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    The Secretary of the Navy orders a U.S. Naval squadron to "exert yourself with the utmost activity and energy in the fulfillment of your orders for the suppression of the Slave trade"

    Illegal American Slave Trade: Collection of Four Official Letters, all dated 1849 and 1850 and totaling seven manuscript pages regarding U.S. involvement in the suppression of the illegal slave trade occurring in the South Atlantic. Including three letters (true copies) from British diplomats in Brazil accusing the U.S. of relaxing their efforts to suppress the illegal trading occurring on ships flying the American flag off the coast of Brazil. (One of those letters includes a list of American ships that took part in the illegal slave trade in the South Atlantic.) In response, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy instructs the commander of the U.S. Naval squadron in the South Atlantic in an April 1850 letter (included in this collection) to renew his policing efforts of illegal slaving activity.

    On April 15, 1850, U.S. Secretary of the Navy William Ballard Preston sent the included three true copies of letters from British diplomats to U.S. Commander George W. Storer ("Commg. U.S. Squadron, Coast of Brazil"). Preston included his own transmittal letter (included in this collection and signed by him; one page, 8.25" x 13.25", "U.S. Navy Department") in which he introduces the accusations of the British diplomats to Storer. He also reiterates the instructions that Storer's squadron actively police for illegal slave trading. Preston's letter reads in part, "Transmitted herewith, for your information, are copies of two notes . . . by the British Minister relative to alleged traffic in slaves in United States vessels between the Coast of Africa and Brazil. You will be pleased to exert yourself with the utmost activity and energy in the fulfillment of your orders for the suppression of the slave trade."

    The three true copies that Preston included with his transmittal letter to Storer include the following:

    (1) A letter written by James Hudson and dated November 13, 1849, from Rio de Janeiro. Hudson, the British charge d'affaires in Brazil, reports to "My Lord [Palmerston]" that because of the earlier increased activity by the U.S. Navy to suppress the Brazilian coast slave trade - referring to increased policing activity by Storer's squadron in early 1849 -- traders had increasingly used French vessels rather than American vessels. But now (November 1849), since the U.S. Navy had begun to relax their policing efforts, "United States vessels are again in full employment by the Slave dealers . . . and are preferred by them to French Ships." Likely Palmerston or Hudson prompted another British diplomat in Rio de Janeiro, Henry L. Bulwer, to send the next two letters (which are included in this collection as true copies sent to Storer) to U.S. Secretary of State John M. Clayton.

    (2) A letter written by Bulwer ("British Legation") to State Secretary Clayton and dated March 24, 1850. Bulwer forwards the above copy of Hudson's letter to Clayton and emphasizes the accusation that the "authorities of the United States in Brazil had not continued to exert the same degree of vigilance as before, and that United States vessels were consequently again much employed by the Slave traders of Brazil." Bulwer continues, "I have been instructed to urge the United States Government to issue instructions to their Diplomatic and Naval Officers in Brazil and its waters to renew that system of repression which, while it lasted, was so successful."

    (3) The final letter by Bulwer to Clayton (also dated March 24, 1850) transmits "a list of United States vessels which cleared at the Custom House at Rio for Ports on the American continent, during the month of August, September, and October last, but are understood to have proceeded to the Coast of Africa for Slaves." The list includes seven ships (the Rio de Zaldo, Hannibal, Imogene, Snow, Casco, Rival, and the Overman).

    Even though the U.S. banned the importation of slaves in 1808, many American slave traders continued their business in the South Atlantic, bringing slaves from Africa to Brazil. Brazil banned slave imports in 1831, but a profitable illegal slave trade continued there with little enforcement by the Brazilian government. In the two years before these letters were written, it is estimated that nearly 60,000 Africans were brought to Brazil in 1847, with the same amount brought in 1848. The following year of 1849 shows a slight decrease to 50,000, likely as a result of the renewed efforts by the U.S. Navy mentioned by the British diplomats in the above letters. As exemplified in these letters, Great Britain, who had to prod the U.S. throughout the 1840s and 1850s for help, led the fight to curtail the illegal trade in the South Atlantic. That trade finally ended in the 1860s.

    George Washington Storer (1789-1864) served a long career - nearly fifty-five years - in the U.S. Navy. In 1848, Storer was placed in command of the U.S. naval forces off the coast of Brazil. He served there until 1854, when he was assigned as governor of the U.S. Naval Asylum in Philadelphia.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2010
    8th-9th Tuesday-Wednesday
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