“The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people. It is the source of their glory and wealth. . . .”
King Gezo of Dahomey to Captain Winniett, United States Navy, 1840
Deponent Pepper said: “I was a slave, and lived with my owner, don Crispo, at Gallinas. The barracoons were burnt; I ran away to the boats of the big ship. A man told me that if I went to the Englishmen they would make me free. Ran away the same day that the big ship arrived. Saw great many slaves, men, women and children, in the barracoon. I was brought from Cosso about four years ago by a black man, who sold me to the Spaniard, don Crispo. . . . Don Crispo buys slaves and sells them to the Spaniards. . . .”
Evidence in the first report of the Select Committee on the Slave Trade, 1849
IN THOSE PROGRESSIVE DAYS of the mid-nineteenth century, the effective slave merchants were concentrated in the New, not the Old, World: in Rio, Bahia, and Pernambuco; in Havana; and, to a lesser extent, in New Orleans and New York. These fine harbors had generally taken the place of the old ones of Bristol, Liverpool, Amsterdam, and Nantes. In contrast to what happened in the eighteenth century, most slave ships ended their journeys where they began. The long-lasting triangle of Atlantic trade had been replaced by relatively straight lines. The only Northern European cities to have substantial slaving operations after 1815 were, indeed, French ports such as Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Nantes, but even there the trade more or less died out, as has been seen, in the 1830s. There were one or two suggestions that some trading in slaves was carried on from Liverpool in the mid-nineteenth century, but even the Maid of Islay, arrested by H.M.S. Alert of the British naval patrol in 1848, was in the end found innocent; as was, more curiously, Pedro José de Zulueta’s Augusta in 1843, in the High Court in London.I
In Southern Europe, matters were a little different: Lisbon’s merchants continued to organize the dispatch of slaves from the rivers of Guinea to northern Brazil, and they also were still active in bringing slaves from Mozambique to the New World. But most of these traders went to Rio in the early years of the century, and remained there, seen by the Brazilians as Portuguese, and by the Portuguese as Brazilian. Still, a few slave ships were certainly being fitted out in Portugal for slaving in the 1820s. Similarly, Cádiz played a part in the new Spanish slave trade (“fitted out at Cádiz” is a frequent note by British commissioners about a ship arriving in Havana) and, to some extent, so did Barcelona, whose shipyards built several fine ships for the slave trade to Cuba in the mid-nineteenth century. Announcements for the sale of slaves appeared in Spain as late as 1826. The merchants who owned these ships of Cádiz often had a connection with Havana. General Tacón, captain-general in the 1830s in Cuba, would write of these last that the shareholders in many expeditions from Havana were anonymous, being backed by public opinion.
Crews and captains in these years came from even more unexpected places than the ships, including Sardinia and the Papal States, though all participants were always ready with the pretense that they were not what they seemed to be. A few English or Irish sailors were to be found. On the French schooner L’Oiseau of Guadeloupe, for example, which sailed for Africa in 1825, the captain, second captain, and lieutenant when questioned said that they had been born in “Europe,” though actually Captain Jean Blais was Dutch; the mate came from Saint-Malo, the carpenter from Le Havre, the steward from Toulon, while the cook and one seaman came from Curaçao, and other sailors derived from Marseilles, Puerto Rico, Danish Saint Thomas, Germany, Saint-Barthelémy, and even India.1
Captains would now normally be paid substantially more than they were in the eighteenth century: for example, in the midcentury they might expect to receive $400, or £83 per voyage. Cuban captains were paid best. These nineteenth-century masters of the illegal trade were often rougher than their eighteenth-century predecessors. Often they were men left behind by normal life, semicriminal survivors from the Napoleonic Wars, sailors ready for anything, like the hero of Edouard Corbière’s novel Le Négrier, or the captain in Mérimée’s Tamango, men capable, like Olympe Sanguines, of keeping their captives in barrels, the easier to throw them overboard if a patrol vessel appeared. The brothers Amanieu of Bordeaux, who sailed on Le Cantabre, should have been tried for murder for their actions against their brother officers. One brother, Joachim-Guillaume, was so tried at Brest. In February 1854, Cornelius Driscoll, an Irishman born in the United States, captain of the brig Hope, gave a speech to his crew which well suggests the era: “Well, boys,” he said, “you don’t have to worry about facing trial in New York. . . . Let the cruisers take you if they will. I can get any one off in New York for $1,000. All you have to do is to get some straw bail, and you’ll be free as birds. Look at me. I went to Africa, sold the Hope at Cabinda, and took my men over to the Porpoise while the Dagos put 600 ‘niggers’ on board. But we saw what we thought was an English cruiser coming, so I went back with my papers to keep her away from the Hope. Made myself a pirate, they say. Some of my scurvy seamen informed on me afterwards and the marshal caught up with me in New York. . . .” But he escaped.
In 1845, Captain Peter Flowery was imprisoned at Salem for slaving. He had signed on in Havana as captain of the Caballero, ninety-six tons, had put out from New York to Africa, and had bought 346 slaves from Paul FaberII on the river Pongas. He landed them in Matanzas in Cuba and then, after his ship had been cleaned, sailed on to Havana, where the vessel had her name changed to the Spitfire; this ship Flowery registered before a public notary in Key West. He then sailed to New Orleans, where Juan Sococur, of Matanzas, chartered the Spitfire to sail to Africa. They sailed via Havana, where they took on appropriate cargo, with two “passengers,” Francisco Ruiz and Adolphe Fleuret, both slave traders. They set off to visit both Paul Faber on the Pongas, and Mrs. Lightburne nearby. There they were betrayed by an ex-sailor, Thomas Turner, to Lieutenant Henry Bruce who, on the U.S. brig-of-war Truxtum, escorted the schooner back to Salem, where Flowery was accused of launching a slave expedition. At a subsequent trial, one witness said that the ship could not be a slaver, since slaves could not be “very comfortably brought on boards laid over water casks,” to which the defense counsel, District Attorney Rantoul, said, “So the slaves thought too, I presume,” thereby showing that irony was not impossible at that time in North America.
Flowery was ably defended by J. P. Rogers but, thanks to Rantoul, was found guilty. He only served two years. Thereafter, he set off again in the slave ship Mary Ann, whose crew abandoned him on finding, after setting out, the purpose of their voyage. The sailors put Flowery ashore in Africa. Under the command of a mate, they returned to New York, where they surrendered themselves to the authorities, only to be themselves charged with piracy.2
Crews also received much more pay in the days of the illegal trade than they had in the past: an average seaman in the legal trade in Brazil might receive a dollar a day, but a sailor on a slaver might get ten. That explains why it was so easy to find crews. Seamen too might have their own slaves: Captain Birch, of the British navy, said that, sometimes after he had captured a slave ship, seamen “came up and asked me to let them each take the slave that belonged to himself: he had paid for it. . . . They stamp them [that is, brand them] with their own mark.”3
Cargoes were just as diverse as in the past. When Captain Matson destroyed the barracoons at Cabinda in 1842, he found there aguardiente, cotton goods, muskets, rum, tobacco, powder—“everything from red umbrellas to common small utensils of every kind . . . a great number of English production.” But a brother officer, Captain Broadhead, thought the trade in the 1840s was usually “rum, tobacco, bale goods, powder, and muskets.” Captain-General Tacón thought that the cargoes usually sent from Havana in the 1830s were “guns, powder, and tobacco,” which, he added, “were deposited openly . . . in warehouses and were earmarked publicly for Africa”; while the hero of Baroja’s Los Pilotos de Altura said that the cargo was usually “thirty or forty ‘pipas’ of alcohol, usually aguardiente, and eight or ten loads of blue cloth.”4 It seems that, in Nantes, the old favorites of the eighteenth century, locally produced indiennes were still the most popular goods in the French clandestine trade; and wellknown indienneurs of that city, such as Fabre and Petitpierre, did not hesitate to announce in the local press that they were supplying goods for the slave trade. The connection of the London general merchants, Carruthers and Co. of Rio, with Manuel Pinto da Fonseca, was evidently close. Carruthers sent the consul a statement in favor of Pinto da Fonseca, whom they described as “one of the most extensive general merchants in this market”: a statement which, in retrospect, and in our present knowledge of those “general” activities, could hardly have been more damning. The first British minister to newly independent Brazil, Lord Ponsonby, thought in 1829 that “one third of all [British] manufactures imported into Rio are eventually used in commerce with the coast of Africa.”5, III
Not all this material was, of course, destined for the slave trade. But such an excuse could not have been made by Richard Parke and Singleton of Kingston, Jamaica, who supplied the cargo for a Havana slave ship, the Golondrina, in 1836 as they had surely done for other such vessels; and there were other merchants, in Brazil even more than in Cuba, who financed the trade by providing on credit goods to be traded in Africa. A witness at a select committee on the slave trade in London was asked in 1843 whether he was aware that many of the businesses in Brazil and Cuba concerned with the trade were “in direct correspondence” with the first commercial houses in Liverpool and London, and that goods used in the slave trade “were shipped to the orders of those houses in Brazil and Cuba?” The witness said that he was indeed aware of the fact, and thought, too, that “there are houses in Manchester which make no other goods.”6
On the river Pongas, in Senegambia, iron bars were a currency in the nineteenth century; but when a ship exchanged slaves for a certain number of these, it could mean that the real exchange was against looking glasses, knives, guns, razors, scissors, gunpowder, china, red bonnets, sheets, and glasses. In East Africa, the goods offered for slaves were generally said to be “powder, and every sort of merchandise; hardware and cutlery and beads.”
