Browsing "Slavery in Africa"

A Legendary American Sea Captain

There is a particular irony in a famed Confederate sea captain, who, in the immediate prewar times, was celebrated as a liberator of Africans taken from their home aboard New England slave ships, captained by New Englanders. In late 1865, John Newland Maffitt’s daughter Florie married Wilmingtonian and Lieutenant Joshua Grainger Wright of the First North Carolina Infantry, a veteran of Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville before being seriously wounded. Wright was a postwar member of the United Confederate Veterans as well as the historic Cape Fear Club; he was buried on the last day of the nineteenth century, with Colonels John Lucas Cantwell and John Douglas Taylor among his pallbearers.

Lt. Joshua Grainger Wright was also one of the University of North Carolina’s “Class of ’61,” and who are honored by the “Silent Sam” monument on the Chapel Hill campus for their patriotism and service to the Old North State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Legendary American Sea Captain

“In 1858, Maffitt took command of the [USS] Dolphin and received orders from President [James] Buchanan to capture slave ships in the Bahama Channel, the Straits of Florida, the northwest coast of Cuba, and the Gulf of Mexico.

During his command of the Dolphin and, later, the Crusader, Captain Maffitt captured four slave ships. From one ship alone, he freed 500 naked blacks and treated in such a way that he won praise in the islands and in the States.

“The courtesy and commiseration of Captain Maffitt and the officers of the Crusader toward the captured Africans were a theme of particular commendation at Key West and Havana. In the course of this [antislavery] crusade, he had captured more slave ships and set free more enslaved Africans than any other officer of the United States Navy, or of any Navy.”

In 1861, after resigning from the United States Navy, he joined the Confederate forces as a lieutenant. His initial duty was as Engineering Officer to General Robert E. Lee [and by] 1862, Maffitt was running the blockade. He pierced the blockade many times with ships like the Florida, the Owl, the Lillian and the Florie, which was named for his “beautiful daughter,” Florence Maffitt.

Captain Maffitt . . . was promoted to Commander on April 29, 1863 “for gallant and meritorious conduct in running the blockade in and out of Mobile against an overwhelming force of the enemy and under his fire, and since in actively cruising against and destroying the enemy’s commerce.”

On the night Fort Fisher fell [January 15, 1865], Captain Maffitt was close to shore when fireworks began to go off all around him. Maffitt, seeing that the parties were aboard Union ships, quickly began to steal back unnoticed through the celebrating blockade; out to sea and then to the islands.”

(The Wrights of Wilmington, Susan Taylor Block, Wilmington Printing Company, 1992, excerpts pp. 96-100)

Dec 3, 2017 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa    Comments Off on The African Slave Trade

The African Slave Trade

Sir Samuel W. Baker (1821-1893) was a British explorer and naturalist who spent several years in Africa in the mid-1870s, and helped convince the French-educated Khedive Ismail to eliminate the slave trafficking in his Egyptian and Sudan domain. Though the khedive was no doubt involved in the human trafficking which flourished in his land, he allowed Baker a free hand in suppressing local governors’ whose wealth depended greatly on enslaving and selling their own people.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The African Slave Trade

“Sir Samuel W. Baker had been distinguished for his explorations in Central Africa; and his representations of the evil effects produced by the slave trade on a country rich in soil and well-peopled induced the khedive of Egypt to fit out an expedition to put a stop to this nefarious business and give protection to the inhabitants, whom he claimed to be his subjects, from the ravages of slave-traders.

Companies of brigands had been formed that absolutely depopulated the country by driving away those they did not enslave. One of these traders had twenty-five thousand Arabs under pay, engaged in this inhuman traffic. And it was estimated that fifteen thousand of the khedives subjects were engaged in this business. Each trader occupied a special district, and with his band of armed men kept the population in submission. It was estimated that fifty thousand Negroes were annually captured by land pirates.

