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THE CAPTURE OF A SLAVER







by: J. Taylor Wood
From 1830 to 1850 both Great Britain and the United States, by
joint convention, kept on the coast of Africa at least eighty guns
afloat for the suppression of the slave trade. Most of the
vessels so employed were small corvettes, brigs, or schooners;
steam at that time was just being introduced into the navies of
the world.

Nearly fifty years ago I was midshipman on the United States brig
Porpoise, of ten guns. Some of my readers may remember these
little ten-gun coffins, as many of them proved to be to their
crews. The Porpoise was a fair sample of the type; a full-rigged
brig of one hundred and thirty tons, heavily sparred, deep
waisted, and carrying a battery of eight twenty-four-pound
carronades and two long chasers; so wet that even in a moderate
breeze or sea it was necessary to batten down; and so tender that
she required careful watching; only five feet between decks, her
quarters were necessarily cramped and uncomfortable, and, as far
as possible, we lived on deck. With a crew of eighty all told,
Lieutenant Thompson was in command, Lieutenant Bukett executive
officer, and two midshipmen were the line officers. She was so
slow that we could hardly hope for a prize except by a fluke.
Repeatedly we had chased suspicious craft only to be out-sailed.

At this time the traffic in slaves was very brisk; the demand in
the Brazils, in Cuba, and in other Spanish West Indies was urgent,
and the profit of the business so great that two or three
successful ventures would enrich any one. The slavers were
generally small, handy craft; fast, of course; usually schooner-
rigged, and carrying flying topsails and forecourse. Many were
built in England or elsewhere purposely for the business, without,
of course, the knowledge of the builders, ostensibly as yachts or
traders. The Spaniards and Portuguese were the principal
offenders, with occasionally an English-speaking renegade.

The slave depots, or barracoons, were generally located some miles
up a river. Here the slaver was secure from capture and could
embark his live cargo at his leisure. Keeping a sharp lookout on
the coast, the dealers were able to follow the movements of the
cruisers, and by means of smoke, or in other ways, signal when the
coast was clear for the coming down the river and sailing of the
loaded craft. Before taking in the cargoes they were always
fortified with all the necessary papers and documents to show they
were engaged in legitimate commerce, so it was only when caught in
flagrante delicto that we could hold them.

We had been cruising off the coast of Liberia doing nothing, when
we were ordered to the Gulf of Guinea to watch the Bonny and
Cameroons mouths of the great Niger River. Our consort was H.M.
schooner Bright, a beautiful craft about our tonnage, but with
half our crew, and able to sail three miles to our two. She was
an old slaver, captured and adapted as a cruiser. She had been
very successful, making several important captures of full
cargoes, and twice or thrice her commanding officer and others had
been promoted. Working our way slowly down the coast in company
with the Bright, we would occasionally send a boat on shore to
reconnoitre or gather any information we could from the natives
through our Krooman interpreter. A few glasses of rum or a string
of beads would loosen the tongue of almost any one. At Little
Bonny we heard that two vessels were some miles up the river,
ready to sail, and were only waiting until the coast was clear.
Captain James, of the Bright, thought that one, if not both, would
sail from another outlet of the river, about thirty miles to the
southward, and determined to watch it.

We both stood to that direction. Of course we were watched from
the shore, and the slavers were kept posted as to our movements.
They supposed we had both gone to the Cameroons, leaving Little
Bonny open; but after dark, with a light land breeze, we wore
round and stood to the northward, keeping offshore some distance,
so that captains leaving the river might have sufficient offing to
prevent their reaching port again or beaching their craft. At
daybreak, as far as we could judge, we were about twenty miles
offshore to the northward and westward of Little Bonny, in the
track of any vessel bound for the West Indies. The night was dark
with occasional rain squalls, when the heavens would open and the
water come down in a flood. Anxiously we all watched for
daylight, which comes under the equator with a suddenness very
different from the prolonged twilight of higher latitudes. At the
first glimmer in the east every eye was strained on the horizon,
all eager, all anxious to be the first to sight anything within
our vision. The darkness soon gave way to gray morn. Day was
dawning, when suddenly a Krooman by my side seized my hand and,
without saying a word, pointed inshore. I looked, but could see
nothing. All eyes were focused in that direction, and in a few
minutes the faint outline of a vessel appeared against the sky.
She was some miles inshore of us, and as the day brightened we
made her out to be a brigantine (an uncommon rig in those days),
standing across our bows, with all studding sails set on the
starboard side, indeed everything that could pull, including water
sails and save-all. We were on the same tack heading to the
northward. We set everything that would draw, and kept off two
points, bringing the wind abeam so as to head her off.