Merchants providing these goods could encounter difficulties in London if it could have been proved that they sold their goods knowing how these were going to be employed; but the act of selling something to Pedro Blanco in Africa, or Joaquín Gómez in Cuba, would not of itself determine the matter. Anyone found with a consignment of shackles on board could be condemned for slaving: but by the 1840s, that shipment was unnecessary, since blacksmiths in Africa were often able to make shackles from imported iron. Asked if any British merchant “were to adopt any plan to prevent the slave dealers getting goods, and were himself to refuse to sell goods on that ground, do you think he could bring a general concurrence in his views by others?” Matthew Forster, both a member of Parliament and a businessman, replied tartly, “That man must know very little of trading competition, or of human nature, who could dream of such a thing; it is painful to hear the twaddle that is talked on the subject of the sale of goods to slave dealers on the coast of Africa. People forget that there is scarcely a British merchant of any eminence who is not proud and eager to deal as largely as possible with slave importers in Cuba and Brazil, and slave buyers and sellers in the United States.”7
The fall in the prices of manufactured goods in Northern Europe and North America made the slave trade cheaper to fit out than it had been a hundred years before. A legitimate businessman concerned in Africa, William Hutton, explained, in 1848, to a parliamentary inquiry in London, that the slave dealers “throw such quantities of goods into the market at such low prices, and of such good quality, that you would be perfectly surprised if you could see it.” Thomas Tobin, of a Liverpool firm which in the end did even better out of palm oil than they had once done out of slaves, estimated that the cost of such goods dropped by two thirds between, say, 1800 and 1848.8
A similar part was played by United States firms, such as Maxwell Wright and Company of New York, Jenkins and Co. of Rio, and Birkhead and Pierce of Baltimore. Such merchants were, however, more concerned to sell ships to slave dealers than manufactured cargoes. These came from numerous ports: Providence, Bristol, Salem, Beverly, Boston, Portland, even Philadelphia, all made their contribution to ships for the Brazilian traffic. Thus, by irony, that part of the United States whose public men were most in favor of abolition also lent support for the traffic. Sometimes the individuals concerned seemed confused. For example, the owner of the Bangor Gazette in Maine preached abolition in his newspaper, while he was also apparently engaged in building slave ships in pretty ports in Maine such as Bath or Damariscotta.9, IV
In 1840, Joseph Fry, of the Quaker and chocolate family, was assured, perhaps exaggeratedly, that nine-tenths of the ships in the Cuban slave trade were then built in the United States: many in Baltimore, “where bonds that they shall not be employed illegally are regularly taken, and as regularly evaded or disregarded.”10 Sometimes these vessels were very modern. Commander Charles Riley, for instance, a British naval captain who served off the Bight of Benin in 1848, described capturing a ship from Bahia, theRasparte, of 105 tons, “built to beat every vessel” under British command (he captured her because her captain took no trouble): “I never saw anything so beautiful,” he said, adding that she could sail across the Atlantic regularly in twenty-four days from Bahia to Lagos. Ships for the trade also continued to be made in Portugal.11 A British captain captured one vessel built on the Douro in 1848. In the late 1840s, steamers made their appearance in the Brazilian trade, and they came to be important in the Cuban commerce in the 1850s.
Theodore Canot (Theophilus Conneau), a captain who was later a slave dealer, described how, in Havana Bay, “these dashing slavers, with their arrowy hulls and raking masts, got complete possession of my fancy.”12, V Unlike their lumbering predecessors of the previous century, these could cross and recross the Atlantic several times a year, using a diversity of flags as the need arose. Thus the ship Fanny left Santiago de Cuba with a Dutch flag; arriving at Old Calabar, she carried a French flag; when pursued a little later, by a British frigate, she was using a Dutch flag once more. (She was almost certainly owned by Zulueta.)
The North American brandy merchant George Coggeshall once dined at Ponce, in Puerto Rico, with a captain and a supercargo of a recently arrived slave ship: “They were intelligent, sociable men,” he reported, who, “when conversing on the slave trade, said that it was a most humane and benevolent traffic; that, in many parts of Africa, the negroes were cannibals and extremely indolent; that the different tribes were constantly at war with each other; that if there were no purchases for their prisoners, they would all be put to death; [and] that they were in the lowest state of degradation and of no service to the world. [But] on the contrary, when they were transported to the West Indies, they soon became civilized and useful to mankind.” Coggeshall said to one of these captains that it would be better if the slaves were carried in large, comfortable ships, rather than the crammed, small crafts in which they suffered so much. The captain replied that “those who were engaged in the trade had been driven to every expedient in consequence of the persecutions which they had received from short-sighted and ill-informed philanthropists”: that is, the British navy, government, and publicists.13
• • •
The African side of the Atlantic slave trade had changed in the nineteenth century almost as much as the American and European.
By now the main European peoples had established in Africa their special zones of influence. For example, in the far north of the slave-trading territories, the valley of the river Sénégal was now French in character and, until the end of the trade in 1833, many slave captains from Nantes or Bordeaux dealt there, usually carrying their cargoes to Cuba. In 1819, there was still some local trading; indeed, we hear of a certain Labouret, an armateur of Sénégal itself, who had captiveries here. A shipbuilder of Saint-Louis, Bourgerel, member of the Council of Justice of the colony, was engaged in the slave trade, sending La Louise to the nearby river Casamance in 1821, as well as sponsoring a good deal of other local traffic.VI
By 1840, however, there was practically no trading of slaves on the river Sénégal, at least for the Atlantic market. African and mulatto trading continued till the 1860s. Devout local Muslim rulers, such as Ma ba Jaxoo, were determined to oppose the enslavement of their coreligionaries. But that did not prevent their followers from organizing more raids than ever for slaves among “pagan” peoples surviving nearby, partly for their own use, partly for sale along the old Sahara routes. For, of course, here, as elsewhere in West Africa, the French, like the other Europeans, claimed as their own only a small stretch of land: scarcely no farther than the city of Saint-Louis itself. Beyond that, Richelieu, like Colbert, and like all the ministers of the eighteenth century, had shown no enthusiasm for extending French political control. Legitimate French traders, often mulatto in origin, sought after 1830 to develop old lines of commerce in gum, wax, and ivory, as well as palm oil; by 1850, they were bringing in substantial profits. Gum, in particular, had a sensational success in the mid-nineteenth century. Ivory too was important because of an expanding European market, for pianos, billiards, and fans. The territory was also beginning its adventure as a cultivator of peanuts and, by the 1860s, that crop, too, cultivated by small farmers or migrant labor, was bringing in more than anyone had thought possible.
The Cape Verde Islands were often visited by slavers on their way to market. They were usually denounced as bleak: “One might believe that, after the formation of the world, a quantity of useless surplus stones was cast into the sea,” wrote Dr. Theodor Vogel, a British member of the Niger expedition of 184114; and another participant of that fantastic undertaking, the master-at-arms, John Duncan, thought that “the meanest pauper in England is a king compared with the best and most opulent of them [the inhabitants].”15All the same, a slave trade persisted in the islands. Slaves were brought from the mainland and then shipped to Brazil or Cuba, a Portuguese merchant, Brandão, and a French one named Antoine Léger being the outstanding operators in the place in the 1820s.
Gorée, the “green, ham-shaped island” (in the words of the most intelligent of French governors, the chevalier de Boufflers), below the hook of land south of Cape Verde itself, was no longer a slave port by 1835, though it remained a place where North American slavers would pick up interpreters. After it was made a free entrepôt for certain non-European goods in 1821, United States rum and tobacco were available in great quantities.
A little below this island were several rivers whose slaving needs, in the early part of the century, were still provided for by the Wolofs, as had been the case almost continuously since the sixteenth century. One of the little ports here was Joal, where the disgraceful transactions described so acutely by Mérimée, in his Tamoango, are said to have occurred.
The British had been for many generations loosely established in the estuary of the river Gambia. But in the Napoleonic Wars, they withdrew from it, as did the French from their old trading port of Albreda. That left the river for some years at the mercy of North American slavers, who used it extensively to take slaves to Cuba. After 1815, the British returned, and established their main post not at Fort James but on Saint Mary’s Island, at the mouth of the river. By 1840, the settlement there, Bathurst, had become “a very pretty little town,” as Colonel Alexander Findlay, one of the governors, put it. British influence stretched at least 140 miles up the river, as far as Macarthy’s Island, in a valley which had for generations been a valuable source of slaves. Slaving by, or at least for the benefit of, the French and Spaniards continued on the river in the 1820s. There were also frequent United States vessels. The French traders took to carrying their captives, from an assembly point at their old headquarters at Albreda, overland north to the river Salloum, which was outside British jurisdiction. They took other slaves from the Gambia at Vitang Creek, about fifty miles up the river, and marched overland south to another French trading post on the river Casamance, where in the 1820s a black Portuguese governor, with a barracoon at Zingiehor, was active in the slave trade. Slaving had, however, almost ceased by 1840, the presence of a detachment of British troops at Bathhurst playing an important part in securing this.
To the south of the Casamance, the picture changed greatly, for a large network of slave dealers were still gathered in the labyrinth of creeks, islands, and mudbanks of the estuary of the rivers Cacheu and Bissau. This territory had been only a modest base for Portuguese slaving in the eighteenth century, but it grew spectacularly for that purpose in the first part of the nineteenth, though some hides and beeswax were also traded. The multitude of waterways, and the Portuguese control, made it difficult for the British navy to interfere in the place, though for a time they had a base on the fertile offshore island of Bolama, lying at the mouth of the rivers Jeba and Grande. (Bolama was later abandoned on the grounds that it was unhealthy.)
It was said that the factories in the Cacheu River were “principally supplied by British vessels,” and there is even a possibility that some London merchants (Forster and Co., for example) were indirectly concerned in the slave trade here in the early part of the century. In 1828, “the currency of the place, and in fact the representation of value . . . was according to the value of the slaves. The slave trade was the all engrossing object of the people there,” reported an adventurous English businessman John Hughes, who was obliged to flee because of threats to his life after the British detention of a Portuguese vessel.16 Nor was the slave trade confined to large enterprises. Here, the petty black or mulatto slave trader would often “get into his canoe, with goods to the value of $100, and go up the rivers Cacheu and Jeba . . . and bring down his two or three slaves.” A “quite considerable” United States commerce was also reported by the consul of that nation, Ferdinand Gardner, in Cacheu-Bissau in 1841; and the evidence for legitimate trade is missing.
The Fulbe and Mandingo traders were the most indefatigable providers of slaves in these years. They succeeded in restricting the Europeans to river traffic, and North American firms, such as Charles Hoffman, Robert Brookhouse and William Hunt, all of Salem, and Yates and Porterfield, of New York, were the chief beneficiaries.17, VII
The Portuguese still maintained third-rate garrisons at the two fortresses at Cacheu and Bissau, half the soldiers being Cape Verdeans. Disease, underpayment, and inactivity rotted the lives of all who worked here. The governor in the 1830s, Caetano José Nozolini, was, however, a remarkable official. Son of an Italian sailor who in the 1790s married a Cape Verdean heiress on the island of Fogo, Nozolini became a major slave trader at Bissau; he would send ships to Cuba as well as Brazil, perhaps buying goods from the British on the Gambia River, paying with bills drawn on such respectable London houses as Baring Brothers, and then exchange them in his own territory for slaves. When Captain Matthew Perry on the United States sloop-of-war Orbel seized $40,000 worth of property at Bissau in 1844, he found that most of it had been advanced by North American traders to Nozolini.
Nozolini was helped to reach his position by an alliance with the dominant merchant in Cacheu-Zingiehor, Honorio Barreto, a mulatto who succeeded him as governor in 1850. (He, too, traded in slaves.) But the strongest influence on Nozolini was his African wife, Mãe Aurélia Correia, “the queen of Orango,” the largest island of the Bissagos Archipelago, a tyrannical nhara (that is, senhora) of these rivers. By 1827, though not yet in control, Nozolini was strong enough to deceive the British navy by shipping sixty-one slaves as members of his own family; it was some time before the governor of Sierra Leone, Sir Neil Campbell, realized who these “Nozolinos” [sic] were. Nozolini was strong enough to resist a demand from the French that he be charged for the murder of a French trader named Dumaigne, killed by some of his guards in 1835; and in the 1840s, he was already cultivating peanuts on the island of Bolama, as well as assembling slaves there.18 (The brig-of-war Brisk liberated 212 slaves from there in 1838.) At Nozolini’s death, his family succeeded him in the business: his son-in-law, Dr. Antonio Joaquim Ferreira, was a pioneer of planting coconut palms at Ametite.
