Monday, May 25, 2015

American History 101: The United States Navy African Squadron

The United States Navy.

The most powerful naval force the world has ever seen.  One of only six blue water naval forces on the planet, and when the U.S. Navy shows up, you know things just got serious.  But the United States Navy hasn't always been the super power it is today.  In fact, it wasn't until the 1830's that the U.S. Navy could be considered a blue water navy and it wasn't until the early twentieth century that it was truly a world class navy.  Today's Memorial Day post is about a period of time in which the U.S. Navy was in a great period of expansion and learning how to flex the few muscles that it had.  And one of the first times that the United States Navy took part in a "world police" action that the United States government simply phoned in the effort.   Today's post is on the United States Navy African Squadron.  

The USS Jamestown 1820 - part of the African Squadron
The African Squadron was formed in order to prevent the passage of slave ships from Africa to North America.  The squadron was deployed and active from 1819 through 1861, with a large portion of that time doing other duty.  The African Squadron was tasked with working with western arm of the British Royal Navy based out of Sierra Leon.  In spite of this connection between the American and British navies, they operated independently and without any communication.

While the United States gave lip service to Great Britain and the rest of the world regarding ending the slave trade, the government wasn't that straight forward.  First, the United States only signed to try and stop slave trading -- but never made any pronouncements about actually ending slavery.  The government's official stance on slavery remained in-line with the expectations of the founding fathers.  They thought that if left on its own, that slavery would simply die out and go away without any government intervention.  However, by the time the War of 1812 has ended in 1815, slavery was as strong as ever in the south.  And because of this, the American government suffered from a large backlash voiced by slave owners and those who supported the institution of slavery.  They felt that the American government had no business in stopping slave ships in international waters.  Plus, there was the issue of Abel Parker Upsher.  Upsher was the Secretary of the Navy and a staunch supporter of slavery and states rights.  Because of this, the Navy itself did not fully support the deployment of the African Squadron, sending a small fleet with only a total of 80 guns at the ready.

If that were the end of the issues with the African Squadron, that might be enough.  However, the issue of piracy in the Caribbean reared its ugly head into the business of the African Squadron.  In spite of the United States Navy having almost eradicated the piracy in the region by the 1823, the Secretary of the Navy ordered the entire African Squadron into the Caribbean in order to assist with the pirate problem.  The African Squadron did not resume its duties in the waters of Africa until 1842 as a part of the Webster-Ashburton treaty.  The Webster-Ashburton treaty largely had nothing to do with the U.S. Navy.  It dealt mainly with the borders in the north along Canada and the west pre-Mexican War.  But there was a section of the treaty that insisted that both sides of the conflict make an effort to stop the slave trade in international waters.  So, the United States Navy sent the African Squadron back to Africa at about half of the strength required by the treaty.

By 1860, when the African Squadron was decommissioned, it had little impact on the slave trade.  One could say that was by design.  In the roughly 20 years that it operated in the region, United States ships only captured 423 vessels carrying only 27,000 slaves.  The small amount of success that was achieved in this venture only proved that the United States had no real interest in ending or curbing the long standing institution of slavery.  If you are being optimistic, you could say that by 1860 the country was torn on the subject which would serve to fuel the flames of the impending Civil War.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

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