History

Learn about the accomplishments of women in our Highlighting Women subtab.

August 8, 1860

In 1860, the United States actively disrupted the trade of enslaved men, women and children from Africa while cultivating a thriving domestic trade of enslaved people. The importation of enslaved people to the United States was outlawed on January 1, 1808. To formally end the domestic trade and enslavement of people in the United States, however, would take the next 4 years of the Civil War (1861-1865) and the adoption of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.

On August 7, 1860 Lieutenant Henry W. Miller, grandson of George Macculloch, and Lieutenant Henry D. Todd, uncle of MHHM founder W. Parsons Todd, were on board the USS Mohican patrolling for slave traders near the mouth of the Congo River. USS Mohican was part of the U.S. Navy’s African Squadron. 50 miles up the Congo River nearly 900 African men, women and children were being forced on board the slaver Erie. Erie’s mission originated in the port of New York City, where it is estimated that at least two ships a month left for the West African coast as part of the trade of enslaved people to Cuba.

160 years ago, on August 8, 1860, the Erie entered the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and was spotted by the USS Mohican. Erie was under the command of Captain Nathaniel Gordon, an experienced trader of enslaved people, whose father had also engaged in human trafficking. As the USS Mohican approached the Erie, Captain Gordon reached for forged documents and several nations’ flags that could prevent his ship from being boarded and searched. The USS Mohican was a new vessel, however, which prevented Captain Gordon from knowing which country the ship represented. At that decisive moment, Captain Gordon took a chance and hoisted the wrong nation’s flag. Lieutenant Henry Todd boarded the Erie and realized instantly that the Erie was a slaver. The nearly 900 people held captive in the ship’s hold were on their way to lives of enslavement in Cuba.

On August 8, 1860, the USS Mohican rescued nearly 900 people. On the same day, a second slaver, the Storm King, which held 600 kidnapped African men, women and children on board, was also stopped en route to Cuba. This makes August 8, 1860 the day the largest number of kidnapped African men, women and children were freed by the U.S. Navy in United States history.

The U.S. Navy brought the kidnapped people to Liberia, a 15-day journey from the Congo River. Captain Nathaniel Gordon was arrested and after two trials was sentenced by Judge William Shipman on November 30, 1861. Gordon was hanged for being a slave trader on February 21, 1862. Gordon is the only person in United States history to be executed for the crime of trafficking enslaved people. President Lincoln refused a pardon to Captain Gordon, giving him a short reprieve to prepare for his execution.

At Gordon’s sentencing, Judge Shipman spoke:
Do not attempt to hide its enormity from yourself; think of the cruelty and wickedness of seizing nearly a thousand fellow beings, who never did you harm, and thrusting them beneath the decks of a small ship, beneath a burning tropical sun, to die in of disease and suffocation, or be transported to distant lands, and be consigned, they and their posterity, to a fate far more cruel than death…Remember that you showed mercy to none, carrying off as you did not only those of your own sex, but women and helpless children. Do not flatter yourself that because they belonged to a different race from yourself, your guilt is therefore lessened—rather fear that it is increased… As you are soon to pass into the presence of that God of the black man as well as the white man, who is no respecter of persons, do not indulge for a moment the thought that he hears with indifference the cry of the humblest of his children.

Resources:

Read about President Lincoln on the case of Captain Nathaniel Gordon.

Read an article from Harper’s Weekly, published on March 8, 1862, on the execution on Captain Nathaniel Gordon.

Listen to Ron Soodalter speak about his research and book, Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader. 

Honoring Juneteenth

We honor and celebrate Juneteenth, the date when on June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3, the enforcement of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas. This moment publicly announced the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery with Union troops there to enforce it.

Today we recognize the dedication and work of our colleagues at the ground-breaking Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May, NJ. They are working to preserve and educate the public about Harriet Tubman’s life in Cape May in the early 1850s, and to highlight the role members of the Cape May community played in the fight against slavery.

Though the museum’s scheduled opening for today, Juneteenth 2020, has been postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, we celebrate and remember Harriet Tubman’s abolition work in Cape May. 

Resources: 

Hear stories about the life of Harriet Tubman by Lesa Cline-Ransome, author of Before She Was Harriet. 

Watch the TED-Ed video on The Breathtaking Courage of Harriet Tubman by Janell Hobson.

Watch the annual Juneteenth program from Galveston, Texas on Friday, June 19 at 10 a.m. on www.galvestonhistory.org or Facebook Live

In A Soldier’s Words: Lindley Miller

“The Departure of the 7th Regiment to the War, April 19, 1861” from the collection of New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY.

In April 1861, Lindley Miller (1834-1864) answered President Lincoln’s call for volunteers by enlisting with the 7th Regiment New York State Militia, also known as the Silk Stocking Regiment. The day his regiment left New York City is documented in Thomas Nast’s painting, The Departure of the 7th Regiment to the War, April 19, 1861. His brother, Henry Miller, was in the crowd of thousands there to shake his brother’s hand as he passed.

The Silk Stocking Regiment reached Washington, D.C. by April 25th. Their arrival ended the siege on the nation’s capital, preventing its loss to the Confederates just weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter. 

By 1863, Lindley was back in New York City to witness the draft riots first-hand. The NYC draft riots started a chain of personal losses for Lindley that changed his life. His young bride, Anne Huntington Tracy, pregnant with their first child, died after giving birth and his two-month old daughter died soon after. Turning his loss into service, Lindley requested and received a commission as a captain in the “First Regiment Arkansas Volunteers of African Descent” in late 1863. He wrote a marching song for his men and many poems that MHHM has in its collection. To learn more about the marching song, visit our blog post Song of the First of Arkansas

From his 1861 poem, T. W. His Last Words—“Come On”:

“Come On!” We will till God’s ideal shall trample breathless wrong;
“Come On!” We will, till freedom ring through every human song;
“Come On!” We will till not a Soul in gloom and dread involved,
This darkness shall give way to light–This problem shall be solved.

In 1864, Lindley Miller returned to Morristown to recover from an illness he caught in camp. In July 1864, Lindley Miller succumbed to his illness and died. 

This summer, one of MHHM’s college interns will work with 15 letters written by Lindley Miller to his family during his service in the Union army. This project will make his life and military service more accessible to students, scholars, and those interested in the Civil War.

Resources: 

Read Lindley Miller’s poems and learn about the Civil War through a Soldier’s Words. (PDF Document)

To learn more about the departure of the 7th Regiment from New York City, visit readme.readmedia.com.