife were murdered on board the ship William Hales during its voyage to Cape Town. When the ship arrived, Hollis removed jewelry from the bodies and had other valuables double-sealed in a trunk. The trunk was left on the ship under the care of the first mate whom Hollis regarded as competent. Hollis then enlisted the local chief of police to join him onboard for an inquiry into the murders. Later, Hollis was accused of negligence, and possible complicity, when most of the Buckley's valuables were stolen from the trunk by the first mate. The new captain, Welcom Gilkey, accused Hollis to his employers and Captain Buckley's son wrote to the State Department demanding action. Although the State Department sent Hollis notice of the accusations, before he had time to respond, they requested his resignation. He complied but also gathered affidavits to prove that he was not negligent and that Gilkey, his accuser, was incompetent, untruthful, and an alcoholic. Hollis was fully vindicated and the Buckley's son wrote the State Department and apologized when the facts showed the accusations against Hollis were unsupported.

Hollis returned to Massachusetts after this affair but his activities afterwards are not documented in this collection.

Scope and Contents of Collection

The papers document two significant periods in the life of United States Naval Officer and Consul George Fearing Hollis. The files contain a rich collection of correspondence Hollis wrote to his mother and wife during the Civil War (1861-1865) describing both personal and war-related activities aboard three different vessels engaged in blockading activities on the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico; appointments, promotions, and official acts; and several handwritten, undated memoirs documenting his role in various naval battles, expeditions, and rescue missions conducted during the War. The papers also contain correspondence regarding his tenure as United States Consul in Cape Town, now South Africa (1888-1893), focusing most strongly on the aftermath of the 1892 murders of Captain Buckley and his wife aboard the ship William Hales. These files (1892-1895) document accusations made against Hollis regarding safekeeping of valuables and his efforts to clear his name. Also included are miscellaneous official records, memos, and correspondence (both official and personal), as well as songs and poems relating to the Boer struggle. The collection contains a small amount of miscellaneous materials including a youthful newspaper (1852) and an undated handwritten draft regarding mining in Mexico. The papers are arranged in three series: 1) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS, 2) CIVIL WAR MATERIALS, and 3) CAPE TOWN CONSULSHIP MATERIALS.

SERIES 1: MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS

The MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS series contains a printed newspaper entitled The American Eagle, published in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 29, 1852 with a handwritten annotation, "Hollis and Haskell" indicating they are the publishers and which, it states, endeavors to emulate Chamber's Miscellany, a popular nineteenth century trivia periodical. The series contains a Society of the Burnside Expedition membership certificate; an unidentified letter [possible brother Eben or Everet or sister Ellen], circa 1903, stating that they are going on a Smithsonian expedition to Santa Maria, a volcano in Guatemala which erupted in 1902; and an undated fourteen-page handwritten draft regarding gold and silver mining in Mexico. The files are arranged in alphabetical order by subject or author.

SERIES 2: CIVIL WAR MATERIALS

The CIVIL WAR MATERIALS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Correspondence, B) Appointments, Promotions and Official Acts, and C) Memoirs.

A) The Correspondence subseries contains letters from and to Hollis during his Civil War service (1861-1865). The majority of the correspondence is with Hollis' mother, Hannah, and his girlfriend, and then first wife, Lizzie. Also included is correspondence with brothers Everet Stanley and William H., a former commander of the USS Octorara (later to become Rear Admiral Napoleon Collins), and other superiors and acquaintances. Of note is the correspondence of hometown friend and 1st Massachusetts Infanty private, William W. Day, that includes a piece of paper reportedly containing the blood of Col. Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth. Ellsworth was the 24-year-old personal friend of Abraham Lincoln who studied law in Lincoln's Illinois office and worked on Lincoln's political campaign. On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia officially seceded, Col. Ellsworth became the first Union officer to die in the Civil War when he was shot by innkeeper James W. Jackson after Ellsworth cut down the large Confederate flag flying above Jackson's inn. His death was a "cause celebrae" when Lincoln had his friend's body lay in repose in the White House. Afterwards, poems and sermons spoke of Ellsworth, and streets, towns, and babies were named after him. The files are arranged in alphabetical order by author.

B) The Appointments, Promotions and Official Acts subseries (1861-1865) contains official United States Navy documents regarding Hollis' rise from acting master's mate, to ensign, to acting master, as well as correspondence as Hollis sought to correct a mistake in his records after his detachment in 1865. Included is a memorandum by Hollis and correspondence (1865) regarding court martial proceedings Hollis brought against Acting Ensign Charles Sawyer III, who served under Hollis on the USS Fernandina. The files are arranged alphabetically by subject matter.

