Franklin Stanwood (1852-1888), a self-taught painter and sailor from Portland, painted this large canvas of a slave ship escaping from a British cruiser.
The slave trade that supported the triangular trade market was outlawed in England in 1807, and in the United States in 1808. In 1820, the U.S. Congress further declared that anyone engaged in the international slave trade was guilty of piracy, but slavery on U.S. soil was legal until 1865. Though the penalty if convicted of slave trading on the sea was death, the potential profit, plus the high wages, meant there was never a shortage of people willing to risk their lives in this endeavor.
Letter from Thomas Hodges to Captain Henry Skinner, Portland, 1791
Item 102024 info
Maine Historical Society
In February 1791, Thomas Hodges sold 29 slaves in Hispaniola on behalf of his father-in-law, Thomas Robison of Portland. American ships were not allowed to bring slaves to the French colony, so Hodges had chartered a French ship to bring his cargo into the port of Aux Cayes (present day Les Cayes, Haiti). Once there, he devised a plan to sneak a second shipment of slaves into Hispaniola aboard the Eagle, which would sail from Africa that summer.
Hodges sent his plan to Portland for Thomas Robison's approval, in hopes that Robison would forward his instructions to friends on the island of St. Eustatius, where the Eagle was expected to land in July or August. These instructions directed Captain Henry Skinner to sail directly to a sugar plantation along the coast of Hispaniola, within a short distance of Aux Cayes. He was to meet the plantation owner, who would take the slaves, and move along to the port, where it would appear that the Eagle had arrived with an empty hull.
Thomas Robison from Thomas Hodges regarding illegal slave trade, Les Cayes, April 6, 1791
Item 102023 info
Maine Historical Society
In 1791, Thomas Hodges left his father-in-law's ship, the Eagle, in the care of its captain at Îles De Los, Guinea. He traveled to Aux Cayes, Hispaniola (Les Cayes, Haiti), where he sold a cargo of African slaves and wrote a letter to his father-in-law, Thomas Robison of Portland, Maine.
This letter sheds some light on the decisions made by Thomas Hodges as he skirted the law in order to sell slaves on Robison's behalf. Since the French colony of Hispaniola did not accept slaves from American ships, Hodges chartered a French vessel to gain access to the port of Aux Cayes. After selling the slaves, Hodges hesitated to return to America with the cash proceeds. He had to decide whether to invest the money in expensive sugar or cheap coffee. West Indian sugar would be used to produce rum at Robison's distillery in Portland, while coffee could be sold to Portland's residents.
Hodges letter includes a postscript referring to his wife Jane, who was Thomas Robison's second daughter.
"The Owners Ship Eagle in Account Current with Henry Skinner," 1791
Item 101827 info
Maine Historical Society
This account is directed to the owners of the ship Eagle which included Thomas Robison of Portland, Maine. As a participant in the triangle trade, Robison used sugar and molasses from the West Indies to produce rum in his distil house, located on his wharf at the foot of Ann (now Park) Street in Portland. Rum from New England was often shipped to Africa, where ship captains would collect a cargo of slaves before sailing to the West Indies.
In 1791, Spain's King Charles IV had recently opened the port of Havana, Cuba to foreign trade. The Eagle's Captain Henry Skinner took advantage of this trade opportunity by purchasing goods and services in Havana after selling thirteen slaves from Africa. Most of the proceeds from the sale were put toward the purchase of sugar; other expenses show the cost of feeding, clothing, and transporting human cargo.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts outlawed the slave trade in 1787, and the Eagle's slaving voyage was unlawful. As a result, the Eagle's Captain Henry Skinner and Robison's agent Thomas Hodges were taken to court in Portland in 1792. According to a footnote on page 28 of William Willis's "History of Portland" (1831) Skinner et. al. were fined £200 for fitting out the ship and £50 for each of the thirteen slaves sold.