The khedive determined to put a stop to this, and [in the mid-1870s] organized an expedition for that purpose and put Mr. Baker at the head of it with supreme power, even that over life and death. He knew that there would be more or less fighting, for Soudan, the home of the slave-trader, would be wholly opposed to the attempt to break up their business.

April 20th, just below the junction of the Bahr-Giraffe with the White Nile, the expedition came in sight of one of the governors’ vessels of this district, and, watching it through powerful telescopes, notices suspicious movements on board . . . Baker sent his aide-de-camp to visit the vessels lying near. The result was the discovery of a gang of slaves. Mr. Baker then requested to be shown around the encampment on shore.

To his horror, he found mass of slaves squatted on the ground – many of the women secured by ropes around the neck, and amid the filthy fetid mass, not only children but infants. Altogether, on the boats and on shore were found one hundred and fifty-five slaves.

Though this territory was not within Baker’s jurisdiction, as fixed by the khedive, yet he insisted on the liberation of the slaves. The governor rebelled at first, but finally on being threatened with the wrath of the khedive, yielded; and the naked, astonished crowd of slaves departed with loud discordant yells of rejoicing to their distant homes.

[Another boat of the governor was boarded] and there seemed an awkward smell about the cargo . . . the planks which boarded up the forecastle and the stern were broken down, and there was a mass of humanity exposed, boys, girls and women closely packed like herrings in a barrel, who under threats had remained perfectly silent until thus discovered.”

(Stanley and Livingstone in Africa, J.T. Headley, Spencer Press, 1937, excerpts, pp. 110-111; 120)

Oct 9, 2017 - Antebellum Realities, Slavery in Africa    Comments Off on Arab Slave-Catching Caravans

Arab Slave-Catching Caravans

In addition to ending the piracy emanating from Tripoli, the US victory over Yusaf Bashaw (bashaw is the equivalent of “pasha”) brought an end to the latter’s white Christian slave trade. The British sent Dr. Joseph Ritchie and British naval officer George Lyon to Tripoli for the possibility of commerce and the extirpation of the slave trade, which Africans and Arabs alike would not cease on their own. Dr. Ritchie died on the expedition related below.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Arab Slave-Catching Caravans

“Yusaf Karamanli . . . held Tripoli’s throne . . . [and] ruled Tripoli from 1795 to 1835, extending his authority southward with bloody wars against nomadic tribes. One explorer, watching Yusaf Bashaw’s army returning after a campaign in the hinterlands, counted two thousand human heads on the tips of Cologhi spears. These grisly trophies belonged to rebellious Tuareg whose decapitated bodies were burned in the desert.

The basaw realized that the age of piracy was ending. Under his reign, piratical practices had already been the cause of war in 1805 between Tripolitania and the United States. It was . . . a huge financial blow to the bashaw. No longer could his treasury be supported by ransoms and the sale of stolen ships and booty.

By 1825, the bashaw found that all sources of revenue from the old trade of piracy and Christian slavery had dried up.

On March 18, 1819, the bashaw received [Dr. Joseph] Ritchie and [George] Lyon at an official audience with their consul, telling them they could head south with his ally, the newly-appointed bey of Fezzan, Mohammed El Mukni, was soon to leave Tripoli on a slave raiding campaign. El Mukno . . . was collecting a force of armed Arabs to attack African villages.

[They saw enroute] members of the fierce Tebu tribe, parties of whom occasionally descended from the Tibesti Mountains to plunder passing caravans. These tall and handsome people, veiled like the Tuareg and wary of strangers, were black Africans, not Berbers, the northernmost part of a larger group of Tebu people whose territory extended to what we know today as Chad, Niger and Sudan.

Though the Tuareg and Tebu nominally espoused Islam, they were fiercely independent and deviated from accepted Muslim norms when it suited them.

