In late May 1860, the American schooner Clotilde sailed from Whydah, on the West African coast (present-day Ouidah in southern Benin), for Mobile, Alabama. She was in a great hurry, having loaded perhaps 116 of what, had her departure been less hasty, might have been as many as 160 slaves, erstwhile captives of the King of Dahomey. For more than two centuries Dahomey’s kings had enjoyed a rich business—and would for a decade or so longer—selling their fellow Africans to all comers.
The pudgy Clotilde, 86 feet long and 23 feet abeam, under two masts and with a crew of 12, was commanded by Captain William Foster. Her owner was prominent Mobile businessman Timothy Meaher, whose gamble was he could smuggle Africans into the country past customs inspectors and in flagrant violation of long-standing U.S. law.
lan R. Booth, “The United States Africa Squadron 1843–1861,” Boston University Papers in African History, vol. 1, Jeffrey Butler, ed. (Boston: Boston University Press, 1964).
David Eltis and David Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010).
House of Representatives, 53D Cong., 3d Sess., Mis. Doc. no. 58, ser. 1, vol. 50, xv–xvi, 11–14, 24.
Norman A. Howerton, “The U.S. Schooner Shark,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 40, no. 3 (September 1939), 288–91.
Zora Neale Hurston, Baracoon: the Story of the Last Black Cargo (New York: Amistad, 2018).
Ward M. McAfee, ed., Don F. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Letters Sent to Naval Officers, and Letters Received from Commanders, Entries 6 and 520, RG 45, Collections of the Office of Naval Records Library, National Archives and Records Administration (hereafter NARA).
Log Books of U.S. Ships and Stations, Entry 118, RG 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, NARA.