No. 632. [1st Session.
ON THE IMPORTANCE AND FITNESS OF THE DRY TORTUGAS AS A HARBOR AND STATION FOR THE VESSELS OF THE NAVY.
COMMUNICATED TO THE SENATE, MAY 2, 1836.
Navy Department, April 30, 1836.
Sir: In answer to a resolution of the Senate, of the 14th instant, requesting the Secretary of the Navy to send to the Senate all the information in his possession relating to the Dry Tortugas, I have the honor to enclose an extract of a letter from Commodore Rodgers, dated 3d July, 1829, and a report of Lieutenants Gedney and Tatnall, of the 28th February, 1830.
I have no information upon which to ground an opinion as to the fitness of this place as a naval station, except what is contained in the extract of the letter and the report herewith submitted.
A further examination should take place, before a definite opinion upon this subject could be safely formed.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
The Hon. the President of the Senate:
Extract of a letter from Commodore John Rodgers, dated—
Washington, July 3, 1829.
To the Secretary of the Navy:
I called at the Dry Tortugas, where I spent four days in the examination of its singular harbor; and this I was enabled to do effectually, by the assistance of Mr. Baldwin and Captain Turner, with the boats of the Erie.
The Tortugas, so called, consist of eleven small islands, or keys, encircled by an immense reef or bank, formed of coral, which breaks off the sea in every direction, and contains within its embrace an outer and inner harbor; the first of which, besides affording a safe anchorage at all seasons of the year, is sufficiently capacious to ride in security all the navies of Europe; but, what is most singular, there is within this harbor another, still more secure, which, in its character, may be said to be unique; uniting, as it does, sufficient depth of water for ships of the largest class to a narrow entrance, not more than 120 yards wide; ease of ingress and egress; and may be entered or departed from at all times, let the wind be from what point of the compass it may.
This singular harbor, when considered in reference to its geographical position and the defence of our southern coast, may justly be looked upon as the advance post of that portion of our southern and western maritime frontier; and in this light must strike everyone as possessing peculiar advantages, lying, as it does, directly in the track of all vessels passing to and fro, not only between the Mississippi, but every part of West Florida having intercourse by sea with our eastern States, whilst at the same time there is no one spot on our whole line, from north to south, that presents the same facilities in communicating with the several ports in the Island of Cuba, as well as those in the Gulf of Mexico, even as far south as the Bay of Honduras, on the Spanish main.
These, however, are not all its advantages; for on referring to the chart, it will be seen that not only the commerce of Havana, and of the Island of Cuba generally, but even the homeward bound trade of Jamaica, would be subjected to its grasp, were its natural advantages to be aided by the erection of suitable works for the protection and convenience of a competent naval force.
With all these advantages, it must be confessed that nature has not supplied it with every essential necessary to the perfectibility of such an establishment, inasmuch as no fresh water or firewood of any consequence is to be found on either of the keys; water, however, might he supplied by the erection of cisterns, and wood from Key West and the eastern part of the peninsula of Florida, without much inconvenience or expense.
The base of the whole of these keys is formed of concrete rock, composed of coral and shells, giving to each a foundation of the most solid and permanent kind; seven of them are clothed with a rich grove of mangrove trees, of small size, and various shrubbery; but the other four contain little or no vegetable productions, although turtle and fish in the greatest abundance are to be met with everywhere. For a minute delineation of all that relates to these islands or keys, permit me to refer you to the accompanying charts.
Note.—For the report of Lieutenants Gedney and Tatnall, of the navy, dated the 28th of February, 1830, see American State Papers, Naval Affairs, vol. 3, No. 417.