In 1807, at the height of the Napoleonic war, ships of nearly all the European nations crowded the malarial wharves of West Africa where merchants traded at the great slaveholding pens and packed their human property into ships' holds bound for the sugar mills of Cuba and Haiti, and the tobacco plantations of Virginia.
In that same year Great Britain passed the Abolition Act, and the last English slave ship left the African coast with her cargo, shortly to be replaced by the ships and men of the Royal Navy's Preventive Squadron. For the next fifty years this small fleet patrolled 3,000 miles of treacherous coastline in a determined, unilateral, and only quasi-legal effort to interdict vessels with their human cargoes.
The squadron lost more than 17,000 men to disease, conflict, and varied misfortunes, but they liberated more than 150,000 African slaves, and slowly--through negotiation, intimidation, and military and diplomatic triumphs and setbacks--they helped put an end to the rich, shameful, "peculiar institution" of European and American trade in West African slaves. Through firsthand accounts of naval adventures, ship-to-ship actions, bold raids into the interior, and daily life at sea, Sian Rees brilliantly colors this huge canvas in a series of vivid portraits of the men and officers of the Preventive Squadron. Sweet Water and Bitter is a moving chronicle of suffering, exploitation, and one nation's determination to suppress slavery.
About Siân Rees
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Published February 22, 2011
by University of New Hampshire Press.
History, War, Professional & Technical, Political & Social Sciences.