Last Slaver from U.S. to Africa. A.D. 1860
Transcription of Capt. Foster’s account of the Clotilda voyage and notes accompanying it (with suggestions in [italics]), by Valerie Ellis, Local History and Genealogy, Mobile Public Library:
I have written some of “Schr. Clotilda” [“Schr” is Schooner] voyage and left it at “Grist Mill” with Mr. Jackson.
Very Respectfully yours,
Capt. Wm. Foster
Sept. 29th/90 
[The sentence below is in slighter darker ink (perhaps because added later?)]
I think the above was written by Mrs. [Mr.? Wm.?] Foster [original seems to be spelled Fostor]
Last Slaver from U.S. to Africa. A.D. 1860
Schr Clotilda built in Mobile, Ala., by Wm Foster A.D. 1856.
Fitted out for the coast of Africa to purchase a cargo of Slaves; cleared and sailed from Mobile March 4thwith the following cargo: 26 [25?] casks of Rice, 80 casks of augident [maybe aguardiente, meaning contains 29%-60% alcohol?] Rum, 30 bbl. [barrels] Beef, 40 bbl. Pork. 3 bbls Sugar, 25 bbls Flour, 4 bbl Bread, 4 bbl Molasses, 25 Boxes dry goods and sundries, 125 casks water, and nine thousand ($9,000) dollars in gold; 9 men fore the mast, first and second mates and myself made 12 in all on board.
March 7th: crossed Mobile Bar with fair winds, and made island of Cuba 3 ½ days, from there to Bermuda. Had rough weather, ??? [suffering?] main boom and other damages.
March 17: off Bermuda 60 miles north, encountered a heavy gale of wind lasting nine days with great damage to vessel, having shipped a sea which carried overboard everything on deck except two boats, one fastened on top of midship’s house, and one one cabbin’s [cabin’s] house. Also carried away boat Davits half the steering wheel, and split the Rudder head in three pieces. Portuguese “Man of War” chasing us from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Squalls all day, and about dark our foresail went out of the bolt rope in splinters: the most exciting race I ever saw.
April 14th sighted the island Togo Cape De Verde. 16th, Two day[sic] later came to anchor in Porto Praya [Praia], Cape De V. While running to land at “Togo” 8 a.m., we sighted a Portuguese Man of War running for us; we changed course to get away from her, not wishing to be boarded so early on the voyage, as he would follow us for capture.
Now having arrived at Porto Praya, Cape D. V., came the trouble to save the vessel! My crew refused duty, and I thought my voyage broken up. However, I made a bargain with my crew to double their wages from first agreement in Mobile, and they went to work cheerfully to repair the vessel; and did not have any trouble with the American Consul, notwithstanding his tact at guessing as to my whither bound, but gave me clearance to trade on the coast of Africa, and recommended to me to go to the island of Anabon [also spelled Annobon] and sell my cargo, as there was a famine on the island.
April 22nd, set sail to trade on the coast, while getting under way to leave Porto “Praya” not knowing the current; we ?? [move?] the vessel around and ran into a “Man of War” and carried away her bumkins, sail and main Boom. I thought she would intercept us with shot but did not. Blowing a fine breeze at the time we were soon out of reach of guns, had fine breeze off coast of Cape Palmas.
Arrived at Whyda [Whydah] May 15th. 15th: anchored 1 ½ miles from the shore; at 4 p.m. a boat boarded us the same evening to know our business. I told him I wished to exchange commodities and therefore would have to see the Prince and officials. The sea rolling at a fearful height at the time, we could not land in our boats -- but the natives had boats 60 feet long manned by 20 natives, darted through the waves like fish. Having gotten ashore safely, I met with interpreters who kindly congratulated me and gave me in charge of three natives, who put me in a hammock with canopy and carried me into the City of Whyda six miles distant: upon arrival I found splendid accommodations for traders. I spent the night in “Merchant’s Exchange.” Having breakfasted early I with Cicerone [this appears to be an old term for a guide, not necessarily someone named Cicerone – and probably not a beer sommelier, the other definition] sallied forth to see the city and transact my business with the Prince. Cicerone presented me to the ebony Prince, a man of 250 lbs avoirdupois [weight].
