The law on the books was quite clear in 1860. Any American convicted of engaging in the slavetrade was subject to the death penalty. Surely Captain Nathanial Gordon from Portland, Maine had no reason to believe that this could ever happen to him as he sailed toward Africa on just such a mission in the Spring of 1860. For up until this time not a single American citizen had ever been sentenced to die for this most heinous of crimes. Yes, the slave trade was alive and well in the year before the American Civil War would commence and a great many Americans were still involved up to their ears. "Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life And Trial of An American Slave Trader" is author Ron Soodalter's remarkable account of the life and death of one Captain Nathanial Gordon who would pay the ultimate price for essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a captivating book that recalls a series of events that history had largely forgotten. It is compelling reading.
Most Americans will be shocked and disgusted when they learn just how widespread slave trading was in the first six decades of the nineteenth century. And what is most disturbing is how complicit many Americans were in this practice. There was lots of money to be made in the slave trade. Here in the U.S. many "respected" businessmen participated as investors in such enterprises. They would outfit the vessels and make all of the other necessary arrangements to carry out the sordid mission. Many of the the most prominent businessmen in New York and other major northern cities were involved. Many other Americans were all too happy to work as officers and crew members on these ships. And just in case someone was caught in the act there were legions of corrupt politicians and judges to provide cover. And so in 1860 as a divided America prepared to face off on the question of slavery here at home a lively slave trade continued to flourish in ports such as Havana and Rio de Janiero. It was Captain Gordon's great misfortune to be nabbed by the American steamer USS Mohican as he sailed westward with some 897 slaves on board. They were packed below like so many sardines. Nathanial Gordon and his crew had been caught red-handed at a time when the political winds at home were shifting dramatically. For it would come to pass that Nathanial Gordon of Maine would be made an example of. History would demand that he pay the ultimate price.
I found "Hanging Captain Gordon" to be very thoroughly researched and particularly well written. This one held my interest from cover to cover. Ron Soodalter gives the reader a very thorough picture of all of the forces at work and players involved in the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the trial and conviction of Captain Gordon. In addition, Soodalter presents more compelling evidence at just how great a President Abraham Lincoln really was. As many in American bombarded the President with requests for a pardon for Captain Gordon Lincoln resisted. He saw the hanging of Captain Gordon as an opportunity to send a clear message to all that slave trading would no longer be tolerated. In the end Lincoln was correct. Slave trading would largely disappear for nearly a century.
Ron Soodhalter concludes "Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life And Trial of An American Slave Trader" with a "Afterword" on how new forms of slave trading have begun to re-appear in recent years. His examples are surely food for thought. "Hanging Captain Gordon" is packed with material I had never seen anywhere else. This one is an absolute must for history buffs. Very highly recommended!
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Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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On a frosty day in February 1862, hundreds gathered to watch the execution of Nathaniel Gordon. Two years earlier, Gordon had taken Africans in chains from the Congo — a hanging offense for more than forty years that no one had ever enforced. But with the country embroiled in a civil war and Abraham Lincoln at the helm, a sea change was taking place. Gordon, in the wrong place at the wrong time, got caught up in the wave.
For the first time, Hanging Captain Gordon chronicles the trial and execution of the only man in history to face conviction for slave trading — exploring the many compelling issues and circumstances that led to one man paying the price for a crime committed by many. Filled with sharply drawn characters, Soodalter's vivid account sheds light on one of the more shameful aspects of our history and provides a link to similar crimes against humanity still practiced today.