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Illegal Under the Laws of All Nations? The Courts of Haiti and the Suppression of the Atlantic Trade in African Captives

  • Andrew Walker

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1. For the sake of clarity, I will use the name Firefly to refer to the vessel after its arrival in Port-au-Prince, while I will use the names San Francisco de Paula and Africano for earlier instances in which historical actors referred to it by those names.

2. Benton, Lauren, “Abolition and Imperial Law, 1790–1820,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39 (2011): 355–74; Drescher, Seymour, “Emperors of the World: British Abolitionism and Imperialism,” in Abolitionism and Imperialism in Britain, Africa, and the Atlantic, ed. Peterson, Derek R. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 129–50; and Brown, Christopher Leslie, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

3. Scott, Rebecca J., “Social Facts, Legal Fictions, and the Attribution of Slave Status: The Puzzle of Prescription,” Law and History Review 35 (2017): 930; Grinberg, Keila, “Re-enslavement, Rights, and Justice in Nineteenth-Century Brazil,” trans. Lambert, Mark, Translating the Americas 1 (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/lacs.12338892.0001.006 (accessed May 5, 2018); and Gross, Ariela, “Introduction: ‘A Crime Against Humanity’: Slavery and the Boundaries of Legality, Past and Present,” Law and History Review 35 (2017): 18.

4. New generations of scholars have demonstrated that the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath reshaped the realm of possibilities for those individuals held as slaves throughout the Americas, for those whose legal status was put into question, and for those who crisscrossed empires and national borders to escape the surveillance of authorities. On this point, see especially Scott, Julius, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution (London and New York: Verso Press, 2018). Ada Ferrer and Johnhenry Gonzalez have shown that runaways from neighboring territories set out for Haiti in order to achieve legal freedom from enslavement and to distance themselves from institutionalized racial hierarchies. Ferrer, Ada, “Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic,” The American Historical Review 117 (2012): 4066; Gonzalez, Johnhenry, “Defiant Haiti: Free-Soil Runaways, Ship Seizures and the Politics of Diplomatic Non-Recognition in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Slavery & Abolition 36 (2015): 124–35; and Ferrer, Ada, Freedom's Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), esp. 329–46.

5. Gonzalez, “Defiant Haiti,” 124–35.

6. Gaffield, Julia, Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); and Gaffield, Julia, “‘Outrages on the Laws of Nations’: American Merchants and Diplomacy after the Haitian Declaration of Independence,” in The Haitian Declaration of Independence: Creation, Context, and Legacy, ed. Gaffield, Julia (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2016), 161–80; Malick W. Ghachem, “Law, Atlantic Revolutionary Exceptionalism, and the Haitian Declaration of Independence,” in ibid., 96–114; and Daut, Marlene, “From Revolution to Sovereignty on the Island of Kiskeya,” Reviews in American History 46 (2018): 375–84.

7. Drescher, Seymour, “The Limits of Example,” in The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, ed. Geggus, David (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001), 1014; Robin Blackburn, “The Force of Example,” in ibid., 15–20; and Philippe Girard, “Did Dessalines Plan to Export the Haitian Revolution?” in The Haitian Declaration of Independence, 136–57.

Historians have cited Haitian President Alexandre Pétion's famous offer of support for Simón Bolívar's expeditions as evidence of one verifiable contribution to abolition elsewhere. See Fischer, Sibylle, “Bolívar in Haiti: Republicanism in the Revolutionary Atlantic,” in Haiti in the Americas, ed. Calargé, Carla, Dalleo, Raphael, Duno-Gottberg, Luis, and Headley, Cleavis (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 2553; and Bassi, Ernesto, An Aqueous Territory: Sailor Geographies and New Granada's Transimperial Greater Caribbean World (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016), 158–71. Several recent works have sketched out a fuller picture of the international impact of Haitian antislavery. See especially Ferrer, Freedom's Mirror, ch. 6 and epilogue; Ferrer, “Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic”; Joseph, Délide, “L'engagement des intellectuels haïtiens dans la lutte contre la traite et l'esclavage: 1804–1843,” Revue du Philanthrope 4 (2013): 7585; and Daut, Marlene, Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017).

8. Ferrer, “Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic.”

9. These contributions were obscured by the voices of hostile slaveholders and proslavery authorities in surrounding jurisdictions, many of whom depicted Haiti as a lawless haven for pirates, runaways, insurgents, and other “fugitives” from justice. See Eller, Anne, “Rumors of Slavery: Defending Emancipation in a Hostile Caribbean,” American Historical Review 122 (2017): 674; and Bassi, An Aqueous Territory, 161.

