The Schooner Phoebe


Captain Mullowny’s log entry for the capture of the Phoebe, July 21, 1800. (Mullowny, John, Journal. 1798-1801, US Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Md. 

The Schooner Phoebe was taken as a prize by the USS Ganges off Matanzes, Cuba, on the morning of July 21, 1800, two days after the Prudent.[i] Neither her ship’s log or port registration records have survived. We know she was from Charleston, with a capacity of 78 tons[], but little else.  The people aboard would have been packed in very tightly, since a vessel bearing 118 slaves would have typically had a capacity of at least 100 tons, given the typical ratio of 1.1 slaves/ton. It was 1.5 in this case.[ii]

We do know that at Bance Island, Sierra Leone, on October 6, 1799, Edward Welsh, the Phoebe’s captain, accepted a consignment of 45 Africans on behalf of the Phoebe’s owner, William McLeod of Charleston from John Tilley, the agent of John and Alexander Anderson of London. As laid out in the schedule below, the Andersons were to pay costs and a 10% commission to McLeod to sell the captives and return the net proceeds to them, precisely estimated at $13,056.30 (more than $250,000 today). The projected costs included an 8% allowance for deaths. [iii]

Sales of 45 Negros, on account of John Anderson, Alexander Anderson, and John Tilly. Received from Africa per Schooner Phoebe, Capt. Welsh

1800 – By Sundry – 45 Negros – averaged at $450

To freight, & provisioning on the Voyage of 45 negros at £10 — or $42.80 p head 1928.70
“ Loss occasioned by death — 8 p cent [8%] 1620.–
“ Cloathing of 45 negros at $6 p head 270.–
“ Commission for selling, guaranteeing collecting and remitting — 10 p cent 2025.–
“ Payment of the pilots for landing $2 —   90.–
“ Agents employed to keep negros till sd[sale?] 3 pct 607.50
“ the Capt on the amt. of sales – 3 pct 607.50
“ the sum to cover all incidental expenses —    45.– 7,193.70
Net Sales $13,056.30
Errors Excepted
F5773 001

Bance Island, circa 1805. “The original watercolour for the coloured aquatint published in Corry’s ‘Observations upon the Windward coast of Africa’ (London 1807).” National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection. Acquired with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It’s unlikely the Phoebe left the Africa coast immediately as, even at its worst, an Atlantic crossing would take 3 months. More likely is that, depending on how many additional captives she was able to procure at Bance island, she either cruised the coast in search of additional human cargo or remained there. In either case, the Captain would try to time her arrival in American waters to coincide with the time of highest demand, January to July — planting time, depending on the Latitude. [v]

CNN has produced a segment titled Rebranding Sierra Leone , documenting a recent visit to Bance Island by reporter Vladimir Duthiers.  The ruins there reflect the island at the time of the Phoebe’s visit and provide a powerful reminder of the what happened there.

Captain Mullowny states in his log that the Phoebe was bound to Havana, but owners later argued in court that she was bound for Charleston S.C., only pausing in Cuba – and at Matanzas, not Havana – for repair and provisions. [iv]

The Captain dismissed the story, though, placed a prize crew aboard the Phoebe under the command of Midshipman Calvin F. Stevens, and ordered them to the Ganges‘ home port in Philadelphia. She arrived at Fort Mifflin on August 4, 1800, to a minor sensation

The Arrival

i] “Extract from journal of Lieutenant John Mullowny, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. Ship Ganges, 21 July 1800 (Off Matanzas) Pleasant Weather — At ½  past 8 A. M. Made sail in chase of a sail to windward at 10 brought her too she proved to be the Schooner Phoebe Capt. Mills from the Coast of Africa bound to the Havanna with slaves, sent M: Stephens Midshipm” as Prize Master, and with him four Men and ordered her to Philadelphia. [NA.]” Naval Documents Related To The Quasi-War Between The United States And France, 5:163.

[] Ship’s manifest for the Schooner Phoebe, NARA.


[ii] Jay Coughtry’s  database uses a ratio of 1.1 slaves/ton to estimate slave counts when only the vessel tonnage is available.

[iii] Charleston District Court of Equity, Bills, 1806 No. 29, John and Alexander Anderson and John Tilly vs. John Moncrieff CH174.

[iv] McLeod to Tilghman, Tilghman Papers, HSP, (), Box a?, Folder b?.

[v] Coughtry, Jay, The Notorious Triangle, Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade 1700-1807, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1981, p54.