Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

Baltimore's African Experiment, 1822-1827

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

Baltimore's African Experiment, 1822-1827

Article excerpt

Seldom in the histories of the African slave trade, of emigration schemes to transport and relocate former slaves upon Africa's coast, or of American commercial expansion in Africa did American and African components come as closely or interestingly into contact in North America as they did in Baltimore between 1822 and 1827. In 1820 and 1821, the American Colonization Society and its state-focused affiliate auxiliary societies had founded settlements for freed African-Americans on Africa's grain coast. Baltimore-based merchants and philanthropists cooperated with the national and state-based societies in this initial phase, but for a few years between 1823 and 1827, Baltimoreans considered establishing for themselves an exclusive settlement and commercial venture with a group of American merchants or merchants of African or mixed American-British-Portuguese-African descent already active along Africa's coast. These particular Africa-based traders were concentrated along the Nunez and Pongo rivers, known as the Riveres du Sud by the French and the Northern Rivers by the British, where Americans had maintained a prominent presence in slave and commodities commerce since late in the eighteenth century. While this venture ultimately failed, it nevertheless represented a city-based experiment and, had it succeeded, would have been the first to link African merchants directly to American suppliers/consumers across the Atlantic. It would have signaled not only a significant expansion of American mercantile interests on the African coast, but also a curious and contradictory alliance of avowed American anti-slavery commodities suppliers with remnants of African slave commerce. By the time this experiment ended, the list of those involved included a Baltimore company, the Baltimore court system, the American Colonization Society and its affiliated Maryland society, a Colombian-registered ship and its crew, President James Monroe and members of his administration, the Federal court system, and an Africa-based African trader visiting in Baltimore, all ingredients in the American side of the story. Once the scene shifted to Africa, those who continued from North America included the Colonization Society, the company of merchants, and the Africa-based traders, to which were added the British colonial government at Sierra Leone and a new mix of trader interests, some of whom opposed an exclusive agreement with Americans which might interfere with existing commerce. A simple venture had become a complicated affair.(1)

It all began when a Colombian privateer, the armed schooner General Paez commanded by Captain John Chase, entered Baltimore Harbor in August of 1822, having on board as crew members fourteen Africans who spoke neither English nor Spanish or spoke those languages so haltingly that they were easily misunderstood. Captain Chase described the fourteen as former members of a cargo of forty-two slaves found on board a Spanish slaver which he had intercepted "within sight of its port of destination" of Havana. Chase asserted that he had taken the captured slaver to the British West Indies, disposed of the slaves (supposedly receiving a bounty for each slave turned over to authorities), and retained fourteen "able bodied" Africans as employees "cruizing in the cause of liberty!" He then had proceeded to Baltimore where his vessel was to be refitted.(2)

Soon after his arrival at Baltimore on 14 August, however, Captain Chase was no doubt surprised to find himself embroiled in charges of failing to pay past debts and of violating American law by importing illegal Africans. Customs officials noted the latters' presence among the crew, and news of the Africans quickly spread to members of the Maryland Auxiliary of the American Colonization Society.(3) Among these was Elisha Tyson, a wealthy miller and philanthropist who actively had championed the rights of African-Americans for half a century. Born in 1749 in Pennsylvania, Tyson and his brothers had moved to Maryland where all had made fortunes in the Baltimore area. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.