10. In 1815, the official state gazette Le Télégraphe exhorted Great Britain not only to suppress the trade in captives, but to abolish slavery itself. The editors predicted that before long, the continent of Africa would “no longer see its unfortunate children snatched from its womb,” nor would it be subjected to the “renewed outbreak of bloody and depopulating wars.” See Le Télégraphe, May 14, 1815, 3. Haitian commentators in the state press thus argued that the tide was turning against legal slavery across the world. This argument enabled them to mobilize against the trade in captives and practices of enslavement abroad without violating their promises of nonintervention. As historian Délide Joseph has shown, Haitian authorities and intellectuals continued to deploy such arguments as they organized in favor of international abolition over the ensuing decades, forming transnational philanthropic societies and calling on Haitian citizens to display solidarity with armed struggles against slavery and colonialism. Joseph, “L'engagement des intellectuels haïtiens,” 82–83.

11. Even as the future of the Haitian republic remained uncertain, its leaders situated themselves at once within the mainstream and at the forefront of the “civilized” community of nations whose policies were bound by law. Erin Zavitz has argued that early Haitian writers and national historians explicitly framed their antislavery (and anticolonial) polemic in Eurocentric and civilizationist terms, thereby making their struggle palatable and relatable to international observers. See Zavitz, Erin, “Revolutionary Narrations: Early Haitian Historiography and the Challenge of Writing Counter-History,” Atlantic Studies 14 (2017): 336–53.

12. Jenny S. Martinez and Lauren Benton show that British abolitionists, lawmakers, and jurists grappled with these same questions in the wake of the 1807 Abolition Act. Jenny Martinez argues that antislavery advocates and lawyers alike invoked incipient ideas of “human rights” and drew frequent analogies between slave trading and piracy, thereby hoping to claim universal jurisdiction for the abolition of the trade. Martinez furthermore traces the origins of modern forms of international law to the nineteenth-century courts of mixed commission, which had been established by Great Britain to enforce a series of bilateral and multilateral antislavery treaties. See Martinez, Jenny S., The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), esp. ch. 2, 4, 6, and 9. In contrast, Lauren Benton contends that municipal law remained the principal source of authority for the British navy to seize and condemn slaving vessels. In the decades after the passage of the act, Benton continues, British courts largely rejected the argument that the trade in captives was subject to a universal ban on the basis of the laws of nations. Benton, Lauren, “Toward a New Legal History of Piracy,” International Journal of Maritime History 23 (2011): 233–35. Other scholars have emphasized how Britain's mounting naval campaign to curtail slaving traffic itself repeatedly risked violating the general principles of the “law of nations.” Robin Law, “Abolition and Imperialism: International Law and the British Suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade,” in Abolitionism and Imperialism in Britain, 150–74.

13. Given the gaps in documentation, it is unclear how many similar cases were heard by the Haitian courts. At least three other manuscript extracts of admiralty records from early national Haiti have survived. In 1817, the admiralty court condemned a United States schooner that had been captured by a corsair from Buenos Aires off of the Samaná peninsula. See Jugement rendu par extraordinaire à l'Amirauté, April 10, 1817, in United States National Archives and Records Administration (hereafter NARA), Record Group 76, Entry 239, International Claims: Haiti, Miscellaneous, ca. 1744–1844, Envelope 2, Folder 12: Schooner Mary. In January 1822, during the government of Jean-Pierre Boyer, the court ordered the confiscation of a formerly British schooner named the Elizabeth, which had been naturalized as a Haitian vessel on the basis of falsified documents. See Copie du jugement rendu par le Tribunal Civil du Port-au-Prince, ayant les attributions de la Cour d'Amirauté, January 19, 1822, in the National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom (hereafter TNA), Admiralty, 1/274. The next year, the court condemned a United States vessel that had sailed from Cuba to Fort-Liberté for violating a new ban on commercial intercourse with surrounding islands. See Copie du jugement, Extraits des registres du Greffe du Tribunal Civil du Port-au-Prince, ayant attribution de celui d'Amirauté, Undated [September 1823], NARA, Record Group 76, Entry 239, International Claims: Haiti, Miscellaneous, ca. 1744–1844, Envelope 2, Folder 11: Schooner Maria Josephine.

