In the first half of the nineteenth century, expansion of the abolitionist movement led to increasing pressure on the federal government to substantiate military labor policies in regard to the construction of defense installations and public works projects. The manifestation of this pressure resulted in the passage of a law in 1842 by Congress that required government agencies to account for the use of slave labor. As a result, a "resolution of the House of Representatives lStin stant" forced Navy Secretary A. P. Upshur to respond to questioning on August 10, 1842. When asked "what number of "colored" persons there were in the Navy," he replied, "There are no slaves in the navy, except only in a few cases, in which officers have been permitted to take their personal servants, instead of employing them from the crews." He continued by reminding the committee "there is a regulation of the Department against employment of slaves in the general service," but then cited another regulation, "that not more than one-twentieth part of the crew of any vessel is allowed to consist of Negroes. It is believed that the number is generally far within this proportion." Even though the Navy was hesitant to account for the use of slaves, a subsequent investigation revealed that the Treasury Department's revenue-boat service, which was under the jurisdiction of the Navy Department, used slave crewmen.1 When questioning was complete, the Navy only "reluctantly disassociated itself' from the leasing of slave labor.2
"Military Slave Rentals, the Construction of Army Fortifications, and the Navy Yard in Pensacola, Florida, 1824-1863,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 88:
4, Article 5.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol88/iss4/5