African Slave Trade Patrol

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African Slave Trade Patrol
Part of the suppression of the Slave Trade

USS Perry confronting the slaver Martha off Ambiz in 1850.
Result in 42 years about 100 suspected slave ships were captured
 United States African slave traders
Commanders and leaders
Matthew C. Perry
George W. Storer
William Compton Bolton
George H. Perkins
Andrew Hull Foote
Thomas Crabbe
Daniel Dobbins
Jozé Antonio de la Vega
Francis Bowen

African Slave Trade Patrol was part of the Blockade of Africa suppressing the Atlantic slave trade between 1819 and the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861. Due to the abolitionist movement in the United States, a squadron of U.S. Navy warships and Cutters were assigned to catch slave traders in and around Africa. In 42 years about 100 suspected slave ships were captured.[1][2]



The first American squadron was sent to Africa in 1819, but after the ships were rotated out there was no constant American naval presence off Africa until the 1840s. In the two decades between, very few slave ships were captured as there were not enough United States Navy ships to patrol over 3,000 miles of African coastline, as well as the vast American coasts and the ocean in between. Also, the slavers knew that if they hoisted a Spanish or Portuguese flag they could easily escape pursuit. Congress made it difficult for the navy to keep a small force in Africa until 1842 when the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with the United Kingdom was signed. Commodore Matthew C. Perry was sent to command the Africa Squadron again after serving as the commander in 1821 aboard USS Shark. His arrival marked the beginning of America's growing effectiveness in the suppression though the overall victories were insignificant compared to the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron in the same period. The British captured hundreds of slave ships and fought several naval battles; their success was largely due to the superior size of their navy and supply bases located in Africa itself. The combined efforts of both the British and the United States successfully freed thousands of slaves but the trade continued on and the operation was expanded to the West Indies, Brazil and the Indian Ocean. The Brazil Squadron, the West Indies Squadron, the East India Squadron and the later Home Squadron were all responsible for capturing at least a few slavers each.[3][2]

Revenue Cutter Service Patrols[edit]

On 1 January 1808, a law making the slave trade from Africa illegal went into effect. Revenue cutters were charged with enforcing this law. On 29 June 1820, the Dallas captured the 10-gun brig General Ramirez carrying 280 African slaves off of St. Augustine, Florida. On 25 March, the Alabama captured three slave ships. By 1865, revenue cutters had captured numerous slavers and freed nearly 500 slaves.

Capture of Spitfire[edit]

On 13 June 1844, the brig USS Truxtun was placed back in commission with Commander Henry Bruce in charge. Two weeks later, she sailed down the Delaware River and passed between the capes and into the Atlantic. After visiting Funchal, Madeira, the ship joined the African Station off Tenerife in the Canary Islands. For the next sixteen months, Truxtun patrolled off West Africa, visiting Monrovia, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where slaves were freed. Truxtun also sailed to Maio islands of Santiago, and São Vicente. The Americans captured only one slaver on their cruise in 1845, the New Orleans schooner named Spitfire. The vessel was caught on the Rio Pongo in Guinea and was taken without incident. Though she was only about 100 tons, she carried 346 slaves. The Americans also discovered that she had landed 339 slaves near Matanzas, in Cuba, the year before. Commander Bruce reported that "between her decks, where the slaves were packed, there was not room enough for a man to sit, unless inclining his head forward; their food was half a pint of rice per day, with one pint of water. No one can imagine the sufferings of slaves on their passage across, unless the conveyances in which they are taken are examined. A good hearty negroe costs but twenty dollars, or thereabouts, and brings from three to four hundred dollars in Cuba." The capture of Spitfire gave the American Navy the incentive to increase the strength of the Africa Squadron. The ship was also fitted out and used in anti-slavery operations. On October 30, 1845, Truxtun weighed anchor at Monrovia, and she headed west towards Gosport Navy Yard, which she reached on November 23. She was then decommissioned on November 28.[4]

Capture of Ann D. Richardson and Independence[edit]