14. Venta de bergantín español por D. Serafín de Cobo y Landeras vecino de esta Ciudad a D. José Matías de Acebal, 20 June 1816, in Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain (hereafter AGI), Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

15. José Matías de Acebal, Inventario de documentos que se acompañan y otros que acreditan la propiedad, 9 March 1819, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

16. These legislative efforts culminated in a sweeping 1820 statute that declared slave trading to be a crime punishable by death. See An Act: To continue in force “An act to protect the commerce of the United States, and punish the crime of piracy,” and also to make further provision for punishing the crime of piracy, 3 Stat. 600 (1820).

17. See, for example, the Daily Herald’s reprinting of an article published by the New London Gazette in August 1839. “The Suspicious Schooner Captured and Brought into this Port,” Daily Herald, August 30, 1839, 2.

18. James Buchanan to Viscount Palmerston, March 24, 1842, in Correspondence on the Subject of Vessels Flying under the Flag of the United States Which Have Been Visited or Detained by British Citizens on Account of Being Suspected of Being Engaged in Slave Trade (London: s.n., 1841), 221.

19. Naturalization of Peter Harmony, April 18, 1805, NARA, Index of Naturalization Petitions Filed in Federal, State, and Local Court in New York, Roll 199, H655.

20. See, for example, New-York Price-Current, August 17, 1805, 3; New-York Price-Current, October 8, 1808, 1; New-York Price-Current, November 19, 1808, 5; New-York Gazette and General Advertiser, August 23, 1809, 1; and New-York Gazette and General Advertiser, July 19, 1810, 2.

21. In May 1816, for example, the Commercial Advertiser of New York announced that the schooner Minerva was 35 days out of Cádiz with wine and salt for Harmony. Commercial Advertiser, May 28, 1816, 3. See also Mercantile Advertiser, July 23, 1818, 3; Mercantile Advertiser, July 17, 1818, 3; and New-York Gazette, December 6, 1819, 2.

22. Mercantile Advertiser, March 9, 1810, 3; New-York Gazette and General Advertiser, March 12, 1810, 1; and New-York Gazette and General Advertiser, August 28, 1815, 1.

23. New-York Gazette, July 10, 1810, 1; Mercantile Advertiser, July 27, 1810, 3; and Columbian, June 4, 1810, 3. The Mercantile Advertiser printed the ship's name as “St. Francisco de Paulo,” but the notice is otherwise identical to the examples from the Columbian and the New-York Gazette.

24. Pétition de l’équipage du brick le Firefly à Son Excellence le Président d'Haïti, 25 November 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951. For Cobo's account, see Albany Advertiser, December 4, 1816, 2.

25. The steamboat Fire-fly, for example, made several trips between New York City and Poughkeepsie each week. See National Advocate, May 6, 1816, 1; ibid., May 13, 1816, 1; and Commercial Advertiser, March 11, 1816, 3.

26. It is not clear who bought the brig at this auction. A May 1816 issue of the Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, for example, noted only that the ship was sold in New York. Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, May 23, 1816, 2. For the initial announcement of the April 1816 sale of the brig by a United States agent, see Columbian, March 30, 1816, 3. Confusingly, the U.S.S. Firefly was itself a new name for the brig Volant, sold by Francis H. Nicholl and Company to the United States Navy in December of 1814. For the earlier sale, see Mercantile Advertiser, December 1, 1814, 1. For the operations of the Firefly during the Second Barbary War, see the Sentinel of Freedom, April 25, 1815, 3; Rhode-Island Republican, June 14, 1815, 3; Enquirer, July 26, 1815, 2; Columbian Patriot, August 2, 1815, 3; and American Watchman, September 23, 1815, 3. See also Bauer, Karl Jack and Roberts, Stephen, Register of Ships in the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1991), 35.

27. A notice in the June 3 New York Evening Post mentioned that a brig named Firefly was sold again by a certain “Farchild,” but provides no further details to confirm whether or not this was the same ship as the damaged brig of war. New York Evening Post, June 3, 1816, 2.

28. If Harmony were accused of outfitting the San Francisco de Paula for the slave trade, his innocence would hinge on his professed ignorance of Cobo's eventual designs for the brig. See An Act in addition to the act intituled ‘An act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any foreign place or country,’ 2 Stat. 70 (1800), and An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into Any Port or Place within the Jurisdiction of the United States, 2 Stat. 426 (1807).

29. Craig B. Hollander, “Against a Sea of Troubles: Slave Trade Suppressionism during the Early Republic” (PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 2013); and Zeuske, Michael, Amistad: A Hidden Network of Slavers and Merchants (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2015).

