Pirates and the US Navy Both Hunted Down the Slave Ship Antelope and Its 270 African Captives


On March 23, 1820, off Africa’s western coast, Captain Vicente de Llovio of Spanish service provider brig Antelope uneasily watched an unfamiliar vessel enter the Bay of Cabinda. Antelope had been anchored for 2 weeks within the bay, the place the Congo River meets the Atlantic Ocean. De Llovio and his 24-man crew had been sharing the anchorage with an unnamed Portuguese vessel. Each crews had come to commerce with a determine the Europeans knew because the Prince of Cabinda. The prince was a mambouk, or native consultant of the king of Ngoyo, ruler of an space north of the Congo River.

Enterprise had been going easily however now right here got here bother. A big ship, additionally a brig however rigged unusually, with sq. sails on the foremast and solely gaff-rigged—that’s, within the form of a triangle truncated on the high—fore-and-aft sails on the mainmast, a configuration sailors known as “hermaphrodite”—was coming at Antelope

In his dealings with the prince, de Llovio had been exchanging European commerce items for captive Africans. Whether or not taken prisoner throughout tribal wars widespread within the Congo watershed, kidnapped by brigands, or convicted of legal or civil infractions, the bartered unfortunates have been destined for Havana, Cuba, and its slave markets.

That the newcomer was flying a Spanish flag didn’t scale back de Llovio’s apprehension, confirmed when on the interloper’s rails appeared a number of dozen musketeers. Gunners have been operating out the hermaphrodite brig’s cannons. Palms took down Spain’s flag and raised the ensign of the Republic of Banda Oriental. Now referred to as Uruguay, Banda Oriental then was a Portuguese colony in South America in revolt towards the mom nation and in addition at conflict with Spain. 

A British hermaphrodite brig of the identical sort because the American-built privateer Arraganta.

Although a merchantman, Antelope, in acknowledgment of seagoing actuality, mounted on its sides 4 8-lb. muzzle-loading cannons to discourage undesirable firm. The oncoming vessel, which reflagging immediately recognized as both pirate or privateer—the latter an armed ship empowered by letter of marque to harry the issuing nation’s enemies—was preserving simply out of vary. Had de Llovio had his crew rig a spring line Antelope may have rotated at anchor and introduced its personal weapons to bear. He had not rigged a spring line, nonetheless. His males outnumbered two to 1. With solely 12 muskets and 12 cutlasses in his ship’s armory, resistance was futile.  

The raider got here to relaxation at Antelope’s ahead bow, poised for the approaching vessel’s gunners to rake its goal alongside almost its whole size with no likelihood of fireside being returned. Captain de Llovio surrendered. A boarding occasion swarmed over the bow rail, rapidly and bloodlessly herding Antelope’s crew beneath decks to affix the Africans confined there. Boatmen from the hermaphrodite rapidly subdued the Portuguese ship.

In minutes, Captain Simon Metcalf and the crew of Arraganta—who loved the standing of privateersmen, since Metcalf held a letter of marque from Bandas Oriental authorizing him to plunder Spanish and Portuguese ships—had captured two prizes. Moreover the ships and their materials items, the booty included almost 300 kidnapped Africans who had now gone from being Spanish chattel to commodities extremely valued within the unlawful American slave commerce.

U.S. income cutter Vigilant chasing, firing upon, and subduing a renegade vessel. (DVIDS)

Arraganta initially had been named Baltimore, after the Maryland port at which the ship had been constructed. Metcalf and his 36-man crew have been Individuals, save for 2 Britons and a Spaniard. On three earlier privateering runs, they’d captured 4 Spanish ships, taking greater than 1,100 Africans whom Metcalf bought on the illicit market in america for kidnapped Blacks. That very busy market owed its existence to an 1808 federal ban on importing slaves to america, which had pushed the smuggler’s promoting value of a sturdy younger African man to $800. 

Therapy of “recaptured” Africans, as they have been known as, was far more extreme than penalties imposed on convicted smugglers. When smugglers have been seized, nearly inevitably within the South, whichever state the smuggler had landed in had jurisdiction over the liberated Africans. Pending adjudication, they might be bought into slavery, with the state getting the proceeds, or “bonded out” to planters obligated to supply for his or her welfare in trade for his or her labor. If discovered to not have been beforehand enslaved, recaptured Africans have been to be declared free individuals and returned to Africa. Throughout court docket proceedings, nonetheless, most disappeared, with planters claiming they’d run off or died of illness. A planter on this state of affairs forfeited the bond he had posted, however the revenue on a surreptitiously bought slave greater than made up for that enterprise expense. 

