Nathaniel Gordon

Nathaniel Gordon
Nathaniel Gordon
Born c. 1834
Portland, Maine
Died February 21, 1862(1862-02-21) (age c. 27-29)
New York, New York
Conviction(s) Slave trading
Penalty Death by hanging
Status Deceased

Nathaniel Gordon (c. 1834 – February 21, 1862) was the only American slave trader to be tried, convicted, and executed "for being engaged in the Slave Trade" in accordance with the Piracy Law of 1820.

Gordon was born in Portland, Maine. He loaded 897 slaves aboard his ship Erie at Sharks Point, Congo River, West Africa on August 7, 1860, "of whom only 172 were men and 162 grown women. Gordon was one of those infamous characters who preferred to carry children because they could not rise up to avenge his cruelties."[1]

The Erie was captured by the USS Mohican 50 miles from port on August 8, 1860.[2] After one hung jury and a new trial, Gordon was convicted on November 9, 1861 in the circuit court in New York City and sentenced to death by hanging on February 7, 1862.[3]

President Abraham Lincoln issued a stay of Gordon's execution, setting the new date for February 21, 1862.[4] Lincoln made clear that the respite was only temporary to allow Gordon time for his final preparations.[5] The evening before the execution, Gordon unsuccessfully attempted suicide with strychnine poison, prompting the local authorities to move up the execution to noon from 2:30 p.m. due to Gordon's health.[2] Gordon was survived by his wife, son, and mother.

In passing the sentence, Judge Shipman, in the course of his address to the prisoner, said:

Let me implore you to seek the spiritual guidance of the ministers of religion; and let your repentance be as humble and thorough as your crime was great. Do not attempt to hide its enormity from yourself; think of the cruelty and wickedness of seizing nearly a thousand fellow beings, who never did you harm, and thrusting them beneath the decks of a small ship, beneath a burning tropical sun, to die in of disease or suffocation, or be transported to distant lands, and be consigned, they and their posterity, to a fate far more cruel than death.

Think of the sufferings of the unhappy beings whom you crowded on the Erie; of their helpless agony and terror as you took them from their native land; and especially of their miseries on the ---- ----- place of your capture to Monrovia! Remember that you showed mercy to none, carrying off as you did not only those of your own sex, but women and helpless children.

Do not flatter yourself that because they belonged to a different race from yourself, your guilt is therefore lessened – rather fear that it is increased. In the just and generous heart, the humble and the weak inspire compassion, and call for pity and forbearance. As you are soon to pass into the presence of that God of the black man as well as the white man, who is no respecter of persons, do not indulge for a moment the thought that he hears with indifference the cry of the humblest of his children. Do not imagine that because others shared in the guilt of this enterprise, yours, is thereby diminished; but remember the awful admonition of your Bible, “Though hand joined in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished."
—Worcester Aegis and Transcript; December 7, 1861; pg. 1, col. 6.


  1. ^ Spears, John R. (1900), "the Slave Trade in America. Third Paper, the Suppression of the Slave Trade.", Scribner's Magazine 28: 464, 
  2. ^ a b "The Execution of Gordon, The Slave-Trader", Harper's Weekly, March 8, 1862.
  3. ^ Annual reports, p. 120 The prosecution was led by Assistant United States District Attorney, George Pierce Andrews.
  4. ^ Text of the stay of execution granted to Gordon by Abraham Lincoln, 1862, Gilder Lehrman Document Number: GLC 182, Digital History.
  5. ^ Behn, Richard. "Introduction." Mr. Lincoln and Freedom. The Lincoln Institute, 2002.


  • Ron Soodalter, Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, Atria Books, New York, 2006, ISBN 0-74326-728-1.
  • Annual reports and charter, constitution, by-laws, names of officers, committees, members, etc., etc. googlebooks Retrieved September 12, 2009

External links

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