The breeze was light and off the land. We had not yet been seen
against the darker western horizon, but we knew it could only be a
few minutes longer before their sharp eyes would make us out.
Soon we saw the studding sails and all kites come down by the run
and her yards braced up sharp on the same tack as ours. We also
hauled by the wind. At sunrise she was four points on our weather
bow, distant about four miles. We soon perceived that she could
outsail our brig and if the wind held would escape. Gradually she
drew away from us until she was hull down. Our only hope now was
that the land breeze would cease and the sea breeze come in. As
the sun rose we gladly noticed the wind lessening, until at eleven
o'clock it was calm. Not a breath ruffled the surface of the sea;
the sun's rays in the zenith were reflected as from a mirror; the
waters seemed like molten lead.

I know of nothing more depressing than a calm in the tropics,--a
raging sun overhead, around an endless expanse of dead sea, and a
feeling of utter helplessness that is overpowering. What if this
should last? what a fate! The Rime of the Ancient Mariner comes
to our mind. Come storm and tempest, come hurricanes and
blizzards, anything but an endless stagnation. For some hours we
watched earnestly the horizon to the westward, looking for the
first dark break on the smooth sea. Not a cloud was in the
heavens. The brig appeared to be leaving us either by towing or
by sweeps; only her topgallant sail was above the horizon. It
looked as if the sea breeze would desert us. It usually came in
about one o'clock, but that hour and another had passed and yet we
watched for the first change. Without a breeze our chances of
overhauling the stranger were gone. Only a white speck like the
wing of a gull now marked her whereabouts on the edge of the
horizon, and in another hour she would be invisible even from the
masthead.

When we were about to despair, our head Krooman drew the captain's
attention to the westward and said the breeze was coming. We saw
no signs of it, but his quick eye had noticed light feathery
clouds rising to the westward, a sure indication of the coming
breeze. Soon we could see the glassy surface ruffled at different
points as the breeze danced over it, coming on like an advancing
line of skirmishers; and as we felt its first gentle movement on
our parched faces, it was welcome indeed, putting new life into
all of us. The crew needed no encouragement to spring to their
work. As the little brig felt the breeze and gathered
steerageway, she was headed for the chase, bringing the wind on
her starboard quarter. In less than five minutes all the studding
sails that would draw were set, as well as everything that would
pull. The best quartermaster was sent to the wheel, with orders
to keep the chase directly over the weather end of the spritsail
yard. The captain ordered the sails wet, an expedient I never had
much faith in, unless the sails are very old. But as if to
recompense us for the delay, the breeze came in strong and steady.
Our one hope now was to follow it up close, and to carry it within
gunshot of the brig, for if she caught it before we were within
range she would certainly escape. All hands were piped to
quarters, and the long eighteen-pounder on the forecastle was
loaded with a full service charge; on this piece we relied to
cripple the chase. We were now rapidly raising her, and I was
sent aloft on the fore topsail yard, with a good glass to watch
her movements. Her hull was in sight and she was still becalmed,
though her head was pointed in the right direction, and everything
was set to catch the coming breeze. She carried a boat on each
side at the davits like a man-of-war, and I reported that I could
make out men securing them. They had been towing her, and only
stopped when they saw us drawing near.

Anxiously we watched the breeze on the water as it narrowed the
sheen between us, and we were yet two miles or more distant when
she first felt the breeze. As she did so we hoisted the English
blue ensign,--for the fleet at this time was under a Rear Admiral
of the Blue,--and fired a weather gun, but no response was made.
Fortunately the wind continued to freshen and the Porpoise was
doing wonderfully well. We were rapidly closing the distance
between us. We fired another gun, but no attention was paid to
it. I noticed from the movements of the crew of the brig that
they were getting ready for some manoeuvre, and reported to the
captain. He divined at once what the manoeuvre would be, and
ordered the braces be led along, hands by the studding-sail
halyards and tacks, and everything ready to haul by the wind. We
felt certain now of the character of our friend, and the men were
already calculating the amount of their prize money. We were now
within range, and must clip her wings if possible.

The first lieutenant was ordered to open fire with the eighteen-
pounder. Carefully the gun was laid, and as the order "fire" was
given, down came our English flag, and the stop of the Stars and
Stripes was broken at the gaff. The first shot touched the water
abeam of the chase and ricochetted ahead of her. She showed the
Spanish flag. The captain of the gun was ordered to elevate a
little more and try again. The second shot let daylight through
her fore topsail, but the third was wide again.

Then the sharp, quick order of the captain, "Fore topsail yard
there, come down on deck, sir!" brought me down on the run. "Have
both cutters cleared away and ready for lowering," were my orders
as I reached the quarter-deck. Practice from the bow chasers
continued, but the smoke that drifted ahead of us interfered with
the accuracy of the firing, and no vital part was touched, though
a number of shots went through her sails. The captain in the main
rigging never took his eye from the Spaniard, evidently expecting
that as a fox when hard pressed doubles on the hounds, the chase
would attempt the same thing. And he was not disappointed, for
when we had come within easy range of her, the smoke hid her from
view for a few minutes, and as it dispersed the first glimpse
showed the captain that her studding sails had all gone, and that
she had hauled by the wind, standing across our weather bow. Her
captain had lost no time in taking in his studding sails;
halyards, tacks, and sheets had all been cut together and dropped
overboard.

