The little-known story of a slave ship, the fate of its captives, and its place in American history.
In 1820, the Spanish slave ship Antelope was captured off the coast of Africa by privateers who operated in the murky world between state-sanctioned raiding and piracy. To the Antelope’s hold they added slaves captured from other ships and then, with more than 300 enslaved Africans, set sail back across the Atlantic. In this meticulous account, Bryant (History/Georgia Southern Univ.; How Curious a Land: Conflict and Change in Greene County, Georgia, 1850-1885, 2004) describes how the Antelope was seized by a Navy revenue cutter near Florida, thus setting off a series of trials that would have a profound impact on the direction of American history. Although United States law banned the slave trade, the fate of the Antelope’s captives was subject to fierce legal debate. Bryant traces the Antelope case from proceedings in Savannah to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Francis Scott Key, better known today as the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” argued to free the captives and return them to Africa. This legal odyssey lasted eight years and, all the while, the Antelope’s captives lived and labored as slaves, dying from overwork and disease in large numbers, until their case was finally resolved. Bryant’s familiarity with admiralty law and the slave trade makes him an able guide through this complex and often confusing tangle of legal and moral issues, which general readers may find difficult to parse. He writes with compassion for the African captives—most of whom were children and teenagers—and convincingly argues for the importance of the Antelope case as a flash point in the deepening conflict over slavery.
A richly documented work that restores the Antelope to its central place in the long, grim history of the Atlantic slave trade.