African Cemetery at Higgs Beach
Story of People
Although owning slaves was not illegal transporting slaves across the ocean was illegal by 1820 with Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, and the United States all having outlawed the maritime Slave Trade and committed military efforts to enforce the ban.
This ban created a perplexing question of what to do with the people who were seized as "illegal cargo." The United States was already divided over the issue of slavery. Abolitionists feared Africans who were seized from illegal slave ships would not be treated fairly in the United States, and slave owners feared they would encourage rebellion. In 1816, a group of notables -- including Henry Clay, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster -- founded an organization whose mission was to locate a suitable location in West Africa to which the Africans could be "returned." In 1819, the US Congress granted $100,000 for the transporting of any African found aboard a seized slave ship to what would eventually be known as the newly formed country, Liberia.
The three slave ships which were intercepted and brought to Key West in 1860 were on their way to Cuba. Each ship held a different story. The Bogota held mainly healthy men and women who appeared to be from the Bight of Benin on the Western Coast of Africa. They were probably prisoners of war, and as such were sold to slave traders by Dahomey officials. The Wildfire brought Africans from the Congo Basin, a region whose practice of slavery was well established. Many of these people were baptized as Catholic and spoke Portuguese . The William shipped a cargo of children who were malnourished and from all appearances very poorly treated.
Regardless of their place of origin, the Africans who survived the ordeal were shipped to Liberia where they became apprentices to those already established in the colony.