30. Leonardo Marques, examining the United States role in the contraband slave trade to Cuba and Brazil during the period stretching from the 1830s to the 1850s, argues that the latter modes far outstripped the former. Although American-based merchants sold numerous vessels into the trade to Brazil, they rarely directly financed or chartered voyages themselves because of the United States antipiracy law of 1820, which authorized the prosecution of slave traders as pirates in United States courts and threatened them with the death penalty. See Marques, Leonardo, The United States and the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the Americas, 1776–1867 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016), ch. 3 and 4; and Marques, Leonardo, “The Contraband Slave Trade to Brazil and the Dynamics of U.S. Participation,” Journal of Latin American Studies 47 (2015): 659–84.

31. Sparks argues that “the line between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ trading held much less force for American slavers than was once thought.” Sparks, Randy J., “Blind Justice: The United States’ Failure to Curb the Illegal Slave Trade,” Law and History Review 35 (2017): 54. See also Schermerhorn, Calvin, The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815–1860 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015), esp. ch. 3. Craig Hollander and Leonardo Marques, in contrast to Sparks, contend that the early decades of the nineteenth century saw a series of concrete legal victories against the international trade, belying previous scholars’ depictions of deliberate non-enforcement of or apathetic resignation about the ongoing obstacles to eradicating the trade, whether on the part of United States leaders or the public at large. For his part, Hollander argues that as the nineteenth century progressed, United States slaveholders turned away from the movement to suppress the international trade because they increasingly saw it as a threat to the institution of slavery more generally. See Hollander, “Against a Sea of Troubles,” and Marques, The United States and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

32. Pétition de l’équipage du brick le Firefly à Son Excéllence le Président d'Haïti, 25 November 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

33. Ibid. Such condemnations of the trade bore close resemblance to the rhetoric of sailors who were tried in the United States on charges of participating in the international trade during the same period. See Hollander, “Against a Sea of Troubles,” ch. 3 and 4.

34. The famous conception of the “masterless Caribbean,” comes from Julius Scott's seminal work on the “Common Wind,” the second term appears in Neville Hall's classic work on grand marronage in the Danish West Indies, and the third has been used by Ira Berlin and Jane Landers to signify multilingual, socially mobile people of African descent who traversed imperial boundaries. There are important distinctions among these terms, but together they stress the significance of Atlantic maritime circuits for the enslaved and their descendants. In broad terms, these scholars demonstrate how taking to the sea engendered greater possibilities for communication across slave societies/societies with slaves, greater autonomy from slave owners and racial categorization, and in some cases direct forms of collective mobilization in opposition to enslavement. See Scott, The Common Wind; Hall, Neville A.T., “Maritime Maroons: Grand Marronage from the Danish West Indies,” in Origins of the Black Atlantic, ed. Dubois, Laurent and Scott, Julius S. (New York: Routledge, 2010), 476–98; Berlin, Ira, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000); Landers, Jane G., Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); and Morales, Edgardo Pérez, No Limits to Their Sway: Cartagena's Privateers and the Masterless Caribbean in the Age of Revolutions (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2018).

35. Historian Edgardo Pérez Morales uses the term “beacon republic” to describe the place of independent Haiti in the maritime circuits of the Greater Caribbean during the Age of Revolutions. See Pérez Morales, No Limits to Their Sway, 109–18.

36. As part of their coverage of the later mutiny, the National Advocate, the Commercial Advertiser, and the Albany Daily Advertiser ran a story affirming that at least “part of her crew was recruited at Charleston, and joined her at Amelia.” The papers also printed a full list, provided by the second mate, of the crew members, whose names were almost all of Anglophone origin with a few prominent exceptions. One story identified three “colored” men, John Key del Mais, Francis Rose, and William Elbey, and one “boy,” Richard Drew, but made no reference to the color, age, or status of the remaining forty-eight sailors, implying that they were all white men. Crucially, the names of the crewmembers who signed the November petition to President Pétion also appear on the list in the United States newspapers, providing independent confirmation of the relative accuracy of the second mate's recollection of the crew's composition. Commercial Advertiser, November 28, 1816, 2; New York National Advocate, November 30, 1816, 2; Albany Daily Advertiser, December 3, 1816, 2; and Pétition de l’équipage du brick le Firefly à Son Excellence le Président d'Haïti, 25 November 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

37. These details were given by one of the original crew members who was later brought to trial for piracy by a British court in Demerara. See Interrogation for the Examination of James Alexander, Sailor confined in the Jail of Demerary on a charge of Piracy, 25 January 1817, TNA, Colonial Office, 111/23, Folios 129–38. José Matías de Acebal maintained a correspondence with the prominent Charleston merchant Charles Edmonston, and it is possible (though still speculation) that the latter played a role in the recruitment of the sailors from that city. See, for instance, Charles Edmonston to José Matías de Acebal, 22 November 1816, Consulado 3876, Año 1816: Dn José Matías de Acebal con la Compañía de seguros de esta plaza, sobre el que practicaron en el bergn español San Franco de Paula, (a) el Africano su Capitán Dn Serafin de Covo y Landeras, in Archivo Nacional de Cuba, La Habana (hereafter ANC), Tribunal de Comercio, leg. 4, no. 5.

