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African Slave Trade Patrol
1820-1861

Long illegal, the infamous slave trade was declared by Congress in 1819 to be piracy, and as such, punishable by death. The Navy's African Slave Trade Patrol was established to search for and bring to justice the dealers in human misery. Never exceeding a few ships in number, the Patrol, which from time to time included the USS Constitution, USS Constellation, USS Saratoga and USS Yorktown, relentlessly plied the waters off West Africa, South America, and the Cuban coast, a principle area for slave disembarkation.

In 1819, Congress passed an "Act in addition to the acts prohibiting the Slave Trade." This act authorized the president to send a naval squadron to African waters to apprehend illegal slave traders and appropriated $100,000 to resettle recaptured slaves in Africa. At various times, the ACS entered into agreements with the U.S. government to settle these rescued victims of the slave trade in Liberia. By 1867, more than 5,700 people had come to Liberia under this program.

In order to suppress the African slave trade more effectively, the United States and Great Britain agreed to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842. This treaty provided that the United States would keep ships along the western coast of Africa to operate with British vessels against the slave traders.

From 1843 until the outbreak of the Civil War, the United States provided an African Squadron for such duty as well as other vessels off the waters of Brazil and Cuba for the same purpose.

Perry's policy was one of supporting Liberia, which had been founded some two decades before on the African "Grain Coast" as a haven for freed negroes from the United States. The new colony was deeply resented by the local, coastal tribes which had acted as slave trade's middlemen, buying slaves from their bushmen captors and selling them to masters of slave ships. Missing their former profits from the now outlawed commerce in "black ivory," these natives gave vent to their anger by harassing, threatening, and sometimes attacking the black colonists from America. From time to time, they also preyed upon American merchant shipping.

Perry's problem was one of reconciling the conflicting demands of protecting American interests on the African coast, of remaining aloof from African internal affairs, and encouraging the colonists in Liberia. The Commodore's prudence, firmness, fairness, and tact in reconciling these conflicting objectives was illustrated by his handling of two incidents soon after the squadron returned to Liberia in the early autumn. Reports greeted him upon arrival that the hostile tribes had been making trouble for the colonists in the colony of Sinoe and had killed two sailors from American schooner, Edward Burley.

By the start of the Civil War more than 100 suspected slavers had been captured.

The last landing from the squadron took place in 1860, when Marines and sailors from the sloop Marion went ashore to guard American lives and property on the west coast of Africa.



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