ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE
BY THE 1800s the horrors of the slave trade were finally becoming evident, especially to the citizens of England. So, in 1807 the United Kingdom outlawed the African slave trade, and in 1808 the United States followed suit. However, a problem with the U.S. slave trade law was its lack of punishment for violators who only faced a semi-stiff fine. So in 1820, violation of the slave trade law became an "Act of Piracy," which was punishable by death. This was the sentence three crew members of the Wanderer were facing in a Savannah courthouse in 1859.
In another attempt to stop the slave trade, the United Kingdom and the U.S. sent ships to patrol the west coast of Africa in order to catch any slavers attempting to break the law. These patrol ships were known as the "African Squadron." However, too few ships were assigned to the squadron to adequately patrol the vast African coast. Further, the squadron ships were often old, worn, and slow, which made it easy for the Wanderer to outrun them in 1858.
When the Wanderer landed on Jekyll Island, most U.S. citizens, northern and southern alike, were opposed to the slave trade. However, there was a group of radical Southerners who wanted to once again legalize the African slave trade, this group was called the "Fire Eaters."
(Image: "The Abolition of the Slave Trade," by George Cruishank, 1792)