Nathaniel Gordon

The African slave trade continued long after it was formally ended by the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

Nathaniel Gordon plied that trade aboard his ship, Erie. On August 7, 1860, Gordon took on 897 enslaved Africans at the Congo River in present-day Angola. His captives were mostly children.

The next day, the Erie was intercepted by the USS Mohican only 50 miles into its voyage. The ship was diverted to Liberia, where the enslaved Africans were freed. Gordon was returned to New York City to stand trial in federal court for violations of the Piracy Act of 1820, which defined participation in the slave trade as piracy subject to the death penalty.

New York Daily Herald, October 4, 1860

After a hung jury in his first trial, Gordon was found guilty on November 9, 1861, and sentenced to death by hanging.

President Abraham Lincoln denied his pardon request. The evening before his scheduled execution, Gordon attempted suicide. Nathaniel Gordon was hanged on February 21, 1862, in the court yard of the Tombs prison.

The execution of Nathaniel Gordon

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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