Soodalter, Ron

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Soodalter, Ron


Married; wife's name Jane; children: Jesse, Melora. Education: Earned a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees. Hobbies and other interests: Folk music, collecting Western memorabilia.


Home—Chappaqua, NY. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer and educator. Has taught at Riker's Island Prison, New York, NY, at a bilingual school in Harlem, NY, and at a high school in upstate NY; worked as curator of history museum in CO; professional flamenco guitar player; scrimshaw artist.


Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to Smithsonian and True West.


Ron Soodalter is the author of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader. Soodalter first became interested in the tale of Nathaniel Gordon as a college student in the 1960s. "Diving into the primary sources had all the aspects of a treasure hunt," the author remarked in an interview on his Web site. "At the outset, all I really knew was that President [Abraham] Lincoln had resisted considerable political pressure, and allowed a young sea captain to hang for slave trading." It would take Soodalter almost four decades to complete his history, during which he worked as a museum curator, taught at Riker's Island Prison, and collected traditional folk ballads. "When I finally sat down to write the Gordon story, it was with the accumulated information—and perspective—gleaned and gathered through these various pursuits," the author wrote on his Web site.

In Hanging Captain Gordon, Soodalter details the trial of Gordon, a thirty-four-year-old sea captain whose ship, carrying a cargo of African slaves, was seized by federal authorities in 1860, beginning a complex legal process that ended in Gordon's execution two years later. The author's "fascinating and disturbing account of this obscure episode in our history is a story replete with political intrigue," observed Booklist reviewer Jay Freeman. Boston Globe critic Chuck Leddy remarked: "Soodalter does a fine job explaining just how unusual Gordon's prosecution was. The captain was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he got caught, but nobody involved thought he would be convicted or executed. Soodalter details forty years of lax enforcement, outright bribery, and judicial nullification of the 1820 slave-trade law." Though Soodalter remarked that he initially sympathized with Gordon, "a loving husband and father," he reversed his attitude toward Gordon with time and perspective. "The true tragedy lies in our government's unforgivably lax approach to enforcing the slave trade laws, in its refusal to cooperate with Great Britain when cooperation would have meant ending the slave traffic decades earlier, and in letting men like Gordon evade punishment as a matter of policy," he stated.



Booklist, February 1, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, p. 22.

Boston Globe, August 1, 2006, Chuck Leddy, "Execution Case Puts Slave Trade under the Microscope," review of Hanging Captain Gordon.

History: Review of New Books, summer, 2006, Julie Allison Mujic, review of Hanging Captain Gordon.


Ron Soodalter Home Page, (August 15, 2007).