An 1858-1860 logbook of the 'Julia E. Arey' contains an account of the capture and flogging of Captain E.W. Ryder by Georgian slaveholders in November 1860. On November 6th, 7th, and 8th, 1860, an unknown sailor (possibly the first mate) recorded his account of the incident. Other accounts appeared in abolitionist publications after the start of the American Civil War.
At 7 PM on October 15, 1860, the brig 'Julia E. Arey' passed between St. Simon's Light and Cumberland Light to enter the mouth of the Satilla River. Captain E. W. Ryder sailed the brig from Thomaston, Maine to exchange cargo near Jeffersonton, Georgia, before sailing on to Trinidad.
On November 6th, the account describes a mob from Jeffersonton, Georgia, led by the local 'Captain of Patrols'. The mob boarded the ship in search of a slave who was known to have visited the vessel several times. The following night, the mob returned to search the ship. Finding nothing, they arrested Captain Ryder, put him on trial, and sentenced him to 25 lashes. The captain and the second mate (his son, Joseph Ryder), were jailed in Jeffersonton until the vessel left the Satilla River two weeks later. The incident became a propaganda tool for both abolitionist and pro-slavery factions.
The brig 'Julia E. Arey' was built in Frankfort, Maine in 1851. She was owned T.J. Stewart of Bangor at the time of the incident. In 1859, she was captained by G. A. Stone and sailed from Bangor to Cuba by way of New York. In 1860, she sailed out of Thomaston as a merchant vessel captained by E. W. Ryder.
In general, the logbook was used to record a vessel's course and cargo, as well as daily remarks. It covers the period of both Capt. Stone and Capt. Ryder.
Thomas Reed to Thomas Robison regarding the Caribbean economy and slave market, Sint Eustatius, 1791
Item 101784 info
Maine Historical Society
In this July 24, 1791 letter to Thomas Robison, his one-time business partner, Thomas Reed sent news from the island of St. Eustatius in the Dutch West Indies. He reported what he heard about the Eagle (a ship owned in part by Robison) and included several details of the Caribbean economy in 1791.
Reed hinted at a disagreement aboard the Eagle between George Bolland, who is part owner of the ship, and its captain, Henry Skinner, regarding the shipment of slaves from Africa to the West Indies. Reed adds a post-script warning Robison of a potential conflict between George Bolland and Robison's son-in-law and agent, Thomas Hodges.
Reed's letter contains a wealth of economic advice to Robison. He detailed the saturated market for slaves in the islands and estimated prices in common Portuguese currency known as Johanneses (or Joes). He sent news that Spain's King Charles IV just opened Havana, Cuba to foreign merchants, and advised Robison to send his goods there. Reed also mentioned the risk of trading on credit to French citizens while their home country experiences the political upheaval of the French Revolution.
Pishon's Ferry was located where the Hinkley bridge now crosses the Kennebec River near the Skowhegan-Fairfield town line. Seen here are loggers amidst the logs in this log jam.
Early in 1791, Thomas Hodges, son-in-law and agent to Thomas Robison of Portland, boarded a French ship, bringing with him a cargo of 30 slaves from Robison's ship, the Eagle. Hodges crossed the Atlantic to Aux Cayes, Hispaniola (present day Les Cayes, Haiti), leaving the Eagle in the care of its captain. While an American ship like the Eagle would not have been allowed to bring slaves to the French colony, the French ship La Jeremie could bring Hodges's slaves on shore without consequence.
This document records the sale of 29 slaves (one of the 30 having died on the voyage) at Aux Cayes. Through a local merchant, Hodges sold the slaves to several men and women, many of them French colonists. The value of each purchase is listed on the front half of the folded account. Two individuals were given a discount for paying cash upfront.
Hodges used the proceeds of these sales to purchase over six tons of coffee for import to America. Often, American traders purchased hogsheads of sugar for the production of rum in New England. A letter from Hodges to Robison explains the preference for coffee, as the price was very low at the time, while the price of sugar was very high. The purchase price for 12,249 pounds of coffee was just one sixth of the gross value of 29 slaves.
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