Nevertheless, the case of the Africans seized from Antelope proved to be a turning level in deciding the destiny of Africans recaptured at sea.

Privateer Arraganta had begun this cruise crusing from Baltimore below the title Colombia, flying the flag of Venezuela; that colony additionally had damaged away from Spain and was issuing letters of marque. In keeping with Metcalf, the mission was to hover within the Straits of Florida ready for a Spanish prize. Quickly after weighing anchor, although, Metcalf introduced a change in plan. Arraganta was going to move for Africa, there to hijack Spanish and Portuguese slave ships laden with human cargo price fortunes. 

Many on the crew chafed at this transformation of phrases. That they had signed on to assault Spanish service provider delivery within the Caribbean as a part of Venezuela’s conflict of independence, to not raid slave ships off Africa. Plundering Spanish delivery below a letter of marque from a would-be insurgent republic was one factor however hauling kidnapped Africans into bondage was one other. An American serving aboard a international privateer was violating the Neutrality Regulation and technically committing piracy, letter of marque or no. However the crime, if prosecuted, was handled most frequently as a misdemeanor. Except the goal had been an American vessel or the case included a wanton homicide, jury nullification—that’s, when jurors in impact dismiss a cost—was the order of the day. Nevertheless, stealing slaves was taking part within the slave commerce, which had little public help outdoors the South. Moreover, the Act to Shield the Commerce of america and Punish the Crime of Piracy, as amended Might 15, 1820, declared any American vessel or any American serving aboard any vessel that transported kidnapped Africans to be a pirate. A conviction for piracy was punishable by hanging. To foreclose such an indictment, some privateering Individuals, like Metcalf’s first lieutenant John Smith, renounced their American citizenship. And in lots of cases crew members, upon studying the true nature of a slaving cruise, abandoned and tried to sabotage the hassle by informing authorities. Crews typically even mutinied quite than have interaction in slaving. Ships’ masters usually needed to threaten drive to maintain malcontents below management. 

Up to date diagrams present how cramped circumstances have been aboard slave ships.

America had outlawed the international slave commerce on January 1, 1808, however slavery remained the keystone of the Southern financial system, and in that agrarian area demand endured for enslaved staff, happy by outlaw merchants. Patrolling for slavers, U.S. Navy vessels and Income Marine cutters caught and captured many smugglers of people, however with out decreasing the observe. Within the 12 years since 1808, greater than 10,000 African captives had been purchased or bartered on that continent’s west coast and sneaked onto the American mainland. Working close to slave-state ports reminiscent of New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah, and having the help of native smuggling organizations, smugglers brokered offers between transatlantic mariners and unlawful consumers. A major technique was to forge paperwork misrepresenting kidnapped Africans as having been enslaved legally in america and claiming to be shifting them from shore to a purchaser’s location elsewhere. 

Outlaw slaving dangled huge potential earnings. A 300-person shipload may carry $120,000—at present about $2.5 million. Half went to the vessel’s proprietor; crewmen shared the remaining. Month-to-month wages aboard ship in 1820 ranged from $60 for a captain to the lowliest seaman’s $10. Metcalf stood to tug down $60,000; an extraordinary seaman, greater than $3,000. 

From an opportunistic perspective, official penalties for the crime of tried smuggling of slaves have been gentle. When a captured slave-smuggling ship was confiscated, its house owners, in the event that they might be recognized and arraigned, have been fined $20,000 apiece. Every crewman was fined not lower than $1,000—however to maintain their identities secret house owners usually paid penalties anonymously. Transporting kidnapped Africans previous to Might 15, 1820, was legally not piracy however merely smuggling. Now that slave buying and selling had been deemed piracy, and public opinion was strongly towards enslaving beforehand free Africans, many mariners didn’t wish to roll the cube to see if jurors making an attempt them would discover them not responsible by jury nullification.

Metcalf all the time appeared to get away clear and to make his accomplices wealthy. Earlier that March, a couple of hundred miles north of the Bay of Cabinda, Metcalf had been attacking two Portuguese schooners loaded with slaves when Royal Navy sloop Myrmidon, patrolling for slavers—Britain had abolished slavery in 1807—interceded. Hauled into Freetown, Sierra Leone, below suspicion of piracy, Metcalf confirmed his letter of marque. Myrmidon’s captain selected to not danger a doubtlessly pricey court docket battle making an attempt to disprove the validity of Metcalf’s fee. Ordered out of the realm, Metcalf turned south. As soon as past British attain, he plundered one other Spanish ship and hijacked 25 kidnapped Africans from the unlawful slave ship Alternate, working out of Bristol, Rhode Island.