It was a bold and well-executed manoeuvre, and we could not help
admiring the skill with which she was handled. However, we had
been prepared for this move. "Ease down your helm." "Lower away.
Haul down the studding sails." "Ease away the weather braces.
Brace up." "Trim down the head sheets," were the orders which
followed in rapid succession, and were as quickly executed. The
Spaniard was now broad on our lee bow, distant not more than half
a mile, but as she felt the wind which we brought down she fairly
spun through the water, exposing her bright copper. She was both
head-reaching and outsailing us; in half an hour she would have
been right ahead of us, and in an hour the sun would be down. It
was now or never. We could bring nothing to bear except the gun
on the forecastle. Fortunately it continued smooth, and we were
no longer troubled with smoke. Shot after shot went hissing
through the air after her; a number tore through the sails or
rigging, but not a spar was touched nor an important rope cut. We
could see some of her crew aloft reeving and stopping braces and
ready to repair any damage done, working as coolly under fire as
old man-of-war's men. But while we were looking, down came the
gaff of her mainsail, and the gaff-topsail fell all adrift; a
lucky shot had cut her peak halyards. Our crew cheered with a
will. "Well done, Hobson; try it again!" called the captain to
the boatswain's mate, who was captain of the gun.

After the next shot, the topgallant yard swayed for a few minutes
and fell forward. The order was given to cease firing; she was at
our mercy. We were rapidly nearing the chase, when she backed her
topsail. We kept off, and when within easy range of the
carronades "hove to" to windward. Lieutenant Bukett was ordered
to board her in the first cutter and take charge. I followed in
the second cutter, with orders to bring the captain on board with
his papers. A few strokes sent us alongside of a brig about our
tonnage, but with a low rail and a flush deck. The crew, some
eighteen or twenty fine-looking seamen, were forward eagerly
discussing the situation of affairs. The captain was aft with his
two officers, talking to Lieutenant Bukett. He was fair, with
light hair curling all over his head, beard cut short, about forty
years of age, well set up, with a frame like a Roman wrestler,
evidently a tough customer in a rough-and-ready scrimmage.

He spoke fairly good English, and was violently denouncing the
outrage done to his flag; his government would demand instant
satisfaction for firing upon a legitimate trader on the high seas.
I have the lieutenant Captain Thompson's orders, to bring the
captain and his papers on board at once. His harangue was cut
short by orders to get on board my boat. He swore with a terrible
oath that he would never leave his vessel. "Come on board, men,"
said I, and twenty of our crew were on deck in a jiffy. I
stationed my coxswain, Parker, at the cabin companion way with
orders to allow no one to pass. "Now," said Lieutenant Bukett to
the Spaniard, "I will take you on board in irons unless you go
quietly." He hesitated a moment, then said he would come as soon
as he had gone below to bring up his papers. "No, never mind your
papers; I will find them," said the lieutenant, for he saw the
devil in the Spaniard's eyes, and knew he meant mischief. Our
captive made one bound for the companion way, however, and seizing
Parker by the throat hurled him into the water ways as if he had
been a rag baby. But fortunately he slipped on a small grating
and fell on his knees, and before he could recover himself two of
our men threw themselves upon him.

I closed the companion way. The struggle was desperate for a few
minutes, for the Spaniard seemed possessed of the furies, and his
efforts were almost superhuman. Twice he threw the men from him
across the deck, but they were reinforced by Parker, who, smarting
under his discomfiture, rushed in, determined to down him. I was
anxious to end it with my pistol, but Lieutenant Bukett would not
consent. The Spaniard's officers and men made some demonstration
to assist, but they were quickly disposed of: his two mates were
put in irons and the crew driven forward. Struggling, fighting,
every limb and every muscle at work, the captain was overpowered;
a piece of the signal halyards brought his hands together, and
handcuffs were slipped on his wrists. Only then he succumbed, and
begged Lieutenant Bukett to blow out his brains, for he had been
treated like a pirate.

Without doubt if he had reached the cabin he would have blown up
the vessel, for in a locker over the transom were two open kegs of
powder. I led him to my boat, assisted him in, and returned to
the Porpoise. As soon as the Spaniard reached the deck the
captain ordered his irons removed, and expressed his regret that
it had been necessary to use force. The prisoner only bowed and
said nothing. The captain asked him what his cargo consisted of.
He replied, "About four hundred blacks bound to the Brazils."