The brig USS Perry served in the South Atlantic with the Brazil Squadron beginning in 1847. Perry got under way from Philadelphia on May 16, 1847, with specific orders to patrol between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lieutenant John A. Davis was informed that suspected slavers in the American barque Ann D. Richardson were bound for the coast of Africa under false papers. Perry then seized the ship off Rio de Janeiro on December 16. Two days later, she also seized the American brig Independence. Investigation proved that both ships had been engaged in the slave trade, and both were sent to New York City as prizes. The captain of Independence was outraged about his arrest and even petitioned Commodore George W. Storer, but to no avail. USS Perry returned to Norfolk on July 10, 1849, and was decommissioned there four days later. She later served in Africa again, but only for a short while, after which she sailed back to New York.[2][3]

Capture of Martha[edit]

One of the Americans' more significant victories in the operation was the capture of the slave ship Martha. On June 6 of 1850, Perry, under Lieutenant Davis, discovered the large rigged ship Martha off Ambriz while she was standing in to shore. Soon after, as Perry came within gun range, Lieutenant Davis and his men witnessed some of Martha's crew throwing a desk over the side while raising the American flag. The slavers apparently did not realize that the brig was a United States Navy vessel until an officer and a few enlisted men were dispatched, at which time they lowered the American ensign and raised a Brazilian flag. When the officer reached Martha's deck, the captain denied having any papers, so a boat was sent after the desk, which was still floating, and all the necessary evidence was recovered. After that the slave trader admitted to Davis that he was a United States citizen and his ship was equipped for blackbirding. A hidden deck was found below with a large amount of farina and beans, over 400 wooden spoons, and metal devices used to restrain slaves. It was also learned that the captain of Martha was expecting a shipment of 1,800 Africans when Perry appeared. Martha was sent with a prize crew to New York City where she was condemned. The slaver captain paid 3,000 dollars to escape prison.[5]

Capture of Nightingale of Boston[edit]

"Nightingale", a 1913 picture.

The 1,066 ton clipper ship USS Nightingale originally sailed as part of the American merchant fleet as Nightengale of Boston[citation needed] in China, before trade in that region became unprofitable during the 1850s. She then became a known slave ship until being seized at St. Thomas on January 14, 1861, by the sloop-of-war USS Saratoga. Saratoga's Captain later described the slaver;

"For some time the American ship Nightingale of Boston, Francis Bowen, master, has been watched on this coast under the suspicion of being engaged in the slave trade. Several times we have fallen in with her and although fully assured that she was about to engage in this illicit trade she has had the benefit of the doubt. A few days ago observing her at Kabenda, I came in and boarded her and was then induced to believe she was then preparing to receive slaves. Under this impression the ship was got under way and went some distance away but with the intention of returning under cover of the night; which was done and at 10 P.M. we anchored and sent two boats under Lieut. Guthrie to surprise her and it was found that she had 961 slaves on board and was expecting more. Lieut. Guthrie took possession of her as a prize and I have directed him to take her to New York. She is a clipper of 1,000 tons and has Nightingale of Boston on her stern and flies American colors."

The slaves were freed and landed at Monrovia in Liberia but not before 160 of them died from African fever aboard Saratoga. The sickness also spread to the crew. The Captain, who was called the "Prince of Slavers",[citation needed] and his Spanish second mate escaped Nightingale while she was anchored of St. Thomas. Lieutenant John J. Guthrie, who was from North Carolina, then a slave state, was suspected of freeing the two and letting them escape justice. The clipper eventually served in the American Civil War as the storeship USS Nightingale in the Gulf Blockading Squadron. Ultimately, she was abandoned at sea in 1893, while under a Norwegian flag.[6]

End of operations[edit]

The African Slave Patrol campaign streamer.

United States Navy operations against the slave trade largely ceased in 1861 with the outbreak of the American Civil War. Navy vessels were recalled from all over the world and reassigned to the Union blockade of southern ports.

