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Africa Squadron
A photograph of the sloop-of-war USS Jamestown (date unknown). She captured two slave ships with the Africa Squadron.
Country United States of America
Branch United States Navy
TypeNaval squadron
RoleAfrican Slave Trade Patrol

The Africa Squadron was a unit of the United States Navy that operated from 1819 to 1861 in the Blockade of Africa to suppress the slave trade along the coast of West Africa. However, the term was often ascribed generally to anti-slavery operations during the period leading up to the American Civil War.

The squadron was an outgrowth of the 1819 treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom that was an early step in stopping the trade, and further defined by the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842. Although technically coordinated with a British West Africa Squadron based in Sierra Leone, in practice the American contingent worked on its own.

Matthew Perry was the first commander of the squadron, and based himself in Portuguese Cape Verde.

The squadron was generally ineffective, since the ships were too few, and since much of the trading activity had shifted to the Niger River delta area (present-day Nigeria), which was not being covered. In the two years of Perry's leadership, only one slaver was reported to have been captured, and that ship was later acquitted by a New Orleans court. In the 16 years of squadron operation, only the crews of 19 slave ships went to trial. These slavers were acquitted or only lightly fined. Other commanders, however, were more successful.

African slave trade patrol

Main article: African Slave Trade Patrol

The Africa Squadron's cruising area eventually ranged from Cape Frio to the south (about 18 degrees south latitude), to Madeira in the north. However, the squadron's supply depot was in Cape Verde archipelago, approximately 2,500 nautical miles (4,600 kilometers) from the northernmost centers of the slave trade in the Bight of Biafra and southward. The navy department did not move the depot location until 1859, when it was set up at São Paulo de Luanda, in Portuguese Angola, about eight degrees south latitude. At the same time the department put Madeira out of bounds for the squadron.

The majority of the squadron's cruising in its first decade was along the coast of Western Africa, with particular attention to Liberian interests. By the 1850s much of the slave trade in this area had been eliminated by the British, based in their colony at Sierra Leone, as well as the Liberians.

This however, did not stop the board of directors of the American Colonization Society from writing the President of the United States to bolster the Africa Squadron's "fleet" in 1855 in accordance with the Webster-Ashburton treaty in an attempt to crack down on sailors and slavers use of sea-letters to claim American nationality in their attempt to further the slave trade on the African coast.[1]

Vessels seized

Africa Squadron

Vessel Captor Date Location
Uncas Porpoise 1 March 1844 Gallinas
Spitfire Truxtun 24 March 1845 Pongas R.
Patuxent Yorktown 27 September 1845 Cape Mount
Pons Yorktown 30 September 1845 Kabenda
Merchant Jamestown 3 December 1845 Sierra Leone
Panther Yorktown 15 December 1845 Kabenda
Robert Wilson Jamestown 15 January 1846 Porto Praya
Malaga Boxer 13 April 1846 Kabenda
Casket Marion 2 August 1846 Kabenda
Chancellor Dolphin 10 April 1847 Cape Palmas
Excellent John Adams 23 April 1850 Ambriz
Martha Perry 6 June 1850 Ambriz
Chatsworth Perry 11 September 1850 Ambriz
Advance Germantown 3 November 1852 Porto Praya
R.P. Brown Germantown 23 January 1853 Porto Praya
H.N. Gambrill Constitution 3 November 1853 Kongo
Glamorgan Perry 10 March 1854 Kongo
W.G. Lewis Dale 6 November 1857 Kongo
Brothers Marion 8 September 1858 Mayumba
Julia Dean Vincennes 28 December 1858 Cape Coast Castle
Orion Marion 21 April 1859 Kongo
Ardennes Marion 27 April 1859 Kongo
Emily Portsmouth 21 September 1859 Loango
Delicia Constellation 21 September 1859 Kabenda
Virginian Portsmouth 6 February 1860 Kongo
Falmouth Portsmouth 6 May 1860 Porto Praya
Thomas Achorn Mystic 29 June 1860 Kabenda
Triton Mystic 16 July 1860 Loango
Erie Mohican 8 August 1860 Kongo
Storm King San Jacinto 8 August 1860 Kongo
Cora Constellation 26 September 1860 Kongo
Bonito San Jacinto 10 October 1860 Kongo
Express Saratoga 25 February 1861 Possibly Loango
Nightingale Saratoga 21 April 1861 Kabenda
Triton Constellation 20 May 1861 Kongo
Falmouth Sumpter 14 June 1861 Kongo

Source: Canney, D.L., Africa Squadron, Potomac Books, 2006, pp. 233–234

See also


  1. ^ Foote, Commander A.H. (1855). African Squadron: Ashburton Treaty: Consular Sea Letters. Philadelphia: Philadelphia: William G. Geddes. pp. 1–16.