I was then ordered to return to the brig, bring on board her crew,
leaving only the cook and steward, and to take charge of the prize
as Lieutenant Bukett, our first lieutenant, was not yet wholly
recovered from an attack of African fever. The crew of twenty
men, when brought on board, consisted of Spaniards, Greeks,
Malays, Arabs, white and black, but had not one Anglo-Saxon. They
were ironed in pairs and put under guard.

From the time we first got on board we had heard moans, cries, and
rumblings coming from below, and as soon as the captain and crew
were removed, the hatches had been taken off, when there arose a
hot blast as from a charnel house, sickening and overpowering. In
the hold were three or four hundred human beings, gasping,
struggling for breath, dying; their bodies, limbs, faces, all
expressing terrible suffering. In their agonizing fight for life,
some had torn or wounded themselves or their neighbors dreadfully;
some were stiffened in the most unnatural positions. As soon as I
knew the condition of things I sent the boat back for the doctor
and some whiskey. It returned bringing Captain Thompson, and for
an hour or more we were all hard at work lifting and helping the
poor creatures on deck, where they were laid out in rows. A
little water and stimulant revived most of them; some, however,
were dead or too far gone to be resuscitated. The doctor worked
earnestly over each one, but seventeen were beyond human skill.
As fast as he pronounced them dead they were quickly dropped
overboard.

Night closed in with our decks covered so thickly with the ebony
bodies that with difficulty we could move about; fortunately they
were as quiet as so many snakes. In the meantime the first
officer, Mr. Block, was sending up a new topgallant yard, reeving
new rigging, repairing the sails, and getting everything ataunto
aloft. The Kroomen were busy washing out and fumigating the hold,
getting ready for our cargo again. It would have been a very
anxious night, except that I felt relieved by the presence of the
brig which kept within hail. Soon after daybreak Captain Thompson
came on board again, and we made a count of the captives as they
were sent below; 188 men and boys, and 166 women and girls.
Seeing everything snug and in order the captain returned to the
brig, giving me final orders to proceed with all possible dispatch
to Monrovia, Liberia, land the negroes, then sail for Porto Praya,
Cape de Verde Islands, and report to the commodore. As the brig
hauled to the wind and stood to the southward and eastward I
dipped my colors, when her crew jumped into the rigging and gave
us three cheers, which we returned.

As she drew away from us I began to realize my position and
responsibility: a young midshipman, yet in my teens, commanding a
prize, with three hundred and fifty prisoners on board, two or
three weeks' sail from port, with only a small crew. From the
first I kept all hands aft except two men on the lookout, and the
weather was so warm that we could all sleep on deck. I also
ordered the men never to lay aside their pistols or cutlasses,
except when working aloft, but my chief reliance was in my
knowledge of the negro,--of his patient, docile disposition. Born
and bred a slave he never thought of any other condition, and he
accepted the situation without a murmur. I had never heard of
blacks rising or attempting to gain their freedom on board a
slaver.

My charges were all of a deep black; from fifteen to twenty-five
years of age, and, with a few exceptions, nude, unless copper or
brass rings on their ankles or necklaces of cowries can be
described as articles of dress. All were slashed, or had the
scars of branding on their foreheads and cheeks; these marks were
the distinguishing features of different tribes or families. The
men's hair had been cut short, and their heads looked in some
cases as if they had been shaven. The women, on the contrary,
wore their hair "a la pompadour;" the coarse kinky locks were
sometimes a foot or more above their heads, and trained square or
round like a boxwood bush. Their features were of the pronounced
African type, but, notwithstanding this disfigurement, were not
unpleasing in appearance. The figures of all were very good,
straight, well developed, some of the young men having bodies that
would have graced a Mercury or an Apollo. Their hands were small,
showing no evidences of work, only the cruel marks of shackles.
These in some cases had worn deep furrows on their wrists or
ankles.

They were obedient to all orders as far as they understood them,
and would, I believe, have jumped overboard if told to do so. I
forbade the men to treat them harshly or cruelly. I had the sick
separated from the others, and allowed them to remain on deck all
the time, and in this way I partly gained their confidence. I was
anxious to learn their story. Fortunately one of the Kroomen
found among the prisoners a native of a tribe living near the
coast, and with him as interpreter was able to make himself
understood. After a good deal of questioning I learned that most
of them were from a long distance in the interior, some having
been one and some two moons on the way, traveling partly by land
and partly by river until they reached the coast. They had been
sold by their kings or by their parents to the Arab trader for
firearms or for rum. Once at the depots near the coast, they were
sold by the Arabs or other traders to the slave captains for from
twenty-five to fifty dollars a head. In the Brazils or West
Indies they were worth from two to five hundred dollars. This
wide margin, of course, attracted unscrupulous and greedy
adventurers, who if they succeeded in running a few cargoes would
enrich themselves.