Just offshore in this zone lay Hen Island, previously uninhabited, which had been turned by Nozolini’s predecessor as governor, Joaquim Antonio Mattos, into “a perfect receptacle, a nest, for the slaves.” These slaves were held in round houses, twelve to sixteen together. The place was raided in 1842 by the British Captain Blount, who felt free to act because it belonged, as it seemed to him, neither to Portugal nor to a native chief: just to Mattos, one of whose mulatto daughters was killed in the fray.19, VIII
On the Rio Grande, just to the south of the colony of Bissau, some curious scenes would unfold in 1842. Commander Sotheby, of H.M.S. Skylark, received news that a Spanish slave ship was in the river. This information was denied by a local chief, who insisted that the Spanish merchant living there, a certain Tadeo Vidal, alias Juan Pons, traded only in groundnuts. Sotheby inspected eighteen creeks, and only when he offered a reward of $100 was he told where the slave ship was. He found her, equipped for slaving but hidden in the mangroves. There was no sign of the crew. Sotheby thereupon blew up the ship. He was then informed that the chief was hiding slaves, ready for shipment, and some of them escaped and joined Sotheby. Sotheby sent the chief an ultimatum and said, “Unless the slaves are brought down tomorrow, I will blow up the town.”20 They were accordingly produced, and the mysterious Vidal was also brought in as a prisoner. He turned out to be the supercargo of the Spanish ship. The rest of the crew were visiting other creeks in search of slaves. Sotheby took both the Spaniards and the slaves to Freetown for trial and for liberation, respectively.
The next slave harbors to the south were the fever-ridden rivers Núñez and Pongas. The first of these was the favored market of Fulbe slave caravans from the theocratic inland empire of the Futa Jallon, a sophisticated enterprise judged by Captain Denman, at least, as “far superior” to any other African entity. The British established a trading post fifty miles up this “exceedingly unhealthy” river, at Kacundy, but their presence did not seem to affect slaving unless there was a man-of-war there, though they did found some coffee farms. A local monarch named Sarah (according to John Hughes, “one of the greatest barbarians. . . . He thinks nothing of tying a stone round a man’s neck and throwing him in the river”) once threatened a British trader, Benjamin Campbell, with death, on the ground that his presence was preventing slavers from going up the river.21
At the mouth of this river Núñez, a mulatto family, the Skeltons (Elizabeth Frazer Skelton, “Mammy Skelton,” and her husband, William Skelton), established a new fort, which they named Victoria, in 1825. Elizabeth’s father was a North American mulatto who had gone to Sierra Leone in 1797. Zachary Macauley had refused to allow him to remain, since he knew him to be a slaver. The Skeltons sold their slaves on the nearby river Pongas. By 1840, the traders of the river Núñez had mostly changed to cultivating peanuts, and were apparently responsible for half the production of the region. The remarkable Mrs. Skelton, a heroine to feminists if a villain to abolitionists, still dominated the upper river after her husband’s death, when she was busy with nuts, not slaves.22
The Rio Pongas maintained its ancient importance in the slave trade because its estuary consisted of five separate waterways, separated from the sea by bars of sand and mud, behind which the commerce could be secretly carried on, protected by currents which made the place dangerous to inexperienced pilots. The headwaters of the river, like those of the nearby Núñez, were in the highlands of the Futa Jallon and so served very well as a commercial waterway for ivory, gold, and rice, as well as slaves. On the Pongas, about twenty interesting European or mulatto slave traders were established. The most powerful of them in the 1820s had been John Ormond, “Mongo John,” the word Mongo indicating “chief,” perhaps the son of a French slave captain named Hautemont, or possibly that of a sailor, Ormond, of Liverpool, by a local girl. He began his working life as a mate on a ship belonging to Daniel Botefeur of Havana and then worked on Bence Island with Richard Oswald’s nephews before abolition. At the riverside village of Bangalang on the Pongas, Ormond had built a fine house furnished in European style, as well as a large fortified barracoon where his slaves would be chained while he awaited the arrival of ships from the Americas. With his brother, he dominated the slave trade in the region for a generation. He lived well, drinking to excess, with a harem, and his warehouses were full of gunpowder, palm oil, and gold, as well as alcohol. Ormond founded a secret society to protect himself, using young initiates as warriors. He would lend European goods to his subchiefs and, if they did not pay the interest, he would raid their villages and sell the captives. He committed suicide in 1828, when he had begun to lose control.23 For a long time the slave trader Theodore Canot worked as Ormond’s secretary, being paid “a negro a month.” Another family of traders on the Pongas were the brothers Curtis, who were found in 1819 dealing with a French captain, François Vigne, of La Marie, from Guadeloupe, exchanging 306 slaves for 24,063 iron bars. (The ship was seized by H.M.S. Tartar.)
Another trader on this waterway was Paul Faber, a North American, established at Sangha in 1809, at first a protégé of Ormond. With his black wife, Mary (a survivor of the Nova Scotian free blacks sent to Sierra Leone), and his mulatto son, William, he was still selling slaves in 1850 to Brazil, according to the British naval patrol, at an average of $65.50 each. The Fabers, like Mongo John, had a small slave army capable of fighting full-scale battles with rivals. Paul Faber was a slave captain as well as a trader, and would sometimes sell slaves in Cuba, cargoes which his wife had negotiated in Africa. Other traders here included, at Faringura, a Portuguese widow, Bailey Gómez Lightburne (Nyara Belí), her son Styles Lightburne, and her manager, Allen, a mulatto.24
Most of these adventurers produced local agricultural products, too, legitimate after their fashion. Thus John Ormond is said in 1827 to have had five or six thousand slaves at work on his coffee farms, the Fabers were interested in rice and ginger, the Lightburne heirs had about six thousand slaves in 1860 working on groundnuts as well as coffee at Faringura.IX
These traders organized their businesses more intelligently than their African predecessors of the eighteenth century: instead of a slave captain’s traveling along the coast picking up slaves here and there from a diversity of African harbors, he would more likely go to a single place and buy all he needed from a mulatto- or European-owned barracoon in one transaction.
To the south of the Rio Pongas there were the Iles de Los, known to the English as William (Tamara), Crawford’s Island (Roume), and Factory Island (Kassa). North American slavers of the early part of the century might pick up a pilot from here to help them through the confusing Bissagos Islands. In the eighteenth century, there had been barracoons for slaves here, but they had been abandoned, for they were easy prey to British cruisers. Instead, stores of goods used in the slave trade were held, while three slave merchants of English origin ruled on Crawford’s Island as little monarchs: W. H. Leigh, Samuel Samo, and a certain Nickson. They obtained their cargoes from the mainland coast opposite, where the city of Conakry, capital of Guinea, then only a village, now stands.
Farther south lay the curious British colony of Sierra Leone, a green oasis at first sight, and a place which had not yet extinguished memories of the time when there had been important slave markets, including those of Bence and Banana islands. Unhealthy though it seemed to be for the Europeans who went there, Freetown, in Sierra Leone, was the capital of the British crusade against the slave trade. Up till 1840, 425 slave ships had been escorted there by British warships, of which 403 had been condemned by the Mixed Court.X All the same, Freetown in those years was much frequented by North American traders, seeking both slaves and conventional goods; in 1809, the governor even complained to the foreign secretary, Lord Castlereagh, that “this has hitherto been an American and not a British colony.”
If a slaver were captured anywhere north of the equator, she would be taken to Freetown under a prize crew. The crew would usually arrive exhausted, because so few hands were available to sail the prize, guard the captured crew, and attend, with some pretense of humanity, to the needs of the liberated cargo. Even if, by sleeping on deck, the crew escaped the prevalent dysentery or ophthalmia, they exposed themselves to mosquito bites. Having handed over their slaves to the prize authorities at the port, the sailors would then themselves go ashore happy. Within an hour or two, most of them would be drunk on local spirits. To sleep off the effects, they would lie all night in the gutters. By the time that they returned to sobriety, they would probably have been infected with malaria, if not yellow fever. If they had to stay in the town till they were drafted to another ship, the chance of death from one of those diseases was great. The danger of such proceedings became apparent in the 1820s, and henceforth leave ashore at Sierra Leone was prohibited to seamen, though not to their officers. But those regulations were not strictly followed.25
At the same time, the mortality of the slaves on board these prize ships en route to Sierra Leone was probably as high as when they were being taken across the Atlantic. There were many reports by captains describing tragedies, such as that referring to theRosalia from Lagos in 1825: “From extraordinary length of passage to Sierra Leone, lost 82 slaves and, with the exception of 10, by actual starvation.”
After a slaver had been escorted to Sierra Leone, and condemned by the court of mixed commission, and while the naval officers were talking to the proctor about their prize money, the slaves would be taken to an office in Kings Yard, and registered as British citizens. They would then be offered the alternative of going to the West Indies as apprentices, signing up with a regiment of black soldiers, or establishing themselves on a property in Sierra Leone, where they would be allocated a quarter-acre of land to cultivate under the care of a usually neglectful supervisor. The authorities in Sierra Leone would provide these men with only a small cloth to wear, a pot for cooking, and a spade.
There was then no procedure for baptizing the freed slaves so, as Lord Courtenay put it, to a Select Committee of the House of Commons on the West Coast of Africa, “Many of them remain a long time pagans.” An experienced witness, Dr. Thompson, thought, “Scarcely any of the immense numbers that are [taken] there . . . have risen to anything above mediocrity.”26 Many problems were also caused by the ex-slave crews who were deposited there. In the late 1830s, a scandal broke out because of the activities of a certain Mr. Kidd who bought up the slave ships condemned by the Mixed Court, and then resold them to slave traders on the river Gallinas, to the south. This practice was difficult to prevent until, after about 1840, those slave vessels were destroyed (in “Destruction Bay”): sawn up, that is, in three bits, the material being sold piecemeal.
Until 1808, slave trading and conventional trade had continued, uneasily, side by side, in Sierra Leone and Africans could see no reason why that state of affairs should not continue indefinitely. An Englishman, Alexander Smith, an agent of the government, seemed, at least to a United States traveler, to constitute “the first mercantile house in the economy in the illegal slave trade”; he told a North American trader, in the presence of the governor, that “just round that point” was a bay which was not subject to British rule.27 In 1830, four freed Africans, by then British subjects, were condemned to death for selling slaves (to a French vessel, La Caroline, from Guadeloupe, with a French captain), though their sentences were commuted to five to ten years’ forced labor.
Despite its climate, Sierra Leone had its elegancies: the streets were well laid out; many of the houses were of stone; shops, taverns, and chapels gave the place an air of well-being; there was a racecourse and a Turf Club, for dances and fêtes. Saint George’s Church held regular Anglican services. The neighboring Kru people continued to play many roles as sailors, working for slavers and the British navy alike, with equal competence.
