The Accessory Transit Company’s land dispute with the government of Greytown features heavily in the diplomatic correspondence that Horace Greeley published concerning the bombardment of Greytown. It looks very much like the United States commercial agent, Joseph Fabens, worked more for them than for Washington. He certainly argued their case zealously to his superiors. Readers may also remember that the Company, which involved itself in William Walker’s adventures (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) down the line, got stolen out from under Corneilius Vanderbilt when he departed for a time to Europe. Greeley reprinted a letter to the editor of the Evening Post from Samuel S. Wood, a Greytown resident of four years that gives a fuller history of the Company’s dealings:
Having been for four years a resident trader in Greytown, I am able to testify from my own knowledge that the Transit Company can put forth but slight pretensions to the virtues of generosity in their transactions with the people of that seaport.
Readers hoping for a Company hagiography shall have to look elsewhere.
Wood began at the beginning, telling how the British, on behalf of the King of the Mosquito Coast and themselves and in right of their protectorate, cut Greytown loose in 1852. The residents set up their own government with “an excellent and liberal constitution they had unanimously adopted” and elected offers to fill its posts.
At the very first election the agent of the Transit Company, with the entire force of workmen in his employ, attended the polls, coming over in boats from their station at Punta Arenas for the purpose, and by their efforts a city council was chosen consisting of five American citizens, with the understanding that they would be favorable to the objects and rights of the company. Three of the members elect were from New York, one from new Orleans, and one from the State of Arkansas.
Having brought in their men to vote for a friendly government, one would expect the Transit Company to call it good. They bought their election fair and square, right? Samuel Wood certainly thought so.
But what did the Company do? Why, their very first act was an act of rebellion. The lands which they now occupy, and which, under the former Government, were held at an annual rent of sixpence sterling by them as tenants at will, to be delivered up at its order, and to be used solely as a coal depot, were included, by the constitution ratified by themselves, among the possessions of the City Government. Yet they have never paid the first farthing to the rightful owners, and have utterly refused to recognize their property in the lands.
They founded the government. They ensured the election of officers friendly to them. But the Company still refused to pay rents that it had owed to the British back in the day and now owed to Greytown itself. Nice guys.
Indeed, so open and daring is this opposition, that during the various suits initiated by their creditors in the City Courts for debts due from the Company, the agent, in reply to the question why he resisted the jurisdiction of the civil authorities, declared that he was so instructed by the Directors of the Company. Nevertheless, for the first six months, at least, after the establishment of the City Government, this same Company had repeatedly acknowledged its jurisdiction by suing and defending suits in its courts of law.
Apparently Greytown had jurisdiction when its courts might deliver verdicts the Company approved of, but not otherwise. Maybe we’d all like that kind of situation for ourselves in our less worthy moments, but it’s no way to run a government. And Solon Borland and Joseph Fabens stuck their necks out for this business? At least Fabens probably got paid for it.