- Historic Sites
The Miss Stone Affair
American citizens held hostage by nationalist terrorists in a distant land. An aroused public calls for action. A cautious President seeks to avert violence. In 1901.
October/november 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 6
After convincing himself that the Bulgarian government had done all in its power to secure Miss Stone’s release, Washburn in consultation with the United States Chargé d’Affaires in Constantinople, Spencer Eddy, took it upon himself to appoint two “trusty men”—W. W. Peet and Alexander Garguilo, first dragoman (interpreter) at the American legation—to handle the ransom transfer. Peet and Garguilo were to proceed to Salonika where, armed with letters from the Turkish minister of the interior, they would secure the full assistance of the governor. From Salonika they were to proceed to Djumabala near the Bulgarian border, there to make contact with the brigands and convince them to accept the $66,000 that had so far been raised. The two men left Constantinople the evening of December 16, 1901.
The Peet-Garguilo mission turned out to be a dramatic cloak-and-dagger affair. The Turks, while pretending to cooperate, were determined to prevent payment of the ransom and hoped to use the ransoming committee to locate and destroy the brigands. As a result, for nearly a month Peet and Garguilo wandered around Macedonia followed by a large contingent of Turkish troops. Eventually the two men, using a third-party intermediary, not only established contact with Miss Stone’s abductors but actually conducted negotiations. On February 2, in the Macedonian village of Bansko and under the noses of two hundred Turkish troops, the committee turned over 230 pounds ($66,000) of gold to the brigands in return for a promise to release Stone and Tsilka within ten days. Peet deceived the Turks by smuggling the ransom out of his closely watched hut sixty pounds at a time, then replacing it with an equal weight of lead shot.
Although the committee had no guarantee whatever that the brigands would fulfill their part of the bargain, they need not have worried: Sandanski and Tchernopeef had been anxious to release their captives for months. Mrs. Tsilka had given birth to a baby girl in November, and as a result the brigands were forced not only to deal with the unspeakable Turks, the treacherous Bulgarian nationalists, and a group of seemingly indecisive American negotiators but also to care for the needs of an infant as well. Moreover, Stone and Tsilka were hardly the helpless, breathless creatures depicted by the newspapers. As Tchernopeef put it several years later during an interview with an American reporter: “Have you ever found yourself in a position of strong opposition to a middle-aged woman with a determined will all her own? She assuming the attitude that you are a brute and you feeling it?” The revolutionaries, moreover, had to endure almost daily attempts to convert them to Christianity. Nevertheless, because of the intensity of Turkish patrol activity, three weeks passed before the brigands felt it was safe to part with their captives. Finally, to the relief of both captives and captors, Tchernopeef and Sandanski deposited Miss Stone, Mrs. Tsilka, and infant beneath a pear tree near the Macedonian town of Strumica. It was 4:00 A.M. on February 23, 1902.
Aside from its obvious melodramatic qualities, the Stone Affair is noteworthy for a number of reasons. The 66,000 Miss-Stonki , as the revolutionaries called the ransom money, helped finance the Macedonian uprising of 1903. As far as the United States was concerned, the Miss Stone Affair constituted a particularly thorny introduction to one of the burdens of major power status. The honor of the nation demanded that Miss Stone be released immediately and that the guilty parties be apprehended and punished and the responsible government chastised. The fact that the victim was a missionary and a woman heightened the challenge to America’s nationhood. Yet, as in all such situations, there was the possibility that hasty action might bring about the death of the prisoners. Also serving to hold the Big Stick in check was the fact that the brigands were Macedonians struggling against the hated Turks, freedom fighters who had enjoyed widespread sympathy in the United States for a number of years. Thus, it was particularly difficult in this case to differentiate between good and evil. Nearly everyone wanted to blame Turkey, and some did, despite the facts of the case, but in the end there was no clear consensus about what course the authorities should take.
In short, the Stone Affair served to introduce twentiethcentury America to international political terrorism. While all too familiar to contemporary governments, the complicated negotiations that inevitably follow such kidnapings were novel to President Roosevelt and his advisers. Alvey Adee, the career diplomat who had been in the State Department for nearly a generation, summed up the administration’s reaction to the Stone Affair. “This has been a hard week for me,” he wrote John Hay after a particularly harrowing round of negotiations, “and my mind is black and blue all over.…I have been worse off than [Saint] Stephen—I have been Stoned all the time with a continuous but unfatal result.”