In honor of Black History Month, the Woodson Research Center has posted online a collection of original letters from the U.S.S. John Adams in 1849, describing its travels and orders, including the suppression of the slave trade. The deplorable conditions of slave ships and the practice of separating families was recognized by many as inhumane in the early 19th century, even if that belief did not yet go so far as to object to treating people as property. The United States and other countries such as Britain, many years before the U.S. Civil War, had banned human trafficking as piracy. However, enforcement in a complex international maritime trading environment was very difficult.
The letters in this collection show the U.S.S. John Adams as having clear orders to “suppress the slave trade,” and reporting in one example of being present at the Brazilian port near Campos, where a slave trading ship had passed through a month earlier, taking on slaves, and moving off probably north to the area of Espiritu Santo.
These letters include transcriptions which greatly enhance access, created in 2011 by Rice University graduate student, John Marks.
Images from: “Powell to Storer, acknowledgement of instructions to suppress the slave trade.” (1849) Rice University: http://hdl.handle.net/1911/93944.; “Powell to Storer, report of ship’s cruise to Campos, Brazil.” (1849) Rice University: http://hdl.handle.net/1911/93945.