Captain Nathaniel Gordon was the only American ship's captain ever to be tried, found guilty, and executed for slave trading. This was not because Captain Gordon was the only slaver sailing the seas who was captured and prosecuted for the crime because he wasn't. In fact, at the same time as he was captured, another ship's captain was also arrested, tried, and convicted.
While the United States did not try very hard to curtail the slave trade industry, there was a naval unit assigned to police the waters near known slave trading destinations, and it was that particular unit that captured and arrested Captain Gordon. For reasons that basically came down to incredibly bad luck, Captain Gordon was the one man of whom the US government decided to make an example to discourage other slave traders from continuing their business.
What made this book so interesting wasn't just the process by which Captain Gordon was brought to his harsh justice. Ron Soodalter thoroughly researched records dating back to before the Revolutionary War to build a solid picture of what slave trading was like. By the time Captain Gordon's case reached the trial phase, Abraham Lincoln was President, the Civil War was getting started, and public opinion was firmly in favor of putting a stop to the barbaric practice of capturing people, transporting them to foreign places under the most deplorable conditions, and selling them. What public opinion was undecided about was the status of those already enslaved. With the economies of both the North and South dependent upon slave labor to remain healthy, people merely behaved as though capturing people and selling them was wrong; using these same people to produce work for flourishing business was necessary.
To accomodate the slave industry, there were many loopholes built into anti-slave trading legislation. For this reason it was unusual for anyone caught transporting slaves to ports where they could be sold to face any sort of punishment other than perhaps a minor fine. However, Captain Gordon's arrest came at a time when anti-slavery voices were growing louder, and there needed to be an example made of someone to prove the United States was actually policing itself in an effort to end this inhumane practice.
Captain Nathaniel Gordon fit the bill perfectly. But because of precedent, both he and his attorney were so sure he would never be convicted of this crime much less executed for it. Which was why Gordon didn't use the ample opportunity he was given to escape from his prison cell early on in his case's process.
I found this book to be very interesting because:
- I knew next to nothing about the slave trade industry before reading the book. This is not a subject that's covered very well in our school systems.
- There is a lot of detail about New York City and how it was governed around the time of the Civil War. I think Soodalter did a very good job of relating a sense of the time along with the details of the crime.
- Soodalter includes historical information about Abraham Lincoln that I found fascinating.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys US history and wants a better understanding of just exactly how evil slave trading is.