After seizing Antelope at Cabinda, Metcalf handed the ship over to a prize crew led by first lieutenant John Smith, and put the subjugated vessels’ crews ashore. The privateers stowed the captive Africans, together with plunder from the second Portuguese ship moored within the bay, aboard Antelope, then burned the Portuguese vessel. Metcalf headed his little squadron to sea to proceed his depredations alongside the coast. Arraganta quickly had taken three extra Portuguese schooners, whose plunder topped off the flotilla’s holds. It was time to move west to money in.

The Atlantic passage went easily for the ships, however, as typical for such voyages, round 20 p.c of the confined Africans died en route, their corpses tossed overboard. Off Brazil a gale caught the closely laden ships. Arraganta went down with Metcalf and plenty of fingers and captives. By superior seamanship and by jettisoning his 4 weapons, Smith was capable of preserve Antelope intact and afloat, and even rescue some members of the crew and captives from Arraganta.

Some slavers so overcrowded their ships that captives made the voyage in fetters on deck.

Styling himself captain of a privateer in his personal proper, Smith cast paperwork figuring out the stolen ship Antelope as Basic Ramirez. He stopped on the first viable marketplace for his illicit cargo: the Dutch colony of Suriname. The Netherlands, like america, had banned the slave commerce, however not slavery itself. Planters in Suriname have been prepared to flout the importation prohibition, so long as danger of apprehension was low. Smith needed to break off negotiations when disaffected crewmen abandoned and knowledgeable the authorities. Smith took Antelope—now renamed Basic Ramirez—north to the Caribbean, stopping at Dutch holding Saint Maarten after which Saint Barthelemy, owned by France, which had banned slavery in 1794. He discovered no consumers however at Saint Barthelemy sought out a mysterious fellow named Mason, thought by some crewmen to be Arraganta’s proprietor. In return for money, Smith obtained from Mason provides and the promise of extra, together with replacements for his jettisoned weapons. These transfers have been to happen close to Gap-in-the-Wall, a landmark on the east entrance of the Windfall Channel by means of the Bahamas, nearly 1,000 miles northwest.

The privateers have been almost per week reaching Gap-in-the-Wall. Arriving low on provisions and water, Smith gained cannons, ammunition, and different provides promised by Mason. He subsequent set a course for Saint Augustine, Florida, a voyage of 400 miles, the place he was refused provides, even after providing for ransom the governor’s son, whom Smith had taken hostage after recognizing the younger man aboard a ship at Gap-in-the-Wall.

Till 1818, Smith’s subsequent logical course would have been north for Amelia Island, Florida, close to the mouth of the Saint Mary’s River, the road of demarcation between Spanish-held Florida and the state of Georgia. Amelia Island was rife with smugglers and pirates, who have been no less than tolerated and at worst abetted by native retailers and residents. Pissed off at smugglers sneaking items from Amelia into the neighborhood of St. Mary’s, Georgia, the native U.S. customs agent had complained to the secretary of  the Treasury, prompting an invasion and garrisoning of the island with troops on the city of Fernandina, bolstered by a U.S. Income Marine cutter throughout the river at St. Mary’s. Because of this, Smith’s solely choice was to land his unlawful cargo a bit farther south, on the mouth of the Saint John’s River. From there, smugglers in league with the Creek Nation—many members of that indigenous tribe owned slaves—may ferry the captives into Georgia.

Nevertheless, Smith’s vessel and its shenanigans had not gone unreported. Phrase of the pirate brig’s predations reached Captain John Jackson aboard the income cutter Dallas at Saint Mary’s. Barely a 12 months earlier, Jackson had captured American schooner Hampton on the Saint John’s River. Hampton already had offloaded 92 Africans who had disappeared into captivity, however bodily proof aboard the schooner and testimony from disgruntled crewmen supported forfeiture of Hampton for “being configured for slaving.” This time Jackson meant to save lots of kidnapped Africans from enslavement.

Jackson sailed downriver from St. Mary’s to Fernandina to enhance his crew with 12 troopers from the Military garrison, bringing his complement to about 27, consistent with the variety of pirates he anticipated aboard his goal. Reaching the open sea at about 4 p.m. Thursday, June 29, 1820, Jackson saved the Dallas effectively offshore and bearing south, most likely on the belief that the pirate vessel’s crew, making an attempt to keep away from detection, can be doing the identical.  

A barque-rigged instance of a privateer sailed out of New Orleans carrying 16 weapons.