38. The most complete chronology of the ship's trajectory comes from the December 1816 ruling of the Haitian admiralty court. Among the specific pieces of evidence that informed the court's condemnation of the vessel was a letter written by the grand juge summarizing the events that precipitated the proceedings in the following terms: “The arrival in this port of the Brig Africano, which appears to have been dispatched from Amelia Island with an American crew under the Spanish flag in order to participate in the African traffic.” Jugement Rendu par Extraordinaire à l'amirauté en l'Hôtel, 4 December 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951. In a register of departing vessels, the Spanish military commander at Fernandina stated that the San Francisco de Paula had been loaded with cargo on August 16, 1816. Rex.tro del Bergantín Español San Francisco de Paula alias el Africano, que desde este Puerto hace viage a la Costa de Africa, su Cap.n Serafín de Cobo y Landeras, 14 August 1816, in Library of Congress, Washington, DC (hereafter LOC), MS Records of East Florida, Register of Departures of Vessels, 1815–1816.

The specifications of the weapons brought on board at Amelia Island were given by the sailor Richard Brown, also brought to trial in Demerara. Brown acknowledged that “the small arms were for trade [likely the trade in African captives], while the great guns were to protect them against Carthagenians.” See Interrogation for the Examination of Richard Brown, Sailor confined in the Jail of Demerary on a charge of Piracy, 25 January 1817, TNA, Colonial Office, 111/23, Folios 139–42.

39. An Act in addition to the act intituled ‘An act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any foreign place or country,’ 2 Stat. 70 (1800).

40. An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into Any Port or Place within the Jurisdiction of the United States, 2 Stat. 426 (1807).

41. The prospect of continued legal importation of captives to Spanish Florida attracted several prominent traders from Charleston, including Zephaniah Kingsley and James Fraser, both of whom also established plantations near St. Augustine. In 1810, for example, Fraser converted his ship the Eagle of Charleston into the Águila de San Agustín, dispatched it to the Rio Pongo in today's Guinea, and brought 126 captives back to Florida. See Landers, Jane, Black Society in Spanish Florida (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 174–79; and Landers, Jane, Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge: MA, Harvard University Press, 2010), 128–30.

42. According to Acebal, “towards the end of 1816,” the San Francisco de Paula had left Havana for a “commercial expedition” on the coast of Africa under the command of Serafín de Cobo y Landeras (the former owner of the ship who had sold it to Acebal in June 1816). No incident of note took place until the crew was within sight of “West Africa” at “the beginning of 1817,” at which moment they rose up “treacherously,” arrested Cobo and several of his subalterns, and placed them in a lifeboat. “The rebels thus made themselves masters of the said ship,” wrote Acebal, “and rushing from crime to crime they dedicated themselves to piracy… until they arrived by chance on the island of Santo Domingo.” José Matías de Acebal to Antonio Martínez Arcos, 16 April 1818, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951. Acebal's narrative contained several crucial inaccuracies, distortions, and gaps. To begin, his chronology conflicted with the crew members’ statements as well as his own full records of the events. A later report signed by Acebal, for example, acknowledged that the expedition had left Havana for the African coast on July 23, 1816, not at the end of 1816. Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, the crew submitted their petition to Pétion in November 1816, meaning the brig could not have been approaching West Africa at the beginning of 1817. There is no indication that the crew members denounced one another upon disembarking in Port-au-Prince. Instead, their petition reflected their collective testimony and criticized only the deposed captains who were no longer on the vessel. Finally, Acebal's version of events did not describe any stops during the voyage between Cuba and Africa, implying that the crew and its cargo had all come on board in Havana. José Matías de Acebal, Inventario de documentos que se acompañan y otros que acreditan la propiedad, 9 March 1819, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

43. Bryant, Jonathan, Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope (New York and London: Liveright Publishing, 2015), 6569; Hollander, “Against a Sea of Troubles,” ch 1; Landers, Black Society in Spanish Florida, 244–46; Jennifer L. Heckard, “The Crossroads of Empire: The 1817 Liberation and Occupation of Amelia Island, East Florida” (PhD diss., University of Connecticut, 2006), 86–87; and Morales, No Limits to Their Sway.

