In 1860, three American owned ships were intercepted by the United States Navy as they were bound for Cuba with the intent of selling the 1,432 Africans on board into slave labor. The Navy brought the Africans to the safe-haven of Key West, where a barracks and hospital were built within a confined compound.
At this time the population of the island was only 3,000. The people in Key West were gracious and welcoming, donating many items and medical care to the rescued Africans, many of whom were very ill from their forced six week trans-atlantic journey.
They remained in the southernmost city for three months, and despite the short refuge, 295 of the 1,432 died of their illnesses. The surviving freed Africans were sent on another trip across the Atlantic to Liberia, but this journey was just as dangerous, and roughly another 337 died at sea. U.S. Marshal Fernando Moreno personally paid for the proper burial of all of the deceased in Key West. The location of only nine bodies is known, and a memorial of the site is marked at Higgs Beach, between West Martello Tower and White Street Pier. The remaining 286 are believed to be nearby.
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