No. 31.
Mr. Vidal to Mr. Hunter.

No. 46.]

Sir: In answer to my communication No. 26, in regard to the negro slave traffic carried on between Tripoli and Constantinople, via Malta, I had the honor to receive from the Department dispatch No. 22, by which I was informed that “the specifications mentioned in the paper are scarcely sufficient to warrant a definitive opinion upon the subject. You will consequently furnish the Department with any other facts in regard to it which you may have or may obtain.” From the moment that dispatch came to my hands I thought it my duty to endeavor to place the Department in possession of more satisfactory information relative to that trade. I took measures accordingly.

* * * * * * *

For that purpose I engaged as one of my household servants, Mejbura, a negro woman who can speak, besides her own vernacular, the Arabic language, the Turkish tongue, and the Bernoo idiom. Knowing perfectly [Page 44] well that on board the steamers plying between this place and Malta, it is but with the greatest difficulty that a man can talk to a Mussulman woman, under the most favorable circumstances, I judged it better to send Mejbura to Malta, so that she could, during the voyage, have an opportunity to inform those among the black passengers who were slaves that on the moment of their arrival in Malta they could be free if they so chose.

I decided at the same time that Lueschi, the intelligent and devoted janissary of the consulate, who can speak good or bad Arabic, English, French, Greek, Italian, Maltese, and Turkish, and who had already been in Malta, should accompany that woman to the island, to act as her protector and interpreter.

* * * * * * *

I sent them off on the 7th of August last by the Ottoman steamer Trabulus Gharb.

My inclosure No. 1, which is a translation of the statements made under oath on the 16th of August by Lueschi and Mejbura, immediately after they were back at this port, will show the Department that they would have succeeded in their undertaking had it not been for the indifference exhibited in that case by the Ottoman consul at Malta, as well as the unwarrantable interference of the brother of the Tunisian consul, who is in no way an official person, and had no business to meddle with the case, and more than all the scandalous and very extraordinary partiality shown by the Malta police in favor of those passengers engaged in the unlawful traffic.

It will be sufficient to call the Department’s attention to the following facts mentioned in Lueschi’s paper:

There were fifteen or sixteen black women on board the steamer, eight of whom were examined before they landed. However, seven hours later, when the examination was resumed on shore, there were but twelve negroes present, among whom are to be counted the eight women already examined. What had become of the four, other ones? They were probably poor creatures who, having decided to claim their liberty in spite of the threats and promises of their mistresses, were prudently withheld from the police’s eyes.

The inn where the examination was resumed is the general resort of Mussulman people in Malta, and most of the time one is sure to find there eastern travelers with their servants. Who can know whether the four negroes who were examined there were the same ones who were on board the Trabulus Gharb, or servants of other guests, borrowed to play a part in that criminal farce?

The Department will please notice the strange proceeding of the Malta police-officer. As long as the negroes would declare that they were not slaves, he was satisfied with that answer; but the moment one of them stated that she was a slave and would rather die than go along with her mistress, he stopped the examination and left the unfortunate being for seven long hours among her mistresses, instead of rescuing her at once and taking her ashore. What right had he to prevent that negro from landing the very minute she wanted to leave?

* * * * * * *

It was my intention to make another trial, with the hope I would have better luck next time. However, I soon found a solace to my disappointment in the knowledge that I had so far succeeded in being the instrument to prevent, at least for a time, the exportation of more slaves. For the Pasha Governor of this regency, and probably some gentlemen in the Constantinople foreign office were led to suspect, when they were [Page 45] informed by the Ottoman consul of what had just occurred in Malta, that Lueschi and Mejbura were sent by me to the island to act as my emissaries. By his long connection with the United States consulate, Lueschi is well known in that island as well as here; and during the examination at the hotel, those among the Osmanli ladies who were most excited against him attempted several times to shame him into silence by calling him a Roomee, (Christian,) an epithet as much insulting to a Mussulman as that of Jew would be when applied to a Christian witness in one of our court-houses.

