Henry Louis Gates on When a Slave Ship Figures Into Family Lore

USS Wanderer

Last month marked the 176th anniversary of the slave-led mutiny aboard the schooner Amistad. That act of bravery on July 1, 1839, resulted in freedom for 35 Africans after a legal process that culminated in having a former president, John Quincy Adams, plead their case before the Supreme Court.

Freedom, however, was not in the cards for most of the Africans brought to America by ship. The progeny of those who remained in chains write to me seeking clues about their heritage. Rarely are those descendants able to point to a particular vessel that conveyed an ancestor, but sometimes it happens—and when it does, it gives us a unique opportunity to flesh out long-forgotten details of a life in bondage.

Below are my three favorite columns in which we explored mysteries involving slave ships.

Is a Family Legend About a Slave Ship True?

Dominique Hazzard inquired into a family legend about enslaved ancestors coming to the Georgia Low Country aboard a “contraband ship.” The tale of how they were thrown overboard by slavers hoping to avoid detection and swam to safety sounded suspiciously to her like the story of The Wanderer, which landed on Jekyll Island in 1858.

The Wanderer was likely one of the last ships to successfully transport enslaved people to the U.S., an act that had been illegal for half a century by then. According to what we found, it landed with 409 slaves who had survived the Middle Passage, on an island owned by people who were complicit in the illegal conspiracy, so there was no need to throw anyone overboard to avoid being caught. We also found contemporary accounts of where the enslaved Africans were from and what language they spoke.

Read on to find out what happened to those who were on The Wanderer and where Hazzard’s ancestors may have ended up.

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Source: The Root |  HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.