In 1844 the USS Yorktown sailed from New York, as part of the U.S. Navy's newly established African Squadron, to interdict slave ships leaving the African coast. Aboard the sloop of war, Master's Mate John C. Lawrence, an educated New Yorker in his early twenties, kept a private journal describing what happened during the extraordinary two-year voyage and his reactions to the events he witnessed. His frank and vivid observations take the reader into a world known to few. Through Lawrence's eyes we see the men of the Yorktown in action and encounter many other nineteenth-century figures either engaged in or attempting to combat the slave trade. Among the cast of characters are an infamous slave ship captain, an abolitionist slave-owning minister, the Yorktown's admirable skipper, Liberian colonists, and native Africans. In a final entry we bear witness to Lawrence's nearly overwhelming confrontation with the horrors of slavery as he records his experiences aboard the captured slaver Pons on the way to Liberia with more than nine hundred slaves.
In addition to Lawrence's never-before published journal, this book includes material that narrates parts of the slavery story Lawrence could not tell. C. Herbert Gilliland sets the journal in historical context to give readers a full understanding of events as they unfolded in the mid-1840s. Although there have been many books written on the slave trade and many others on life in the antebellum Navy, no other book has succeeded so well at bringing to life the issues of America's role in the Middle Passage while exposing the thoughts of a nineteenth-century naval officer.