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Journal of an African Cruiser by Horatio Bridge

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As may be supposed, so heterogeneous and wild a population as that of
Sierra Leone requires the supervision of a strict and energetic police.
Accordingly, the peace is preserved, and crimes prevented, by a whole army
of constables, who, in a cheap uniform of blue cotton, with a white badge
on the arm, and a short club as their baton of office, patrol the streets,
day and night. Their number cannot be less than two or three hundred.

There is a desire, in some quarters, to destroy the colony of Sierra
Leone; and one of the means for accomplishing this end is, of procuring
the emigration of the colored colonists to the West Indies. For this
purpose there are three different agencies. One has over its
door:--"British Guiana Emigration Office;" another is for Trinidad; and a
third for Jamaica.

Great promises are made to persons proposing to emigrate; such as a free
passage to the West Indies, wages of from seventy-five cents to a dollar
per day, and permission to return when they choose. Very few, however, of
those who have been long resident here, can be induced to avail themselves
of these offers, small as are the earnings of labor at Sierra Leone. They
believe that the stipulations are not observed; that emigrants, on their
arrival in the West Indies, will be called upon to pay their passages, and
that it will not be at their option to return. In short, they suspect
emigration to be only a more plausible name for the slave-trade. The
Kroomen are the class most sought for as emigrants, although negroes of
any tribe are greedily received. Even the Africans just re-captured are
sent off, as the authorities are pleased to term it, "voluntarily." The
last emigration, consisting of somewhat less than two hundred and fifty
persons, included seventy-six slaves, almost that instant landed from a
prize. A respectable merchant assured me, that these men were not
permitted to communicate with their countrymen, but were hurried off to
the vessel, without knowing whither they were bound. The acting governor,
Dr. Fergusson, denied the truth of this, although he admitted that the
seventy-six liberated slaves did emigrate to the West Indies, very soon
after landing from the prize.

It is to be remarked, that the white inhabitants of Sierra Leone, as well
as the colored people, entertain very unfavorable notions of this scheme
of procuring laborers for the West Indies. The best defence of it,
perhaps, is, that neither blacks nor whites can flourish in this
settlement, and that a transportation from its poor soil and sickly
climate, to any other region, may probably be for the better. But,
undeniably, the British government is less scrupulous as to the methods of
carrying out its philanthropic projects, than most other nations in their
schemes of self-aggrandizement.

In Freetown, which is the residence of all the Europeans, are to be found
what remains of the emigrants from Nova Scotia, and their descendants. The
whole number transported hither at several periods, was about fifteen
hundred. Not more than seventy or eighty of these people, or their
progeny, now survive upon the spot. Our pilot is one of the number. He
affirms, that his countrymen were promised fifty acres of land, each, in
Sierra Leone, on condition of relinquishing the land already in their
possession in Nova Scotia. With this understanding they emigrated to
Africa; but, in more than half a century which has since elapsed, the
government has never found it convenient to fulfil its obligations. Only
two or three acres have been assigned to each individual. Meantime, the
body of emigrants has dwindled away, until the standard six feet of earth
by two, the natural inheritance of every human being, has sufficed for
almost all of them, as well as fifty, or five thousand acres could have
done. These emigrants were the colonial slaves, who were taken or ran away
from the United States, during the Revolutionary war. Considered
physically and statistically, their movement was anything but an
advantageous one. It would be matter of curious speculation to inquire
into the relative proportions now alive, of slaves who remained upon our
southern soil, and of these freed men, together with the amount of their
posterity. Not, of course, that it has been in any degree a fair
experiment as to the result of emancipating and colonizing slaves. The
trial of that experiment has been left to America; and it has been
commenced in a manner that might induce England to mistrust her own
beneficence, when she contrasts Liberia with Sierra Leone.

This settlement has been known as "The White Man's Grave;" and it is
certainly a beautiful spot for a grave--as lovely as one of those
ornamental cemeteries, now so fashionable, and on which so much of our
taste is lavished; as if only the dead had leisure for the enjoyment of
shrubbery and sculpture. Sierra Leone, however, is by no means the fatal
spot that it once was. Formerly, a governor was expected to die every
year, although a few held the reins of power, and enjoyed the pomp and
dignity of office, twice or even thrice that period. Brave and excellent
men have accepted the station, on this fearful tenure. Among them was
Colonel Denham, the adventurous traveller in Africa. Very great mortality
likewise prevailed among the merchants, military and civil officers, and
soldiers. This was partly owing to the recklessness of their mode of life.
The rich were in the habit of giving champagne-breakfasts at noon, and
heavy and luxurious suppers at night. The continual neighborhood and near
prospect of death made them gaily desperate; so that they grew familiar
with him, and regarded him almost as a boon companion. And, besides, in a
sickly climate, each individual is confident of his own personal immunity
against the disease which, he is ready to allow, may be fatal to those
around him. I have noticed this absurd hallucination in others, and been
conscious of it in myself. In battle it is the same--the bullet is
expected to strike any and every breast, except one's own--and here,
perhaps, is the great secret of courage.