Our daily routine was simple. At six in the morning the rope
netting over the main hatch which admitted light and air was taken
off, and twenty-five of each sex were brought up, and seated in
two circles, one on each side of the deck. A large pan of boiled
paddy was then placed in the centre by the cook and all went to
work with their hands. A few minutes sufficed to dispose of every
grain; then one of the Kroomen gave each of them a cup of water
from a bucket. For half an hour after the meal they had the
liberty of the deck, except the poop, for exercise, to wash and to
sun themselves; for sunshine to a negro is meat and drink. At the
end of this time they were sent below and another fifty brought
up, and so on until all had been fed and watered. Paddy or rice
was the staple article of food. At dinner boiled yams were given
with the rice. Our passengers were quartered on a flying deck
extending from the foremast to a point twenty feet abaft the main
hatch from which came light and air. The height was about five
feet; the men had one side and the women the other. Of course
there was no furnishing of any kind, but all lay prone upon the
bare deck in rows.

Every morning after breakfast the Kroomen would rig the force
pump, screw on the hose and drench them all, washing out
thoroughly between decks. They appeared to enjoy this, and it was
cooling, for be it remembered we were close under the equator, the
thermometer dancing about 90 deg. As the water was sluiced over
them they would rub and scrub each other. Only the girls would
try not to get their hair wet, for they were at all times
particular about their headdress. It may be that this was the
only part of their toilet that gave them any concern.

The winds were baffling and light, so we made but slow progress.
Fortunately frequent rains, with sometimes a genuine tropical
downpour or cloud-burst, gave us an opportunity of replenishing
our water casks, and by spreading the awnings we were able to get
a good supply. I found on inspection that there were at least
thirty days' provisions on board, so on this score and that of
water I felt easy. I lived on deck, seldom using the cabin, which
was a veritable arsenal, with racks of muskets and cutlasses on
two sides, many more than the captain needed to arm his crew,
evidently intended for barter. Two or three prints of his
favorite saints, ornamented with sharks' teeth, hung on one
bulkhead. A well-thrummed mandolin and a number of French novels
proved him to be a musical and literary fellow, who could probably
play a bolero while making a troublesome slave walk a plank. I
found also some choice vintages from the Douro and Bordeaux snugly
stowed in his spirit locker, which proved good medicines for some
of our captives, who required stimulants. Several of the girls
were much reduced, refused nearly all food, and were only kept
alive by a little wine and water. Two finally died of mere
inanition. Their death did not in the least affect their fellows,
who appeared perfectly indifferent and callous to all their
surroundings, showing not the least sympathy or desire to help or
wait on one another.

The fifth day after parting from the brig we encountered a
tropical storm. The sun rose red and angry, and owing to the
great refraction appeared three times its natural size. It
climbed lazily to the zenith, and at noon we were shadowless. The
sky was as calm as a vault, and the surface of the water was like
burnished steel. The heat became so stifling that even the
Africans were gasping for breath, and we envied them their freedom
from all impediments. The least exertion was irksome, and
attended with extreme lassitude. During the afternoon thin cirri
clouds, flying very high, spread out over the western heavens like
a fan. As the day lengthened they thickened to resemble the
scales of a fish, bringing to mind the old saying, "A mackerel sky
and a mare's tail," etc. The signs were all unmistakable, and
even the gulls recognized a change, and, screaming, sought shelter
on our spars. Mr. Block was ordered to send down all the light
yards and sails; to take in and furl everything, using storm
gaskets, except on the fore and main storm staysails; to lash
everything on deck; to batten down the hatches, except one square
of the main; see all the shifting boards in place, so that our
living cargo would not be thrown to leeward higgledy-piggledy, and
to take four or five of the worst cases of the sick into the cabin
and lay them on the floor.

The sun disappeared behind a mountainous mass of leaden-colored
clouds which rose rapidly in the southern and western quarters.
To the eastward, also, the signs were threatening. Night came on
suddenly as it does in the tropics. Soon the darkness enveloped
us, a palpable veil. A noise like the march of a mighty host was
heard, which proved to be the approach of a tropical flood,
heralded by drops as large as marbles. It churned the still
waters into a phosphorescent foam which rendered the darkness only
more oppressive. The rain came down as it can come only in the
Bight of Benin. The avalanche cooled us, reducing the temperature
ten or fifteen degrees, giving us new life, and relieving our
fevered blood. I told Mr. Block to throw back the tarpaulin over
the main hatch and let our dusky friends get some benefit of it.
In half an hour the rain ceased, but it was as calm and ominous as
ever.

I knew this was but the forerunner of something worse to follow,
and we had not long to wait, for suddenly a blinding flash of
lightning darted through the gloom from east to west, followed by
one in the opposite direction. Without intermission, one blaze
after another and thunder crashing until our eyes were blinded and
our ears deafened, a thousand times ten thousand pieces of
artillery thundered away. We seemed utterly helpless and
insignificant. "How wonderful are Thy works," came to my mind.
Still no wind; the brig lay helpless.