The Ottoman officials were fairly frightened, lest I would succeed, at a future time, in fastening guilt on them all. Therefore, on the 21st of October last, when instructions from Constantinople had time to be received, Sahmi Pasha, governor-general of this regency, issued an order, herewith inclosed marked No. 2, informing the people and the consuls that measures were taken to punish severely those who would be found engaged in the slave-traffic. I consider that document as a very important one, for it is the official admission from a high Ottoman functionary that the exportation of slaves from Tripoli was heretofore carried on in spite of all treaties and imperial decrees, a fact which I had the honor to denounce to the Department in my dispatch No. 27.

May I be pardoned if I add that, on the other hand, I look also upon those orders as complimentary to me; for do they not show that by my personal exertions alone an odious trade which has been prosecuted for centuries, lately under the very shadow of the British flag, and on British soil, too, has been checked at last?

* * * * * * *

But the tyrant was killed, at any rate, and the slave-traffic is not in this regency. I know from experience that in these countries all good laws, rules, and ordinances enacted by persons in authority are not intended to be strictly enforced, being promulgated solely because they read well on paper. The very functionaries whose duty it is to see those laws enforced are the very first to break them. There is not, for instance, a high dignitary, let him be general, colonel, cadi, bey, mufti, moodir, mutassariff, who does not, when he sends his family from Tripoli to Constantinople, or any other European or Asiatic province of the empire, improve the opportunity to ship away one or two dozen of negro slave girls.

* * * * * * *

Wishing to ascertain that the Pasha’s orders were respected, for the present at least, I sent Lueschi on the 2d instant once more to Malta, on board the steamer Vilaïet. * * * * * But it was too soon after the issuing of the orders, and no slaves were that time on board the Vilaïet. I was informed that two poor Arabs of this place, who were detected at about that time with slaves in their possession, were sent to jail for a year. As the people here say in their imaged speech, “the smallest donkeys are ridden in preference to larger ones.”

* * * * * * *

I must also add a word to what I said in my dispatch No. 27, explaining how those slaves, once in Malta, will invariably answer that they are free. There is in Soudan, south of Kanou, a country named El Zendj, whose inhabitants are anthropophagi. They even file their teeth to make them as sharp as a dog’s, in order to be better prepared to eat their prisoners. When the negroes of the other districts are captured by the Fellatahs, to the number of several thousands at a time, those wretched people imagine that they are to be eaten like sheep. Gradually [Page 46] they see their error; but their Moslem masters tell them that while Mussulmans don’t feed on human beings, Christians do. Hence their dread of being left in Malta. The most wretched slave, when asked, pro forma, by a Maltese policeman, whose whiskers and manners look ferocious in her estimation, whether she wants to stay in the island, will answer, terror-stricken, “Sidi Stamboul”—the only two Arabic words she knows—that is to say, “Stamboul is my lord, my preference.”

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 46.—Translation.]

Statement by Lueschi

I, the undersigned, Mohammed Lueschi, janissary of this consulate of America, declare, and under my oath affirm, that, on the arrival in Malta of the Ottoman steamer Trabulus Gharb, (which happened on the 8th instant,) on board of which I was, with other passengers, a marine police-officer of that island came on board, who, employing me as interpreter, commenced to examine one by one the black women who were on the steamer, asking them whether they were free or slaves, and willing to follow their masters. The first seven ones thus examined answered that they were not slaves, but were following their masters of their own accord. The eighth time the question was repeated, a black woman, who had with her a son of about two years of age, answered that she was a slave, and that it was her intention to stay in Malta, in order to be taken back to Tripoli, even should she be cut to pieces for making that statement. Upon that declaration the officer suspended his examination, saying that he was very busy. I immediately made to him the remark that there were yet seven or eight more black women to examine; and he answered, “Do not fear anything; I am going away; but not one of them will go ashore.” And so saying, he ordered the captain to allow all white people to land, and he himself went away, leaving on board four policemen. I, too, staid on the vessel, and noticed that the slave who had made the protest was left with her mistress.