Farther still to the south of Sierra Leone, about sixty miles away, lay the famous slaving zone of Sherbro Island. Three English slave traders were arrested there in 1811, but their trials in Sierra Leone led to much confusion. The dominant family of traders in slaves, as in other cargoes, in the early nineteenth century, were still the Caulkers (Corkers). Canray ba Caulker, who flourished about 1800, acted as if he were an indigenous chief, for he often began raids and wars for control of the coast. Another merchant of Sherbro, also a mulatto, Henry Tucker, distinguished himself in 1844 by financing, organizing, and sending a ship to Cuba on his own, the Enganador, with 348 slaves whom he had himself procured. An English missionary, James Frederick Schön, visited the region in 1839, to find two Spanish slave dealers. While Schön was in the house of one of these men, “one of his servants came in and said that he had bought five slaves of the Cossoo nation. He . . . asked him what he had paid for them. . . . It averaged seven or eight dollars for every slave. He . . . said that they were cheap, but that they were Cossoos, and that Cossoos were mere cattle.”28
What he meant was they were unruly people, who had wrecked one of his ships and caused him losses. While Schön was present, several slaves, who were chained together in the yard heard that an Englishman was there and came in to Tucker’s house to ask for help. The slave dealer drove them out with a whip and curses. He told Schön that the English would be better employed helping the Poles against the Russians than liberating Africans.
South of Sherbro, many slave stations had been opened on the flat, mangrove-crowded banks of the sluggish river Gallinas, as on the innumerable islands which dotted the estuary. “To one who approaches from the sea,” wrote the slave captain Theodore Canot, the spongy islands of the estuary “loom up from its surface, covered with reeds and mangroves, like an immense field of fungi.”29 As late as 1848, a British naval officer declared that in this river “there is no trade but in slaves,” nor had there been so, to his knowledge, for a long period.
In the 1820s, the dominant slave trader was John Ouseley Kearney, a British ex-officer who carried on the slave trade openly under the Union Jack. He once told some English petty officers, “I buy nothing but slaves. My object is to make a little money, and then I’ll embark 300 or 400 slaves on board a large schooner . . . and go in her to the Havannah.” He had friends in Sierra Leone who kept him informed about all the details of the naval patrol.30 By the 1830s, Kearney’s place on the Gallinas had passed to Pedro Blanco, of Cádiz, “the Rothschild of slavery,” according to Theodore Canot. Blanco, a native of Málaga, had, like “Mongo John” and other successful slave merchants, originally been a captain of slave ships. For instance, in 1825, the British commissioners in Havana noticed him in charge of the brig Isabel, and he later brought in the Barbarita with 190 slaves. He was an educated man of great personal resource. He worked first with de Souza in Dahomey and then, as a result of an incident with a British naval vessel off Nassau, spent some time in Cuba, in a sugar mill near Matanzas. In Havana, he informed himself of the commercial possibilities of illegal slave trading, and he visited Philadelphia and Baltimore, where he bought clippers. On one of these, the Conquistador, he left Havana for the Gallinas in 1822. There he set up an encampment on several islands. By skillful arrangements with the local monarchs, especially King Siaka (Shuckar), he was always able to have slaves available for captains who, thereafter, never needed to wait and risk being observed by a British naval patrol. The slaves would be kept in a bamboo barracoon, be loaded under darkness, and be away before daylight.
On one island, Blanco built a house for himself and his sister Rosa; on a second was his office, with his lawyer, five accountants, two cashiers, and ten copyists; on a third was his harem, usually with fifty beautiful girls; on a fourth island, the largest, he had his barracoons, capable of holding 5,000 slaves at any one time. He built lookout posts a hundred feet high on outlying islands from which his sentries would sweep the horizon with telescopes to warn their master of the approach of an English man-of-war. He had, on his property, workshops capable of making most items needed on a slave journey: manacles as well as slave decks.
Blanco made a great fortune, telling a United States officer in 1840 that, if he could “save one vessel out of three from capture,” he found the trade profitable. “This can easily be believed” reported that captain “when slaves can be purchased at Gallinas for less than $20 in trade goods and sold in Cuba for cash for $350.” The scale of the traffic which Blanco promoted can be seen from the fact that, in the single year 1837, though the courts in Sierra Leone condemned twenty-seven ships, seventy-two left Havana for Africa and ninety-two arrived in Brazil. Blanco was assisted in buying slaving equipment from England through an intermediary (probably Zulueta and Co.), just as his Cádiz associate, Pedro Martinez, was assisted in buying ships by an English contractor named Jennings. Some sharp questions were asked in 1842, such as how it was that an English firm, whose chairman was William Hutton of London, could have brought themselves to sell 200 guns to Blanco in 1838. (Hutton’s lame answer was: “We cannot always be responsible for what masters [of ships] do.”) Papers confiscated by the British on one of Blanco’s ships showed that he maintained commercial correspondents in both Baltimore (Peter Harmony and Co.) and New York (Robert Barry).
Blanco eventually founded a firm of conventional shippers, Blanco and Carballo, of Havana and Cádiz, before retiring in 1839, with his mulata daughter Rosita, first to Cuba (where Rosita was legitimized, if not accepted), then to Barcelona, where he arrived with over $4 million. While in Havana, he carried on the slave trade as usual; the brigantine Andalucía brought 750 slaves to the beach of Guanimar, on the coast of the island, due south of Havana, in 1844. In Barcelona, he became prominent in the new stock exchange, and finally retired to Genoa, where he died of a stroke brought on by madness in 1854. Blanco’s last years were clouded by financial troubles: his firm failed about 1848, and Carballo, Blanco’s partner of many years, drowned himself in Mexico.31, XI
During the heyday of Pedro Blanco on the river Gallinas, King Siaka and his colleagues abandoned all such former legal trades as they had—camwood, palm oil, ivory, and cotton. They had even given up growing their own food. They imported what they needed from Sherbro Island. King Siaka was then a monarch “wholly engaged in buying and selling of slaves.”
Captain Howland of Providence recalled seeing here in 1817 “a large number of slaves, mostly young men, women and children of eight, ten and twelve years of age, brought in by their black chiefs, or masters. There were several hundreds or thousands of them waiting for the rainy season to be over . . . so that they could be shipped away. . . . One cargo was for a French vessel which was fitted out from Le Havre [probably Le Rôdeur]. . . . They are kept in a large pen, with no covering to shelter them from the sun, or rain, entirely naked except the adults, and they have only a small piece of bark cloth tied in front by a string round the waist. They are very emaciated, being allowed only a few palm nuts to eat once a day. I walked round among them and they made signs to me for food by pointing their fingers into their open mouths. . . . Some had their feet in the stocks, a log with a hole in the centre for the foot, and a peg in likewise to confine it. . . . Those white monsters, the French slavers, were branding them with a hot iron on the breast and shoulder with the initials of the owner. . . . I saw them brand a delicate female about twelve years old, I saw the smoke and I saw the flesh quiver, and turned away as I heard a suppressed scream. I did not stop to see the impression. . . . I observed that the black slave dealers were nearly as cruel to them as the white. . . . The dead slaves were thrown in the river where the crocodile was on daily watch for them.”32
Blanco’s headquarters on the river Gallinas was destroyed by Captain Denman in 1841, but a year later, many of his barracoons had been re-established. There were even new Spanish slave merchants established there: José Alvarez, Angel Ximénez (“the most intelligent of the slave traders,” in the view of an English captain), and José Pérez Rola. It seems, though, that, by 1848, the slave traders on the Gallinas, like those on the Núñez, were finding that they could make more money selling slaves (who would earlier have gone across the Atlantic) to the local planters in Africa than to Cubans or Brazilians.
Between the river Gallinas and the Gold Coast there stretched the socalled Windward Coast which, apart from some modest activities at Capes Mesurado and Monte, had never been great slaving territory. But a few slaves had always been taken from the Ivory Coast beyond and, in the mid-nineteenth century, Cape Monte was, for a time, the headquarters of the slaver Theodore Canot (Conneau), who even built his own slaving vessel at New Sestos, one of the few successful slaving ports on the West African coast where there was no river. The landing was rough, and Canot needed the agile services of the local Kru, who took the boats full of slaves to the waiting slave ships.
Canot, according to his own account, became a slave captain in his twenties (with the Estrella, the Aerostático, the San Pablo) and made a fortune—which he soon lost in unwise speculations. After further adventures worthy of a picaresque novel, he established himself near Cape Monte about 1835. His establishment was destroyed in 1847 by an alliance of local people and the British commander of H.M.S. Favorite, with the connivance of the captain of U.S.S. Dolphin, an unusual example of British-North American collaboration. Canot then abandoned slave trading, and subsequently sold information about the traffic to British captains.33
It was at Cape Mesurado that North America’s answer to Sierra Leone, Liberia, was finally established in 1823 (after the failure of a first colony at Sherbro). The United States Navy Lieutenant Captain Robert Stockton selected the land concerned, and bullied the local king Peter into a sale of it. Here, as in Sherbro, the early days were made difficult by a continuing local slave trade, whose entrepreneurs made raids on the new polity until, in 1826, Jehudi Ashmun, the first important leader of Liberia, himself raided a large Spanish-owned barracoon at nearby Digby, and another at Tradetown, a little farther on. The last action killed many slaves but also some slave traders, both Spanish and African, and it would seem the attack shocked the neighborhood into calling an end to the traffic. The naval support of the United States (two United States naval vessels were present) played a part in this. In the early 1840s, Monrovia, though its population was a tenth of that of Freetown, already had two newspapers.
At Cape Palmas, by the river Bassa, in the early years after abolition, a British captain, Richard Willing, disguised by a Spanish name, established a settlement, New Tyre, with ample barracoons and with a Spanish factor. Here he assembled slaves from all over the coast, and then transported them, under a Spanish flag, to Brazil or even to Florida. According to the admittedly dubious evidence of the surgeon there, Philip Drake, they shipped 72,000 slaves to Brazil and the West Indies between 1808 and 1811. Later, the Philadelphia Colonization Society organized a small settlement near there, as did, farther south, the Maryland State Colonization Society, giving the place the name of General Robert Goodloe Harper, a local hero in Baltimore. Yet another colony was founded in the name of the American Board of Foreign Missions, which consisted for several years merely of a planter of South Carolina, John Leighton Wilson, who freed the thirty slaves whom his wife had inherited and brought them to Africa.
Slaves continued to be carried from the region of Cap Lahou (now Grand Lahou) in the early nineteenth century, if on a reduced scale. Thus, in 1843, two Brazilian brigs, suspected of “opérations négrières” were discovered in the region of that landmark by a French navy, by then interested in the repression of the trade. In 1848, recently imported slaves were found on Guadeloupe and Martinique from Cap Lahou, showing that the trade from there was still in being.
No doubt, in the far interior here, the decline of the Atlantic slave markets on the coast caused consternation, and sometimes worse: for example, a French official, Bregost de Polignac, reported that, in 1843, after a war between the Bambara and the Sarakole had ended in victory for the former, the king concerned found himself arriving home with 800 captives. Finding it impossible to sell these men, he had most of them beheaded, though the executioner kept one captive out of ten as his personal slaves.
