HANGING CAPTAIN GORDON: The Life and Trial of An American Slave Trader


This is a large-scale drama focusing on human trafficking.  It's core story is inspired by the historical book Hanging Captain Gordon and the book's presentation of the life and trial of the only American slave trader executed for his heinous actions during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. The drama we are developing will highlight what is still a global issue in the contemporary moment, in addtion to the story's historical relevance.


Elixr is developing this project in a co-production arrangement with Aventuras Produções e Edições Educativas Ltda of Brazil.  Since 1995 Aventuras has been producing Cinema, TV & Web about Scientific Expeditions, Adventure, Ecotourism, and Environmental Actions, providing a greater understanding of human nature and what it means to be Brazilian.  During the mid 19th century Captain Gordon had evaded capture in Brazil.  The country is in possession of artifacts from the era and will participate in the production of the movie.




Hanging Capt. Gordon tells the compelling story of the capture and two trials of Captain Nathaniel Gordon, the only slave ship captain to be executed under the federal statute authorizing capital punishment for slave traders. Although this law had been in effect for many years before the Civil War, no slave ship captain had ever been successfully prosecuted to receive that penalty.  Well beyond presenting the inhumane practice of slave trade this is the dramatic story of how and why President Lincoln denied Capt. Gordon clemency, providing great  insight into Lincoln.

Very striking, this book reveals the systemic corruption of the legal system and the shipping magnates of New England, who actually owned the slave shipping fleets and had no interest in obeying the laws against slave shipping and requiring capital punishment for violators. Before the conviction of Gordon in a second trial after the first trial was dismissed due to the skullduggery of the wealthy shipowners and others, no slave ship captain had ever been executed.

The book provides the background of how the slave industry's financial center was actually New York City and other New England shipping ports occupied by the largest shipping companies in the U.S.  Most people think of slavery in the U.S. as being almost entirely an interest of the South. However, now I have learned that powerful interests in the North also favored and protected slavery to the bitter end.





This fast-paced story of the 1862 hanging of Nathaniel Gordon, one of many ship captains charged with breaking an 1820 law banning slave-trading, but the only one to ever be executed. Ron Soodalter, a former museum curator and history teacher, uses this singular event as a prism to provide an overview of Civil War-era politics, Lincoln's presidency and the maritime economy of slavery. Informative, but never dull or pedantic, this book hums along quickly, glossing over well-documented areas and concentrating instead on Gordon, the son of a sea merchant, who was arrested at the helm of a ship containing 897 slaves near the mouth of the Congo River. Deported to New York to stand trial, Gordon found himself at the center of a sensationalist frenzy, caught between the gears of a nation in flux. Soodalter's vivid depictions of slaving voyages present the squalid conditions aboard slaving ships and New York City's infamous "Tombs" prison where Gordon awaited his execution and the attitude among slavers and politicians that anti-slavery legislation was largely a paper tiger. Soodalter's take on slave-trading and its ancillary politics is accessible, and though he retreads some heavily covered material, his survey of slaving vis-à-vis the Gordon case will appeal to casual and serious readers of history.