Jackson’s hunch paid off. At daylight, a lookout sighted Smith’s ship forward and bearing south-southeast, about 20 levels off the cutter’s starboard bow. As Jackson ordered “all sail” to intercept, Smith’s disguised Antelope juked northeast, veering straight for the mouth of the Saint John’s. Smith possible was operating for Spanish waters; reaching them would put his vessel out of American attain. He ran in useless. Dallas was a topsail schooner, a design with a lean hull and a formidable unfold of sail, meant to run with the quickest vessels afloat. Within the service of velocity Dallas’s solely armament was a 6-pound smoothbore cannon mounted on a pivot barely ahead of amidships. Jackson ordered his troops to hide themselves and be prepared for a battle.

Simply earlier than 2 p.m., with Dallas quickly gaining, Smith started to clear his deck for motion. Inside half an hour, the cutter had gained the “climate gauge”—the tactically advantageous place upwind of one other vessel. Each crews ran out their weapons. Rising from concealment, Jackson’s troopers lined the rail, muskets on the prepared. Smith ordered his males to fireplace; the gunners, pushed to mutiny by their dislike for dealing in slaves, refused to obey. Smith hove to.

Captives sure for the New World depart an African setting, mourned by these left behind.

The cutter’s officers discovered 280 Africans chained beneath deck. In the course of the “center passage,” because the voyage between Africa and a plantation was identified, 70 extra had died. The boarding occasion discovered “seaman’s safety papers” figuring out Smith as an American citizen. Lots of the “deceived” crewmen readily admitted to being American and have been greater than prepared to share the small print of their vessel’s actions.  

With greater than sufficient possible trigger, Jackson seized Smith’s ship and arrested its officers and crew. At Saint Mary’s, he left the seized brig and surviving Africans within the cost of 1st Lieutenant William Askwith and 6 males and continued on aboard Dallas to Savannah, Georgia, to arraign the 28 prisoners and search steerage on the rescued Africans’ standing. 

The piracy case towards John Smith ought to have been straightforward to show. Nevertheless, Smith’s lawyer efficiently argued that his consumer had renounced his American citizenship in an effort to serve the reason for Banda Oriental’s independence. Whereas the letter of marque Smith introduced for the Basic Ramirez could be fraudulent, since Smith believed it was genuine and piracy was a criminal offense requiring intent, the jury couldn’t convict him, the legal professional claimed. The prosecution barely contested these assertions and introduced little proof of its personal. Upon being acquitted Smith had the audacity to sue for possession of the recaptured Africans.

Nevertheless, U.S. Lawyer Richard Wyly Habersham possible had a bigger technique. Had Smith been discovered to be a pirate, worldwide legislation demanded that the Africans be returned to their Spanish and Portuguese claimants. Habersham may assert that as a authorized privateer Smith, upon capturing Africans at sea, had gained possession, which he then forfeited by making an attempt to smuggle them into america. The outcome ought to have been instant freedom for all of the captives.  

An 1839 revolt by
kidnapped Africans aboard La Amistad
led to a landmark
Supreme Courtroom ruling.

Nevertheless, the Africans Metcalf had taken from Spanish and Portuguese vessels have been topic to claims from supposed international house owners. A court docket needed to handle such claims earlier than it may free recaptured Africans. Solely a gaggle of 25 who had  been seized from an American vessel, Alternate, of whom 18 had survived to succeed in Savannah, got here below no possession claims. The court docket dominated that the 18 certified for instant launch. They have been transported to Liberia, an space in West Africa that Blacks repatriated from america just lately had begun settling with the help of the American Colonization Society and the U.S. authorities. The rest of the Africans aboard Antelope confronted seven years of servitude as claims to their possession by Spain and Portugal crawled towards the U.S. Supreme Courtroom, led by Chief Justice John Marshall. Of 157 survivors, 37 have been delivered to Spanish claimants, whereas Portugal’s declare on the rest was utterly discounted for lack of any particular person house owners; 120 have been despatched to Liberia.

Though solely barely lower than half of those who Dallas rescued survived to recuperate their freedom, this episode demonstrated a brand new American resolve to cease the enslavement of kidnapped Africans. Now individuals sure for bondage however recaptured and capable of show they’d not beforehand been enslaved have been to be freed. 

In 1839 Africans aboard Spanish slaver La Amistad, sure for america, rebelled at sea and commandeered that schooner. U.S. Navy brig Washington intercepted Amistad and introduced the ship to New London, Connecticut, occasioning a landmark authorized case. Ruling in 1841 in U.S. v. The Amistad, the Supreme Courtroom declared that any African getting into the nation was free except a claimant may show that that individual beforehand had been enslaved below one other nation’s legal guidelines—reversing the burden of proof in use because the Antelope incident. The final slave ship identified to land Africans in america was the schooner Clotilda, currently the topic of headlines (see p. 8). The thirteenth Modification to the Structure abolished slavery on New 12 months’s Day 1865.

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