On the Gold Coast, the dominant African power was still the Ashanti who, just after the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, had for the first time broken through to the coast, placing most of the tribes there, above all Britain’s old friends the Fanti, in some degree of subjection. The action infuriated the British and tempted the commander at Cape Coast to intervene. A United States merchant, Samuel Swan of Medford, Massachusetts, reported, “Since the abolition of the slave trade, the nations along the Gold Coast have been continuously embroiled in war,” adding that, still, “nothing can be done” without “American Rum.”34
The Danes and the Dutch on the Gold Coast had founded plantations of a sort. But costs were great, for salaries had doubled, because of loss of pay to which all had been previously entitled when they dispatched slaves overseas. As for the British, only in 1821 did the Crown agree to take over responsibility for the country’s old forts, convert the slave vaults into cisterns, allow towns to be built on the old gardens, and eventually leave the castles to decay. Cape Coast had by then become the headquarters of a new colony.
The Danes, on the east part of the Gold Coast, were in a scarcely better position, though they made efforts to compensate for the end of the slave trade by raising crops for export. But that expansion exposed the Danes concerned to the sleeping sickness borne by the tsetse fly from the nearby wild territory.
In 1826, the British, with their diverse allies, including the Fanti, defeated the Ashanti, and drove them from the coast. By the mid-century, that once-proud nation of warriors and slavers seemed more interested in selling kola nuts to their northern Muslim neighbors than slaves.XII It is not evident that that change had much to do with British pressure. But the slave trade became smaller still as, in the 1830s, the British presence was strengthened on the coast, chiefly thanks to the efforts of Captain Charles Maclean, president of the British Council of Government at Cape Coast. Maclean, who was accountable to a committee of merchants who had elected him, was a “dry, reserved, hard-headed Scotchman, of indefatigable activity.” He created an alliance of coastal tribes to resist the Ashanti, but he never recovered from the accusations, apparently false, that he had been concerned in the death of his wife, the poetess Letitia Landon, or “L.E.L.” He was eventually made to resign, on the unproved accusation that he had himself dealt in slaves; remaining in Cape Coast as second-in-command to a new governor, he had the melancholy experience of seeing the alliances which he had founded unravel before he died in 1847.35
At the time of abolition, the two most powerful and rich men in Elmina, Jacob Ruhle and Jan Niezer, both mulattoes, took different paths: the first chose legality, and helped the British; the second decided to continue to trade slaves, on behalf of the Ashanti. Niezer prospered, since most Dutch governors were under his influence, the exception being the intemperate Governor Hoogenboom, murdered by young men of the town as he walked after dinner in his garden. Niezer was unpopular during the Ashanti invasion, which he assisted, but that action brought him profits. He was for many years the uncrowned king of Elmina and, as well as being dean of the Dutch Reformed Congregation, he was named, by the priests of the Benya shrine, “Upper Great Ensign” of the Seven Quarters of Elmina: a duality of function as useful as it was unusual. His private army could be called upon to settle most difficulties in Elmina which Dutch officials could not resolve. He continued to sell slaves to the Spaniards, the French, and the Portuguese with impunity, till the arrival of a new and powerful governor, Hermann Willem Daendels, who had restored the Dutch standing in the East Indies by building a road the length of Java, and who had now been instructed to bring an effective end to the Dutch slave trade, which, of course, King Willem had in theory abolished.XIII Daendels succeeded in ruining Niezer by an unusual method: he set up his own company, which traded everything except slaves, and drove Niezer to bankruptcy. Daendels also planned another road twenty-four feet wide from Elmina to Kumasi, the Ashanti capital, “so good that merchandise could be carried on it by beasts of burden, such as elephants and camels.” Niezer was imprisoned on an invented charge after the two had had a quarrel, and Daendels freed his slaves.
The governor was himself far from hostile to the slave trade in Africa; he merely had instructions to bring the international traffic to an end. Thus, when approval for his great road (which he wanted to prolong to Timbuktu) was slow in coming, and when his envoy, Huydecoper, was delayed in his return from Kumasi, Daendels sent the Asantahene a request for “twelve stallions, fifty oxen and bulls, and one hundred Donko slaves, with three cuts on both cheeks, including not more than twenty-five girls”—for use on his plantation, Orange Dawn. So he seems to have been far from convinced of the desirability of abolition. He wrote a letter to a Spanish slave captain whom he had met at Tenerife, on his way out from the Netherlands: “My dear friend, it was with great but very pleasant surprise that I learnt that your ship has anchored off Apam, and that it is doing slave trade there. This means that the English are complaisant enough to furnish you with a cargo that you would never have obtained on this coast.”36
After Daendels died, Niezer went to Amsterdam to plead his case. He won, and returned in triumph to Elmina, but his fortunes never recovered from the abolition of the trade in slaves. All the same, in 1817, about thirty Spanish or Portuguese slave ships were identified off the Gold Coast, and Niezer must have helped to load them. The next year, an English merchant, James Lucas Yeo, wrote: “I find the trade almost as active in the neighbourhood of our forts as at any time.”37
By 1840, British commanders were established at seven points on the Gold Coast, Cape Coast still being the main one; Elmina and Axim, with some other old fortresses, remained Dutch (they were sold to the British in 1872); while Christiansborg in Accra and its dependent forts were Danish (till 1850, when they sold out to Britain).
Most of the coast between Cape Three Points and the Volta River was by then free of slaving, the decisive reason being the assertion of Dutch, Danish, and British sovereignty in the ports.XIV Yet Joseph Smith, an African merchant examined in 1848 before the British House of Commons, spoke of going on board a North American slaver, the John Foster, off Cape Coast; and at least one Dutch ship carried slaves to Cuba from Accra in 1830. In 1835, twenty-three ships suspected of being concerned in the slave trade stopped off at Cape Coast Castle, and others were found there in the next five years. The governor of the Danish zone, to the east of the Gold Coast, Edward Carstensen, wrote in 1845: “The slave trade found the country beyond the Volta too narrow. Gradually, among the blacks themselves, there grew up a lot of petty slave trade agents and commissioners who roamed the country in all directions in order to bring numerous heads to the market. . . . It came about that a great number of consignments could take place right from the fort of Elmina . . . [while] Dutch Accra has for a long time been the residence of several British trade agents, especially immigrated Brasilian negroes who have correspondents in Popo and Vay.” The same official wrote a year later: “The Aquapim mountains, on the banks of the river Volta, has made it a staple place for the salt trade . . . but also a residence for slave trade agents.” Even British subjects, on the Gold Coast, sometimes held liberated slaves as “pawns”—very little different from holding them as slaves.38
More important, the port of Popo, in what is now Togo, was still an active slave-trading harbor, as were many ports along the lagoons stretching from Dahomey to what is now Nigeria: in particular, Whydah and Lagos, short of the mouth of the river Benin. A British captain in the palm-oil trade, Captain Seward, gave evidence to a House of Commons select committee that to cover the Slave Coast from the river Volta to the Calabar adequately (for naval patrol) would really require the permanent attention of fifty cruisers. This territory, another British captain pointed out, had “water communication entirely round it, and by that . . . slaves [can be] . . . transferred from point to point and shipped anywhere on the beach, not just from Lagos, not just from Little Popo, but from any point, according to the position and arrangements of the slaves. . . .”39
Whydah, site of about six large slave barracoons in 1846, was the fief of yet one more opulent slave dealer, Francisco Félix de Souza, “Cha-Cha” to the Africans, a Brazilian from Ilha Grande, near Rio, who had first been employed in Dahomey, about 1803, as a clerk at the Portuguese fortress. He stayed on when others left and, after some disagreeable adventures with the new King Adandozan of Dahomey, gained the favor of Adandozan’s brother, Gezo who, when he came to the throne, gave him the monopoly of the slave trade of the kingdom, on condition of paying a substantial tax on each slave exported. “A little old man with a quick eye and an expressive manner,” according to the prince de Joinville, the son of King Louis-Philippe (who later would escort the body of Napoleon from Saint Helena to Cherbourg), Souza bought slaves extensively from the nearby Aros. Like the governor of Bissau, he had several slave ships of his own—for example, the Atrevido, a brig built in the United States which, in the 1830s, would often make several journeys a year across the Atlantic, with slaves on board. He treated the captains who bought slaves from him with an eccentric but iron hand. He sold to Cuba as well as to Brazil. Surrounded by a staff of Maltese, Spaniards, and Portuguese, living in a palace which he had contrived in the old Portuguese fort, speaking several Dahomeyan languages well, Souza seemed an anachronism, yet he was generous, well mannered and, according to most visitors, humane and good company. When he went out, he was customarily attended by a band, a guard, and a buffoon. Those who dined with him were impressed by his fine China tea set, his silver plate, and his gold spoons and forks. Joinville was told that Souza had two thousand slaves in his barracoons, a thousand women in his harem, and that he had fathered eighty male children: “forts beaux mulâtres,” very well brought up, and dressed in white suits and panama hats.40 As early as 1821, Commodore Collier of the British West Africa Squadron described him as living “in prodigious splendour.” Souza had good relations with the British: he brought out from England the frame of a wooden church in October 1841.
Helped by Souza, King Gezo established military suzerainty over much of the Slave Coast. Captain Broadhead said that Gezo thought he could raise “5,000 or 6,000 men if he chose it to oppose any force that might be sent against the place.”
The political reality behind this region was that, by 1830, the once-powerful Yoruba empire of the Oyo had collapsed, and Dahomey, a tributary of that power since the 1720s, had become a free sovereign state. The Oyos’ control over all the smaller principalities and towns had also failed. This was largely due to an internal rebellion, in effect a Muslim jihad, in 1817, in which insurgent slaves played an important part. Dahomey’s own rebellion in 1823, was directed by King Gezo (“a good king as kings go, and rather particularly good for an African,” a North American naval officer commented). The final eclipse of the old empire, responsible for carrying so many slaves to European traders in the late eighteenth century, occurred about 1836.
An English businessman, Thomas Hutton, traveled the forty or fifty miles inland, with Souza, to see Gezo in Abomey in 1840. Like all visitors, Hutton was much impressed by Gezo’s armed guard of tall, strong women, who were themselves sold as slaves if they rebelled. He observed the sacrifice of seven men who were torn to pieces by a mob who “rushed upon them like bloodhounds, the throats of the poor wretches were severed and their misery quickly ended.” The same year, Captain Winniett of the United States squadron was told by Gezo that he disposed of about 9,000 slaves annually. He sold about 3,000 of these on his own account, and gave the rest away to his troops, who also sold them. Taxes paid on each slave exported afforded him a total income of about $300,000—a significantly smaller income, it may be said, than that received by his ancestor Tegbesu. The king said that he was ready to do anything which the British government would ask of him “except to give up the slave trade,” for “he thought that all substitute trades were pointless.” He said: “The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people. It is the source of their glory and wealth. Their songs celebrate their victories and the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery. Can I, by signing . . . a treaty, change the sentiments of a whole people?”41
British naval officers made several attempts to persuade Gezo of the benefits of the palm-oil trade, bringing umbrellas and red silk tents as presents from Queen Victoria, but neither he nor his successor, King Gelele, could be convinced that it would be worth his while to abandon slaving. One reason was that the subsidy offered was too little: “If instead of dollars [we] . . . could have offered pounds . . . ,” Dahomey might have accepted in 1848 the suggestions of the chief justice of Cape Coast, Judge Cruikshank. King Gezo’s return offer of two slave girls to do the queen of England’s washing seemed an inadequate reply.
