In Annapolis stands the Tripoli Monument, erected initially in 1808, the oldest military monument in the US, which commemorates the first American servicemen who died fighting slavers. The First Barbary War was fought between Tripoli and the US - with Swedish support after the North African islamic pirate states had declared open season on US merchant shipping after America gained independence. The target was not so much the cargoes of those ships, but as it had been for hundreds of years against European christendom, their crews, valuable slaves.
When Jefferson and Adams had tried to speak reason to the envoy of Tripoli, Sidi Haji Abdrahaman his response was unequivocal,
“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave…”
Given that at the time the US merchant marine had a significant proportion of black seamen at the time it is likely that amongst the 300 American slaves released many were black. Black Merchant Seamen of Newport, 1803-1865: A Case Study in Foreign Commerce on JSTOR
Admittedly after that time and in the US navy, though there were black crew they were often both ratings and slaves, until after the abolishment of slavery in America, but at times made up 10-20% of the crew. The Recruitment of African Americans in the US Navy 1839
Here in the UK the issue of monuments and slavery has largely been driven by the BLM movement. As in the US various characters have had allegations of slave ownership or profit made and their statues have been the targets of attack, destruction and abuse.
In the light of all this, Colin Kemp, a retired businessman has decided to do something radical. He has set up a fund to put up a monument in Portsmouth (the home of the Royal Navy) to the West Africa Squadron.
Despite the Second Barbary war, with the US again, though hollowly, victorious against the pirate states, but Barbary slavery was finally crushed by Admiral Pellow in 1816, a nine hour bombardment of Algiers, the capitulation of the Bey and the release of 1,300 Christian slaves.
But it was the formation of the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron that made the real difference. Created in 1807 in order to give teeth to the UK’s decisioopn to end the slave trade, the squadron initially worked out of Freetown, Sierra Leone and then Capetown. Between 1807 and 1860 it captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 prisoners on those vessels.During that period upwards of 20% of the crews comprised of African and African diaspora sailors. For a period from 1820 to 1861 the US Navy with its Africa Squadron contributed ships and men to the campaign though it was far smaller and less effective than the Royal Naval efforts. One ship alone, a former Baltimore clipper and captured Brazillian slaverm the HMS Black Joke, captured over 20 slavers between 1828 and 1832, freeing thousands of slaves.
By the time the Squadron was wound up it was operating not only oa;omg teh West African coast, but in the Mediterrnean, and the Indian Oceans.
When the Squadron was founded, the UK dominated both the inytertnational slave trade worth billions in today’s money, but also the sugar trade, which relied upon chattel slavery for its profits. All of this was thtrown away in what has been described as the ‘most expensive example’ of an ‘international moral action’ in history. Over its time of operation the cost of the West Africa Squadron to the UK was 2% of it’s then GDP, equivalent to the UK’s contribution to NATO today, every year for 50 years. 5,000 ratings and officers died, and in the end, the slave trade as a serious internatiuonal market had been crushed.
To act as a corrective to the moral guilt that is demanded in our schools and society, Mr Kemp has stood up for honesty and history. He is raising $86,000 to remind people, West Africa Squadron Memorial Fund - a Social Enterprise crowdfunding project in Chichester by colin Kemp (crowdfunder.co.uk) that though we all know that slavery was a heinous evil and monstrous trade, it didn’t end by accident. It cost British blood and treasure, and that sacrifice should also be remembered.
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