44. For an in-depth exploration of the relationship between these two processes, see especially Morales, No Limits to Their Sway.

45. Questioned by a British court in Demerara about the origins of the mutiny, the sailor James Alexander asserted that “we were engaged for three bottles of liquor per Mess for seven men per day, 35 dollars per month, and one ounce of Gold on the return of the Brig” and that “on the passage from the Amelia, the Captain took away from them 2 Bottles of Liquor which gave them dissatisfaction.” Interrogation for the Examination of James Alexander, Sailor confined in the Jail of Demerary on a charge of Piracy, 25 January 1817, TNA, Colonial Office, 111/23, Folios 130.

46. “Piracy,” Evening Post, November 28, 1816, 2; and “Piracy,” Albany Advertiser, December 4, 1816, 2. Cobo had first presented a short summary of the events in a letter to Acebal, which he had sent from Santo Antão on 8 October 1816. Serafín de Covo y Landeras to José Matías de Acebal, 8 October 1816, in Consulado 3876, Año 1816: Dn José Matías de Acebal con la Compañía de seguros de esta plaza, sobre el que practicaron en el bergn español San Franco de Paula, (a) el Africano su Capitán Dn Serafin de Covo y Landeras, in ANC, Tribunal de Comercio, leg. 4, no. 5.

Before leaving Santo Antão, Cobo had also filed a maritime protest before the local notary Pedro Antonio da Costa. Certidão de protesto por parte de Serafin Covo y Landeras da Cidade do Reino de Granada, capitão do Bergantim Espanhol invocado San Francisco de Paula, 5 October 1816, in Consulado 3876, Año 1816: Dn José Matías de Acebal con la Compañía de seguros de esta plaza, sobre el que practicaron en el bergn español San Franco de Paula, (a) el Africano su Capitán Dn Serafin de Covo y Landeras, in ANC, Tribunal de Comercio, leg. 4, no. 5.

47. For the full account, see Narrative of Daniel McKinnen, late 2nd Officer of the Brig Africano on a Voyage from Amelia Island to Africa, TNA, Colonial Office, 111/23, Folios 110–12. Daniel McKinnen relayed details of the voyage in a letter to his parents, written from Demerara. See Letter of Daniel McKinnen to his Parents, Undated [1816], TNA, Colonial Office, 111/23, 117–20. Following his instructions, McKinnen's parents sent extracts of the letter to be republished in newspapers in the United States and beyond. See, for example, Boston Daily Advertiser, December 14, 1816, 2.

48. For more on this itinerary, see Balthazar Burk to José Matías de Acebal, 23 November 1816, Consulado 3876, Año 1816: Dn José Matías de Acebal con la Compañía de seguros de esta plaza, sobre el que practicaron en el bergn español San Franco de Paula, (a) el Africano su Capitán Dn Serafin de Covo y Landeras, in ANC, Tribunal de Comercio, leg. 4, no. 5.

49. Albany Advertiser, December 4, 1816, 2; and Repertory, December 14, 1816, 2.

50. “Boston, August 21,” Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, August 26, 1818, 2. For more on the court proceedings in Demerara, see TNA, Colonial Office, 111/23.

51. Inventaire du Brig l'Africain, fait par les Officiers du Tribunal d'Amirauté Séant au Port-au-Prince, 11 November 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

52. Ibid.

53. Pétition de l’équipage du brick le Firefly à Son Excellence le Président d'Haïti, 25 November 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

54. Ibid. Although it is possible that Haitian officials guided the crew members through the legal process and helped them to shape their arguments, it is most likely that the crewmembers’ rhetorical strategies reflected a composite of vernacular understandings of admiralty law, the laws of nations, and various municipal antislavery laws. Sailors circulated major news about the legal suppression of the trade, while accused slave traders deployed similar rhetorical strategies when brought to trial in the United States during the same period. Scott, The Common Wind, ch. 3, and Hollander, “Against a Sea of Troubles,” ch. 4.

55. On the tribunaux de commerce under Dessalines, see articles 17–19 of No. 38: Décret sur le cabotage, les pêcheries, les salines, le movement des ports, 1 February 1806, in Pradine, Linstant, Recueil général des lois et actes du gouvernement d'Haïti depuis la proclamation de son indépendance jusqu'à nos jours, Tome 1 (Paris: Auguste Durand, 1860), 128–33.

56. No. 227: Dépêche du Sécretaire d'Etat au juge du tribunal de 1re instance de Jérémie, relative aux attributions des tribunaux de 1re instance, 4 June 1809, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 16.

