of Liberty": Richard Robert Madden in the Caribbean
Gera Burton (University of
recognized for his work on the ground-breaking Lives and
Times of the United Irishmen (1842-1846), Richard
Madden’s extraordinary contributions as a champion of
humanitarian causes have received scant attention either in
or abroad. Little has been written about Madden’s
background and experiences leading to his commitment to help
eradicate the “odious institution.” Having witnessed the
horrors of slavery firsthand as he traveled throughout
southern Europe and the Middle East, the
native spurned a lucrative career as a physician in
to devote himself full-time to the anti-slavery cause.
his tenure in
as a judge on the Mixed Commission Courts, established in
the wake of the abolition of the slave trade in 1833, Madden
was posted to
under an 1835 Anglo-Spanish agreement. Even before he set
foot on the island, the Cuban authorities attempted to block
his appointment. In spite of his reputation as a staunch
abolitionist—causing him to be labeled “a dangerous
man” by Cuba’s criollo elite—he became the
island’s first Superintendent of Liberated Africans, with
responsibility for emancipating Africans kidnapped and
illegally transported to Cuba.
’s administration under the Captain-General, Miguel Tacón,
endeavored to thwart Madden’s efforts to ensure the safety
of Africans emancipated under the terms of international
treaties. Despite the enormous pressure to turn a blind eye
to the blatant corruption and flouting of the law, one
official concluded that Madden “could not be bribed,
cajoled or coerced.” He labored tirelessly to expose the
colonial regime’s collusion with slave traders, merchants,
and plantation owners, ensuring that he would remain at
loggerheads with the Cuban authorities.
provided opportunities to visit ingenios where he
witnessed firsthand conditions on the sugar plantations.
This experience prompted him to refute de Toqueville’s
findings regarding “the benign nature” of slavery in
Spanish colonies. Documenting his account of the atrocities,
he wrote: “I could not believe the evidence of my
senses.” Some of his most graphic descriptions of Cuban
slavery later appeared in verse form.
, he joined Domingo del Monte’s literary circle, where he
became acquainted with Juan Francisco Manzano, the
island’s slave-poet and author of the Autobiografia.
In 1840, Madden would publish an English translation of
Manzano’s work, along with some of his poetical
compositions, as Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba,
almost one hundred years before the work was published in
the original Spanish.
paper examines Madden’s efforts to eradicate slavery in
, including his exposure of the flaws of the so-called
“apprenticeship system” designed to replace slavery. It
also discusses Madden’s role in the Amistad affair,
and the circumstances surrounding his address at the first
World Anti-Slavery Conference in
in June 1840.