The Forum: Journal of History


Lucy Wickstrom


After Great Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, the British Royal Navy committed one-fifth of its manpower to the cause of capturing other nations’ illegal slave ships. This effort to enforce abolition liberated 250,000 displaced Africans over the course of the nineteenth century and brought the crews that had carried them before officials to have their cases tried. Because of the careful documentation of these cases by the Mixed Commissions, there is a wealth of primary sources detailing the circumstances of these captures and the human beings claimed as cargo. This paper utilizes a case study of one such slave ship, the Spanish schooner Julita, to yield crucial insight on the reality of the British Royal Navy’s efforts. While abolition is of course an historical moment worthy of celebration, the case of the Julita reveals that the prejudice toward Africans in the Atlantic nineteenth century world led even the British officials tasked with liberating them to often ignore their humanity and treat them with disrespect. By consulting such primary documents as the records of the Mixed Commission in Havana and the British Parliament, this paper will tell the story of the schooner Julita, its capture by the British brig-sloop Racer, and the 353 human beings taken from their homes in Whydah and bound for a life of servitude.