Hanging Captain Gordon
The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader
For the first time, Hanging Captain Gordon chronicles the trial and execution of the only man in history to face conviction for slave trading -- exploring the many compelling issues and circumstances that led to one man paying the price for a crime committed by many. Filled with sharply drawn characters, Soodalter's vivid account sheds light on one of the more shameful aspects of our history and provides a link to similar crimes against humanity still practiced today.
Reading Group Guide
Nathaniel Gordon, a prosperous sea captain from Maine, was executed for slave trading during the early days of Lincoln's presidency. The crime had been a hanging offense for over forty-two years before Captain Gordon was put to death, yet no one before or after Gordon shared his fate. Hanging Captain Gordon delves into the reasons behind the execution, and explores the actions of both the young prosecutor and the dedicated civil servant who went out of his way to ensure that Captain Gordon paid the penalty, and into whose care Captain Gordon entrusted his family as the rope was placed around his neck.
1. Before reading Hanging Captain Gordon, were you aware that while "the South called for slaves, it was largely the New York and New England captains and their ships and crews that delivered them" (13)? If this fact is surprising to you, why is that? What are the popular assumptions about the North's role in the slave trade, and why do you think they differ from the reality revealed in the book?
2. Explain the moral distinction between slavery and the slave trade in Captain Gordon's time. Why was slavery legal while the slave trade was illegal? If District Attorney Delafield Smith called the slave trade "'against humanity, unjust and impolitic'" (155) how could he also be "by his own admission, at most a moderate on the slavery issue" (155)?
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