By the end of the Civil War, the African slave trade on the Atlantic had diminished further, though overland slave trading continued into the 1900s, primarily in North Africa and Central Africa. U.S. Navy officers who served in Africa between 1820 and 1861 received the "African Slave Patrol" campaign streamer.[2][3][7][8]

Vessels seized[edit]

USS Constellation docked in Baltimore Harbor. Constellation captured three slave ships during her operations in Africa.

Africa Squadron[edit]

Vessel Captor Date Location
Uncas Porpoise 1 March 1844 Gallinas
Spitfire Truxtun 24 March 1845 Pongas R.
Patuxent Yorktown 27 September 1845 Cape Mount
Pons Yorktown 30 September 1845 Kabenda
Merchant Jamestown 3 December 1845 Sierra Leone
Panther Yorktown 15 December 1845 Kabenda
Robert Wilson Jamestown 15 January 1846 Porto Praya
Malaga Boxer 13 April 1846 Kabenda
Casket Marion 2 August 1846 Kabenda
Chancellor Dolphin 10 April 1847 Cape Palmas
Excellent John Adams 23 April 1850 Ambriz
Martha Perry 6 June 1850 Ambriz
Chatsworth Perry 11 September 1850 Ambriz
Advance Germantown 3 November 1852 Porto Praya
R.P. Brown Germantown 23 January 1853 Porto Praya
H.N. Gambrill Constitution 3 November 1853 Kongo
Glamorgan Perry 10 March 1854 Kongo
W.G. Lewis Dale 6 November 1857 Kongo
Brothers Marion 8 September 1858 Mayumba
Julia Dean Vincennes 28 December 1858 Cape Coast Castle
Orion Marion 21 April 1859 Kongo
Ardennes Marion 27 April 1859 Kongo
Emily Portsmouth 21 September 1859 Loango
Delicia Constellation 21 September 1859 Kabenda
Virginian Portsmouth 6 February 1860 Kongo
Falmouth Portsmouth 6 May 1860 Porto Praya
Thomas Achorn Mystic 29 June 1860 Kabenda
Triton Mystic 16 July 1860 Loango
Erie Mohican 8 August 1860 Kongo
Storm King San Jacinto 8 August 1860 Kongo
Cora Constellation 26 September 1860 Kongo
Bonito San Jacinto 10 October 1860 Kongo
Express Saratoga 25 February 1861 Possibly Loango
Nightingale Saratoga 21 April 1861 Kabenda
Triton Constellation 20 May 1861 Kongo
Falmouth Sumpter 14 June 1862 Kongo

Brazil Squadron[edit]

Vessel Captor Date Location
Porpoise Raritan 23 January 1845 Rio de Janeiro
Albert Bainbridge June 1845 Bahia
Laurens Onkahye 23 January 1848 Rio de Janeiro
A.D. Richardson Perry 11 December 1848 Rio de Janeiro
Independence Perry 13 December 1848 Rio de Janeiro
Susan Perry 6 February 1849 Rio de Janeiro

Home Squadron[edit]

Vessel Captor Date Location
Putnam Dolphin 21 August 1858 Cuba
Cygnet Mohawk 18 November 1859 Cuba
Wildfire Mohawk 26 April 1860 Cuba
William Wyandotte 9 May 1860 Cuba
Bogota Crusader 23 May 1860 Cuba
W.R. Kibby Crusader 23 July 1860 Cuba
Joven Antonio Crusader 14 August 1860 Cuba
Toccoa Mohawk 20 December 1860 Havana
Mary J. Kimball Mohawk 21 December 1860 Havana


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "African Slave Trade Patrol | Battle Streamers". Naval History and Heritage Command. 2017. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  2. ^ a b c d Heritage Auctions, Inc, pg. 34–36.
  3. ^ a b c Dow, pg. 270–276.
  4. ^ Dow, pg. 272.
  5. ^ Dow, pg. 273–274.
  6. ^ Dow, pg. 274–276.
  7. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2001-11-18. Retrieved 2001-11-18.
  8. ^ "Current Award, Campaign, Service, and Expeditionary Streamer Entitlement, to the Battle Colors of the Marine Corps". Archived from the original on 2011-05-16. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
  9. ^ Canney, pg. 233–234.