Archival Follies, Our Glorious National Heritage

Antebellum America Salutes the British Empire!

One Fingered, Naturally


In April 1841, whilst conducting the East India squadron to Chinese waters to safeguard American merchants against from harm during the First Opium War, Commodore Lawrence Kearny received some interesting supplementary orders:


It is understood that the citizens of the U. States who were made prisoners by the British forces during the late troubles in Canada [e.g. the Rebellion of 1837], and subsequently banished to distant parts of the Globe, are at liberty to return to their native land, but have no means of conveyance – Therefore, should the Constellation or Boston fall in with any of those persons, it is the desire of the department that a free passage to the United States should be offered them.”

~George E. Badger to Lawrence Kearney, Navy Department, 23 April 1841

In other words, Kearny – and any and all other Navy captains – was to give Americans who had been transported to Australia, and similar, as punishment for participation in a rebellion a free ride back to the good old U.S. of A.

Maybe not quite as egregious as if Saudi Arabia started playing taxi for GTMO detainees – but certainly in the same ballpark of diplomatic subtlety.

The early 1840s were not great years for Anglo-American relations, needless to say.

1.) “Squadron” was the somewhat grandiose title the Navy applied to the grouping of the 42-year old frigate Constellation and the sloop-of-war Boston under one command.

Theske Slijkerman, “Irritatie,” Flickr, CC License