The peculiar character of slave ownership as against common right, and existing only under positive municipal law, became at this time the subject of earnest discussion.
While the brig Creole,
an American merchant vessel, was on her voyage, in 1841, from Hampton Roads
to New Orleans, with one hundred and thirty-five slaves on board, a part of them rose in mutiny, killed a passenger who was the reputed owner of some of the slaves, wounded a number of the officers and crew, and having obtained complete possession of the vessel, carried her into the English
port of Nassau
The slaves were there liberated, although some were held for a while under arrest for the assaults.
There was a question as to the extent to which the colonial authorities interfered to effect their liberation, positive and officious interference being alleged on the one side and denied on the other.
The affair was presented to the attention of the British Government
by a formal letter addressed by Mr. Webster
, then Secretary of State
, to Mr. Stevenson
, our Minister in London
contended that the ‘Creole
,’ being engaged in a perfectly lawful voyage, and taken by mutineers into a foreign port, her officers were entitled by the comity of nations, while at such port, to the aid of the Government
in whose jurisdiction the port is situated in maintaining their authority, and should be protected from any interference with the relations and status
of persons on board existing under the laws of the United States
. Mr. Webster
, during the negotiations of the Treaty
, again pressed this view.1
While confining the controversy to the case of a vessel driven by maritime disaster or carried by unlawful force into a foreign port, his argument in spirit and effect went further.
He illustrated the relation of master and slave by the analogies of husband and wife and of parent and child, and carefully refrained from stating its peculiar and abnormal character as against common right, existing only by positive law, and not entitled to any recognition outside the exclusive jurisdiction of such law. This pretension, which he maintained with his accustomed power, belongs to a period when the spirit of slavery dominated in our Government.
Lord Ashburton, while declining to include the question in the negotiation