The Life and Death of an All-American Slave Ship

How 19th century slave traders used, and reused, the brig named Uncas.

Africa, Trade

12/5/2021 11:13:00 PM

The dark story of the Uncas shows how American ships skirted the trans-Atlantic slave trading ban.

How 19th century slave traders used, and reused, the brig named Uncas.

Uncasmade nearly two dozen round trips between New Orleans and Havana. It seems to have operated mostly as an ordinary merchant ship carrying goods and passengers, though historian Randy Sparks hasthat the deep commercial ties between the two cities extended to the illegal slave trade. But whether or not the

Uncascarried enslaved people out of the United States for sale or imported them from Cuba illegally, it made a definitive turn to outlawry in May 1843.On May 22, 1843, Pedro Sabate sold theUncasto an Italian ship captain named Carlo Rauch. Two days later, it cleared New Orleans for Havana. From there it sailed for the West African coast, returning to Havana in November with a cargo of enslaved Africans. Weeks later, the

Uncasset forth for Africa again. This was the voyage on which theUncaswas stopped by Thomas Craven and thePorpoiseunder suspicion of engaging in the slave trade and returned to the United States.AdvertisementEither the hassle or the ignominy of being publicly exposed for involvement with illegal slaving was more than Carlo Rauch wanted to deal with. In July 1844, he sold the

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Uncasback to Pedro Sabate, who sold it a few months later to Joseph M. Anguerra, a New Orleans merchant. But when Anguerra dispatched it from New Orleans to Havana late in December 1844, it was the last time the ship ever sailed from that city.Advertisement

Anguerra had arranged to sell theUncastoo. After passing through the storm that was thought to have foundered it, the brig transferred to the Havana outpost of the Brazilian merchant firm overseen by Manoel Pinto da Fonseca. One of the wealthiest men in Brazil, da Fonseca was also one of the most notorious slave traders in the Western Hemisphere.

AdvertisementIt was hardly surprising, then, that in April 1845 theUncaswas spied once more by a British patrol off the coast of Africa, lying at anchor in Cabinda Bay, near the mouth of the Congo River just north of the border of modern-day Angola. Cabinda Bay was several thousand miles south of where the

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Uncashad been more than a year earlier, but it too was a hotbed of the illegal slave trade, and particularly a spot from which Africans were taken by slavers to Brazil.Coincidentally, the British ship patrolling Cabinda Bay was theFerret, and its officers recognized the

Uncasimmediately. Lt. J.J. Dornford inspected the brig, and while the cargo of rum, gunpowder, bar iron, and 100 dozen padlocks made him suspicious, the paperwork appeared “to be in proper form,” so theFerretwent on its way. Several days later, however, the

Ferretsaw a ship at sea, sailing west at a rapid clip. It gave chase and fired “a shot or two, and ultimately three shells,” and on the evening of April 21, 1845, British naval officials caught up to the ship and boarded it. When they did, they discovered it had no papers, flew no flag, and carried no one who would admit to being the captain. The ship’s name on the stern had recently been painted over with black tar, but no one on the

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Ferretwas fooled. They found the ship “to be the same vessel” they had stopped days earlier. They also discovered an atrocity in motion.

Read more: Slate »

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