When the naval blockade eventually made the shipping of slaves difficult from Whydah,XV Dahomey did turn over successfully to trading palm oil. The old social organization sustained the new business. In the past, the despotic king traded slaves through a class of noble merchants. The palm-oil commerce was easily introduced into this arrangement: the old nobles became landholders and used slaves whom they would previously have sent across the Atlantic to cultivate the palms. With this arrangement, Lagos and Badagry succeeded Dahomey as the chief slaving base in the region. Unlike the king of Dahomey, whose slaves were mostly obtained from war, the king of Lagos bought his captives from Yoruba merchants who, in turn, had obtained them from the most remote places.
Lagos and the other ports of the region were protected, from the British navy, by a large sandbar. There were numerous interconnected lagoons there, making easy the transport of slaves from one creek to another by canoe. Admiral Hotham wrote in 1848, “At certain times of the year, when the fresh breezes set into the Bight . . . a well-equipped slave vessel will escape even from a steamer.” One of the trading peoples there were the Muslim Filatahs, whose center was the town of Rabba. The English Captain Allen said of them, after a journey up the Niger: “Their whole occupation is slave-catching and selling; they make excursions every year during the dry season into the neighbouring states to take slaves. . . . All the tribes have to pay a certain sum [as tribute]. . . . Frequently the sums are so great that they cannot pay, and then they seize the [people as] slaves.” Rabba became an important city for slaving, for those gathered there were sold not only to Portuguese or Spaniards to take to the Americas, but to Arabs who would take them to Tripoli.”42
Quite a part was played in the slave trade at Lagos by Italians who carried their cargoes to Brazil, and whose ventures were backed by the Sardinian consuls in both Bahia and Rio. The dominant trader in that port, however, was Domingos José Martins, born more hispanically in Cádiz as Diego Martínez. He maintained an important commerce to Bahia in the 1840s, and his headquarters was first at Badagry, then at Porto-Novo. He lived less lavishly than Souza: his house at Porto-Novo was small, if with a large European garden. Usually dressed unpretentiously, in a blue calico shirt and trousers, he provided slaves, for many years, fast and efficiently, for the swift modern schooners of the slave king of Bahia, Joaquim Pereira Marinho. Like Souza, he had ships of his own, which he also used to carry slaves to Brazil. At the end of the 1840s, he was explaining that it was “so expensive to keep up his factory [of slaves] that he had now cleared away a considerable part of the country, and is forming a large farm [for palm oil], with the intention, as he says, of giving up the slave factory, which costs him so much and pays so little.” He retired to Brazil, found himself ostracized, and returned to Africa, this time to Lagos, where he became concerned in the legitimate trade in palm oil.43
The river Benin, as opposed to the Bight of Benin itself, was not much of a slaving waterway in the nineteenth century. It had always been a slow business to buy slaves there and, after the British abolition, delay was risky, even to the adventurous Portuguese slaver. The dangerous bar had always been difficult for European traders and, when it became necessary to cross it secretly, because of fear of British interference, the business declined rapidly. Only fifteen slave ships were to be found there between 1816 and 1839; by the 1840s, the trade was at an end.
The rivers Calabar and Bonny or, rather, their creeks and mangrove swamps, on the other hand, continued to be the scene of much trading of slaves, particularly by French captains, most of the captives being Igbos or Ibibios. Captain Leeke, on a British frigate, was told in 1822 that, in four months, 19 cargoes of slaves had been sent to the Americas from the Bonny, 16 from Calabar. The British navy started visiting the rivers regularly at that time, however, and they afterwards became the scene of numerous heroic affrays. For example, in 1821, Captain Leeke, on H.M.S. Myrmidon, decided to enter the Bonny by a back channel, the so-called Antony River, and explore the position. He sent Lieutenant Bingham in with small boats. He found six French slaversXVI busily stocking up but, thought that he could do nothing in respect of them (because of Anglo-French rules since Scott’s decision about the Louis). But one French captain told him that, higher upstream, there were two Spanish slavers. After some fighting, in which Leeke brought theMyrmidon into the main river, he seized the two slavers, with 154 and 139 slaves respectively. In 1822, Lieutenant Mildmay captured five Brazilian slavers in this river with remarkable courage; one of them, the schooner Vecua, had been abandoned by its crew, with 300 slaves chained in the hold. The departing crew left a lighted fuse over the magazine in the hope of destroying the British boarding party (as well, of course, as the slaves).44
How slaves were made here in the nineteenth century was vividly explained by a boy who lived to tell the tale: “We came out into the street and when we walked about 50 yards from our house, we saw the city [Itokui, Erunwon, or Oba, in Nigeria] on fire, and before us the enemies coming in the street. We met with them and they caught us separately. They separated me from all my brethren, except one of my father’s children born to him by his second wife. I and this brother were caught by one man. By the time we left the house of our father, I saw my father’s mother pass the other gate. She, I had no hope of seeing again in the flesh, because she was an old woman. Doubtless they would kill her. . . . I was brought the same day that the city was taken to Imodo, that is, the place where they made their residence when they besieged us. . . . When I came to that place, the man who took me in the city took me and made a present to the chief man of war . . . for the custom was, when any of their company went with war bands, if he catches slaves, half of the slaves he would give to his captain.”45
An English trader in Fernando Po, John Beechcroft, was found complaining in 1830 that at Old Calabar British merchant ships were outnumbered by nine French slave-trading vessels, whose captains laughed at his protests, knowing that he “was not in a condition to enforce them, the French being nine to one against me, the smallest vessel having double the number of men that I had.” One of these captains was “Gaspar, a Frenchman [from Guadeloupe on the Heureuse Étoile who] arrived at Old Calabar and carried away hundreds of slaves in ships both well-armed and numerously manned.” All legitimate commerce ceased on his arrival, “and a general scramble of robbery and plunder commenced to supply him with slaves.” British palm-oil ships were “obliged to remain there, in expensive and sickly indolence, until the slavers and pirates are supplied with their unhappy victims.” The traffic in slaves was prospering in the 1840s. But a wreck of two ships at the mouth of the Calabar, and the capture of two others, weakened the local enthusiasm for the traffic; in 1841, a “trifling present” was indeed made (five annual payments of two thousand Spanish dollars) to the kings of Calabar, and the commerce came to an end.46
High up these rivers—for example, at Aboh—in the 1840s, there were slave barracoons. The English explorer John Duncan saw one at Egga. Slaves were brought there from different parts of the interior. Duncan asked how soon he could lay his hands on 600 slaves. He received the answer: “The day after tomorrow.” Yet by then the overseas slave trade had run its course in the Bight of Biafra. Several witnesses testified in the 1840s in London that, twenty years before, they would see sixteen to twenty slave vessels in the river at a time, and they would sooner trade in slaves than with palm oil; “but on my last voyage I was in the river three months, and there was not a slave vessel in the river.” One explanation was that the British allied with the new king of Bonny, Dappa Pepple, against the regent, Alali, who had shown himself a typical old-fashioned autocrat, in alliance with French, Spanish, and Brazilian-Portuguese slave dealers. After several encounters between the British naval commander, Captain Craigie, and the regent, the old order was overthrown, Alali resigned, and the king, henceforth a British puppet, signed a treaty in 1839. By this, the British promised to pay £2,000 a year or half the revenue which they had derived from the slave trade. But the British paid nothing in the first year, and King Pepple in 1840 returned to the slave trade. Still, Old Calabar and Bonny were both easily observed by British patrols, so they both began to turn over to palm-oil. The newer ports of New Calabar and Brass were less conspicuous and still did much slaving in the late 1840s.
Brass, in particular, hidden in the recesses of the delta and approachable only by creek, with no direct outlet to the Atlantic, became the center, in these years, of an important clandestine traffic. The controller of the network, with the king of Bonny and the chiefs of Brass in support, was Pablo Freixas, a Portuguese partner of Diego Martínez, who was remembered a long time locally for his exploits in defeating the “English busybodies.” Still, the chief at Brass, “King Boy,” was also active in the traffic. Commander Tucker, writing in the 1840s, reported, “A constant supply of slaves are sent by canoe through the creeks to the rivers Nun and Brass for shipment, 360 slaves having been taken by a Spaniard previous to my arrival in the river.” Tucker reported King Pepple as saying that he himself sold 3,000 slaves in the years 1839 to 1841, that he would continue to deal with Freixas, and that “dollars and doubloons are plentiful in Bonny, which is always the case, after the arrival of a slaver in the Nun or Brass river, as most of the slaves shipped off from there are purchased at Bonny.”47
Commander Tucker eventually succeeded in negotiating another slave-trade treaty with King Pepple of Bonny. The latter was now promised £10,000 a year for five years. Pepple looked on the matter as concluded, but the British Parliament had to ratify the scheme. Palmerston, however, who had inspired the treaty, had now been replaced by Lord Aberdeen, who did not think the treaty wise. He wanted to go back to the treaty of 1839, which talked of only £2,000 a year. So it seemed to the Africans that the British did not wish to go through with the plan. They renewed relations with their Brazilian slave clients, only too pleased to revive the old traffic. Captain Midgley, of Liverpool, told a select committee of the House of Commons in 1842 that, unless the British government acted with more energy than they had thitherto, they would do well to “keep out of the River [Bonny] altogether. [For] first comes a captain and makes a Treaty and then another comes and says the Treaty shall be null and void and tears it up.”48
Some other treaties were signed, and ratified, by the British in these years. In 1842, Eyo and Eyamba, rulers of the two leading towns of Old Calabar (Creek Town and Duke Town), made a treaty abolishing the slave trade in return for £2,000 for five years; a similar treaty was eventually made with Bimbia (Cameroons), where the subsidy was only £1,200 a year. The obi Osai of Aboh declared, too, that he was willing to abandon the slave trade “if a better traffic could only be substituted.” The obi had been impressed by a Sierra Leone interpreter who put the case for the abolition, and who concluded a long speech by saying, “Do you not see that it is harder to continue it than to give it up?” The obi agreed.49
The obi, impatient of contradictory European professions, put one part of the African case to the members of the Niger expedition in 1841: “Hitherto, we thought that it was God’s wish that black people should be slaves to white people; white people first told us that we should sell slaves to them and we sold them; and white people are now telling us not to sell slaves. . . . If white people give up buying, black people will give up selling.” All the same, there was suspicion: when Britain concluded the treaty against selling slaves in 1841, King Pepple of Bonny inserted a clause in the document stating: “If, at any future time, Great Britain shall permit the slave trade, King Pepple and the chiefs of Bonny shall be at liberty to do the same.”50
West Africa, or “Guinea,” largely as a result of British naval power, was thus very slowly, in the mid-nineteenth century, changing from an economy which was predominantly slave-trading to one based on commerce in raw materials. The discovery in 1830 that the river Niger entered the Atlantic in the Bight of Benin opened “a great highway into the heart of Africa, coinciding with the invention of the steamship, which made journeys, and so [legitimate] commerce, up it possible.”
