George Fearing Hollis Papers, 1852 - 1903 (MSS 0471)

Extent: 0.4 Linear feet (1 archives box)

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Papers of George Fearing Hollis, Union Naval officer (1861-1865) and United States Consul to Cape Town, South Africa (1888-1893). The papers consist mainly of correspondence Hollis wrote to his mother and wife during the Civil War.

George Fearing Hollis was born on February 13, 1838, in Cohasset, Massachusetts, the fourth son of Hannah Sweet (nee Pratt) (the granddaughter of Thomas Fracker, a Boston shipbuilder who reportedly 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 Louise M. (nee unknown). The 1870-1880 censuses record Hollis 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 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.

Papers of George Fearing Hollis, Union Naval officer (1861-1865) and United States Consul to Cape Town, South Africa (1888-1893). The papers consist mainly of correspondence Hollis wrote to his mother and wife during the Civil War, 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. The collection also contains 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. 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); songs and poems relating to the Boer struggle; 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.

Container List

MISCELLANEOUS

Box 1 Folder 1

Printed newspaper published in Chelsea, Massachusetts and designed to emulate Chamber's Miscellany, a popular nineteenth century trivia periodical. Signed "Hollis and Haskell."

Box 1 Folder 3
Box 1 Folder 4

The letter is possibly by George Hollis's brother Eben, or sister Ellen. The writer states that he or she is going on a Smithsonian expedition to Santa Maria, a volcano in Guatemala which erupted in 1902.

Box 1 Folder 5

Letter from Hollis's second wife, Louise, b. 1841. She describes daily activities and the travails of being a "left-behind wife."

Box 1 Folder 6

Letter from George Hollis' son to a lawyer in New York discussing his heritage, stating that his great-great-grandfather, Thomas Fracker, was a reported member of the Boston Tea Party.

Box 1 Folder 7

Handwritten draft of an essay discussing the geology of Mexico and its silver and gold mining industries, with references to biblical and modern theories regarding geological deposits.

CIVIL WAR

Scope and Content of Series

SERIES 2) CIVIL WAR MATERIALS. Arranged in three subseries: A) Correspondence, B) Appointments, Promotions and Official Acts, and C) Memoirs.

A) Correspondence: 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.; Napoleon Collins, a former commander of the USS Octorara; and other superiors, friends and acquaintances. Of note is a letter from his hometown friend and 1st Massachusetts Infantry private, John W. Day, which includes a piece of paper allegedly dotted with the blood of Col. Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth. Arranged alphabetically by correspondent.

B) Navy Documents (1861-1865): Official Navy documents regarding Hollis' promotions 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.

C) Memoirs: Two undated, handwritten essays, "The Battle of Roanoke Island" and "How I Opened Communication with Sherman's Army and Became a Southern Planter."

Correspondence

Box 1 Folder 9

Letter includes an enclosed piece of paper reported by Day, Hollis' hometown friend and private in the 1st Massachusetts Infantry, to be dotted with the blood of the first officer to be killed in the Civil War, 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.

Box 1 Folder 10

Three letters.

Box 1 Folder 13

Writer is Eliza A. (aka Lizzie) Hollis (nee Simmons), George Hollis's first wife.

Box 1 Folder 16

Navy Documents

Box 1 Folder 17

Promotions and discharge paperwork. Includes a letter from George Hollis to the Navy regarding an error in Hollis' official discharge papers that he sought to correct.

Box 1 Folder 18

Contains a handwritten copy of charges brought by Hollis, as commander of the USS Fernandina, against Sawyer for neglect of duty and language unbecoming of an officer and subversive of good discipline.

Memoirs

Box 1 Folder 19

Handwritten account of difficulties of finding vessels to navigate shallow North Carolina rivers to participate in the battle (1862 February 7-8) where Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside landed an amphibious force and took the Confederate fort. Also includes an account of a storm encountered as the convoy sailed to the battle site.

Box 1 Folder 20-21

Handwritten account in two sections. Part one describes Hollis aboard the USS Fernandina in Ossabaw Sound, awaiting the arrival of General William T. 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.

CAPE TOWN CONSULSHIP

Scope and Content of Series

SERIES 3) CAPE TOWN CONSULSHIP MATERIALS: Arranged in three subseries: A) Captain Buckley Affair, B) Correspondence, and C) Miscellaneous Materials.

A) Captain Buckley Affair (1892-1895): Correspondence, a newspaper clipping, handwritten sworn affidavits, inventories, and testimonials regarding Hollis' handling of valuables associated with a murder aboard the ship William Hales. While bound for Cape Town, a 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 Buckleys' 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 retracting his unfounded accusations. Hollis never resumed the consulship, but was instrumental in having his son, W. Stanley Hollis, appointed as consul agent.

B) Correspondence: 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) Miscellaneous: Official receipts and handwritten notes, such as: an official certificate (1889) from the Transvaal government thanking Hollis for his service regarding a treaty with Italy written in Afrikaans; and 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.

Captain Buckley Affair

Box 1 Folder 26

Copy of original letter, with a newspaper clipping pasted on. Buckley retracts his prior accusations against Hollis' conduct.

Box 1 Folder 27

Affidavit states that on November 11, 1892, Schultz found Captain Gilkey to be unconscious and suffering from acute alcoholism, not poison as Gilkey later claimed.

Box 1 Folder 28

The letter appoints Captain Welcom Gilkey, the bearer of the letter, to be in command and asks Hollis to assist him.

Box 1 Folder 29

Handwritten and typescript correspondence including a copy of the accusation of Hollis' alleged mishandling of the Buckley's valuables written by their son, Melville Buckley.

Correspondence

Box 1 Folder 31

Two letters. Handwritten correspondence in Afrikaans from a "landdrost" (local magistrate similar to a mayor or provincial governor) in Krugersdorf, the mining city founded in 1887 by Marthinus Pretorius and named after Paul Kruger.

Box 1 Folder 32

De Villiers was a friend from South Africa whose husband was a Bank of Africa employee.

Box 1 Folder 33

Writer is George Hollis's mother.

Box 1 Folder 34

The letter is a response to an anonymous communication in the Cape Times expressing outrage that blacks were allowed to attend Fourth of July celebrations at the consulate.

Miscellaneous

Box 1 Folder 37

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."

Box 1 Folder 38