In the course of about half an hour came the order to allow the black people to land. I went along with the latter, and, when on shore, we were told that, at about 2½ p.m., the police-adjutant would go to the hotel to proceed with the examination. In the mean time the black woman who had declared she was a slave was put by her mistress in her carriage, with her little son, and other black women, among whom there was one who, from the first time she heard the statement made by the aforesaid slave, had not left her alone for a minute, doing her best to persuade her to take back her declaration. We all put up at the same inn, where we arrived at about 8 a.m.

At about 2½ o’clock p.m. the police-adjutant repaired to that inn, followed by four policemen, and having ordered the black women to be presented to him, twelve only came along; among them I noticed the one who had declared to be a slave, albeit the rich dress she had then on was very different from the wretched cotton sheet in which she was shrouded on board. I and the police people could recognize this one, as well as the seven other ones who were examined on board with their faces unveiled, but no one could say for certain whether the five other ones were the same who were on board, for no one had yet seen their faces.

Along with those black women there were also white Arabic women and five Turkish ones, who had come with us to Malta, and in whose service those black women were. At the examination by the police officer there was present Mejbura, a free negro woman, who had come with me to Malta, and who on board had assisted me in examining the negroes, for she can speak their language. Said Mejbura, during the examination by the police, was several times shoved back by the mistresses of the negroes—a fact to which I called the attention of the police-adjutant, who declared he was disposed to put a stop to those acts of brutality, but in reality he never did; and the same inertion was maintained when I suggested to divide the negroes from their mistresses, so that the former should feel more independeat in giving their answers, for they were all held by the arm by their mistresses.

I called the police’s attention to a black woman, an Algerine named Fatma, who had then adopted the alias of Ejshia; and I informed them that about two months before that woman had passed by Malta, taking along to Constantinople a slave whom she passed off as her own servant, just the same as now she was passing another one for [Page 47] her servant, although she was too poor to be thus traveling with servants. The adjutant said that truly he remembered to have seen that woman at the time mentioned by me.

The Ottoman consul residing in Malta was, during that examination, in the inn, in a room next to the one where we were, with open doors, so that he could see and hear everything, but he never said a word, either to the police or to any of the negroes.

Mr. John Baptist Farrugia, a brother of the Tunisian consul at Malta, who, according to all reports, has important commercial relations with Sidi Ali El Kerkeni, owner of the steamer Trabulus Gharb, was also present at the examination, being all the time among those women. When, by request of the adjutant, I would interrogate a negro, and she would answer that she was not a slave and was willing to follow her mistress, said Mr. Farrugia would say nothing; but every time that, from my own will, I would ask those women to show their certificates, proving they were free and not slaves, then said Farrugia would reprove me, saying that such a thing did not concern me, and that the answer made by the negroes to the adjutant, that they were free and willing to follow their mistresses, was sufficient.

I called also the police’s attention to a black sergeant who was accompanying the wife of his colonel, having with him a negro woman and a girl, pretending that one was his wife and the other his daughter, while in reality they were slaves. The sergeant at first maintained his first statement, but at last he confessed that those women were nothing to him.

The police, satisfied with the mere statement made by those negroes, that they were free and willing to follow their mistresses, left the inn, and thus, on the next day, all those people left for Constantinople, on board a large English steamer.

It is evident, in my opinion, that if the police had from the first moment proceeded with their examination, instead of suspending it for six or seven hours, thus leaving the negroes under the influence of promises, caresses, fear, and threats, from the part of their owners, not only that slave would have persisted in her first statement, but there would have been probably others among her companions who would have imitated her example, even among those who had already declared that they were not slaves.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 46—Translation.]

Statement by Mejbura.

I, the undersigned Mejbura, a free negro woman, without a husband, born in Mecca, declare and under my oath affirm that two weeks ago Lueschi, janissary of this Consulate of America, invited me to follow him to Malta, in order to see whether there were slaves on board the Trabulus Gharb. I accepted the proposal, and both of us took passage on board said steamer.

During the journey I noticed that there were about fifteen black women, and one by one I let them know that my persuasion was that they were all slaves. They denied it was so; but I made the remark that if they were free, they would have in their possession the certificate of freedom, while I asked them in vain to show me that document.

