Red Hook WaterStories — 1860: Slave Ship Erie Sold in Atlantic Basin

Red Hook WaterStories delves into the rich and varied past and present of the waterfront of the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.  If you haven’t discovered the site, a project of PortSide New York, be sure to check it out.  Here is an excerpt from a post about the slave ship Erie, which was condemned and sold 157 years ago today, on December 5, 1860, in Red Hook’s Atlantic Basin.

In December 1860, the first shots in the Civil War would not be fired for another six months. Slavery would continue to be legal in the United States for another five years, until the adoption of the 13th Amendment. Nevertheless, the seizure and sale of the slave ship Erie marked a milestone in the struggle against slavery.

From Red Hook WaterStories

December 5, 1860, the slave ship ERIE was sold at government auction in Atlantic Basin, Red Hook, Brooklyn, One month prior, the ship had been condemned and ordered to be sold by the United States District Court.  This was news of national note.

The ship was sold, after being captured and impounded by the US Government, for enslaving and importing Africans, a business banned by the federal government under the Piracy Law of 1820, which followed The Slave Trade Act of 1794, two steps in the USA’s long, slow process of devolving and banning the slave trade (the shipping of captured people) and slavery. Slavery was finally banned in 1865.  The case of the ERIE was chosen by a US Attorney, a judge, and by President Lincoln himself to signal a major change in policy on slavery and their commitment to end it.

The owner and captain of the Erie, Nathaniel Gordon of Maine, did not get off free as was usually the case. He was tried and found guilty of running a slave ship – and the Piracy Law of 1820 said the punishment was execution. Gordon’s supporters, including members of Congress and even friends of President Lincoln, sought a presidential pardon; but Abraham Lincoln refused due to his conviction that a point about slavery needed to be made with the ERIE and Captain Gordon.

To read the rest of the post, click here.

 Nathaniel Gordon, the captain of the slave ship, Erie, was executed by hanging in New York City in February 1862.  Click here to read our post from last year, The Hanging of Captain Nathaniel Gordon of the Slave Ship Erie — February 21, 1862

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2 Responses to Red Hook WaterStories — 1860: Slave Ship Erie Sold in Atlantic Basin

  1. Irwin Bryan says:

    It should be remembered that other nations had already outlawed the slave trade. The Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron was established to capture slavers and free slaves in 1809. The American Navy began an African Slavery Patrol in 1820 for the same purpose.
    If the slave trade was still “legal” when the Erie was captured it’s hard to believe no other ship was captured along our coast or brought to trial before the 13th amendment passed.

  2. Rick Spilman says:

    The US African Slave Trade Patrol operated for over 40 years between 1819 and 1861, but only captured about 100 ships. Most slavers escaped justice.

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