On February 9, 1820, Lyon . . . joining company with a slaving caravan, set out on the journey back to Tripoli. Day after day . . . he watched twelve hundred slaves [who were captured], most of them women and children, shepherded painfully across the hilly wastes. Mounted [Arab] overseers battered this mass of wretched humanity with whips and sticks; sick slaves were thrown by the road and left to die. Nauseated by the spectacle, Lyon took notes:

“These poor, oppressed beings were, many of them, so exhausted as to be scarcely able to walk; their legs and feet were much swelled and by their enormous size formed a striking contrast with their emaciated bodies. They were all borne down with loads of firewood; and even poor little children, worn to skeletons by fatigue and hardship, were obliged to bear their burthen, while many of their inhuman masters rode on camels, with the dreaded whip suspended from their wrists.”

Exhausted by his own hardships, Lyon was haunted by memories of the brutalized slaves. He went to the slave market [in Tripoli] to say good-bye to them. Recognizing him, they greeted him with smiles, some with tears.”

(The Race for Timbuktu, In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, Frank T. Kryza, HarperCollins, 2006, excerpts, pp. 68-72; 77-79)

Sep 21, 2017 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Challenging Africa’s Established Order

Challenging Africa’s Established Order

The Arab empire’s extent in ancient times was outlined by Berber wanderer Ibn Batuta who spent forty years touring countries from western China to modern-day Mali without once leaving Arab hegemony. It is recorded that in the fourteenth century, Timbuktu’s greatest ruler, Mansa Musa, arrived in Cairo with a magnificent caravan of soldiers, courtiers, wives, concubines and 12,000 slaves. A baggage train of 300 camels carried three hundred pounds of gold. By the time of the first European visits to Africa, the slave trade of native tribes and Arab had been long-established.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Challenging Africa’s Established Order

“Beyond its attraction as a center of great wealth, no city was more worthy of discovery for geographical and scientific reasons. Arabic texts documented that merchants from Tripoli to Morocco had gathered at Timbuktu since the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries, when it was incorporated into the great Malian Empire, to buy gold and slaves in exchange for prized European manufactured goods, cloth, horses, and the mined salt of the desert.

[Evidence in Moroccan archives indicate] that trade had been conducted across the [Sahara] region since early times . . . [and] it seems likely that gold, animal skins, ivory, gemstones, perfumes and black slaves from the Sudan states were exchanged for the manufactures and trinkets of the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine worlds.

Having taken their empire, the Arabs sealed it off. Foreigners who dared set foot in any part of it were confronted with a harrowing choice: either take a vow of abiding allegiance to Islam, forsaking all others loyalties, or face decapitation.

[In the Arab empire . . .] Gold and slaves were paramount. The importance of the slave trade is illustrated by estimates suggesting that from the seventh to the end of the nineteenth centuries, between 9 and 13 million slaves were transported north across the Sahara. This is comparable to the numbers shipped seaward during the four centuries of the Atlantic slave trade, though the Saharan traffic has received less public discussion.

Timbuktu grew to become an opulent city boasting real infrastructure – markets, mosques, and important Islamic libraries and schools. The wealth to fund this cultural and intellectual development was generated from the gold mines of West Africa, worked by black slaves for their black and Arab masters, and the merchants who carried their goods on camels, oxen and asses, and men’s heads, and in the canoes of tropical Africa’s rivers and lakes.

Though Africa was a cipher to white men, caravan routes and rivers were familiar to those black Africans along the western coastline who traded in their own kingdoms, and to the Arabs who had ventured deep into the interior centuries before Europeans arrived. These men were willing risk their lives . . . and thought nothing of inflicting untold suffering to secure the three commodities Africa offered in abundance: slaves, ivory, and gold.

To these Africans and Arabs, European travelers were “the devil’s children” and “enemies of the Prophet,” meddlesome interlopers who, with their idle talk of abolishing the slave trade and supplanting Arab caravans with British shipping, challenged the established order.”

