Richmond Slave Trail
In October of 1841, Madison Washington and over 100 other men were sold from Richmond's slave jails and ordered for export to New Orleans. Although the infamous Robert Lumpkin did not own his jail until 1844, he was one of several shippers in Richmond who contracted with the Creole, and some sources suggest that he might have owned anywhere from 41 to 90 of the passengers slated for this particular voyage.
After their purchase by slave traders, Madison Washington and the rest of the enslaved African Americans destined for New Orleans poignantly reversed the walk that had once led tens of thousands of Africans trafficked in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The future could promise little more than hardship and suffering in strange and foreign lands. For those aboard the Creole, however, a different future awaited. Shortly after leaving the port at Hampton Roads and setting sail on the high seas, Washington rallied 18 of the other enslaved blacks and planned to take control of the ship. Secretly freeing themselves of their shackles and chains, the men surprised the crew on deck, seized hold of their weapons and demanded the Creole set a course for Nassau, a British-governed port in the Bahamas.
Scholars speculate that Washington was one of the many enslaved people who participated in an extensive communication network that had developed over the years. As one captive could be sold and exported several times over the course of his or her life, word of mouth travelled quickly. Through this network enslaved Africans learned of the fate of loved ones from whom they had been separated, compassionate abolitionists willing to help them pursue freedom, or previous revolts that had - or had not - succeeded. It is highly likely that the captives aboard the Creole had heard enough about maritime law and navigation to avoid several pitfalls; for example, they started their mutiny after the ship entered international waters, beyond the jurisdiction of the United States. Secondly, by seeking refuge at a British port, they would be considered free as Great Britain set forth an emancipation decree in 1833. And thirdly, with the story of the Amistad still ringing in their ears, Washington and his crew were able to determine if the ship's course was truly set for Nassau or if they were being deceived by the captain and en route to an American port.
Upon reaching their destination, all of the enslaved people on board the Creole were set free, despite the outcry of American slaveholders, including Robert Lumpkin, who had lost their investment. After a decade of dispute and the issuance of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, assuring that the British would not interfere in similar cases in the future, a joint Anglo-American commission awarded $110,330 to the slave owners, finally closing the case.
Sources: Dr. Philip Schwarz, Virginia Commonwealth University; Steve Shoenherr, Professor Emeritus, USD Department of history; Junius P. Rodriguez, The Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance & Rebellion; Howard Jones, review of George Hendrick & Willene Hendrick, The Creole Mutiny: A Tale of Revolt aboard a Slave Ship
About the Trail
Designed as a walking path, the Richmond Slave Trail chronicles the history of the trade in enslaved Africans from their homeland to Virginia until 1778, and away from Virginia, especially Richmond, to other locations in the Americas until 1865. The trail begins at the Manchester Docks, which, alongside Rocketts Landing on the north side of the river, operated as a major port in the massive downriver slave trade, making Richmond the largest source of enslaved blacks on the east coast of America from 1830 to 1860. While many of the slaves were shipped on to New Orleans and to other Deep South ports, the trail follows the footsteps of those who remained here and crossed the James River, often chained together in a coffle. Once reaching the northern riverbank, the trail then follows a route through the slave markets and auction houses of Richmond, beside the Reconciliation Statue commemorating the international triangular slave trade and on to the site of the notorious Lumpkin's Slave Jail and leading on to Richmond's African Burial Ground, once called the Burial Ground for Negroes, and the First African Baptist Church, a center of African American life in pre-Civil War Richmond. - Richmond Slave Trail Commission - 2011 -Title image: "After the Sale: Slaves Going South", 1853, Painted from live by Eyre Crowe, courtesy the Chicago History Museum