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Mon, 02.06.1826

Nathaniel Gordon, Slave Trader born

Nathaniel Gordon

*Nathaniel Gordon was born on this date in 1826.  He was a white-American slave trader. 

He was born in Portland, Maine. He went into shipping and eventually owned his ship, Erie.  

On August 7, 1860, he loaded 897 slaves aboard his ship Erie at Sharks Point, Congo River, Angola, West Africa, "of whom only 172 were men and 162 grown women. Gordon ... preferred to carry children because they could not rise to avenge his cruelties."  The USS Mohican captured the Erie 50 miles from the port on August 8, 1860. The slaves were taken to Liberia, and the American colony was established in West Africa by the American Colonization Society for the settlement of free blacks from the United States.  After one hung jury and a new trial, Gordon was convicted on November 9, 1861, in the circuit court in New York City.

He was sentenced to death by hanging on February 7, 1862.  In passing the sentence, Judge W.D. Shipman, in his address to the prisoner, said:  Let me implore you to seek the spiritual guidance of the ministers of religion; let your repentance be as humble and thorough as your crime was great. Do not attempt to hide its enormity from yourself; think of the cruelty and wickedness of seizing nearly a thousand fellow beings, who never did you harm, and thrusting them beneath the decks of a small ship, beneath a burning tropical sun, to die in of disease or suffocation, or be transported to distant lands, and be consigned, they and their posterity, to a fate far more cruel than death.  Think of the sufferings of the unhappy beings whom you crowded on the Erie; of their helpless agony and terror as you took them from their native land; and especially of their miseries on the ---- ----- place of your capture to Monrovia! Remember that you showed mercy to none, carrying off as you did not only those of your own sex but women and helpless children.  Do not flatter yourself that because they belonged to a different race from yourself, your guilt is, therefore, lessened – rather, fear that it is increased. In the just and generous heart, the humble and the weak inspire compassion and call for pity and forbearance. As you are soon to pass into the presence of that God of the black man as well as the white man, who is no respecter of persons, do not indulge for a moment the thought that he hears with indifference the cry of the humblest of his children. Do not imagine that because others shared in the guilt of this enterprise, yours is thereby diminished; but remember the awful admonition of your Bible, "Though hand joined in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished."— Worcester Aegis and Transcript; December 7, 1861; pg. 1, col. 6. 

After Gordon's conviction, his supporters appealed to President Abraham Lincoln for a pardon. While Lincoln was well known among his contemporaries for his compassion and for issuing many pardons during his presidency, he refused to consider one for Gordon, even going so far as to refuse to meet Gordon's supporters. As Lincoln said at the time:   I believe I am kindly enough in nature and can be moved to pity and to pardon the perpetrator of almost the worst crime that the mind of man can conceive or the arm of man can execute; but any man, who, for paltry gain and stimulated only by avarice, can rob Africa of her children to sell into interminable bondage, I never will pardon.  Lincoln eventually issued a stay of Gordon's execution, setting a new date. Lincoln clarified that the respite was temporary to allow Gordon time for his final preparations. 

In his Stay of Execution, Lincoln gave him a two-week stay of execution to "[make] the necessary preparation for the awful change which awaits him."  The evening before the execution, Gordon unsuccessfully tried to kill himself with strychnine poison, prompting the local authorities to move up the execution to noon from 2:30 p.m. due to Gordon's health. Gordon, the only slave trader in the U.S. to be tried, convicted, and executed for being "engaged in the slave trade" under the Piracy Law of 1820, was executed on February 21, 1862.  

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