Latterly, the Europeans at Sierra Leone practise a more temperate life.
Another circumstance that has conduced to render the settlement less
insalubrious, is the clearing of lands in the vicinity, and conversion of
the rank jungle into cultivated fields. The good effect of this change
will be readily appreciated by those who have noticed the improved health
of our Western settlers, as the forest falls before the axe; or who have
seen the difference between the inhabitants of old and new lands, in any

It is said, by the old residents here, that they do not find it very
sickly, except once in seven years, when an epidemic rages, and carries
off many settlers. This has happened regularly since 1823, until the
present year, when, in the proper order of things, the angel of death
should have re-appeared. Several persons provided for their safety by
quitting the place; and others made their arrangement to retreat, on the
first symptoms of danger. But the year, thus far, seems to have been
distinguished by no peculiar mortality.

Life, in a climate like this, must generally be much more brief than in
temperate regions, even if it do not yield at once to the violence of
disease. Yet there are circumstances of Europeans attaining a good and
green old age at Sierra Leone. Mr. Hornell, a Scotch merchant of great
wealth and probity--which latter virtue is rare enough, in this quarter,
to deserve special mention--has resided here fifteen years, and
twenty-seven years in the West Indies. He lives regularly, but generously
imbibing ale, and brandy-and-water, in moderate quantities, every day of
his life.

The governor, Colonel George Macdonald, is now absent in England. In the
interim, the duties of the office are performed by Dr. Fergusson, a
mulatto in color, but born in Scotland, and married to a white lady, who
now resides in that country. Dr. Fergusson was regularly educated at
Edinburgh, and is a medical officer of the British army; a man of noble
and commanding figure, handsome and intellectual countenance, and finished
manners. He is affable, as well as dignified, in his deportment, and
fluent and interesting in conversation. To him, and five or six other men
of color, whom I have met on the coast, I should refer, as proofs that
individuals of the African race may, with due advantages, be cultivated
and refined so as to compare with the best specimens of white gentlemen.

There is a large church here, said to have cost seventy thousand pounds
sterling; notwithstanding which vast expenditure, divine service has
ceased to be performed. The last clergyman, a young man universally
beloved and respected, lost his life, two or three years ago. He had gone
with a party of friends, five in all, on board a homeward-bound vessel,
which lay at a short distance from the shore. On their return the boat
capsized and sunk. The five Kroomen saved themselves, by swimming, until
picked up by a canoe; the five whites were lost; and the young clergyman
among them. The latter swam well, and was almost within reach of a canoe,
when he threw up his hands, exclaiming, "God have mercy on me!"--and
disappeared. A shark had undoubtedly seized him, at the moment when he
believed himself safe. This gentleman held the office of Queen's Chaplain;
and since his melancholy fate, no new appointment of that nature has been
made. If credit be due to the statements reciprocally made by the
colonists, in reference to one another, there is great need of teachers to
inculcate the principles of religion, morality, and brotherly love;
although the spiritual instruction heretofore bestowed (which has cost
large sums to the pious in England) has been almost entirely thrown away.
There are some missionaries here, who have directed their labors
principally to the business of education.

The tide runs so strongly, into and out of the river, that such accidents
as that which befell the five Europeans, above-mentioned, are of no
unfrequent occurrence. When boats or canoes are upset, it is impossible
for the passengers to swim against the current. We had an instance of the
danger, while at anchor there. The captain was seated in his cabin, with
the stern windows open, when he heard a native in a canoe, under the
stern, say "Man drown!" Being asked what he meant, he reiterated the
words, pointing towards the sea. Just then, a cry was indistinctly heard.
Two of our boats were instantly despatched, and picked up three Kroomen,
whose canoe had sunk, leaving them to the mercy of the current, which was
rapidly drifting them towards the ocean. The Humane Society of Sierra
Leone bestows a reward for every person rescued from drowning. In this
instance, of course, no claim was made upon their funds.

The currency here differs from that of all the other settlements on the
coast, except those belonging to Great Britain. The Spanish and South
American doubloons are valued at only sixty-four shillings sterling each,
or fifteen dollars and thirty-six cents; while they are worth elsewhere,
sixteen dollars. Spanish and South American dollars pass at about one per
cent. discount. The English sovereign is reckoned at four dollars eighty
cents; and the French five-franc piece at ninety-two cents. The gold and
silver coin of the United States is not current at Sierra Leone. Bills on
London, at thirty days sight, are worth from par to five per cent.
premium, and may actually be sold in small sums (say, from L100 to L2000)
at fair rates.

Pilotage is five shillings sterling per foot; and the port-charges are so
exorbitant as to prevent the entrance of many vessels, which would
otherwise stop to try the market. Of late years, the trade of Sierra Leone
has suffered great diminution. Money having been lost on all the timber
exported, that business is at present nearly abandoned. Another cause of
decay is the withdrawal of the British squadron, which has now its
principal rendezvous at Ascension. More than all, as contributing to the
decline of the colony, the home-government has discontinued the greater
part of the assistance formerly rendered. The governor, colonial
secretary, and chief justice, are believed to be all the civil officers
who now draw their salaries from England. The military force consists of a
captain, five or six subalterns, and probably two or three hundred
soldiers. In consequence of the failure of support from the
mother-country, the colony has imposed higher duties upon certain
articles, in order to try the experiment of raising a revenue from their
own resources. The most sagacious and best informed residents predict that
the result aimed at will not follow, and that three or four years will
suffice to render the colony of Sierra Leone bankrupt.


