Do Savannnah

New book by Georgia Southern professor explores story of slave ship Antelope

  • “Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope”
  • Author and GSU professor Jonathan M. Bryant
 

New book by Georgia Southern professor explores story of slave ship Antelope

29 Jul 2015

In the summer of 1819, a Spanish slave ship named the Antelope left from Havana, Cuba, and set sail for Africa to fill its hull with slaves — or negros bozales (literally “muzzled blacks”), as they were called — to bring back to the Americas. After procuring 331 captives on the west coast of Africa, the Antelope set sail back across the Atlantic and after some trouble off the coast of Brazil, the ship was eventually captured by an armed U.S. customs ship off Florida’s coast and brought to Savannah, where the captives awaited their fate.

The International Slave Trade was officially outlawed by a number of countries in 1807, including the U.S., though the practice obviously continued to thrive. After the Antelope was captured for being in violation of international trade law, it was brought to the port of Savannah where the captives were supposed to be under the legal control of the president and subsequently sent back to Africa. But that’s not at all what happened.

When the ship arrived in Savannah, only 258 of the original 331 captives were still alive. The survivors were so sick and dehydrated they could barely walk. Most shockingly, the median age of the captives who disembarked was a mere 14 years old, and nearly half were between 5 and 10. They were then transferred to the Ten Broeck race track, about two miles from downtown, and imprisoned in the horse stalls while it was decided what to do with them.

IF YOU GO

What: “Dark Places of the Earth” book launch and lecture

When: 6 p.m. Aug. 5

Where: Ships of the Sea Museum, North Garden, 41 MLK Jr. Blvd.

Cost: Free

Info: www.shipsofthesea.org

The story that follows is one of deep corruption and cruelty, and involves a cast of historical characters that includes John Quincy Adams, Francis Scott Key and Savannah’s own Richard W. Habersham, who argued for the captives’ release.

This tragic narrative is recounted in detail in Jonathan M. Bryant’s new book, “Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope.” Bryant is a professor of history at Georgia Southern University, where he teaches constitutional history, and his official book launch is Aug. 5 at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

The story of how this strange case wound its way through the American legal system and ended up before the highest court in the land, not once, but three times, is what Bryant calls “the most important Supreme Court case you’ve never heard of.”

He says the book should have particular resonance given everything that’s been going on in the news as of late, specifically as it relates to how we as Americans are beginning to understand the legacy of slavery.

“Because of how poorly educated most Americans are about slavery and how our legal system has worked, this is really important right now to give people a deeper and richer perspective on what slavery was and about the nature of what enslaved African-Americans suffered,” Bryant says. “And is there anything still remaining in our society from this that’s important to think about? I would argue that of course there is.”

Bryant will be reading three short selections from his book and commenting on how the excerpts tie together in the story, and by the end you may very well be asking yourself why you’ve never heard of this astonishing and complicated case before. It’s certainly an example of truth being stranger than fiction and it’s such a vitally important piece of American history that it deserves as much attention as it can get.

Bryant will conduct a Q&A at the end of his reading and looks forward to the opportunity of having a real dialogue and not just a lecture session. He will also sign books and says he’ll stay as long as it takes to talk with everyone, no matter what the weather decides to do.

“I know it’ll probably be hot, but it’s a very appropriate place (for the book launch) and I hope like hell people come to hear me.”

 

Top