In September, 1864, the famous “Lake Erie Piracy” occurred. I was in Cleveland when the news of the seizure of the Philo Parsons was announced by telegraph, and at once proceeded to Detroit. The capture of the Parsons was a very absurd movement on the part of the Rebels, who had taken refuge in Canada. The original design was, doubtless, the capture of the gun-boat Michigan, and the release of the prisoners on Johnson’s Island. The captors of the Parsons had confederates in Sandusky, who endeavored to have the Michigan in a half-disabled condition when the Parsons arrived. This was not accomplished, and the scheme fell completely through. The two small steamers, the Parsons and Island Queen, were abandoned after being in Rebel hands only a few hours.
The officers of the Parsons told an interesting story of their seizure. Mr. Ashley, the clerk, said the boat left Detroit for Sandusky at her usual hour. She had a few passengers from Detroit, and received others at various landings. The last party that came on board brought an old trunk bound with ropes. The different parties did not recognize each other, not even when drinking at the bar. When near Kelly’s Island in Lake Erie, the various officers of the steamer were suddenly seized. The ropes on the trunk were cut, the lid flew open, and a quantity of revolvers and hatchets was brought to light.
The pirates declared they were acting in the interest of the “Confederacy.” They relieved Mr. Ashley of his pocket-book and contents, and appropriated the money they found in the safe. Those of the passengers who were not “in the ring,” were compelled to contribute to the representatives of the Rebel Government. This little affair was claimed to be “belligerent” throughout. At Kelly’s Island the passengers and crew were liberated on parole not to take up arms against the Confederacy until properly exchanged.
After cruising in front of Sandusky, and failing to receive signals which they expected, the pirates returned to Canada with their prize. One of their “belligerent” acts was to throw overboard the cargo of the Parsons, together with most of her furniture. At Sandwich, near Detroit, they left the boat, after taking ashore a piano and other articles. Her Majesty’s officer of customs took possession of this stolen property, on the ground that it was brought into Canada without the proper permits from the custom-house. It was subsequently recovered by its owners.
The St. Albans raid, which occurred a few months later, was a similar act of belligerency. It created more excitement than the Lake Erie piracy, but the questions involved were practically the same. That the Rebels had a right of asylum in Canada no one could deny, but there was a difference of opinion respecting the proper limits to those rights. The Rebels hoped to involve us in a controversy with England, that should result in the recognition of the Confederacy. This was frequently avowed by some of the indiscreet refugees.