57. See articles 34–46 of ch. 2 of No. 358: Loi qui fixe provisoirement les émoluments des judges des tribunaux d'appel, et portant tarif pour les tribunaux de la République, 15 September 1813, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 187–8.

58. No 294: Acte du Sénat portant nomination de commissaires pour la vérification des comptes des finances, 27 May 1811, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 91; and No. 501: Procès-verbal de l'installation du tribunal de cassation, 23 October 1817, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 567.

59. Ardouin, Beaubrun, Études sur l'histoire d'Haïti suivies de la vie du Général J. M. Borgella, Tome 8 (Paris: Chez l'Auteur, 1858), 3637.

60. The official gazette of the southern Haitian Republic published Lavaud's report alongside the sentence of the tribunal de première instance in its December 1, 1816 issue. See the articles entitled “Douane du Port-au-Prince” and “Jugement rendu par la sentence du Tribunal de Première Instance de cette ville,” in Le Télégraphe, December 1, 1816, 1–3.

61. See the article entitled “Procès-verbal,” in Le Télégraphe, December 1, 1816, 3.

62. For more on admiralty jurisdiction in the early nineteenth-century Atlantic, see Bryant, Dark Places of the Earth, 125.

63. Jugement rendu par Extraordinaire à l'amirauté en l'Hôtel, 4 December 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

64. Déclaration des puissances sur l'abolition de la traite des nègres du 8 février 1815, in Recueil d'actes et traités politiques intéressant les provinces qui ont fait partie du Royaume des Pays-Bas, Tome 2 (Liège: Chez J. Desoer, 1830), 412–14.

65. Ibid, 414. These discussions were reprinted and hotly debated in the official southern republican gazette Le Télégraphe in Port-au-Prince over the course of 1814 and 1815. See, for example, Le Télégraphe, May 14, 1815, 3.

66. Pétition de l’équipage du brick le Firefly à Son Excellence le Président d'Haïti, 25 November 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

67. The prosecutors never asked whether the United States citizens had violated any of their own domestic laws by participating in the trade.

68. A position created by the constitutional revision of 1816, the grand juge was charged with presiding over the tribunal de cassation and overseeing “the administration of justice” more generally. Sabourin was the first to hold this position, and was appointed by President Pétion on October 12, 1816, several weeks before the San Francisco de Paula arrived in Port-au-Prince. See the Constitution d'Haïti revisée au Grand-Goave, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 384.

69. Lettre addressée par le Grand-Juge au Commissaire du Gouvernement près les Tribunaux de l'Ouest, 16 November 1816, in Jugement rendu par Extraordinaire à l'amirauté en l'Hôtel, 4 December 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

70. In this way, the evidence appeared destined to produce a ruling that would clarify the Haitian state's vision of shifting international norms and agreements to limit the Atlantic trade in African captives, or which would at the very least invoke domestic antislavery laws or the constitutional articles that canceled all debt contracted for the acquisition of captives. The argument for condemning the brig based on the allegations that either Cobo or McKinnen had ordered the crew to commit piracy appeared secondary, both because these two men were not physically present in southern Haiti (and therefore could not be examined by the court) and because the government prosecutors who brought the case had focused their energy on demonstrating that the brig had been outfitted as a slave ship.

71. Jugement rendu par Extraordinaire à l'amirauté en l'Hôtel, 4 December 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

72. No. 162: Loi sur la police des ports et rades de la République, 4 April 1808, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 1, 428–30; No. 366: Loi additionelle à celle des douanes de la République, 27 November 1813, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 219–20; and No. 415: Loi qui définit la piraterie et porte différentes peines contre les pirates, 8 April 1815, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 324–30.

73. “Procès-verbal,” November 6, 1816, in Le Télégraphe, December 1, 1816, 3.

74. Le Télégraphe, December 1, 1816, 3.

75. This power was granted by article II of this section of the 1681 ordinance. Ordonnance de la Marine du mois d'Aoust 1681, Commentée et Conferée sur les anciennes Ordonnances, le Droit Romain, & les nouveaux Reglemens (Paris: Chez Charles Osmont, 1714), 17.

76. Ordonnance de la Marine, 216–17. This article was initially intended to benefit the masters of ships rather than the crews themselves. According to a 1714 commentary on the 1681 ordinance, the written contracts would prevent sailors from deceiving masters and force them to remain faithful to their word.

