The First Convicted American Slave Trader, A Wife's Plea for Mercy [Manuscript]. [Slavery]. Smith, Darcas (Mrs. Joseph F.) [Davis, John (1761-1847)]. [Autograph Letter, Signed, to Judge John Davis, Baltimore, March 20, 1822]. Two 9-3/4" x 7-3/4" leaves, content in fine hand to both, second leaf franked and docketed on verso. Light toning, vertical and horizontal fold lines, minor loss at wax seal with no loss to text, few minor chips and tears to second leaf. A rare document, unknown to the American historian who recently published a detailed account of the Smith case. $4,500. * Plaintive plea for mercy addressed to Davis, judge of the United States district court for the district of Massachusetts, by the "disconsolate" wife of 29 year-old Baltimore sea captain Joseph Findley Smith, the first American convicted under the U.S. laws of 1808 and 1818 outlawing the transatlantic slave trade. In April 1820 Smith's schooner, the Plattsburgh, was captured off the West African coast by the U.S. Naval warship Cyane. While the Plattsburgh had no African natives aboard, it had been secretly outfitted as a slaver in Cuba with 50 sets of slave shackles, a set of deck cannons and a portfolio of fictitious papers of "Spanish" ownership. Smith was arrested and taken to Boston, where, in a trial presided over by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story in January 1821, he was found guilty. With Monroe's hope that he would be "made an example of," sentenced to a five-year jail term. The trial was a small media sensation. More than a year later, while Smith begged Monroe for a pardon, the "decent but poor girl" he had married just before sailing for Africa met with the President and Story Both men were sympathetic to this "suffering daughter of America"; Story advised her to have her husband confess to and apologize for his crime and implicate the secret owners of his ship and their Cuban confederates. The impoverished Smith, who had not profited at all from the illegal voyage, complied, and was released from jail on August 30, 1822. Mrs. Smith wrote (in part) to the federal judge who had presided at a related slave-trade trial: "We were not more than three months married, before he took his leave of me, and he has not yet returned. And, oh, heavens had I only known what voyage he was going he should never have left me, no, he should.
Book number 66698