Guerrero Survivors

Excerpts from.The Enslaved Communities on Fort George Island A Special History Study for Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve by Amani T. Marshall, Ph.D Prepared under a cooperative agreement between The Organization of American Historians and The National Park Service March 2022

"Beginning in April 1828, Kingsley paid two dollars per month plus provisions to hire thirty-six African men from Waters Smith, Marshal of East Florida. They were part of a group of 121 Africans who had been rescued off the Spanish slaver, Guerrero, after it was chased onto the Florida Reef by the British schooner, Nimble, in December 1827. An Act of March 3, 1819, specified that Africans on slave ships seized by American armed vessels were to be delivered to US Marshals and transported back to Africa. In 1822, the US government established Liberia as a settlement for Africans “recaptured” from transatlantic slave ships. Smith spent some $3000 of his own money to provide for the Africans’ food, medical care, clothing, and expected to be reimbursed by the government. To recoup his losses, Smith hired out the healthy Africans in April, shortly after they arrived in St. Augustine. The Africans labored for Kingsley until August 1829, when Smith, under orders from the Secretary of the Navy, recalled them for their transport to Cape Mesurado, on the coast of Liberia. They embarked with the other captured Africans on the schooner Washington’s Barge on September 30, 1829...."

"Beginning in April 1828, Kingsley paid Waters Smith, Marshal of East Florida, two dollars a month plus provisions to hire thirty-six African men who had been rescued off the Spanish slaver, Guerrero. After working at Fort George for over a year, the men most likely labored on the construction project, cutting a channel through oyster beds and digging a canal to connect Pine Island Creek and Amelia Sound. The Africans labored for Kingsley until August 1829, when Smith recalled them for their transport to Liberia. Kingsley’s overseer informed Smith that three of the men had run away. Eventually the runaways were captured and all thirty-six men would sail to Liberia, after performing unpaid labor for sixteen months to enhance the Florida economy. "

"When they arrived at Cape Mesurado, the “recaptured” Africans would have to navigate the volatile relationships between African American settlers and the West Africans whom they dispossessed of their land. Founded in 1816, the American Colonization Society spearheaded the movement to resettle African Americans outside of the US and worked with the US government to establish Liberia. The self-styled philanthropic organization attempted to appeal to a broad range of groups with conflicting interests—abolitionists, free Blacks, and Southern enslavers—arguing that it was the duty of the government and patriotic citizens to support colonization both for the benefit of free African Americans and the good of the country. The idea of unfettered freedom in Liberia attracted some 16,000 African American settlers, many of whom had been emancipated under the condition they be deported to West Africa. “The ways in which they reimagined themselves as Liberians, as free people, and as settlers once they left the United States remained informed by their black American past,” argues historian Claude Clegg. “In the process of forging the world’s second black-ruled republic, they also constructed a settler society marred by some of the same exclusionary, oppressive characteristics common to modern colonial regimes.”

Learn more about the saga of the Guerrero and the search for the wreck from Biscayne National Park.

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Last updated: June 11, 2024

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