No. 224. [2d Session.
NAVAL DEPOT AT KEY WEST.
COMMUNICATED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, JANUARY 20, 1823.
Washington, January 20, 1823.
To the House of Representatives:
In compliance with the resolution of the 20th of December, requesting information "what appropriations will be required to fortify Thompson's Island, usually called Key West, and whether a naval depôt, established at that island, protected by fortifications, will not afford facilities in defending the commerce of the United States, and in clearing the Gulf of Mexico and the adjacent seas, from pirates," I transmit a report from the Secretary of the Navy. which communicates all the information which I am at this time able to give.
Navy Department, December 29, 1822.
The Secretary of the Navy, to whom has been referred the resolution of the House of Representatives, of the 20'th instant, requesting the President of the United States to inform the House "what appropriation will be required to enable him to fortify Thompson's Island, usually called Key West, and whether a naval depot, established at that island, protected by fortifications, will not afford facilities in defending the commerce of the United States, and in clearing the Gulf of Mexico, and the adjacent seas, from pirates," has the honor to report: That the geographical situation of the island referred to in the resolution, has for some time past attracted attention; and been considered peculiarly important, both as a military position, and in reference to the commerce of the United States.
The commander of one of our public vessels, cruising in that quarter, was accordingly directed, last winter, to touch at this island, and take possession of it as a part of the territory ceded by Spain to the United States, and to make such general examination as might be useful in forming an opinion of the advantages of the place, and the propriety of a further and more particular survey. From the report of Lieutenant Commandant Perry, who was charged with this duty, it has been satisfactorily ascertained, that this position affords a safe, convenient, and extensive harbor for vessels of war and merchant vessels. His instructions, however, did not require him to make so minute a survey as was necessary, in order to judge of the extent to which this place might be safely and advantageously occupied and improved as, a naval depot.
Captain Patterson has since been instructed to make a further examination and survey, and is now engaged in that business; his report may be expected before the adjournment of Congress. There can be no doubt, however, of the importance of this island, and its contiguous waters, in various points of view. The harbor affords a safe and convenient rendezvous for our public vessels, cruising in the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico; and the island a very suitable depot for provisions and supplies. From the peculiar dangers of the navigation along the coast and among the Florida Keys, our merchant vessels are frequently driven by distress, to seek a harbor; and, for want of one in our own waters, are under the necessity of making a port in the island of Cuba, which subjects them to considerable additional expense. This island, also, affords a very eligible depôt for wrecked property, and which is highly necessary and advantageous, where the navigation is attended with so many dangers and difficulties. We are, at this time, in a great measure dependant on the wreckers of New Providence for the protection of our property in case of shipwreck. This not only gives employment to a great number of foreign vessels and seamen, but it subjects our merchants to heavy expenses. These are some of the obvious benefits of this position in time of peace; but its advantages in time of war with any European Power having West India possessions, are still more important, both as it respects the protection of our own commerce,and the annoyance of our enemy. An enemy, with a superior naval force, occupying this position, could completely intercept the whole trade between those parts of our country lying north and east of it and those to the west, and seal up all our ports within the Gulf of Mexico. It may, therefore, be safely answered, to one branch of the inquiry made by the resolution, that if this island is susceptible of defence, a naval depot established there would afford a great facility in protecting our commerce, and aid in the suppression of piracy. But this Department has not the means at present of forming any estimate of the appropriation necessary for protecting and defending this position by permanent fortifications; or of determining whether it is even practicable. It is believed, however, that it is susceptible of such defence, at an expense that would be justified by the importance of the place; but to form any tolerably satisfactory estimate of the amount, an accurate survey and calculation, by competent engineers, is indispensably necessary.
This island is considered so advantageous and convenient a place of rendezvous for our public vessels on the West India station, that it is intended to make it a depot for provisions and supplies, for the expedition against the pirates, lately authorized by Congress, to be secured in temporary buildings, under the protection of a guard of marines.
All which is respectfully submitted.
The President of the United States.