(The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa’s City of Gold; Frank T. Kryza, HarperCollins, 2006, excerpts, pp. xii-xxi)

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

History records that the first colony to legally establish slavery was Massachusetts, the Puritans of New England enslaved the Pequot Indians [including children] who resisted their invasions; by 1750 Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade; Yankee notions and rum were traded in Africa for those already enslaved; Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin transformed cotton production in 1793; Manhattan banks supplied easy credit after the Louisiana Purchase opened the western lands to slave-produced cotton; and cotton-hungry New England mills were fed from that new land. It is then easy to see the source of slavery’s perpetuation and it clearly points to those who could have easily ended that relic of the British colonial system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

“The superabundance of land to which the English colonists, from Adam Smith downwards, attribute the prosperity of new colonies, has never led to great prosperity without some kind of slavery. The States of New England, in which Negro slavery [was permitted], form no exception to the general rule.

[Though] the Puritans and followers of [William] Penn, who founded to colonies of New England, flourished with superabundance of land and without [a great number of] Negro slaves, they did not flourish without slavery . . . [though] they were led to carry on an extensive traffic in white men and children, who, kidnapped in Europe, were virtually sold to these fastidious colonists, and treated by them as slaves.

Even so lately as the last twenty years, and especially during the last war between England and America . . . vast numbers of poor Germans were decoyed to those States which forbid slavery, and there sold for long terms of years to the highest bidder at public auction. Though white and free in name, they were really not free to become independent landowners, and therefore it was possible to employ their labor constantly and in combination.

A black man never was, nor is he now, treated as a man by the white men of New England. There, where the most complete equality subsists among white men, and every white man is taught to respect himself as well as other white men, black men are treated as it they were horses or dogs . . .

In another way, the States which [abolished] slavery have gained by it immensely without any corresponding evil. The great fishing establishments of the [New England] colonies were set up for the purpose of supplying the slaves of the West Indies, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas, commodities which have never been raised on any large scale in America except by the combined labor of slaves.

A great part of the commerce . . . of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, has always consisted of a carrying trade for the Southern States . . .

At the present time, which is the great market for the surplus of farmers in the non-slaveholding States on the western rivers? New Orleans. And how could that market exist without slavery? Capitalists again, natives of the States which forbid slavery, reside during part of every year in the slave States, and reap large profits by dealing in rice, sugar and cotton, exchangeable commodities, which, it must be repeated, have never been raised to any extent in America except by the labor of slaves.

The States, therefore, which [abolished] slavery, having reaped the economic benefits of slavery, without incurring the chief of its moral evils, seem to be more indebted to it than the slave States.

If those who [abolished] slavery within their own legal jurisdiction should also resolve to have no intercourse or concern with slave-owners, to do nothing for them, and to exchange nothing with them, we should see an economical revolution in America . . .

It is evident that the most Southern States of the Union cannot abolish slavery without incurring great dangers, which the North had no reason to apprehend when it emancipated its black population . . . [and were] gradually introduced into the society . . .

The Northern States had nothing to fear [as the] blacks were few in number . . . But if the faint dawn of freedom were to show two millions of men their true position, the oppressors had reason to tremble.

And as soon as it is admitted that the whites and the emancipated blacks are placed upon the same territory in the situation of two foreign communities, it will be readily understood that there are but two chances for the future: the Negroes and the whites must either wholly part, or wholly mingle.”

(Selections from the Economic History of the United States, 1765-1860, Guy Stevens Callender, (original 1909) Reprints of Economic Classics, 1965, excerpts, pp. 793-799)

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

The existence of African slaves in the American South was largely the result of foreign interests and New England slavers importing already-enslaved black people from Africa. With the agricultural expansion of the United States enabled by the Louisiana Purchase, large numbers of laborers were required to work the fields.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

“An illicit market in Mobile supported foreign slave trade despite the federal prohibition against it since 1808. Reports appeared occasionally of African natives working in the city. In March 1859, according to the British consul, “twenty wild African Negroes” worked in Mobile. Since these slaves spoke only their native dialect, residents concluded that the slaves were recently imported. Their appearance sparked excitement among the citizens about the foreign slave trade.

