Amazing Grace - MORE TRAGEDIES

MORE TRAGEDIES (Illustration) Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Film Law and Politics Social Studies World History Ethics Crimes and Criminals Slaves and Slave Owners

Even during the last-half of the 19th century, Africans were kidnapped as slaves. This image, depicting “A Slaver’s Canoe,” is an example of events which took place in the Congo. It is from a work by E.J. Glave, The Slave-Trade in the Congo Basin. By one of Stanley's pioneer officers. Illustrated after sketches from life by the author (The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 1889-1890), vol. 39, pp. 824-838. The image (Reference C010) is online via Slavery Images.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite; sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Click on the image for a better view.


After Parliament abolished slave-trading, strict penalties were imposed for violators. Another chapter of slavers mistreating Africans was about to begin.

Capturing, transporting and selling of enslaved Africans was illegal, after 1807, but slavery itself continued in the British colonies and was thriving in the American South. Put differently, there was still a market for African slaves. 

The Royal Navy created a squadron to patrol the seas, searching for violators of the law. They were charged with searching, and detaining, ships with now-illegal slaves (including children) on board. It is estimated that 150,000 Africans were set free from these efforts. 

Attempting to “put teeth into the law,” Parliament established a stiff fine - £100 - for every illegal African found on a slave ship. Naval officers were empowered to assess the fines, on the spot. 

Did any shipowners try to avoid the fines (or import fees on sick slaves) by harming their “cargo?” A newly-released diary of a naval officer, who served aboard HMS Owen Glendower between 1823-1824, answers that question. What follows hereafter is not for the faint of heart. 

A despairing Midshipman, named C. Henry Binstead, finds ship after ship filled with illegal slaves. When he boards the vessels, he sees they are overcrowded and disease-ridden. Many of Binstead’s men are becoming sick and die of yellow fever and malaria. 

One day, Binstead sees an unusual number of sharks. He has discovered the horrid aftermath of a slaver’s method to avoid paying the £100-per-slave fine: 

Many large whales and sharks about us, the latter is owing to the number of poor fellows that have lately been thrown overboard. The ship is now truly miserable, many of our own crew very sick and the decks crowded with black slaves who are dying in all directions and apprehensive - their cases of fever are contagious. 

Thirty days before, Binstead witnessed first-hand how afraid Africans became when they believed slavers were after them. Patrolling the Congo River, looking for illegally captured people, Binstead came upon a convoy of canoes. Those onboard did not realize Binstead’s true intentions. His diary contains these words: 

Observed many large canoes, one of which I went in chase of. On my coming up with her, the whole crew jumped overboard and I fear they met a watery grave. These poor wretches were fearful we were going to make slaves of them. 

William Wilberforce, meanwhile, began to support the efforts to free the slaves, not just stop their capture. In 1823, he wrote his Appeal on Behalf of The Negro Slaves. He would live ten more years, with failing eyes and health. Days after he learned that a bill abolishing slavery would likely become law in Britain, he died - on the 29th of July, 1833.

Wilberforce - like a later anti-slaver from Scotland, Dr. David Livingstone - is buried at Westminster Abbey. So is his friend John Newton, the man who wrote the now-famous hymn Amazing Grace.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2007

Updated Last Revision: Mar 16, 2017

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