One of those women, who was a wet-nurse in the family of the Pasha of Fezzan, and had along with her her own son of about two years of age, confessed that she was a slave, and declared that she was unwilling to follow her masters; but wished to stay in Malta, in order to be sent back to Tripoli, should she even be cut to pieces for making such a declaration.

When we arrived in Malta a police-officer came on board, and after the examination of six or seven of the black women, all of whom declared that they were free and willing to follow their masters, came the turn of the aforesaid black nurse, who frankly answered that she was a slave, and wished to stay in Maltato be sent back to Tripoli.

Upon that declaration the police-officer, though there were about seven other women to examine, concluded his inspection and went away. In the course of about half of an hour all the black people were landed, by virtue of an order, and we all went to the same inn. It was then about 8 o’clock p.m. In that inn the nurse’s owners commenced to frighten her, telling her that should she stay in Malta the inhabitants would make a Christian of her, and would give her pork to eat; but, on the other hand, if she consented to go to Constantinople, they would not let her be deprived of anything, and from that moment she was free, and no longer a slave. And thus persuading her, they offered her a rich silk dress, which she put on with marks of contentment.

In the mean time the other slaves would comfort themselves by repeating that, if it [Page 48] were written in Heaven that they were to be made free in Malta, they would be freed; but if it were written that they were to be liberated in Constantinople, they would be emancipated there; and also, if it were written that they had to live slaves forever, nobody could help it.

Toward half-past two o’clock p.m. the man of the police came to the inn, and began to examine the black women, and this time they all answered that they were not slaves, but willing to follow their masters. During that time I was more than once pushed back by the owners of the slave, as they supposed that my presence might encourage her to tell the truth.

When the police people had withdrawn, and all was made smooth, the owners of that slave began to jostle me in a very rough manner, saying that I had come to Malta expressly to dissuade the black women from following their masters. On the next day all the people left for Constantinople on board an English steamer, without the nurse having ever received the certificate of freedom promised her by her owners.

(Made her mark.)
Mohammed Lueschi.

Ali Boukboula.

Ali Ben Mohammed.

Mohammed Ishtenz
. (Made his mark.)
[Inclosure 3 in No. 46.—Translation.]

Sahmi Pasha to Mr. Vidal.

To the chancery of America, to the illustrious Sir, Consul of America:

When the treaty between the Powers, prohibiting the sale of slaves, was concluded on the last day of Rabié-ervel, of the year 1273,* a firman was decreed, issued by the Seder-Azam, by order of the Sultan, by virtue of which those sales were henceforth and forever forbidden, so that those slaves could not be ill-treated any longer, for they are men as we are. But we were informed that several persons are still engaged in that trade in villages, towns, and in this very city, as well as on the sea-coast. In the late stress of famine there were many such sales of black people, and these suffered very much; and there were even merchants who were engaged in those sales.

That trade is forbidden; and those slaves who come to the persons in authority are manumitted, and great attention is paid to prevent those sales. There are steamers and merchant-vessels, on board of which black people are carried away to other lands. Thanks to the justice and good grace of the Sublime Porte, orders were sent to all seaports and cities to put an end to those sales, and any person detected in having slaves in his possession shall be punished according to law, (canon,) and the slave shall be taken by force and set at liberty.

An order was given to the governors, as well as to the sheiks-el-beled, binihachi of the zaptic, portmasters, and all the officials of the custom-house and the sanitary office to give, according to law, their utmost attention to all merchant-vessels in regard to that exportation.

Any one who shall be negligent, or will not obey those orders, shall be dismissed from office, by the authority of the Mezle-Idaret-el-Ubeia,§ so that those orders be executed, and all sea-captains leaving this port be watched.

  1. 28th of November, 1856.
  2. Sheiks-el-beled—Mayor.
  3. Bimbachi of the zaptic—Colonel of the police-corps.
  4. Mezle-Idaret-el-Ubeia—Pasha’s court.
  5. 21st of October, 1873.