The internal slave trade, however, continued, and indeed probably expanded. Macgregor Laird went to Bocqu, above Ida, on the Niger, where there was a slave market every ten days; from here he supposed that “8,000 or 10,000 were sold annually”—the captives being mostly from the far interior, if still sometimes for “onward shipment to Europeans.” Laird remembered seeing that “the canoes were constantly passing by, with from four to six or eight slaves in them.”51 The traveler Waddell described how King Eyo of Calabar “did not employ men to steal for him; nor did he knowingly buy those which were stolen. He bought them in the market, at the market price, without being able to know how they were procured. . . . He admitted that they were obtained in various objectionable ways . . . but said that they came from different far countries of which he knew nothing. . . .”52
• • •
Perhaps two-thirds of the slaves carried to the Americas in the mid-nineteenth century came from south of the equator or from East Africa. Even just north of the equator, the trade flourished at Sangatanga, at the mouth of the river Gabon, as well as on the island of Corisco, at the mouth of the river Mooney.
At the mouth of the Gabon, in 1842, the local king ceded some territory to the French and, in 1843, Captain Montléon landed soldiers to establish a fortified post. In 1849, his successor founded Libreville, the French answer to Freetown and Monrovia, with some slaves rescued from the slave ship Elisa.
Offshore, of course, lay Fernando Po, Principe, and Säo Tomé. The first was now used, because of its calm waters (what a contrast with the surf on the coast of Guinea!), as a coaling station by British steamers. It was common enough to find there the crew of a slaver which had been deposited by an English captain, after the capture of their ship, waiting for transport to Calabar, and being well treated on an island generally considered to be “the most healthy of any part on the station.” Palmerston offered Spain £50,000 for the place in 1841; but the offer was refused. Thereafter Spain tightened her control over the island, and it became a base of operations for Julián Zulueta, of Havana, and his London partners, including his cousin Pedro José. Many emancipados were later sent to Fernando Po from Cuba and Pedro José de Zulueta was responsible for ensuring their food: a task which he seems to have fulfilled with neither efficiency nor generosity even though in 1843, the Spanish government curiously named John Beechcroft, the English merchant, as acting governor.
São Tomé still had its slave-powered Portuguese sugar plantations, as it had had ever since the fifteenth century. The island of Principe, meantime, in the midcentury seemed to be the private colony of the Portuguese governor, José María de Ferreira, whose wife, a woman of vast girth, had invested deeply in Souza’s interests in Whydah.
Some miles to the south of São Tomé, on the mainland, lay Cape Lopez, a great landmark, for from there the African coast turns southeast. The creeks here harbored a number of traders. Beyond, everyone agreed that the character of the slave trade changed. Sir Charles Hotham, commander of the British squadron, thought that here “the speculation on the part of the Brazilian, is founded on the principle of employing vessels of little value, to be crowded to excess with slaves. . . . Here it is, therefore, that the traffic assumes its most horrid form. At this moment, the Penelope [the vessel which he commanded] has in tow a slaver, of certainly not more than 60 tons, in which 312 human beings were stowed. The excess of imagination cannot depict a scene more revolting.”53Among the traders with posts here about 1850 was one who had connections with Havana, and directed by José Pernea; one belonging to the Portuguese-Brazilian, José Bernardino da Sá; and a third belonging to the Cuban, Rubirosa.
There were many political entities on this coast, most of them now involved in slaving. First, there was Cape Lopez itself, where the French explorer, Paul du Chaillu, found, in the years after 1810, a drunken and unpredictable monarch, Bongo, and his successor, Arsem, who quickly adapted to the need to camouflage his slave barracoons against British observation. These places were well arranged, slaves being chained together six by six, a method which, du Chaillu was assured, best avoided the possibility of escape: “It is rare that six men are sufficiently in agreement to make any attempt,” he was assured. Arsem was in the habit of persuading captains who negotiated with him for slaves to drink blood before negotiations began. Captain Lancelot, who traded there in 1815 on La Petite Louise, of Nantes received a slave boy as a present, as did his officers. The slaves here, du Chaillu reported, came from the far interior of Africa, well beyond the point to which he had penetrated.54
Mayumba developed for the first time into a trading center for slaves about 1815, after the legal abolition of the Portuguese traffic north of the equator. By 1840, this little port, with a population of no more than about a thousand people, had some seven or eight barracoons for slaves in the hands of Spanish, Portuguese, or Brazilian traders. To the south, there were one or two other small new slave harbors, such as Banda and Chilongo, and then the well-established Vili harbor of Loango, the city of Malemba, and the smaller port of Cabinda (Kabinda), for long a preserve of French and British. The withdrawal of the last-named from the trade after 1808 left the way open to Spaniards and North Americans interested in the Cuban trade—and some Portuguese or Brazilian traders who were pleased to sell slaves to Havana, even if their ships were registered as sailing for “Pernambuco.”
In Loango Bay during the nineteenth century, the political power of the Vili was in full decline. When German travelers visited the place in the 1870s, they found the body of the last maloango—the king of the Vili—Buatu, still unburied since 1787, because no successor had emerged to initiate the funeral ceremonies. Independent slave dealers seem to have almost assumed sovereign authority: many of them began to place “Ma” in front of their names to indicate the possession of land, and to wear such signs of princely status as animals’ tails, and shoulder decorations.
Cabinda, on its “high, bold coast,” not unlike “the appearance of the land about Dover,” in the imaginative phrase of assistant surgeon Peters, of H.M.S. Pluto, became the biggest slave port in this region in the early nineteenth century. The people of Cabinda themselves were known as admirable sailors and good carpenters. So far as slaves were concerned, the place could draw on the facilities made available by the river Congo, on whose banks, in 1845, near the mouth there were about thirty barracoons—most of them the property of Cubans or Spaniards who had interests everywhere on the coast and whose luxurious houses and gardens on the riverbank excited the admiration of British officers. One of these was Pedro Maniett who, “so far as regards his communication with Englishmen, who have been even blockading and preventing his vessels coming there, has behaved in the kindest manner”; he even looked after English seamen wounded in one or another of the skirmishes which took place with slavers.55 There were also a few Brazilian barracoons, many of them connected with, or owned by, individual merchants, of whom Manuel Pinto da Fonseca, of Rio, was the foremost. He was said to hold in his factory goods worth £140,000 in 1846, awaiting deals to buy slaves. These barracoons were by now often placed a few hours away from the mouth of the river, in order to avoid attack by the British navy. Even so, Captain Matson, in 1842, did destroy five barracoons there.
The slave merchants at Cabinda in the nineteenth century devoted great attention to loading slaves fast. A North American, Joseph Underwood, described how in 1845 “a sail [came] in sight . . . at 1 p.m. She showed no colours. At ten past one, she came to anchor, a few yards from the Sea Eagle [Underwood’s own vessel]. The brig had sliding sail booms rigged out and everything in readiness for making sail. The boats were soon alongside loaded with negroes. . . . They took on about 450 and, at 45 minutes past two, she weighed anchor and stood to sea . . . [bound for Rio].”56
The Congo River itself was an important source of slaves for Cuba as well as for Brazil in these years. This waterway provided perfect cover for slave ships hiding until the cruisers were out of sight. They could then load quickly, and escape by means of the fast Congo current. Another North American traveler, Peter Knickerbocker, wrote: “The Congo river, at its mouth, is some twenty miles in width, and runs with the force of a mill sluice into the ocean; and the current continuing in strength and speed far out to sea, the slaver has greater facilities in obtaining a good offering at this point than any other slave mart on the coast. One dark night and an ebb tide will take him forty miles down the river and sixty miles [out] from the coast, let him sail ever so badly, and the probability of falling foul of a cruiser at this distance is very small.”57
Yet one more traveler, Montgomery Parker, wrote, with respect to North Americans’ involvement in this territory, that “numerous United States ships sail from Rio . . . Bahia and other ports in the Brazils and even from Cuba, under a charter to go to the coast of Africa, carrying an outward cargo and such passengers as the charterers may see fit to put on board and, to return to the port they sailed from, . . . they will make two or three trips to the coast [of Africa] and return each time, with a cargo of camwood, gums, ivory, etc., and soon they become pretty well-known to the armed cruisers of the various squadrons, who look upon them as legal and honest traders and cease to watch them as closely as they would a vessel that had come upon the coast for the first time. By and by, one of these vessels comes out again. The agents . . . find the coast is clear and that a good opportunity is offered to ship slaves. . . . They make an offer to the captain to buy his vessel. He accepts it . . . [and] goes on shore with his officers and crew . . . the slaves are hurried on board, the vessel is given in charge of a Brazilian master and crew, who are generally the passengers she has just brought over on her outward voyage and, with the Stars and Stripes still floating at the mast, she leaves the coast in safety.”58One such vessel sold in this way (or so it would seem) was Charles Hoffman of Salem’s Cipher, sold at Cabinda in 1841. Other traders with interests here included Julián Zulueta of Havana, represented here by a certain José Ojea, and several of his Cuban or Spanish colleagues such as Manuel Pastor or Manzanedo.
It is scarcely possible to estimate the number of slaves carried from these waterways in the mid-nineteenth century. But from the zone to the north of the Congo, some 290 slave ships were seized by the British or other naval patrols; from the region to the south of it, the figure was only just a little less: about 280.
Farther to the south lay the great slaving ports of Angola proper, at Ambriz and Benguela, the old city of Luanda lying between them. From these places and others on the coast, 500,000 slaves were probably shipped during the legal era, 1800-1830; and it would seem that over 600,000 may have been shipped in the illegal days after 1830. All these figures may be an underestimate.
Ambriz was a new center for trading slaves to Brazil. Many Luso-Africans moved there from Luanda after 1810, for they could ship slaves in that port without the bureaucratic procedures usual at Luanda, and also avoid paying the taxes. The pioneer of this arrangement was Manuel José de Sousa Lopes, who made a specialty of selling slaves to Spanish buyers. The determined Captain Matson destroyed three barracoons there in 1842, but the trade recovered. About 1850, three prominent Brazilian or Portuguese traders had posts there: Manuel Pinto da Fonseca, Ferraz Coreira, and Tomás Ramos.
Luanda itself was not much concerned in slaving in the mid-nineteenth century, though there was still a large slave barracoon outside the city, at Lamarinas Bay. The conditions of keeping slaves in this imperial Portuguese city seemed even worse in the nineteenth century than in the eighteenth: “The detention of the negroes on the coast,” wrote one visitor, “in consequence of the market being overstocked, or of the nonarrival of the slavers which are to transport them to another shore, is a melancholy and notorious cause of mortality among them.”59 Many slaves who went first to Luanda were ordered to walk on to Benguela for shipment. Ambitious slave merchants in Luanda in these days who did not move up to Ambriz often moved inland.
Benguela, with its close financial and commercial connections with Rio de Janeiro, was the home of those Angolans who, like the merchant António Lopes Anjo, after the independence of Brazil in 1822, would have preferred a political association with the new nation.