Later in 1859 the schooner Clotilde, owned by the Northern-born steamboat builder Timothy Meagher, transported what was reputedly the last cargo of contraband slaves from Africa to the United States. Slavers then transported 116 survivors of this voyage to John Dabney’s plantation on the Alabama River a few miles north of Mobile. Some slave-owners in the area secretly purchased some of the Africans, and the shipowner and captain retained the rest.

Slave ownership remained confined to a small proportion of the free population of Mobile, slightly less than 6 percent in 1830 and 1840. Masters and mistresses came from widely different backgrounds and occupations. In 1860, New Englanders like Thaddeus Sanford, a newspaper publisher turned farmer; Gustavus Horton, a cotton broker; and William, Rix, a merchant, owned slaves. So did foreign-born Mobilians like Israel I. Jones and Jonathan Emanuel, [both] English-born merchants; Ann Yuille, a Scottish baker’s widow; and Albert Stein, a German-born hydraulic engineer.

In 1850, 191 women owned 807 slaves. Women made up nearly 10 percent of large slaveholders, those with 11 or more slaves, in 1850. By renting some of their slaves to local employers, widows received good incomes.

Sarah Barnes, sixth largest slaveowner in Mobile in 1850, presumably rented some of her 52 slaves to others. So did two other women with large slaveholdings in the 1857 city tax book. Eliza Goldthwaite, widow of a former State judge, who claimed 17 slaves, and Sarah Walton, widow of a former mayor of Mobile and mother of Octavia Walton Levert, owned 20 slaves.”

(Cotton City, Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Harriet E. Amos, University of Alabama Press, 1985, excerpt, pp. 87-89)

 

May 7, 2017 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa    Comments Off on “Slaves, Don Teodore, Are Our Money”

“Slaves, Don Teodore, Are Our Money”

The central African city of Timbuktu (Timbuctoo) continued as a market for slaves long after the British had abolished their transatlantic slave trade — which had more to do with destroying French colonial commerce than philanthropy. The Captain writes below of how the British action simply forced native African slave traders to the interior of the Dark Continent, and the trade flourished nonetheless as slaves were a traditional African medium of exchange. In his 1961 book “The Slaves of Timbuktu” (Harper & Brothers), author Robin Maugham found that slavery still existed among the African tribes in the late 1950’s. He was the brother of author Somerset Maugham.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Slaves, Don Teodore, Are Our Money”

“[Mahometan Foulah] Mami had visited many of the European colonies and Moorish kingdoms on the north coast of Africa, so that he was not stupefied by the untrammeled ignorance of Africans who consider Timbuctoo a combination of Paris and paradise. Indeed, he did not presume, like most of the Mandingo chiefs, to prefer it to Senegal or Sierra Leone. He confessed that the royal palace was nothing but a vast enclosure of mud walls, built without taste or symmetry, within whose labyrinthine mesh were numerous buildings for the wives, children, and kindred of the sovereign.

The markets of Timbuctoo, alone, secured his admiration. Every week they were thronged with traders, dealers, peddlers and merchants, who either dwelt in the neighboring kingdoms, or came from afar with slaves and produce. Moors and Israelites from the northeast were the most eminent and opulent merchants; and among them he counted a travelling class crowned with peculiar turbans, whom he called “Joseph’s-People,” or in all likelihood, Armenians.

However, in spite of its despotic rulers, Timbuctoo was a great central mart for exchange, and commercial men as well as the innumerable petty kings, frequented it not only for the abundant mineral salt in its vicinity, but because they could exchange their slaves for foreign merchandise. I asked the Foulah why he preferred the markets of Timbuctoo to the well-stocked stores of regular European settlements on the coast which was reached with so much more ease than this core of Africa?

“Ah!,” said the astute [slave] trafficker, “no market is a good one for the African in which he cannot openly exchange his slaves for whatever the original owner or importer can sell without fear! Slaves, Don Teodore, are our money.”