Suddenly, as a slap in the face, the wind struck us,--on the
starboard quarter, fortunately. "Hard-a-starboard." "Hanl aft
port fore staysail sheet," I called. But before she could gather
way she was thrown down by the wind like a reed. She was "coming
to" instead of "going off," and I tried to get the main storm
staysail down but could not make myself heard. She was lying on
her broadside. Luckily the water was smooth as yet. The main
staysail shot out of the boltropes with a report like a twelve-
pounder, and this eased her so that if the fore staysail would
only hold she would go off. For a few minutes all we could do was
to hold on, our lee rail in the water; but the plucky little brig
rallied a little, her head went off inch by inch, and as she
gathered way she righted, and catching the wind on our quarter we
were off like a shot out of a gun. I knew we were too near the
vortex of the disturbance for the wind to hang long in one
quarter, so watched anxiously for a change. The sea rose rapidly
while we were running to the northward on her course, and after a
lull of a few minutes the wind opened from the eastward, butt end
foremost, a change of eight points. Nothing was to be done but
heave to, and this in a cross sea where pitch, weather roll, lee
lurch, followed one another in such earnest that it was a wonder
her masts were not switched out of her.

I passed an anxious night, most concerned about the poor creatures
under hatches, whose sufferings must have been terrible. To
prevent their suffocating I kept two men at the main hatch with
orders to lift one corner of the tarpaulin whenever possible, even
if some water did go below. Toward morning the wind and the sea
went down rapidly, and as the sun rose it chased the clouds off,
giving us the promise of a fine day. When the cook brought me a
cup of coffee, I do not know that I ever enjoyed anything more.
Hatches off, I jumped down into the hold to look after my
prisoners. Battered and bruised they lay around in heaps. Only
the shifting boards had kept them from being beaten into an
indistinguishable mass. As fast as possible they were sent on
deck, and the sun's rays, with a few buckets of water that were
thrown over them, accomplished wonders in bringing them to life
and starting them to care for their sore limbs and bruises.

One boy, when I motioned for him to go on deck, pointed quietly to
his leg, and upon examination I found a fracture just above the
knee. Swelling had already commenced. I had seen limbs set, and
had some rough idea how it should be done. So while getting some
splints of keg staves and bandages ready, I kept a stream of water
pouring on the fracture, and then ordered two men to pull the limb
in place, and it took all their strength. That done I put on the
splints and wrapped the bandages tightly. Three weeks later I
landed him in a fair way of recovery.

Gradually I allowed a larger number of the blacks to remain on
deck, a privilege which they greatly enjoyed. To lie basking in
the sun like saurians, half sleeping, half waking, appeared to
satisfy all their wishes. They were perfectly docile and
obedient, and not by word, gesture, or look did they express any
dissatisfaction with orders given them. But again for any little
acts of kindness they expressed no kind of appreciation or
gratitude. Physically they were men and women, but otherwise as
far removed from the Anglo-Saxon as the oyster from the baboon, or
the mole from the horse.

On the fourteenth day from parting with the brig we made the palms
on Cape Mesurado, the entrance to Monrovia Harbor. A light sea
breath wafted us to the anchorage, a mile from the town, and when
the anchor dropped from the bows and the chain ran through the
hawse pipe, it was sweet music to my ears; for the strain had been
great, and I felt years older than when I parted from my
messmates. A great responsibility seemed lifted from my
shoulders, and I enjoyed a long and refreshing sleep for the first
time in a fortnight. At nine the next morning I went on shore and
reported to the authorities, the officials of Liberia, of which
Monrovia is the capital.

This part of the African coast had been selected by the United
States government as the home of emancipated slaves; for prior to
the abolition excitement which culminated in the war, numbers of
slaves in the South had been manumitted by their masters with the
understanding that they should be deported to Liberia, and the
Colonization Society, an influential body, comprising some of the
leading men, like Madison, Webster, and Clay, had assisted in the
same work. The passages of the negroes were paid; each family was
given a tract of land and sufficient means to build a house.
Several thousand had been sent out, most of whom had settled at
Monrovia, and a few at other places on the coast. They had made
no impression on the natives. On the contrary, many of them had
intermarried with the natives, and the off-spring of these unions
had lost the use of the English tongue, and had even gone back to
the life and customs of their ancestors, sans clothing, sans
habitations, and worship of a fetich.

Of course there were some notable exceptions, especially President
Roberts, who proved himself a safe and prudent ruler, taking into
consideration his surroundings and the material with which he had
to work. The form of government was modeled after that of the
United States, but it was top-heavy. Honorables, colonels, and
judges were thicker than in Georgia. Only privates were scarce;
for nothing delights a negro more than a little show or a gaudy
uniform. On landing I was met by a dark mulatto, dressed in a
straw hat, blue tail coat, silver epaulettes, linen trousers, with
bare feet, and a heavy cavalry sabre hanging by his side. With
him were three or four others in the same rig, except the
epaulettes. He introduced himself as Colonel Harrison, chief of
police. I asked to be directed to the custom house.

