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Davidson, Hunter (1827-1913) to William McBlair

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC05832.02 Author/Creator: Davidson, Hunter (1827-1913) Place Written: s.l. Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 12 October 1857 Pagination: 3 p. : docket ; 32 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Lt. Davidson of the USS "Dale" reports on his official interview with Commodore Wise, commander of the H.M.S. "Vesuvius," regarding Wise's capture of the slaveship "Bremen" on October 10, 1857. Davidson interviewed Wise by order of the captain of the "Dale," William McBlair. Written on board the U.S.S. "Dale" off the West Coast of Africa. Davidson relays Wise's statement that he boarded the "Bremen" and told her captain that he knew she was a slaver flying an American flag without proper papers. The slaver's captain then threw the flag and papers overboard, stating that he would rather be taken by the British than fall into the hands of the "Dale" and "hung as a Pirate." (Under American law, slavers were considered pirates and subject to the death penalty.) In response a question from Davidson (asked at McBlair's behest), Wise insisted he had not attempted to intimidate the slaver's captain into taking this action. Wise noted that the ship's papers were obviously fraudulent and that the slaver captain admitted as much, saying he had been surprised that the HMS "Myrmidon" had not recognized the fact when she detained the "Bremen" a short time before. Davidson concludes: "Finally, I asked Commodore Wise, that in the event of his meeting with an Amer[ica]n Slaver, under Amer[ica]n Colors, & having genuine papers (which of course she would have obtained, when she cleared for other purposes than Slaving), if he would use means to induce the Captain to throw his Colors and papers overboard? He replied, 'Well, I might Stretch a point, and tell the Captain, the Dale was just near us here.' This reply, satisfied me regarding the method which H.M. officers on this Coast adopt, to seize Amer[ica]n Slavers, as the latter would never choose the other alternative, of being taken to an Amer[ica]n Man of War, - Sent to the United States, and tried for their lives." The capture of the "Bremen" by the British led Thomas Conover, commander of the U.S. African Squadron, to issue a protest (accompanied by a copy of Davidson's report and related papers) to his British counterpart. The papers were eventually sent in a report to President James Buchanan and were then shared with (and published by) Congress. Davidson's report was also excerpted in British reports supporting Wise's actions.

Background Information: Hunter Davidson was a Lieutenant in the United States Navy, later served in the Confederate Navy.
William McBlair was a United States naval officer in command of the ship "Dale," ...responsible for catching illegal slave trading ships off the coast of Africa. Later served in the Confederate Navy.See More

People: McBlair, William, d. 1863
Davidson, Hunter, 1827-1913

Historical Era: National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860

Subjects: African SquadronAfrican American HistorySlaverySlave TradeNavyGovernment and CivicsAfricaGlobal History and CivicsMaritimeForeign AffairsAmerican FlagDeath PenaltyPiratesPresident

Sub Era: Age of Jackson

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