Tom Gidwitz     |   home
back to   Freeing Captive History          previous             up
Captives on the Deck of the Slave Ship Wildfire
Northern ships engaged in the Triangle Trade until the eve of the Civil War. In 1860 the slaver Wildfire set sail from New York for St. Thomas with a cargo of calico and other cotton goods. Its next stop was the Congo River, where the crew installed a new deck in the hold, creating a cramped space with four feet of clearance, specifically to house captives. In March the ship set sail for Cuba, with 615 naked prisoners, most of them teenagers. 450 captives were lodged on deck, the rest were crammed below. Ninety people died during the five weeks it took the ship to reach the coast of Cuba, where it was captured by the US Naval steamer Mohawk. The Mohawk towed the ship to Fort Taylor on Key West. There the captives were lodged in a brand new stockaded barracks on three acres of land outside of town. Within a month more than 900 more captives were brought to the compound, taken by the US Navy from the slave ships William and Bogota, both of which, like the Wildfire, had started their triangular voyages in New York City. By the end of May, with 1,350 people crowded into the barracks, Congress contracted with the American Colonization Society to ship the captives back to Africa.  By the end of June all the captives had been abandoned in Liberia -- save the 295 unfortunate souls who had died in the Florida stockade.
return to story
Library of Congress