Wreckage of stolen Slave Ship Camargo used to illegally traffic Slaves from Zimbabwe to Brazil in 1850 found

A groundbreaking discovery off the Brazilian coast in the sea of Angra dos Reis has sent shockwaves through the academic world. Researchers from the AfrOrigens Institute, Fluminense Federal University, Federal University of Sergipe, and various North American research institutions claim to have found the sunken remains of a slave ship dating back to the 19th century. The vessel, believed to be the notorious Camargo, was commandeered by the American trader Nathaniel Gordon, who played a sinister role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Slave Ship Camargo used to illegally traffic Slaves from Zimbabwe to Brazil in 1850 found

Nathaniel Gordon, an American trader, found himself at the helm of the Brig Camargo in the early 1850s. Originally tasked with sailing from San Francisco to New York, Gordon took a dark turn when he deviated from his course. Instead of returning to the United States, he set sail for Mozambique, where historical records suggest he clandestinely transported around 500 enslaved African people from Mashonaland.

The illegal operation led him to Angra dos Reis Bay, situated west of Rio de Janeiro. Fearing detection during a Navy search, Gordon purportedly sunk the ship, eliminating all traces of his heinous act. His audacity to defy the law and engage in the slave trade was fueled by the lucrative profits it promised, even though the US 1820 piracy law carried a death sentence for such practices.

In December 1852, the "Diário do Rio de Janeiro" reported the "rumour" of an American ship unloading Africans at the port of Bracuí. The emperor was personally informed, and a contingent of soldiers was dispatched to patrol the Angra region. The involvement of a local police chief, who was also a slave owner, added complexity to the situation.

During a three-month investigation, slaves who were captured claimed they were exercising their right to freedom, just like the Africans brought on the Camargo, who were ultimately freed. Despite these challenges, the Empire remained resolute and sought to demonstrate its authority over slave labour. The investigation culminated in Gordon's ship being set on fire, a strategy not uncommon among American commanders of black slave ships.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was a lucrative and brutal business. Slaves purchased in Africa for as little as US$40 could be sold for up to US$1200 in Brazil due to the increasing demand for labour in the coffee industry. A single cargo of 800 slaves could yield a staggering fortune of US$960,000 in today's currency.

Nathaniel Gordon's actions did not go unpunished. In 1862, he was executed in New York for violating the piracy law, making him the only American to be fully tried, convicted, and run for participating in the slave trade.

Brazil's role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade was substantial. Of the 12 million enslaved Africans taken to the New World, a staggering 5.5 million were forcibly brought to Brazil between 1540 and the 1860s. This historical reality was compounded by state-sponsored immigration projects and frontier colonization plans throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, which aimed to "whiten" Brazilian society.

The discovery of the Camargo shipwreck holds significant meaning for the Quilombo Santa Rita do Bracuí community in Angra dos Reis. Some members of this community are direct descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to Brazil through the Atlantic Slave Trade.

For them, the identification of the shipwreck is a powerful statement against the horrors of slavery. It serves as a reminder that the Atlantic Slave Trade was inhumane and that Brazil must confront its past, acknowledging the legacy of suffering and exploitation.

As the research team, AfrOrigens, and filmmaker Yuri Sanada continue their efforts to identify the actual wreck, a feature-length documentary about Nathaniel Gordon's trials and the quest for the Camargo is in development. The ship's body, buried under layers of mud, will be further examined during the next phase, scheduled for October.

Evidence in the historical literature for slave trading in Zimbabwe is scanty. In 1988, Leg irons and handcuffs were found at Dananombe (Dhlo Dhlo Ruins) in Zimbabwe and are compared with similar artifacts known to have been used between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries in Africa and America. Archaeological evidence is insufficient to support a wholesale trade in slaves from Zimbabwe prior to the early nineteenth century and there is no suggestion that Great Zimbabwe and other stone structures were used in this trade, although there is a suggestion from historical records of Portuguese influence in this field from the sixteenth century onwards. No other artifacts of the slave trade have so far been located.

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Mungwadzi Godwin

twitterinstagramI like sharing positive stories about Zimbabweans at home and abroad. I also write articles on Personal Finance, Fashion, Music, and Tech. Let's connect!

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