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Hat Island, the Slave Trade, and the U.S. Supreme Court

In 1792, a British expedition under Captain George Vancouver mapped the region. His ships anchored off present day Mukilteo for a time, and although a little island appears on the maps of the expedition, Vancouver did not name it. Forty-one years later, an American expedition commanded by Lt. Charles Wilkes entered Puget Sound. Like Vancouver before him, Wilkes anchored off Mukilteo, but unlike Vancouver, he named the little island “Gedney Island” after Thomas Gedney, a young naval officer and acquaintance of his.

Gedney and his crew would go on to claim salvage rights on a ship named La Amistad, whose cargo included slaves, wine, saddles, gold, and silk. The slaves aboard the ship had taken control of it after killing some of its crew members. They were tried for mutiny, but the U.S. Supreme Court found that they had been illegally transported and held as slaves. The court ruled their rebellion self-defense, and the 35 surviving Africans were returned home. Gedney would not win the ship, slaves, and goods he laid claim to. The island named after him also seems to be eluding him: more and more people now refer to it as “Hat Island.”

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