C) The Memoirs subseries contains two undated, handwritten essays. One essay, annotated, "The Battle of Roanoke Island" discusses the difficulties of finding vessels to navigate the shallow North Carolina rivers and describes a storm encountered as a motley assembly of vessels sailed to join Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside in the assault for Roanoke Island (February 7-8, 1862). An essay entitled, "How I Opened Communication with Sherman's Army and Became a Southern Planter," contain two sections. Part one contains a handwritten account of Hollis aboard the USS Fernandina in Ossabaw Sound, awaiting the arrival of General Tecumseh Sherman's army to Savannah, Georgia as well as a description of the Union capture of Fort McAllister. There is also correspondence (1861, 1891) regarding Hollis' unsuccessful attempt to prove that his communication was, in fact, the first to inform the fleet that Sherman had made it to the coast. Part two gives an account of rescuing over two hundred African-American men, women and children from a rice swamp and helping to establish a freedman's colony on St. Catherine's Island, as well as a recounting of Hollis' scouting expedition to the mainland where he distributed directions to signal the fleet from Kilkenny Bluff if and when Sherman's troops should arrive. The file are arranged alphabetically by title.

SERIES 3: CAPE TOWN CONSULSHIP MATERIALS

The CAPE TOWN CONSULSHIP MATERIALS series is divided into three subseries: A) Captain Buckley Affair, B) Correspondence, and C) Miscellaneous Materials.

A) The Captain Buckley Affair (1892-1895) contains correspondence, a newspaper clipping, handwritten sworn affidavits, handwritten inventories, and testimonials regarding Hollis' handling of valuables associated with a murder aboard the ship William Hales. While bound for Cape Town, the Chinese steward allegedly murdered ship captain George P. Buckley and his wife. The steward was not charged with the murder as it was reported that he subsequently drowned. When the ship finally arrived in Cape Town, Hollis removed the jewelry from the bodies and had other valuables double-sealed in a trunk. The trunk was left on the ship under the care of the first-mate, Morrison, whom Hollis thought competent. Additionally, Hollis enlisted the local Chief of Police to join him onboard for an inquiry into the murders. The New York ship brokers appointed a new captain, Welcom Gilkey, who then arrested Morrison after discovering that most of the Buckley's valuables had disappeared. Gilkey accused Hollis of being an accomplice, or at the very least, grossly negligent in his handling of the Buckley's possessions. Captain Buckley's son wrote to the State Department demanding action. The files contain the State Department's notice to Hollis of the accusations, but do not contain the request for his resignation received shortly thereafter, and before Hollis had time to respond. Hollis resigned but also gathered affidavits to prove that he was not negligent and that Gilkey, his accuser, was incompetent, untruthful, and an alcoholic. Hollis was eventually fully vindicated and the files contain 1865 correspondence from Melville Buckley to the State Department apologizing because the facts had demonstrated that the accusations were unfounded. Hollis, however, never resumed the consulship but was instrumental in having his son, W. Stanley Hollis, appointed as consul agent. The files are arranged alphabetically by author.

B) The Correspondence subseries contains official correspondence that Hollis wrote or received as United States Consul as well as some personal correspondence. Included is a notice of the death of King Frederic of Germany (1888) from the German Consulate, correspondence from the Orange Free State government in the Afrikaans language, a letter to the editor of the Cape Times responding to an anonymous communication expressing outrage that blacks were allowed to attend Fourth of July celebrations at the consulate, and correspondence from his mother, Hannah, as well as friends he made while in South Africa. The files are arranged alphabetically by author.

C) The Miscellaneous Materials subseries contains miscellaneous official receipts and handwritten notes. Included is an official certificate (1889) from the Transvaal government thanking Hollis for his service regarding a treaty with Italy written in Afrikaans. Additionally, there are handwritten copies of songs and poems popular in the period between the two Boer Wars, including a poem entitled, "To Oom Paul," a term of affection ("Uncle Paul" in Afrikaans) for South African statesman Paul Kruger, a translation of the "Transvaal National Hymn," and "God Save John Bull." (John Bull was a popular national personficiation of the Kingdom of Great Britain similar to "Uncle Sam" as a symbol of the United States.) The files are arranged alphabetically by subject title.

MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS

Return to Menu

CIVIL WAR MATERIALS

Correspondence

Return to Menu

Appointments, Promotions, Official Acts

Return to Menu

CAPE TOWN CONSULSHIP MATERIALS

Captain Buckley Affair

Return to Menu

Correspondence

Return to Menu

Miscellaneous Materials

Return to Menu


Finding aid generated: 2013-08-29