(Adventures of an African Slaver, Captain Theodore Canot, Star Books, 1928, pp. 135-136)

 

 

 

 

 

Rhode Island’s Record of Slaving

The British Royal African Company was primarily responsible for populating North America and the West Indies with African slaves, and despite being near bankrupt from exorbitant expenses was considered too big to fail. After the Revolution, British-imposed slavery was set on a potential track toward abolition, but the cotton gin of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney in the mid 1790’s, along with the rise of New England cotton mills, perpetuated African slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Rhode Island’s Record of Slaving

“The [British] slave trade was carried on by means of “factories,” or trading establishments, defended by forts on the west coast of Africa. In 1750, the Royal African Company had nine factories, the chief of which was Cape Coast Castle, with a strong fort built on a huge rock that projected into the sea. It was expensive to maintain these forts and trading posts. In fact, the company was prevented from going bankrupt by an annual grant of [10,000 pounds].

The competition of French slave traders, who paid more for their human merchandise than the English company, was especially formidable since the French African Company was heavily subsidized by its government.

During the first half of the eighteenth century Bristol and Liverpool were the great slave trading ports of the British Empire. In 1750, a total of 155 British and colonial ships were engaged in the slave trade, of which 20 came from the American colonies, principally from Rhode Island.

Toward the close of the colonial period, however, there were 150 Rhode Island ships employed in this traffic as compared with 192 English ships, a record to which Southerners pointed during the antislavery controversy.

These ships often were engaged in a triangular trade with England or the American colonies, the west coast of Africa, and the West Indies. To Africa the slave ships carried trading goods, bars of iron, rum –“well-watered” – forearms, lead, beads, and cloth, which they exchanged for slaves.

The later were transported to the sugar islands of the West Indies and exchanged for molasses, run and gold coins. In New England, the molasses was manufactured into rum to exchange for more slaves.”

(A History of the Old South, The Emergence of a Reluctant Nation, Clement Eaton, MacMillan Publishing, 1975, excerpt, page 31)

 

Resisting England’s (and New England’s) Slave Trade

It was “English merchants and factors” and New Englanders who traded their goods for Africans near the coast of West Africa; as few white men could survive entering the interior, Europeans depended upon African tribes to sell them their already-enslaved brethren.  At the feet of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French can also be laid the introduction and perpetuation of slavery here. Both the Virginia and North Carolina colonial legislatures pleaded in vain to the British Crown to cease the importation of Negroes to their shores.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Resisting England’s (and New England’s) Slave Trade

“On account of the dangers of navigation off the coast of North Carolina . . . ships engaged in the African slave trade seldom, if ever, brought their cargoes direct to the colony. Relative to these conditions, [Royal] Governor Burrington said:

“Great is the loss this country has in not being supplied by vessels from Guinea with Negroes. In any part of the province the people are able to pay for a shipload; but as none come directly from Africa, we are under necessity to buy the refuse, refractory, and distempered Negroes brought in from other governments.”

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that that on occasion the early planters sent cargoes of tar and pitch to New England to be sold and the proceeds to be invested in young Negroes. English merchants and factors from about 1770 to 1776 did not hesitate to sell Negroes to South Carolina planters on liberal terms, and during those years the colony prospered…”

On the eve of the Revolution an attempt was made to prohibit the slave trade. The Provincial Congress in session at New Bern [North Carolina], August 27, 1774, resolved, “We will not import any slave or slaves, nor purchase any slave or slaves imported or brought into this province by others from any part of the world after the first day of November next. This resolution was passed in conformity with a resolve of the Continental Congress, and its enforcement was designed to strike a blow at British [slavetrading] commerce.

The first impressive protest from any considerable body of citizens in the colony against the African slave trade was registered by the freeholders of Rowan County [North Carolina] in 1774. They placed themselves on record . . . in the following resolution:

“Resolved that the African slave trade is injurious to this colony, obstructs the population of it, prevents manufacturers and other useful emigrants from Europe from settling among us, and occasions an annual increase of the balance of trade against the colonies.”

