USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast
Willie Leonard's Journal, 1859-1861
Sailing from Boston, the Constellation, flagship of the U.S. African Squadron, was charged with the interception and capture of slave-trading vessels illegally en route from Africa to the Americas. During the Constellation's deployment, the squadron captured a record number of these ships, liberating their human cargo and holding the captains and crews for criminal prosecution. At the same time, tensions at home and in the squadron increased as the American Civil War approached and erupted in April 1861.
Leonard recorded not only historic events but also fascinating details about his daily life as one of the nearly 400-member crew. He saw himself as not just a diarist, but a reporter, making special efforts to seek out and record information about individual crewmen, shipboard practices, recreation and daily routine—from deck swabbing and standing watch to courts martial and dramatic performances by the Constellation Dramatic Society.
This good-humored gaze into the lives and fortunes of so many men stationed aboard a distinguished American warship makes Gilliland's edition of Willie Leonard's journal a significant work of maritime history.
"Gilliland's editorial comments add scholarly context to this fascinating journal of service on board Constellation during her twenty-six month anti-slavery patrol off West Africa just before the Civil War. Willie Leonard's descriptions of life at sea, liberty on shore, and his transformation from green landlubber to able seaman in an American sloop of war during the glory days of the age of sail are wonderful stuff. Highly recommended."—Andrew C. A. Jampoler, author of Congo and Horrible Shipwreck!
"As the journal of a common American seaman during a cruise to police the illegal slave trade on the West African coast from 1859 to 1861, Willie Leonard's Journal will interest antebellum American historians, but it deserves a much wider audience because of C. Herbert Gilliland's superb editing achievement. Gilliland has skillfully and seamlessly integrated textual commentary which readily explains virtually all of the events, people, ships and naval terms mentioned in the Journal."—John Schroeder, emeritus professor of history, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
"This journal is a readable, fascinating account of life on the Constellation."—Norman C. Delaney, Gilliland, C. Herbert
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