Presentation consisted of myself and fifty officials, all of whom fell on their knees in acknowledgement of “His Majesty.” We then partook of social drink, and then I told him my business, that I had nine thousand dollars in gold and merchandise, and wanted to buy a cargo of negroes, for which I agreed to pay one hundred dollars per head, for one hundred and twenty five. After detaining me eight days, I thought him purposing my capture, but during this time I thought it not waste, as I was storing up knowledge of the many things it takes to make up the world: Among the many things that attracted any attention, as we repaired to the place of worship, which consisted of a large square of ground with a wall ten ft. high upon which was covered with snakes – trees in there were loaded with the repulsive things, revelling [possibly swelling, but I think it’s revelling/reveling] in their deified elation [perhaps ulation, misspelling of ululation?]. Devotees attending had them wound around their necks and waists, & had the appearance of our rattlesnake. From thence I went to see the King of Dahomey.
Having agreeably transacted affairs with Prince, we went to the warehouse where they had in confinement four thousand captives in a state of nudity, from which they gave me liberty to select one hundred and twenty-five as mine, offering to brand them for me, from which I peremptorily forbid. Commenced taking on cargo of negroes, successfully securing on board one hundred and ten.
I told interpreter if he would send the negroes down to the warehouse on the beach and deliver them on board by 10 a.m. I would transfer my cargo to him, to which he agreed. I went on board at 6 a.m. and had my cargo thereon overboard in water-tight casks, and they sent their surf men who swam the casks ashore safely. Early in the morning, I went on board, and left the first mate on shore to tally them aboard; after securing 75 aboard, we had an alarming surprise when man aloft with glass sang out “Sail ho,” steamer leeward [or toward?] ten miles. I looked and, behold black and white flags, signals of distress, interspersed the coast for fifteen miles, and two steamers hove in sight for purpose of capture.
The crew thinking our capture inevitable, refused duty and wanted to take any boats from the vessel and go on shore but could not have landed with our boats owing to the surf. While getting underway two more boats came along side with thirty five more negroes, making in all one hundred and ten; left fifteen on the beach having to leave in haste. All under headway, both steamers changed their course to intercept us, the wind being favourable; in a short time we knew we were outsailing them; then my crew showed their appreciation for not letting them take my boats to go on shore; in four hours were out of sight of land and steamers.
Twelve days out from Whyda sighted Cape Palmas and Man of War. We thought we were captured. In a short time came a heavy squall, and we were safe; next day struck north east trade winds and going twelve to fourteen miles per hour on June 30th made Abaco light [lighthouse], and came through the hole in the wall. In coming on the Bahama bank at 8 p.m. were running on to a sunken ship with stansions [sic; probably stanchions] in sight. The lookout sang out “hard a starboard” and we passed the ship within ten feet. Next day passed “Tortugas” and two men of war in sight, but took no notice of us, as we disguised our vessel by taking down square sail yards, and fore topmast; appearing as a common coaster and sailed for Mobile, coming through Prilaboy [?? looks like Prilaboy or Pritaboy, but there’s nothing by that name that I know of; the only thing close is Petit Bois Pass/Petit Bois Island in Mississippi] channel into lake Pontchartrain, and anchored off “Point of Pines” Grand Bay, Miss.
July 9th went ashore, gave a resident twenty-five dollars for horse and buggy to take me to Mobile. There I got a steam tug to tow schn [schooner?] up Spanish river into the Ala. River at “Twelve Mile Island.” I transferred my Slaves to a river steamboat, and sent them up into the canebrake to hide them until further disposal. I then burned my schr. to the water’s edge and sunk her.
July 9th. When anchored off “P. of P.” Miss. The mates and crew did not want me to leave the vessel until they were paid for voyage and said they would kill me if I attempted to take the negroes ashore without their money. Capt. Tim Meaher and party were to have met me there for the purpose of landing negroes, and pay the crew off, and I had made arrangements with the mates and crew, to take the vessel to Tampico and change her name and get clearance for New Orleans – the parties failing to meet me in time, compelled me to come up to Mobile. I hired a tug and went to the vessel to tow her up to Mobile into Spanish River and crew refused to let me have her because I didn’t have time to get the money to pay them. I came back to Mobile and took on board the tug five men and $8,000 dollars, landed [I think] at vessel 9 p.m. Went aboard and settled with them according to my first arrangement in Mobile.
We put the mates and crew on steamer and sent them to Montgomery on their way to the northern states.
Your most obedient servant
Capt. Wm Foster
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