James Pennington’s Fight for African Slave Trade Refugees – AAIHS – African slave trade refugees differed from today’s asylum seekers in one critical respect: they had never sought to enter the United States but instead had been brutally dislocated through the transatlantic slave trade. Despite a U.S. ban passed in 1807, many American citizens continued for decades to participate in international slaving. Networks of human traffickers forcibly shipped millions of enslaved Africans to Cuba, Brazil, and elsewhere in the Americas. Increasingly large numbers of children and young teenagers (between 40 to 50 percent of all captives in many voyages) were crowded into the holds of illegal slave ships. Naval cruisers who managed to intercept a contraband slaver found hundreds of captives whose youth compounded their vulnerability.
Yet, in many other respects, “recaptured Africans,” as they were called in the United States, shared similar conditions with the 21.3 million refugees and 10 million stateless people counted by the UNHCR today. Recaptives in Key West had been forcibly displaced from their homes. They had traveled thousands of miles across land and sea, experiencing thirst, starvation, and terror. Adults and children alike had been exposed to violent separations and ubiquitous death.