When I teach students about the U.S. Constitution they are generally appalled when I explain the Three-Fifths Compromise.
“Elementaryhistoryteacher, what do you mean? How can a whole person not be a whole person?” somone invaribly asks.
It does seem strange, doesn’t it? In the effort for compromise though that’s exactly what the delegates to the Constitutional Convention did. They agreed that a slave was only worth three-fifths of a person and then had the audacity to totally ignore the opportunity that was there for them to eradicate slavery from the young United States. Instead the delegates decided to let slavery go on for some 20 more years and then Congress would take the matter up.
I like for young students to notice the missed chances….the opportunties missed due to ignorance, pride, an unwillingness to innovate, and selfishness. I generally bring these matters to the forefront to build background for students once we get to the Civil War so that students can look all the way back to the Constitutional Convention and see a chain of missed opportunties.
Congress did follow through after 20 or so years and in 1808 their actions did not end slavery, but did end the importation of Africans for the purpose of slavery. Once again a compromise had stalled progress and led us one more step closer to the Civil War.
Last week over at History is Elementary I posted the image you see here and asked you to guess the importance of the ship. I’ve decided to post the explanation here because it involves a Georgian and Georgia history.
Some slave traders and large plantation owners across the South were very upset about the end of the African slave trade because they saw a huge loss in income. By 1857 Charles Lamar of Savannah was determined to reopen the slave trade and was willing to do whatever it took. He initially found plenty of investors from Georgia to New York.
Lamar’s actions were suspect by U.S. officials from the beginning as he tried to get the necessary travel papers for a boat called the E.A. Rawlins. The book, The Slave Ship Wanderer, by Henderson Wells (1967) mentions Lamar entered into partnership with a Louisiana sugar plantation owner and a Charleston gentleman to scheme to use a ship that Lamar would have built up north. In this way the ship might be under less suspicion.
The ship named The Wanderer was built in Setauket, Long Island and was to be outfitted as a very luxurious racing yacht. It could reach speeds of 20 knots. In fact soon after the ship was completed it was sailed down the east coast to New Orleans and entered yacht competitions along the way. Thinking they had sucessfully diverted attention from their true intent one of the other partners took control of the ship and outfitted her with 15,000 gallon water tanks.
At one point, however, the U.S. Revenue Marine did become suspicious after the entire crew had been replaced….one hint among many others. Officials gave chase and overtook The Wanderer. Finding nothing amiss they let it go---later it was thought that officials had been bribed or the lavish accomodations of the yacht completely fooled everyone.
Once The Wanderer headed out to open sea Lamar contacted a New York investor:
“I have as you know, a vessel now afloat…If she gets clear of the Coast they can’t catch her…and all the negroes can be sold as fast as landed at $650 a head…If you know of any who would like to take an interest, mention it to them confidentially and let me know who they are. I want none but reliable men and men who will have money the moment it is called for.”
The vessel was totally changed as it sailed up the Congo River. The crew of The Wanderer built pens on deck and below that would eventually hold between 400 and 600 Africans. Once the ship reached the coast of Georgia it landed at Jekyll Island where the Africans who did not die during the passage where quickly hustled away and sent to all parts of the South.
Eventually word got out about what happened and there was a trial. Lamar was brought up on charges along with others, however, everyone was aquitted.
Erik Colonius recently published a book called The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails.
You can read about it in an article published in a Memphis paper titled Rescue Effort and there’s even More from Mike's Civil War Musings.
If you followed these two links you see that this April there will be walking tour in Savannah that will educate people about this often forgotten aspect of slavery in America. For example, the Owens Thomas House will be a stop on the tour since John Owen who lived in the house represented Charles Lamar in the infamous lawsuit.
Another interesting link that details this facinating story from the aspect of the slave and subsequent generations can be found in this Newsday article.