The collector proved to be an old negro from Raleigh, N. C., gray
as a badger, spectacled, with manners of Lord Grandison and
language of Mrs. Malaprop. I reported my arrival, and asked
permission to land my cargo as soon as possible. He replied that
in a matter of so much importance, devolving questions of
momentous interest, it would be obligatory on him to consult the
Secretary of the Treasury. I said I trusted he would so
facilitate affairs that I might at an early hour disembarrass
myself of my involuntary prisoners. I returned on board, and the
day passed without any answer. The next morning I determined to
go at once to headquarters and find out the cause of the delay by
calling on the President.

He received me without any formality. I made my case as strong as
possible, and pressed for an immediate answer. In reply he
assured me he would consult with other members of his cabinet, and
give me a final answer the next morning. That evening I dined
with him en famille, and recognized some old Virginia dishes on
the table. The next morning I waited impatiently for his
decision, having made up my mind however, if it was unfavorable,
to land my poor captives, be the consequences what they might.

About eleven o'clock a boat came off with an officer in full
uniform, who introduced himself as Colonel Royal, bearer of
dispatches from his Excellency the President. He handed me a
letter couched in diplomatic language, as long as some of his
brother presidents' messages on this side of the Atlantic. I had
hardly patience to read it. The gist of it was, I might not land
the captives at Monrovia, but might land them at Grand Bassa,
about a hundred and fifty miles to the eastward; that Colonel
Royal would accompany me with orders to the governor there to
receive them. This was something I had not anticipated, and
outside of my instructions. However, I thought it best to comply
with the wishes of the government of our only colony.

Getting under way we stood to the southward and eastward, taking
advantage of the light land and sea breeze, keeping the coast
close aboard. The colonel had come on board without any
impediments, and I wondered if he intended to make the voyage in
his cocked hat, epaulettes, sword, etc. But soon after we had
started he disappeared and emerged from the cabin bareheaded,
barefooted, and without clothing except a blue dungaree shirt and
trousers. Like a provident negro, having stowed away all his
trappings, he appeared as a roustabout on a Western steamer. But
he had not laid aside with his toggery any of his important and
consequential airs. He ran foul of Mr. Block, who called him Mr.
Cuffy, and ordered him to give him a pull with the main sheet.
The colonel complained to me that he was not addressed by his name
or title, and that he was not treated as a representative of his
government should be. I reprimanded Mr. Block, and told him to
give the visitor all his title. "All right, sir, but the colonel
must keep off the weather side of the deck," growled the officer.
The cook, the crew, and even the Kroomen, all took their cue from
the first officer, and the colonel's lot was made most unhappy.

On the third day we reached Grand Bassa, and anchored off the
beach about two miles, along which the surf was breaking so high
that any attempt to land would be hazardous. Toward evening it
moderated, and a canoe with three naked natives came off. One I
found could speak a little English. I told him to say to the
governor that I would come on shore in the morning and see him,
and land my cargo at the same time.

The next morning at sunrise we were boarded by a party of natives
headed by one wearing a black hat half covered with a tarnished
silver band, an old navy frock coat, much too small, between the
buttons of which his well-oiled skin showed clearly. A pair of
blue flannel trousers completed his outfit. An interpreter
introduced him as King George of Grand Bassa. With him were about
a dozen followers, each one wearing a different sort of garment--
and seldom more than a single one--representing old uniforms of
many countries. Two coats I noticed were buttoned up the back.

The king began by saying that he was and always had been a friend
of the Americans; that he was a big man, had plenty of men and
five wives, etc. While he was speaking, a white-bearded old
colored gentleman came over the gangway, dressed in a linen
roundabout and trousers, with a wide-brimmed straw hat. At the
same time Colonel Royal came up from the cabin in grande tenue and
introduced us to the Hon. Mr. Marshall, governor of Bassa,
formerly of Kentucky.

In a few minutes he explained the situation. With a few settlers
he was located at this place, on the frontier of the colony, and
they were there on sufferance only from the natives. I told him
Colonel Royal would explain my mission to him and the king. The
colonel, bowing low to the king, the governor, and myself, and
bringing his sword down with a thud on the deck, drew from between
the bursting buttons of his coat the formidable document I had
seen at Monrovia, and with most impressive voice and gesture
commenced to read it. The king listened for a few minutes, and
then interrupted him. I asked the interpreter what he said. He
replied, "King say he fool nigger; if he comes on shore he give
him to Voodoo women." Then turning his back he walked forward.
The colonel dropped his paper, and drawing his sword, in the most
dramatic manner claimed protection in the name of the government,
declaring that he had been insulted. I told him to keep cool,
since he was certainly safe as long as he was on board my ship.
He grumbled and muttered terrible things, but subsided gradually
like the departing thunder of a summer storm.

