Jan. 17, 1844. A 3 page autograph letter, approx. 780 words, addressed on the fourth integral page. With manuscript corrections and edits. Bridge's lengthy letter from aboard ship to Maine Senator Fairfield records the Saratoga's efforts to suppress the slave trade along the coast of Liberia. He describes his participation in a punitive expedition led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry against villagers suspected of murdering the crew of the American schooner Mary Carver. Having met resistance, the village was burned, along with several others. The tactics employed by the Squadron included destroying the villages and carrying off livestock and canoes, "the orders of the Commodore being to destroy property but spare life."
In a highly detailed letter, Bridge records the encounters with villagers as the Squadron attempts to discover what happened to Capt. Farwell and his crew: "The Squadron has had something to do lately in punishing the murder of Capt. Farwell and crew and the plunder of a Salem schooner (the Mary Carver) to which they were attached. On the 13th ult. the Macedonian, Saratoga, and Decatur anchored at Half Berebee, the scene of the outrage, and thirteen armed boats went ashore to hold a 'palaver' or council. They admitted that Capt. Farwell had been killed by their King, who is since dead, but denied that the mate and crew had been murdered, and said that the vessel had sunk and everything been lost. There was abundance of evidence that a regular plot had been laid to take this vessel as they had taken a Portuguese schooner the year before, and that the goods, sails, cables &c. of the Mary Carver had been divided among the several towns under the rule of the Cracko family, and had been sold or offered to English merchant vessels." Item #65381
A docketed note, signed by E.B. Lee on the address leaf directs that the text of this letter was to be "inserted so far as the mark goes & then to be returned to Mr. Bridge...." This is evidently a reference to its inclusion in a book later written by Bridge, "Journal of an African Cruiser," (NY: 1845) compiled from Bridge's letters and reports and edited by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The section to be excluded from publication was critical of the U.S. Navy's ability to halt the slave trade, as it was restricted to searching only suspect ships flying the American flag: "As for suppressing the slave-trade, it is all humbug. The doctrines held by our Gov't on the question of right of search and visit preclude our cruisers from meddling with slavers under any other colors than our own. The testimony of English Commanders on this coast and of the colonists & American merchant captains all prove that no slave trade is, or has been for five years, carried on under American colors. Slavers of other nations have doubtless hoisted our flag sometimes as they have all others to conceal their real character." He goes on to describe work of the squadron, including trade with "the colonies of free Colored persons on this coast [who] will derive great advantage from the presence of the Squadron, for we spend much money among them,and give them countenance and influence with the natives and with foreigners."
By the terms of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the United States and Great Britain mutually agreed on efforts to suppress the international slave trade: "that each shall prepare, equip, and maintain in service, on the coast of Africa, a sufficient and adequate squadron, or naval force of vessels, of suitable numbers and descriptions...to enforce...the laws, rights and obligations of each of the two countries, for the suppression of the Slave Trade...." Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry commanded the squadron which included the Saratoga as his flagship, along with the Decatur and the Macedonian. He later shifted his flag to the larger ship, the Macedonian.
Horatio Bridge, a native of Maine, graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825. Nathaniel Hawthorne was his classmate and remained a close friend. Bridge became a lawyer, with a degree from Northampton Law School, practicing for several years before experiencing financial difficulties through a bad investment. He joined the Navy as a paymaster in 1838. He served first in the Mediterranean and later along the African coast with Commodore Perry. By 1854 he was stationed in Washington DC and was instrumental in overseeing the development of procurement and supply systems for the expanded Navy during the Civil War. [see his brief biography on the Williams College website].