(Slaveholding in North Carolina, An Economic View, Rosser H. Taylor, UNC Press, 1926, excerpt, pp. 21-22)

Emancipation and Repatriation

The American Colonization Society organizers below were well-aware of the origins of the slavery they detested – the avarice of the British who planted their colonial labor system on these shores, though opposed by colonial legislatures – and the perpetuation of the slave-trade by New England merchants.  They knew as well that should a naval force not be positioned off Africa’s coast, those New England merchants would prey upon the newly-emancipated in Liberia.  Note the predominance of Southern men in the Society.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Emancipation and Repatriation

“On December 28, 1816, the colonizers assembled in the hall of the House of Representatives. The constitution drafted by [Francis Scott] Key and his colleagues was adopted; and thus was founded the American Colonization Society. The constitution declared the purpose of the society to be the promotion of “a plan for colonizing (with their consent) the Free People of Colour residing in our country, in Africa, or such other place as Congress shall deem expedient.”

The organization of the Society was perfected on January 1, 1817 with the election of officers. Justice Bushrod Washington (kin of George) was elected president.

The following Vice-Presidents were then selected: Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia; Speaker [Henry] Clay of Kentucky; William Phillips of Massachusetts; former Governor John Eager Howard, Samuel Smith and John C. Herbert of Maryland; Colonel Henry Rutgers of New York; John Taylor of Virginia; General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee; Attorney General Richard Rush and Robert Ralston of Pennsylvania; General John Mason of the District of Columbia; and Reverend Finley . . . the first name on the board of managers was that of Francis S. Key.

The lawyers, clergymen, members of Congress, and other public men, who organized the American Colonization Society were idealists. Their aim was to eradicate slavery without causing political or economic violence. Statesmen from the North and South were able to stand together on the platform of the Society.

According to some historians, the colonizers were “idealists with troubled consciences.”  Patrick Henry cried . . . “I am drawn along by the inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot justify it . . . Slavery is detested; we feel its fatal effects — we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. But is it practicable, by any human means, to liberate them without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences?”

The more practical business men of the country sneered at the scheme. The cold and calculating John Quincy Adams criticized the idea as absolutely visionary. The critics doubted whether the free Negroes would be willing to leave the United States for tropical Africa; and even if they did, whether they would be able to govern themselves after they arrived there.

But the colonizers were not discouraged. They believed that as their purpose was humane it had the approval of Providence, and that if they persevered they would meet with success in the end. They also . . . [believed that] the deported blacks would take with them what they had learned in America and would found in Africa a free and happy commonwealth.

Fortunately [Virginian] James Monroe, who succeeded Mr. Madison in the presidential chair on March 4, 1817, gave his endorsement to the plan of colonization. And in a year or two representatives of the American Colonization Society were on their way to Africa with instructions to explore the west coast of the Dark Continent and to select a location for a colony for the free blacks of America.

Before long auxiliary colonization societies were formed in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York . . . Early in 1818 the people of Baltimore contributed several thousand dollars to the cause, and the Legislature of Maryland requested the Governor to urge President Monroe and the members of Congress to negotiate for a colony in Africa by cession or purchase. Similar resolutions were adopted by the Legislatures of Virginia, Tennessee, and other States.

As a result of the pleas of the friends of colonization, the Congress, on March 3, 1818, passed an act directing the United States Navy to capture all African slaves found in the possession of American slave-traders, and empowering the President to appoint agents on the coast of Africa to receive, shelter, feed, clothe, and protect the slaves so captured.

The passage of this law brought cheer to Francis Scott Key and his associates. It meant the cooperation of the United States Government. The coast of Africa was lined with slavers; and without the aid of the Navy the little colony would be at their mercy.”

(Francis Scott Key, Life and Times, Edward S. Delaplaine, Biography Press, 1937, excerpts, pp. 198-201)

 

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