77. Jugement rendu par Extraordinaire à l'amirauté en l'Hôtel, 4 December 1816, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

78. État sommaire des objets provenant du Bric l'Africain, vendu par les officiers du Tribunal d'Amirauté du Port-au-Prince, 14 March 1817, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951. In 1817, 3,000 gourdes was roughly twice the amount of the annual salary of a judge on the tribunal de cassation. See No. 492: Loi relative aux appointments des fonctionnaires publics, employés ou salaries de l'Etat, des officiers, soldats des troupes de terre et de mer de la République, 14 August 1817, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 550.

79. In 1811, a British newspaper reported that the northern Haitian navy consisted of at least one frigate, nine sloops of war, five brigs, and a “number of schooners.” Although at least two brigs were destroyed by the fighting in 1812, the size of Christophe's fleet still surpassed that of Pétion's, which hovered at approximately four ships. See The Morning Chronicle, May 4, 1811, 2; and Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, May 22, 1812, 3.

80. For more on the conflict between Pétion's southern republic and Christophe's northern kingdom, see Gaffield, Haitian Connections, 153–81; Pierre, Nathalie, “Liberal Trade in the Postcolonial Americas: Haitian Leaders and British Agents, 1806–1813,” The Journal of Haitian Studies 21 (2015): 6899; and Chelsea Stieber, “Beyond Race: Civil War, Regionalism, and Ideology in Early Post-Independence Haiti,” Age of Revolutions, https://ageofrevolutions.com/2018/04/16/beyond-race-civil-war-regionalism-and-ideology-in-early-post-independence-haiti/ (accessed January 18, 2019).

81. Acebal had received details about the mutiny from his contact in Charleston, Charles Edmonston. Charles Edmonston to José Matías de Acebal, 22 November 1816, Consulado 3876, Año 1816: Dn José Matías de Acebal con la Compañía de seguros de esta plaza, sobre el que practicaron en el bergn español San Franco de Paula, (a) el Africano su Capitán Dn Serafin de Covo y Landeras, in ANC, Tribunal de Comercio, leg. 4, no. 5.

82. This translation is based in part on that of historian Ada Ferrer, who cites the passage in the epilogue of her book Freedom's Mirror. See Ferrer, Freedom's Mirror, 332. Here is the original text of the letter: “Cette condamnation ayant eu pour base la piraterie exercée sur les hautes mers par le d.t batiment et la traite qu'il fesait des malheureux africains, commerce honteux, reprouvé par les nations civilisées; il ne m'appartient pas d'intervenir dans le jugement qui a été porteé.” Alexandre Pétion to Pablo Arnaud, 8 April 1817, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

83. Jean-Pierre Boyer to Sebastián Kindelán, September 19, 1819, in AGI, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 1951.

84. Ferrer, Freedom's Mirror, 332.

85. This provision might explain why the crew members immediately positioned themselves as the “denouncers” of the brig in November 1816. No. 415: Loi qui définit la piraterie, 8 April 1815, in Pradine, Recueil, Tome 2, 328.

86. Columbian Register, June 17, 1817, 2.

87. In October 1817, the official gazette of Christophe's northern kingdom published a story about the recent condemnation of a Portuguese slaving vessel and the liberation of the 145 captives on board. See Ardouin, Études, Tome 8, 296. Scholars Marlene Daut and Julia Gaffield have recently located, digitized, transcribed, and analyzed the original issue of the royal gazette in which this story is featured. See Gazette Royale d'Hayti, October 10, 1817, 2, Available via La Gazette Royale d'Hayti, http://lagazetteroyale.com/1817/10/10-octobre-1817/ (accessed September 20, 2018).

88. For more on this incident, see Ferrer, Freedom's Mirror, 329–38, and Franco, José Luciano, Comercio clandestino de esclavos (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1985), 154–56.

As the commander of the armed forces of southern Haiti, President Pétion personally supervised the operations of some of these ships. In February 1816, for example, he gave orders for resupplying the Wilberforce, clarifying the purpose of each item to be brought on board. See Alexandre Pétion, Invitation au garde-magasin général à délivrer, pour la corvette le Wilberforce, les objets suivants, 29 February 1816, in Archives Nationales d'Haïti, Section historique, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Site Poste-Marchand), Présidence, Liasse Alexandre Pétion, No Folio Number.

89. Testimonio de las diligencias proveídas por D. Juan Manuel de María, Capitán Español del bergantín mercante Español nombrado los Dos Unidos, 30 March 1819, Archivo General de la Marina Álvaro de Bazán, Viso del Marqués, Spain, Corso y Presas, leg. 5240L; See also Ferrer, Freedom's Mirror, 330.

90. Ferrer, Freedom's Mirror, 330.

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Law and History Review
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