The Arrival


Fort Mifflin (on the right) and the Old Lazaretto (insert on the left ) shown on an 1860 survey map. They are about a mile apart. [1].

The schooner Phoebe, carrying 118 Africans[2] arrived at “The Fort” (Fort Mifflin) on August 4, 1800, followed by another 17 aboard the schooner Prudent[3] two days later on Wednesday, August 6th [4].  The  notice of the Phoebe’s arrival might not appear to have warranted much attention, being just one of the routine announcements of the arrivals and clearances of other vessels at Philadelphia, as seen in the “Marine List” found in the August 5th issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

the philadelphia gazette and daily advertiser5aug1800p3v2

The Phoebe is listed as “prize to the sloop of war Ganges, 118 black men or slaves.” Another Ganges prize, the Brig Dispatch, an American merchantman recaptured from the French, arrived the same day [5].

The August 5th issue of  Claypoole’s American Advertiser gives a more complete account of what had transpired [6]:

The Ganges sloop of war has taken an American vessel, from the coast of Africa, bound to the Havanna, with 118 slaves on board. These unfortunate people have arrived at Fort Mifflin, in a very wretched condition. Any donation of cloathing will be received at the Health Office, and immediately conveyed to them. [See advertisement]

Elizabeth Drinker, the Philadelphia diarist, was one of the citizens who saw the advertisement alluded to above, copied it into her diary and then took action.

Aug. 5 [1800]. I read this morning in Claypoole’s paper the following piece, headed Humanity.
“Arrived at the Lazaretto yesterday, one hundred and eighteen Black People, without the least clothing, being taken from on board the schooner Phebe, prize to the United States Ship Ganges. The humane citizens are requested to send to the Health-Office at the State House, any kind of linen clothes for their accommodation, as well as to prevent the shock their decency will be exposed to by so many of both exes being thus exposed naked.”

I looked upon this as a call upon humanity indeed, and set about making up a bundle, which I did, of good and suitable things, for the poor naked creatures. Soon after, two women friends were in our office requesting clothes for the negroes below, to be sent to Edwd Garrigus, who is one of the health officers, but as Peter was going to negro’s meeting this afternoon, which is near ye State house, I followed my first intent, and sent them there. [7]

As we see here, the citizenry’s charitable traditions were called upon and in motion from the very beginning. The wheels of government were also set in motion. Upon arrival on August 4th, Midshipman Calvin Stevens, prize master of the Phoebe, wrote Benjamin Stoddert, Secretary of the Navy, for  instructions.  Stoddert, now situated in the nation’s new capital in Washington, wrote back four days later [8]:

To Midshipman Calvin Stevens, U. S. Navy, from Secretary of the Navy
Navy Departmt 8 Augt 1800
of the Schooner Phoebe of Charleston
with Slaves, Fort Mifflin, near Philad — care of Capt Gill.

SIR! I have recd your letter of the 4th ins. On the expiration of your Quarantine you will apply to Jared Ingersoll Esq. Dist Atty who will direct you what to do with the blacks, & how to proceed to get the Vessel condemned.
If Capº Mullowny has appointed no agent for Prizes, apply to Geo: Harrison Esqr to act as Agent.
After getting clear of the Prizes, you will turn the men with you from the Ganges, over to the Delaware
I am, Sir, yr mo: obt St &c
[NDA. OSW, Vol. 4, 1800–1801.]

Midshipman Stevens was not the only person in need of instructions. While it was abundantly clear that if the Phoebe’s voyage was illegal under the 1794 and 1800 Federal laws banning U.S. participation in the foreign slave trade, and that the vessel and cargo could be condemned in a Federal Court, with the exception of the slaves. These laws said nothing about authorities should handle the disposition of and enslaved captives. The arrival of the Phoebe and its human cargo apparently caught Navy Secretary Stodddert by surprise, as evidenced in his instructions to Jared Ingersoll, the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia:

To Jared Ingersol, Philadelphia, Pa., from Secretary of the Navy
Navy Dept —
8th Augt 1800 —

Mr Calvin Stevens has brought into Delaware, the Schooner Phoebe of Charleston with 120 Negroes, captured by the Ganges Captn Maloney [Lieut. John Mullowny, U. S. Navy].

The act of Congress of the last Session intended to annihilate the Slave Trade, is silent as to the disposition of the slaves, It was expected no doubt, the Captains making the Captures, would sell them in the West Indies. I have directed Mr Stevens to apply to you for instructions how to proceed. I suppose measures will be taken by the Government, or by some of the societies for laudable purposes in Pennsylvania to bind out the Blacks for a few years, until they can learn the language of this Country —

I am &C B — S —
[NDA. GLB, Vol. 3, 1799–1800.]




The following incident requires not the aid of the pencil to awaken every feeling congenial to humanity, nor, in exciting our tenderest sympathy for the unhappy sufferers, can’t fail to rouse the keenest indignation against the authors of such inhuman wrongs.

Two vessels, belonging to citizens of the United States, concerned in the infamous traffic of human flesh on the coast of Africa, have been lately captured and sent info this port by the Ganges sloop of war.

