Collection Summary

Creator: Crapo, William Wallace
Title: The Correspondence of William W. Crapo Concerning the Alabama Claims Cases 1870-1876
Accession: MSS 98-3
Description: 1 box
Location: SC - Basement
Photograph Collection: View 0 digitized photographs
Digitized Content: 108 objects

Collection Description & Arrangement

This collection consists of over one hundred letters concerning the Alabama claims cases. Written to William Crapo between 1870 and 1876, the letters provide a detailed view of the lawyers' legal and political efforts to secure restitution for their clients. Crapo's principal correspondents were lawyers Barling and Davis who wrote him over fifty letters between December of 1870 and February of 1873. Of particular interest are the letters written in late 1872 regarding the lawyers' efforts to influence members of the administration and Congress to ensure that the full award went to the claimants. The names of George Boutwell, Caleb Cushing, Bancroft Davis, William Evarts, Hamilton Fish, Ulysses Grant, among others, appear in their letters to Crapo. Additional correspondents include other lawyers working on similar cases, bankers, insurance officials, and individuals, some poor and poorly educated, who had suffered great losses.

Biographical & Historical Information

After the Civil War the United States sought restitution from Great Britain which, despite its neutrality, had allowed Confederate cruisers bent on destroying U.S. commerce to come and go from its ports during the war. The U.S. government and private citizens claimed millions of dollars of damage and loss at the hand of these cruisers. The Treaty of Washington, signed by the U.S. and Britain in early 1871, among other things, provided for arbitration of these claims. In the fall of that year, representatives of the two countries went to Geneva to argue their cases before an international arbitration tribunal, the first of its kind. The United States' case was argued by former Assistant Secretary of State Bancroft Davis, along with lawyers Caleb Cushing, William M. Evarts, and Morrison R. Waite, under the direction of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish and Secretary of Treasury George Boutwell. On the tribunal were Charles Francis Adams representing the U.S., Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn of Great Britain, along with arbitrators from Brazil, Italy, and Switzerland. At the conclusion, Great Britain agreed to pay the U.S. the $15,500,000 (£3,200,00) awarded by the tribunal to cover the depredations of the cruisers Alabama, Florida,and Shenandoah.

Bancroft Davis and members of the cabinet had originally hoped to recover far more from Great Britain than the amount of loss directly attributable to the cruisers. They had wanted to hold the British liable for losses in commerce, hikes in insurance rates, and even the general costs of a protracted war. The tribunal was not sympathetic to this side of the U.S. case, and subsequently, individual claimants feared that the government would try to withhold some of the award for the ailing treasury. Congress, however, favored the claimants and, soon after the arbitration award was made, established a Court of Commissioners of Alabama Claims in Washington to handle individuals' cases.

The letters in this collection were written to William W. Crapo, a lawyer in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Crapo, educated at Yale College and Harvard Law School, began practicing law when he was twenty-five. That same year he became city solicitor and the following year, representative to the General Court. He was also active in politics, serving three terms in Congress and running unsuccessfully several times as the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts. By Crapo's fortieth year, 1870, when this correspondence begins, he was a prominent figure in legal, business, and political circles in his state. Along with other New Bedford lawyers Charles R. Tucker and George C. Crocker, Crapo was beginning to prepare claims for a number of New England "Sufferers," principally whalers, who had lost property to or incurred damage because of the Confederate cruisers' actions. In addition Crapo worked closely with New York lawyers Henry A. Barling and A. H. Davis, who were partners, as well as Charles C. Beaman, Jr.

Beaman, formerly private secretary to Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, published The National and Private "Alabama Claims: and Their "Final and Amicable Settlement""in March of 1871, and early the following year was sent to Geneva to assist Bancroft Davis in arguing the U.S. case by gathering and presenting evidence of the claims. The association of Crapo, Barling and Davis with Beaman was critical to the preparation of their clients' claims, as well as to their tactical lobbying efforts in Washington between the time of the award and the creation of the Claims Commission.

Acquisition Information

Date Received 1998
Donor Information The Law Library purchased this collection from Bob Rubin in January of 1998.

Content List

Folder 1:

  • Barling & Davis to William W. Crapo (WWC) 1870-1873, 46 ALS, 8 handwritten telegrams

Folder 2:

  • C[harles] C[oatsworth]Beaman to WWC 1872 Jan. 13-14, 3 handwritten telegrams

Folder 3:

  • J. Buffinton to WWC 1872 Dec. 4, 1 ALS

Folder 4:

  • William P. Chadwick to WWC 1871 Oct. 26, 1 ALS

Folder 5:

  • W.C. Codman to WWC 1872 Jan. 13, 1 ALS

Folder 6:

  • William Cogswell to WWC 1872 Jul. 27, 1 ALS

Folder 7:

  • Edward S. Davis to WWC 1871 Sep. 11, 20, 22, 3 ALS

Folder 8:

  • Edward S. Davis to Mr. Howland 1871 Sep. 1, 1 ALS

Folder 9:

  • John Davis to WWC 1876 Mar. 22, 29, 2 ALS

Folder 10:

  • Dennis & Scott to Marston and Crapo 1872 Oct. 31, 1873 Jan. 5

Folder 11:

  • Allen Gannett to Mr. Cobb 1871 Oct. 20, 1 ALS

Folder 12:

  • Allen Gannett to WWC 1871 Oct. 18, Dec. 2, 19, 3 ALS

Folder 13:

  • Glidden & Williams to WWC; WWC to Glidden & Williams 1871 Oct. 7; 1872 Feb. 20, 26, 4 ALS

Folder 14:

  • Edward R. Hall to WWC 1871 Nov. 24, 1 ALS

Folder 15:

  • William H. Haskins to WWC 1872 Jan. 30, 1 ALS

Folder 16:

  • Williams Haven & Co. to WWC 1871 Sep. 14, Oct. 7, 2 ALS, 1 handwritten telegram

Folder 17:

  • Lawson & Walker to WWC 1872 Jan. 9, 1 ALS

Folder 18:

  • S. Osborn Jr. to WWC 1871 Sept. 6, 1873 Jan. 15, 2 ALS

Folder 19:

  • A.B. Otis to WWC 1871, 1 ALS

Folder 20:

  • Page, Richardson & Co. to WWC 1871 Nov. 11, 1 ALS with copy

Folder 21:

  • Elijah F. Perry to Crapo and Marston 1872 Aug. 1, 1 ALS

Folder 22:

  • Ross to "William" 1872 Oct. 4, 1 ALS

Folder 23:

  • Chas F. Simpson to WWC 1871 Nov. 24, Dec. 8, 2 ALS

Folder 24:

  • Geo. O. Shattuck to WWC. 1872 Jan. 4, 1873 Jan. 8, 14, Mar. 8, 2 ALS, 2 handwritten telegrams

Folder 25:

  • John H. Swain to WWC 1872 Feb. 26, 1 ALS

Folder 26:

  • C.R. Tucker to WWC 1872 Oct. 26, 29, Nov. 2, 3 ALS

Folder 27:

  • John S. Tyler to WWC 1871 Jan. 5, Oct. 28, Nov. 24, 1874 Nov. 19, 3 ALS, 1 handwritten agreement

Folder 28:

  • Thomas G. Young to WWC 1871 Jul. 8, Aug. 14, Sept. 8, 3 ALS

Folder 29:

  • Document Fragments n.d., 2 items

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Preferred Citation

Correspondence of William W. Crapo Concerning the Alabama Claims Cases, 1870-1876, MSS-98-3, University of Virginia School of Law Library Special Collections

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