Failure of the American Squadron to capture Slave-Vessels--Causes of that
Failure--High character of the Commodore and Commander--Similar
ill-success of the French Squadron--Success of the English, and
why--Results effected by the American Squadron.

It will not have escaped the reader's notice, that the foregoing journal
of our cruise records not the capture of a single slave-vessel, either by
our own ship or any other belonging to the American squadron. Such is the
fact, and such it must inevitably be, so long as the circumstances, which
prevented our efficiency in that respect, shall continue to exist. The
doctrines relative to the right of search, held by our Government and
cordially sanctioned by the people, declare that the cruisers of no
foreign nation have a right to search, visit, or in any way detain an
American vessel on the high seas. Denying the privilege to others, we must
of course allow the same inviolability to a foreign flag, as we assert for
that of our own country. Hence, our national ships can detain or examine
none but American vessels, or those which they find sailing under the
American flag. But no slave-vessel would display this flag. The laws of
the United States declare the slave-trade, if exercised by any of its
citizens, to be piracy, and punishable with death; the laws of Spain,
Portugal and Brazil, are believed to be different, or, at least, if they
threaten the same penalty, are certain never to inflict it. Consequently,
all slaves will be careful to sail under the flag of one of these latter
nations, and thus avoid the danger of losing life as well as property, in
the event of capture.

Undoubtedly, many American vessels have been sold to foreigners, by
unprincipled citizens of our country, with a belief or full understanding
that they were to be employed in this nefarious trade. In some instances,
such vessels have been sold, with stipulations in the contract, binding
the seller to deliver them at slave-stations on the coast of Africa; they
have been sent out to those stations under American colors, and commanded
by American captains; and there, being transferred to new masters, they
have immediately taken on board their cargoes of human flesh. But how is
an American cruiser to take hold of a vessel so circumstanced? On her
departure from the United States, and until the transfer takes place, she
is provided with regular papers, and probably sails for her destined port
with a cargo which may be used in lawful, as well as unlawful trade. After
the transfer, she appears under foreign colors, is furnished with foreign
papers, commanded by a foreign master, and manned by a foreign crew. It is
not to be presumed that this change of nationality will be effected in
presence of one of our men-of-war. How then can such a vessel be taken or
molested, so long as the present treaties and laws continue in force?

It is well that the public should be prepared for an inefficiency which
can hardly fail to continue; and, in justice to the American squadron, it
should be imputed to the true cause, and not to any lack of energy or
good-will on the part of the officers. Whatever be their zeal (and
hitherto they have been active and indefatigable), it is almost certain
that their efforts will not be crowned with success, in the capture of a
single prize. The Commodore, under whose general direction we have acted,
is a gentleman of the highest professional character, persevering,
sagacious, and determined, and well known as such, both in and out of the
service. The commanders of the different vessels were likewise men of
elevated character, zealous in performing their duty, and honorably
ambitious of distinction. If the incentive of gain be reckoned stronger
than considerations of duty and honor, it was not wanting; for, besides
half the value of the vessel, each liberated slave would have been worth
twenty-five dollars to the captors--a handsome amount of prize-money, in a
cargo of six or eight hundred.

The French, like ourselves, having no reciprocal treaties with Spain,
Portugal, and Brazil, are equally unsuccessful in making prizes. Eleven of
their vessels of war were stationed on the coast, during the period of our
cruise, but effected not a single capture. England, by virtue of her
treaties with the three nations above mentioned, empowers her cruisers to
take slave-vessels under either of their flags. Hence the success of the
English commanders; a success which is sometimes tauntingly held up, in
contrast with what is most unjustly termed the sluggishness of our own

Still, the presence of American national vessels, on the coast of Africa,
has not been unattended with results that may partly compensate for the
sacrifice of human life and health, which the climate renders inevitable.
The trade of the United States has been protected. The natives have been
taught, that the humblest American merchant-vessel sails under the shadow
of a flag, which guarantees security to everything that it covers. The
colonies of Liberia have been made more respectable in the eyes of the
barbarian nations that surround them. This latter advantage it is
creditable to our country to bestow; for the United States demand from
Liberia no commercial exemptions, nor anything in return for the
countenance which she lends to that growing commonwealth. Never before,
perhaps, did a colony exist, so entirely free from vexatious interference
on the part of the mother-country, and so carefully fostered by the
benevolence that planted it. Slight as is the present political connection
between the United States and Liberia, the latest advices inform us that
it is in contemplation to sever the silken thread. The Colonization
Society, I understand, is discussing the expediency of relinquishing its
further control over the government, and allowing the infant colony to
take a place among independent nations. Should this event come to pass,
and Liberia either find the protection of another maritime power, or prove
adequate to protect herself, there will be one reason the less for sending
a squadron of gallant ships to chase shadows in a deadly climate.


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