Elsa Barraza Mendoza writes:
“The day after Thanksgiving in 1838, a group of American scientists and sailors docked in the port of Rio de Janeiro. They were the members of the United States Exploring Expedition, and thanks to the detailed notes of one of its members, Horatio Hale, historians can unravel one of Rio’s enduring historical mysteries: the diverse origins of its African slaves.
“The United States Exploring Expedition’s primary purpose was to survey the Pacific Ocean, and in particular the legendary coasts of Fiji. Approved by the War Department as a project of strategic importance, the expedition included naval officers and civilian scientists whose aim was to be America’s eyes and ears. Horatio Hale, the philologist of the crew, was charged with studying the peoples and languages that he encountered during the voyage. A Harvard undergraduate who had lived most of his life in Newport, New Hampshire, Hale was in for an adventure…”