Taken at different times, they arrived separately at the quarantine station, the one having on board one hundred and eighteen, and the other sixteen unhappy victims.

With a view to their health and convenience it was deemed proper to land and encamp these unfortunate people. Scarce had this benevolent measure been effected, and the miserable Africans mingled will1 their fellow sufferers when a Husband and Wife!  who had been torn from their home: and happiness, and hurried on board separate vessels by their brutal oppressors met, and recognised each other. Lost, for a moment, in an ecstasy of surprise they exhibited a scene of tenderness, which would have softened the savage hearts of those who had occasioned their separation. But the meeting was more than the unhappy female could support ; -her frame, shaken by the influence of her affections, yielded to the shock, and she was prematurely a mother!

Let the: monsters who encourage and who practice this horrid traffic, reflect on the vengeance of an offended God.  An appeal to their conjugal or their parental feelings were a lost hope, and a mockery of humanity.

To console the feelings of our readers, we can assure them that the beneficence of the Abolition Society, and the general sympathy of our citizens have greatly alleviated the sufferings of these much injured people; and we are happy in knowing that the unfortunate woman is recovering.[9]


[to be continued…]


Composite map showing the location of 5 structures admidst the ruins of the Old Lazaretto site in 1892[10]; it’s position as reported by the USGS, circa 1896[11]; the approximate shoreline of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers from an 1816 map, before landfill work eliminated the Delaware’s back channel[12]; the location of an 1968 borrow pit that excavated well below grade and likely disturbed the site significantly[13]; and the current route of Interstate 95 and the southern approaches to the Girard Point Bridge[14].


[1] Miller, James. Plan of property of the United States comprising Fort Mifflin, Mud Island, and the Old Lazaretto in the Twenty-fourth Ward Philadelphia, 1860. Map provided by Philadelphia Streets Department, Survey and Designs Bureau via the Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, ,  (Accessed March 30, 2018). The image has been color adjusted for readability.

[2] Slave Manifest of Schooner Phoebe, 8/22/1800 (Philadelphia, Pa., NARA Regional Archives, RG36, Slave Manifests for the Port of Philadelphia, 8/1800 – 4/1860). The manifest reports 118 Africans aboard.

[3] Slave Manifest of Schooner Prudence, 8/22/1800 (Philadelphia, Pa., NARA Regional Archives, RG36, Slave Manifests for the Port of Philadelphia, 8/1800 – 4/1860). Note the name of the vessel is incorrect here. The “Prudence” is reported to have had 17 Africans aboard, not 16 as reported in some contemporary newspaper accounts.

[4] Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 Aug 1800, p. 3.

[5] Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelpha, Pennsylvania), 5 Aug 1800, p3 (

[6] Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5 Aug 1800, p. 3 (

[7] Biddle, Henry R. Ed., Extracts from the Journal of Elizabeth Drinker, (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1889), 363.  The article referred to can be found in Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, Tuesday, Aug 5, 1800 Philadelphia, PA Issue: 7373 Page: 3. Peter was the Drinker’s black servant. Edward Garrigues was a devout Quaker, wealthy carpenter, chairman of the Philadelphia Board of Health and a member of the Abolition Society committee convened to assist the newly-arrived Africans. Later, he contracted the indentures of Mira and Miza Ganges.  His 1798 diary recorded the agonies of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. See: Anita DeClue and Billy G. Smith, Wrestling the “Pale Faced Messenger”: The Diary of Edward Garrigues During the 1798 Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies,Vol. 65, Explorations in Early American Culture (1998), pp. 243-268

[8] Captain Dudley W. Knox, USN (Ret.) ed., Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War Between the United States and France – Volume 6, Naval Operations from June 1800 to November 1800, (1938, U.S. Govt. Printing Office, Washington D.C.), pp 232-233. This is a transcription from an original cited here as NDA (Naval Department Archives) OSW (Letters to Officers of Ships of War). The Delaware was a 20 gun refitted merchantman stationed at New Castle, Delaware at the time. It was the common practice to re-assign prize crews to other ships rather than ordering them back to the vessel from which they came.

[9] Gazette of the United States, & daily advertiser. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 20 Aug. 1800, 2, in  Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

[10]  U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. T. C. Mendenhall, Superintendent. Philadelphia. Greenwich Point to Fort Mifflin Topographical survey by R. M. Bache, Assistant. August 5th to November 4th, 1891. Scale 1:2400 , 1891. Full, low resolution version available online.

[11]  Henry Gannet, A Dictionary of Geographic Positions in the United States,  Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1896, 70. Available online. Note the description of the coordinate point is “Burnt Factory, south chimney (old lazaretto)”.

[12] Melish, John, and Vallance Tanner. Map of Philadelphia County: constructed by virtue of an act of the Legislature of Pennsylvania passed 19th March. Philadelphia: Melish, 1819. Map.

[13] Physical condition plan. Phila. Industrial Development Corp. Penrose & Fort Mifflin Tracts. N.W. side of Schuylkill River & Delaware River. City of Philadelphia, 40th Ward. Barton & Martin, Engineers. 12 So. 12th St., Philadelphia. September 30, 1968 [No color in original], 1968. Full, low resolution version available online.

[14] Google Maps, accesssed June 2019. Online.