Saturday, February 16, 2013

USS Constellation, Flagship of the African Squadron

On Sunday, February 6, I checked out the schedule of the History Channel to see if they had any Black History programs on On Demand.  I found a very interesting one and I learned something that I did not know happened during the slave trade.

USS Constellation: Battling for Freedom was the title of the documentary and it will be available until February 28, 2013. It was a story about the USS Constellation, a sloop-of war and the second United States Navy ship to carry the name. Built in 1854, it was the fastest warship with 22 guns and 225 men on board.

The USS Constellation was the flagship of the African Squadron from 1859 - 1861.  Her mission was to disrupt the slave trade off of the western coast of Africa by interdicting ships smuggling slaves and released the imprisoned Africans. The slave trade was made illegal in 1808 U.S. and England and the U.S. considered it piracy and punishable by death. 

The word "interdict" was new to me. Before consulting a dictionary, I thought that it was misspelled. The definition of interdict according to Webster is : to forbid in a formal or authoritative manner; to destroy, cut or damage (as an enemy line of supply) by firepower to stop or hamper an enemy. Interdict is what they did.

The Constellation did not always catch the slave ships.  Many of the slavers out ran her and some lightened their loads by tossing their slaves, also known as Black Ivory, overboard. What an inhumane, despicable, unconscionable act! 

The Constellation interdicted 3 ships as the flagship:
  • the Delicia which had no papers to show nationality. It also did not have slaves but was fitted for slaves.
  • the Cora with 705 slaves, who were set free in Liberia; no effort to return the Africans to their villages was made due to the fear that they would be kidnapped again.
  • the Trition which held no slaves but was fitted for them.
According to the documentary, the Cora was taken to New York by some of the men of the Constellation. Most of the men were not U.S. citzens so they were released; however, four men were charged. The Capitan and another man escaped jail, which was believed to be an inside job; two men were sentenced to ten months. Nobody was put to death. 

The U.S.S. Constellation was move to Baltimore in 1955 for restoration and preservation. Due to the lack of funds, it took almost a decade to restore the ship for public use. There are separate programs for children and adults. To learn more and to view a video about the USS Constellation, go to:
http://www.historicships.org/constellation.html.

16 February 2013

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