George N. Hollins had his orders from Washington. He needed to make whole the Accessory Transit Company and receive some kind of apology and indemnity for Solon Borlond’s injured head. But in an era before telephones, communications satellites, or the internet, Hollins would need to take pains to get the latest news on the ground when he arrived. To that end, his orders referred him to Joseph Fabens, the American commercial agent and ex officio agent of the Accessory Transit Company. Hollins did so and his exchange with Fabens appears in the letters Horace Greeley printed on the second of August, 1854.
Fabens told Hollins that he’d posted notice that the United States wanted satisfaction twice, on June 24 and July 11. Ever the diplomat, Faben’s first notice addressed “those now or lately pretending to and exercising authority and to the people of San Juan del Norte” and
demand[ed] of you immediate restoration of the aforesaid property. I am not prepared to put an estimate upon it at this moment, or to guess the amount of damages suffered by the Transit Company in consequence of your outrageous conduct toward their agent and employees while endeavoring to retake possession of the same, and upon subsequent occasions connected therewith. It is expected that for this, as well as for their conduct in other respects toward American citizens, the people of the town will be prepared to afford redress in a satisfactory manner.
Notice the absence of any mention of Borland’s injury. We have only wrongs done to American citizens, not to American officials or offenses against the flag. Borland caught his fateful bottle on May 16. Fabens knew very well what he omitted. He had instructions from Marcy regarding Borland dated June 9th and presumably in his hands by then. Yet the actual reason that a ship steamed for Greytown did not enter into his first proclamation. In the second, it came only after two paragraphs about the Accessory Transit Company’s grievances. Greytown owed the Company money, land, and by the way maybe they should do something to make right this little matter of an injured diplomat if they had the time.
This stands in marked contrast to Hollins’ proclamation warning of the impending bombardment, which mentioned both the commercial disputes and Borland virtually in the same breath:
whereas certain gross outrages have at sundry times been perpetrated by the “authorities” (so called) and people of San Juan del Norte upon the persons and property of American citizens at that place and vicinity; and, whereas, a serious insult and indignity has been offered to the United States in the conduct of the said authorities and people toward Mr. Borland, United States Minister to Central America, for which outrage and insult no indemnity has been given
Hollins’ report to James Cochran Dobbins, Secretary of the Navy, proceeds much in the same manner.
One can read too much into this kind of thing, but Fabens looks very much like he cares a great deal about the Accessory Transit Company and rather less about Solon Borland.