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Town historian writes about Augusta, refitted in Greenport for the slave trade

As Amy Folk writes in a new essay, “involvement in slavery did not end in the northeastern United States when the importation of slaves from abroad was banned by the U.S. in 1807. Nor did it end when New York State ended enslavement of people in 1827.”

Nor did it end on eastern Long Island.

Ms. Folk, the Southold Town historian and a member of a research group investigating the institution of slavery on the North fork, has posted her essay on the town historian’s website. 

She documents how, well after these dates, involvement in the slave trade was still ongoing with the use of former whaling ships refitted locally and then used to travel to Africa to kidnap hundreds of men, women and children who were sold into slavery in places like Cuba and Brazil.

She writes about the Bark Augusta, launched in New York City in 1838. “The ship worked as a packet boat, carrying cargo, passengers and the mail between New York City and Charleston, [S.C.,]” she writes. In 1857, the ship was sold to the Cooper brothers of Sag Harbor. The Augusta then went out to find whales. She made one trip and, with little success bringing back valuable sperm oil, her days as a whale boat ended.

New buyers bought the boat for $4,900 and she arrived in Greenport to be refitted for future voyages of a very suspicious kind. The new owners “used respected locals, who held sympathetic views on the enslavement of Africans and the separation of the southern states from the rest of the United States” to do the work, Ms. Folk writes.

One official, tipped off as to what was going on with the Augusta on the Greenport waterfront, said of the locals involved “They are a damnable set, the whole of them…”

The editor of the local newspaper, Henry Reeves of the Republican-Watchman, “was a strident voice against the upcoming war and against the rights of African enslaved people,” Ms. Folk writes. He would be jailed during the war due to his Copperhead and anti-Lincoln views.

In 1861, the schooner Welles of Sag Harbor had been refitted in Greenport and set sail for Africa. Ship representatives said they were going there for “livestock.” Instead, they picked up “601 Africans, of which 135 died, leaving 466 people who were landed in Cuba and sold into the hellish enslavement of the plantations.

Having served its purpose, the schooner was then set on fire and abandoned and the crew made its way back to the United States anonymously,” Ms. Folk writes.

For the rest of the story of the Augusta — how it was refitted and how federal officials were instructed to seize it after it left Greenport — see Ms. Folk’s essay.