Dr. David Head wins prize for article on slave smuggling

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 10:00am
Dr. David Head

PHILADELPHIA – Dr. David Head, assistant professor of history at Spring Hill College, won the Ralph D. Gray Article Prize for his article "Slave Smuggling by Foreign Privateers: Geopolitical Influences on the Illegal Slave Trade," which was published in the fall 2013 issue of the Journal of the Early Republic.

The prize is awarded annually by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) at their annual meeting for the most significant article published in the JER in the previous year. The 2014 meeting took place July 17-20 in Philadelphia.

Head’s article examined how French and Spanish American privateers, which are privately owned vessels commissioned by a government to attack its enemies, smuggled slaves they had captured from Spanish slave ships into the United States in the early 19th century. The foreign slave trade into the United States had been outlawed in 1808, so the activity was illegal. Nevertheless, foreign privateers emerged as a significant source of new slaves to meet a growing demand for slaves on American plantations.

Much of this activity occurred along the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana. Jean and Pierre Laffite were among the ringleaders of slave smuggling there.

“Unlike previous studies that have emphasized how the illegal slave trade depended mostly on the strong demand for slaves and the corruption of officials who looked the other way,” Head says, “I contend that international events such as the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, and the Spanish American Revolutions created opportunities for privateers to capture slave ships and created enough chaos to make enforcing the law very difficult.”

For more information on the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, visit http://www.shear.org.