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43 In May 1868, Moreno disembarked in San Francisco after a long Pacific crossing and presumably finished his trip to New York on the recently completed transcontinental railroad. Why America? As he would write thirty years later, he had come at the request of William H. Seward, then secretary of state, through the intermediaries General John A. Dix, the U.S. ambassador to France, and Wisconsin Senator James R. Doolittle. He intended to “negotiate the United States’ acquisition of Pulo Way, known in the Malaysian archipelago as Moreno’s island.” Dix’s letter of recommendation stated that Moreno “has lived for many years in the Far East,” adding that Senator Doolittle “was greatly impressed by his intelligence and his familiarity with eastern business and interests.”1 It did not take long for Moreno’s presence in America to become known. As news of his mission spread, thanks to his tireless self-promotion, it provoked different reactions. The New York Times took a skeptical tone and wrote on August 23, 1868, that an Italian adventurer has for some time been trying to get a hearing from Secretary Seward, in order to ventilate a scheme for selling to this Government an island c h a p t e r 3 The Challenge of the Pacific 44 The Challenge of the Pacific which he claims to have discovered somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. He wont [sic] tell anybody where his island is, but he has revealed the fact that it is of enormous value, and all the rest he will make known after he has been paid something like a million dollars for the information . The whole thing is so preposterous that we are surprised any paper should be deluded into speaking seriously about it—even in dull times. The next day Moreno responded to the article, challenging the aspersions cast on him. The truth was, he claimed, that “I propose when Mr. Seward places a United States war vessel at my disposal to go there, and plant there the glorious American flag, giving undisputed possession to your Government.” He denied that his asking price was a million dollars and insisted that a June 11, 1868, memorandum from Congress showed that he had asked for $750,000. Moreno concluded in an injured tone: “Without ever having seen me and without knowing anything about me, you publicly brand me as an adventurer, seeking to swindle your government out of $1,000,000. Such treatment of a stranger seems unworthy of the editor of a great American newspaper.”2 No apology was forthcoming. Even the young Italian American press was not entirely welcoming. San Francisco’s combative Voce del Popolo posed a question: Mr. Moreno, who claims to be a sea captain, is negotiating . . . with Seward, the great real estate dealer, the sale of an island to the United States which he claims is as big as France. . . . He says that the island is inhabited by a numerous population, with many Rajahs, princes, and kings of all kinds. How is it possible that these pagnottisti (promoters) submit to the “rights” of this Italian captain and to being sold to the Yankees like a flock of sheep? The incredible, marvelous, and almost supernatural adventures of Mr. Moreno raise doubts, uncertainty, and skepticism.3 However, among those who welcomed the Capitano Marittimo—as Moreno signed himself in the New York Times—were some of the most eminent mariners of any time. One of the leading Italian-language newspapers , L’Eco d’Italia, which was owned and edited by Giovanni Francesco Secchi de Casali, dedicated an entire column in English to the “Italian contribution to Civilization.” Listing Italian achievements starting with Columbus, it observed, “Also in our days audacious, enterprising, and intelligent Italian travelers have contributed greatly to the growth of geographic and archeological knowledge. Beltrami was the first to explore the The Challenge of the Pacific 45 valley of the Mississippi . . . Belzoni and Botta were in Egypt and Africa, Moreno among the great and countless islands of the Indian Ocean.”4 In time, Secchi and Moreno would become bitter enemies. A disillusioned Secchi described how the Captain deceived him and other newspaper editors: A few days after having deigned to visit the humble offices of L’Eco d’Italia, presenting himself as the great maritime captain and former deputy of the Italian parliament, initially lavishing every possible kindness on our countrymen and above all to new arrivals, taken in by his...


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MARC Record
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