Behind these westward-facing ports, there was, by the 1850s, the beginning of a tug in a different direction. Arab traders from East Africa had already reached the Congo by the 1850s, bent on carrying slaves across the continent to Kilwa or Zanzibar. The supreme exponent of this new traffic was an Arab from the latter port, Tippoo Ti, known throughout Africa for his raiding parties with firearms. Governor D’Acunha of Luanda told one British captain, Alexander Murray, that “these slave dealers did not hesitate to march armies of slaves completely across the continent from Benguela to Mozambique.”60
• • •
Throughout the centuries of the Atlantic slave trade, a steady flow of slaves went to the Americas from East Africa. By the 1820s, these harbors, from Point Uniac in the south to Zanzibar in the north, a stretch of 1,000 miles, were probably shipping as many slaves as any other region—perhaps 10,000 a year in the 1820s, even 30,000 in the early 1840s, mostly from the cities of Mozambique, with their beautiful houses in which formerly Portuguese merchants trading to India had lived, and Quelimane (Quilimane)—“decidedly the headquarters,” despite its dangerous sandbar. East Africa was not ignored in the British crusade against the slave trade, but it was considered of secondary importance, at least until West Africa had been bullied, bribed, or persuaded into morality.
Richard Waters, the United States consul to Zanzibar, who was on Mozambique island in 1837, recalled seeing slaves in the harbor, “mostly children, from ten to fourteen years of age. . . . What can I say to those engaged in this trade when I remember the millions of slaves in my own country?”61, XVII The main item in the commerce of this island was now slaves, ivory and gold dust being left far behind. The banks of the river Anghoza were also “a great depot for slaves.” “The slave coast begins at Cape Lady Grey,” Captain Rundle Watson, commander of the British naval ship Brilliant, told a House of Commons committee in 1850. Another slaving port was Sofala, “the Elephant’s Shoal,” at the mouth of the Zambezi. In 1827, Captain Charles Millett of Salem, a legitimate trader, found that, in the towns of Lindy and Kisawara, beyond Cape Delgado, there was “no trade except in slaves.” Here merchants of the Indian Ocean competed with those of the Atlantic. Zanzibar was also a great slave mart, and it also served the nearby islands in the Indian ocean. 250,000 slaves were probably carried from the island of Mozambique to those islands in the first half of the nineteenth century.
The slaves brought here from the interior were treated at least as badly as those in the Atlantic passage: “Often 1,000 slaves are stowed in a space hardly capable of receiving as many bags of rice,” commented Michael Shepard of Salem, adding, “When they arrive in Zanzibar for sale they are discharged in the same manner as a load of sheep would be, the dead ones thrown overboard to drift down with the tide.”62 A United States tourist in 1849, Mrs. Putnam, thought, though, that “the slaves mind no more about being sold than a pair of cattle would at home.”63 (How she knew she did not say.)
Most of these slaving harbors were, as usual, estuaries of rivers, up which the 200-ton slavers could sail or steam. The agents were often Hindus (Banyans) from the Portuguese port of Gujerat, and Arabs as well as Portuguese were concerned to sell slaves to many places other than the Americas. One of the biggest traders was a Christian from Goa who had lived in Rio.
The most substantial merchants, nevertheless, were Mozambiques, such as Joaquim do Rosário Monteiro, who began to build ships about 1784, and carried slaves to Brazil throughout the Napoleonic Wars; Manuel Galvão da Silva, who was for a time secretary to the governor (whom he persuaded to invest in his ships); and finally João Bonifacio Alves da Silva, probably the biggest slave merchant in Quelimane, of which city he was also governor for eighteen years.64 The largest Portuguese firm of slave traders in East Africa after 1840 was the Portuguese Company, registered in New York, directed by Manoel Basilio da Cunha Reis, whose interests extended in the 1850s to Cuba. In the 1840s, the firm, however, sold their slaves mostly to Brazilians, and most would be carried to Rio de Janeiro in United States ships, to be made available to such princes of the traffic as Manuel Pinto da Fonseca or Bernardino da Sá. Portuguese bureaucrats were easily suborned by such businessmen: “The small income of these officials renders the temptations to which they are exposed irresistible,” wrote a British civil servant in 1850; “banished for years to a pestiferous climate, the means for speedily escaping therefrom by enriching themselves sufficiently to give up their public situation is indeed very tempting.”65
Theodore Canot about 1830 sailed on a slaver from Cuba on a “trim Brazil-built brig, of rather more than 300 tons,” which anchored at Quelimane “among a lot of Portuguese and Brazilian slavers. . . . We fired a salute of twenty guns and ran up the French flag. The captain in a full uniform [then] went to call on the Governor. Next morning, the Governor’s boat was sent, for the specie; the fourth day disclosed the signal that called us to the beach; the fifth, sixth, and seventh, [they] supplied us with 800 negroes; and, on the ninth, we were underway.” (But the success of this journey was ruined by the outbreak of smallpox, in the course of which over 300 slaves died en route.)66
In 1846, Governor Abreu de Madeira was relieved from Quelimane for corruption; his successor abandoned his post, and “escaped in a slave ship, with a large cargo of slaves.” The next Portuguese governor of Mozambique, Captain Duval, seemed to the British “one of the best persons we ever met” and, within some years, had, on fifty miles either side of the city, brought the slave trade to an end. What usually happened, said Captain Duval, was that “governors would receive a box soon after they took up their office: on opening it, there were found to be four compartments. . . . [Inside] there was $1,500; $750 in one compartment, with a Crown on it and then, $250 in each of the others. These sums were from the leading slave trader in the place, for the Governor, his deputy, the Collector of Customs and the Commander of the troops.”67
After 1840, the Portuguese navy was mildly active in the region with a brig and two schooners. They did stop some ships but, in general, “the slavers laugh at them.”
The Mozambique Africans were usually seen by the Brazilians as “a finer race of men” than those on the west coast, “an affectionate race of people who soon acquire a knowledge of the value of money.” But they were men from many races, for slaves often reached Quelimane from the far interior, along the Zambezi.
This trade diminished in the 1840s, thanks to the British who, after 1843, had powers locally granted by Portuguese governors which they never possessed in West Africa. They were able, for example, both to pursue all slave ships in parts of the coast where the Portuguese had not established a presence, and to destroy barracoons at will. But then the slavers turned to buyers outside Portuguese territory—for example, in the sultanate of the imam of Muscat (especially the Banyan barracoons), or in the Arab isles of Angoche, Comoro, and Western Madagascar. Madagascar prohibited the trade in slaves after a treaty between the Malagasy and the British in 1817, yet the evidence suggests a vigorous slave trade from the island throughout the nineteenth century, with about three to four thousand slaves being exported every year, some to Mauritius or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, the rest to various American harbors, especially Cuba.
The British capture and retention after 1815 of Mauritius did not affect the issue of slavery much, though the trade to the island from Mozambique prospered till it was legally abolished in 1813, and though it continued largely unchecked by the British authorities till about 1825. Nearby was Bourbon, which had remained with France after 1815. No slaves seem to have been carried from there, but many were, nevertheless, imported in the early nineteenth century, from both Mozambique and Madagascar, to assist in the harvesting of coffee and in the newly developed culture of cloves: “They are also employed to draw merchandise about town in carts, instead of cattle,” commented Dudley Leavitt Pickman, a merchant from Salem.68, XVIII
Cuban vessels which used these harbors of East Africa were much bigger than those which frequented the west coast, because small boats would not so easily pass by the Cape of Good Hope.
That passage past the Cape of Good Hope, incidentally, was trebly unpleasant for the slaves: first, because the journey from East Africa to Brazil was much longer than from Angola, sixty or seventy days being the average; second, because of the cold from which the slaves suffered when they rounded the Cape—in comparison with the great heat which characterized an Angolan slave journey to Brazil, where temperatures in the slave decks were often 130 degrees Fahrenheit; third, because of the storms.
As for the numbers of slaves carried to the Americas from these remote ports in the nineteenth century, fifteen to eighteen Brazilian slavers would arrive at Mozambique Island in the 1820s, and each would take about 500 slaves, though very often half would die en route. Perhaps 10,000 a year would be a fair estimate from that port. After 1830, when the slave trade to Brazil as well as to Cuba became such a curious illegal enterprise, the figure was probably higher, perhaps much higher, for these were years when the West African trade was declining. In 1819, for instance, five Spanish ships from Havana were to be seen in Mozambique before going on to Zanzibar, and such vessels were often to be seen there till the 1850s. It would seem that 15,000 slaves may have been exported from there during these years. About 10,000 may have left Quelimane.
I See Appendix 2.
II See page 684.
III Ponsonby, an exceptionally good-looking man, was apparently sent to Rio by Canning to please King George IV, who was jealous of the attention paid him by Lady Conyngham, the royal mistress.
IV A partial list of slavers suggests that a minimum of forty-four ships were built outside Maryland in the 1840s and 1850s, and twenty-three in Baltimore.
V Canot was son of an officer of Napoleon’s army and an Italian mother, and educated in Florence. A brother of Canot, François, was doctor to Napoleon III in Ham Prison and in Paris.
VI Saint-Louis, at the mouth of the river, had held out against the British in the Napoleonic Wars till 1809, and was not restored to the government of Louis XVIII till 1817. The return of the French, under the pedantic Colonel Schmaltz, was marred by the terrible shipwreck of the flagship the Méduse, to which subject the painter Géricault devoted his masterpiece.
VII The missing pages in the log of Charles Hoffman’s Ceylon in 1845-46 probably conceal an illegal traffic in slaves.
VIII Another monarch to have Spanish slave traders (Victor Dabreda, José van Kell) established in 1840 on his territory in this region was King Banco of Beomba, on the river Jeba.
IX Mrs. Lightburne’s barracoons were destroyed by Captain Nurse and Commander Dyke of the British navy. After further attempts to trade more slaves in the 1850s, some successful, she went to Sierra Leone to sue the British officers. Failing to gain any satisfaction, she died of a broken heart.
X Forty-eight ships had been taken to Havana and forty-three condemned by the court there; twenty-three were taken to Rio, of which sixteen were condemned by its court; only one vessel was condemned by the court at Surinam.
XI Blanco figures in Texido’s novel in the style of Eugène Sue, Barcelona y sus misterios, as in Lino Novás Calvo’s Pedro Blanco, el negrero.
XII The kola nut had been important in West Africa for a remarkable number of uses—as a drink, as a yellow dye, as a medicine, as a religious symbol—and was specially valued by Muslims.
XIII See page 612.
XIV Cape Coast was taken over by the British Crown in 1821. But seven years later, there was a plan to withdraw. A committee of London merchants was again put in charge, with a subsidy to maintain Cape Coast and the fort at Accra.
XV See page 776.
XVI Probably L’Actif, Captain Benoît; L’Alcide, Captain Hardy; La Caroline, Captain Pelliful; L’Eugène, Captain Morin; and Le Fox, Captain Armand—all of Nantes.
XVII Later, Waters, an antislaver from Salem, met a Spanish slave captain and said, “I cannot wish you a prosperous voyage for you are engaged in a business which I hate from the heart.” The captain, “quite a pleasant man,” smiled and insisted that they were better off where he carried them.
XVIII Cloves were introduced to Bourbon in 1779 by Pierre Poivre.