I arranged the landing of the passengers with Governor Marshall,
whom I found a sensible, clear-headed old man, ready to cooperate
in every way. But he suggested that I had better consult the king
before doing anything. I did so, and he at once said they could
not land. I told the interpreter to say they would be landed at
once and put under the protection of the governor; that if the
king or his people hurt them or ran them off I would report it to
our commodore, who would certainly punish him severely. Finding
me determined, he began to temporize, and asked that the landing
be put off until the next day, that he might consult with his head
people, for if I sent them on shore before he had done so they
would kill them. "If that is the case," I replied, "I will hold
you on board as a hostage for their good behavior." This threat
surprised him, and he changed his tactics. After a little powwow
with some of his followers, he said that if I would give him fifty
muskets, twenty pounds of powder, the colonel's sword, and some
red cloth for his wives, I might land them. I replied that I had
not a musket to spare nor an ounce of powder, that the colonel was
a high officer of his government, and that he of course would not
give up his uniform. Fortunately the colonel had retired to the
cabin and did not hear this modest demand, or he would have been
as much outraged as if his sable Majesty had asked for him to be
served "roti a l'Ashantee." However, I told the king I would send
his wives some cloth and buttons. He grunted his approval but
returned again to the charge, and asked that he might choose a few
of the captives for his own use, before landing. "Certainly not,"
I answered, "neither on board nor on shore," and added that he
would be held accountable for their good treatment as free men and
women. He left thoroughly disappointed and bent on mischief.

In the meantime Mr. Block had made all preparations for landing,
and had the boats lowered and ranged alongside, with sufficient
rice to last the blacks a week or ten days. The men and boys were
sent first. When they were called up from the hold and ordered
into the boats not one of them moved. They evidently divined what
had been going on and dreaded leaving the vessel, though our
Kroomen tried to explain that they would be safe and free on
shore. The explanation was without effect, however, and they
refused to move. The could only understand that they were
changing masters, and they preferred the present ones. Sending
three or four men down, I told them to pass up the negroes one at
a time. Only a passive resistance was offered, such as one often
sees exhibited by cattle being loaded on the cars or on a steamer,
and were silent, not uttering a word of complaint. By noon the
men were all on shore, and then we began with the girls. They
were more demonstrative than the men, and by their looks and
gestures begged not to be taken out of the vessel. I was much
moved, for it was a painful duty, and I had become interested in
these beings, so utterly helpless, so childlike in their
dependence on those around them. And I could not help thinking
what their fate would be, thrown upon the shore hundreds of miles
from their homes, and among a people strange to them in language.

Even Mr. Block was deeply stirred. "He had not shipped," he said,
"for such work." I went to my cabin and left him in charge. In
the course of an hour he reported, "All ashore, sir." I told him
to have the gig manned and I would go on shore with Colonel Royal,
and get a receipt from Governor Marshall for my late cargo. The
colonel declined to accompany me, alleging sickness and requesting
me to get the necessary papers signed. No doubt he felt safer on
board than within reach of King George.

We landed through the surf on a sandy beach, on which the waves of
the Atlantic were fretting. Near by was a thick grove of cocoanut
trees, under which in groups of four and five were those who had
just been landed. They were seated on the ground, their heads
resting on their knees, in a position of utter abnegation,
surrounded by three or four hundred chattering savages of all
ages, headed by the king. With the exception of him and a few of
his head men, the clothing of the company would not have covered a
rag baby. They were no doubt discussing the appearance of the
strangers and making their selections.

I found the governor's house and the houses of the few settlers
some distance back on a slight elevation. The governor was
comfortably, though plainly situated, with a large family around
him. He gave me a receipt for the number of blacks landed, but
said it would be impossible for him to prevent the natives from
taking and enslaving them. I agreed with him, and said he must
repeat to the king what I had told him. Then bidding him good-by
I returned on board, sad and weary as one often feels after being
relieved of a great burden. At the same time I wondered whether
the fate of these people would have been any worse if the captain
of the slaver had succeeded in landing them in the Brazils or the
West Indies. Sierra Leone being a crown colony, the English could
land all their captives there and provide for them until they were
able to work for themselves. In this respect they had a great
advantage over us.

Getting under way, I proceeded to Monrovia to land Colonel Royal,
and then to Porto Praya, our squadron's headquarters. There I
found Commodore Gregory in the flagship corvette Portsmouth, and
reported to him. Soon after the Porpoise came in, and I joined my
old craft, giving up my command of the captured slaver rather
reluctantly.





Next: MR. CHARLES W. CHESNUTT'S STORIES

Previous: A NEGRO SCHOOLMASTER IN THE NEW SOUTH



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