Alena J. Derby
THE UNITED STATES SCHOONER ALLIGATOR AND THE U.S. NAVY'S CAMPAIGN TO SUPPRESS THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE AND WEST INDIAN PIRACY.
(Under the direction of Professor Michael A. Palmer) Department of History, December 2002.
The purpose of this thesis is to explore the role of the U.S. Navy in the suppression of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and West Indian piracy in the 1820s. The life of the U.S.S. Alligator provides a microcosmic look at the political environment of the time in regards to naval and slave debates. The Charleston Navy Yard in Boston built the United States Schooner Alligator in 1820, under a congressional act prohibiting the trans-Atlantic slave trade, notably the importation of slaves into the United States and the participation of Americans in the trade. Congress authorized the president to use public ships to help enforce this act. At the same time, political debates surrounded piratical depredations in the West Indies and the slave status of new states entering the union. The Alligator only remained in naval service for two years, yet her assigned missions reflect the political environment of the time. The first two voyages sent the schooner to the African coast, where she apprehended several slave ships and negotiated for land on which to establish a settlement for recaptured Africans and free slaves. On the next two voyages, she served on the West India Squadron, formed to combat piracy in the West Indies. Returning to the United States from Cuba, she ran aground upon a reef in the Florida Keys. Although seemingly a short and insignificant life, the Alligator's naval missions tell a great deal about domestic policy and the international position of the United States in world affairs.