SHE WAS A SNOW, NOT A SHIP. She had two masts, not three, and her rigging, though baffling to anyone but a sailor, was less elaborate than rigging of ships of her burden, 150 tons. By her name in the Admiralty’s register, a clerk wrote: “French made free.” Such vessels had been built in France for the smuggling trade. They bore thousands of gallons of wine and brandy to British waters, where smugglers’ boats came out to meet them. Some were unlucky: revenue cruisers took them, and customs officers seized them for the Crown. Thus they were “made free”; they could be purchased from the Crown and turned to new service. The Hope became a slaving vessel, owned by Samuel Gist and others. She was to sail to the Gold Coast, and from there, take hundreds of slaves to Virginia. But she did not reach Chesapeake Bay. As a slave ship, she brought misfortune, loss, or death to almost everyone connected with her. This is her story.
In the autumn of 1770, Gist began to write to his Virginia correspondents about his “African Scheme,” a voyage to buy slaves on the Gold Coast and take them to Virginia. If all went well, he could pay £16 or £20 in Africa for a slave to be sold for £45 in Virginia. He wrote to his partners in the Dismal Swamp Company, urging them to “add largely” to the force working in the swamp. Such expansion made all the more sense in light of the company’s effort to acquire more of the swamp in Norfolk County and all of it in North Carolina. Gist offered to lend the company any amount its members chose to spend on new slaves, charging 5 percent interest, the maximum allowed by law. If, as he obviously expected, his partners bought from him, he would profit from the sale and the loan. He shipped clothing, tools, and other supplies for the company’s slaves on credit.
Gist mentioned his plan to Virginia storekeepers. Neither John Tabb nor Roger Atkinson wished to sell slaves—“it is a Business I was never fond of,” Atkinson told him—but they and others believed that slaves would find buyers. In a letter written to a planter that fall, a friend in London congratulated him on his return to “what you call your Land of Promise” to enjoy the colony’s ideal life: “a comfortable Habitation, an extensive and fruitful Estate, amply stocked with what constitutes the principal Riches of your Province, viz. a large Number of healthful robust Negroes.” The 187,000 slaves in Virginia made up 40 percent of its population. Gist felt sure that planters would buy as long as they had money or credit. He envisioned an annual ship from Africa. Some slaves were imported into Virginia from the West Indies, but most new slaves came from Africa. Planters preferred those from the Gold Coast. Why should Gist not send them what they wanted by a direct route, to their mutual advantage? With proper effort by his representatives in Virginia, his vessel, like most slave ships sailing back to Britain, would return laden with tobacco.
By paying £2, Gist became a member of the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, joining Anthony Bacon and many underwriters and merchants he saw every day on ’Change and in Lloyd’s. The law did not allow corporate ventures by the Company of Merchants, and few men in Gist’s position wished to bear alone the whole expense and risk of a slaving voyage. He needed other investors and an ally who specialized in the trade to help finance and guide his African scheme. He turned to his acquaintance at Lloyd’s, John Shoolbred.
A Cutter Off Shore, Samuel Atkins. Courtesy of the Henry E. Huntington Art Gallery. A cutter sails toward a vessel similar to the Hope.
In January 1771, Shoolbred’s small ship Providence, which had taken slaves to Port Tobacco, Maryland, the previous year, sailed for the African coast, then took 170 slaves to Georgia. At the age of thirty-one, Shoolbred was a rising man in the Company of Merchants. One of his associates described him in August: “a merchant in the City, an Underwriter or Assurer, who transacts a vast deal of Business & is chiefly concerned in the African Trade.” He was also a member of the Laudable Society for the Benefit of Widows. Though he complained about control of the trade by the dominant influence of Gilbert Ross and James Mill, of the firm Ross & Mill, he was taking steps toward changing the firm to Shoolbred, Ross & Mill. The ship Peggy in the Gold Coast trade changed her registered owner from Ross & Mill to John Shoolbred, making him an employer of Captain Hercules Mill, brother of James Mill. Shoolbred was a pitiless competitor. An investor in the Hawke, which he dispatched to Africa in the fall of 1771, said after the skewed division of profits: “I have indeed been monstrously abused by Shoolbred.” Samuel Gist saw that Shoolbred would become the most important man in the slave trade. Shoolbred later wrote: “the Effects of this Trade to Great Britain are beneficial to an infinite Extent … there is hardly any Branch of Commerce in which this Nation is concerned that does not derive some Advantage from it.” He added more vessels to his Africa fleet and sought new investors, such as Gist. Large profits might flow from a single voyage, especially one bringing to England a cargo of commodities from the port where slaves landed. Not all voyages succeeded; some barely broke even; some vessels and their crews never returned. Investors bought a cargo of manufactured goods on credit, and they bought insurance at a premium of 7 percent or 8 percent. In the course of many voyages, they could expect a profit of as much as 14 percent.
Eddystone Lighthouse, John Cleveley. Courtesy of the Henry E. Huntington Art Gallery. A view of the English Channel south of Plymouth. The lighthouse was completed in 1759.
With help from the government, the Company of Merchants maintained a chain of forts along the Gold Coast. The men appointed to governorships by the company made the work of a ship’s captain seeking a cargo of slaves easier or more difficult. Any shipowner was supposed to rest assured that all vessels on the Gold Coast were treated alike. The happiest owners, however, had a friend in command of the fort where their ships dropped anchor. The senior officer in the company’s service on the Gold Coast was the governor of Cape Coast Castle, a position newly filled by David Mill, brother of Captain Hercules Mill and James Mill. The second-ranking man commanded the fort at Annamaboe, ten miles to the east. Charles Bell, according to his harshest critic, was “a man of the most rapacious, avaricious, mean disposition of any in the service.” Yet, during the voyage of the Hope, Gist and Shoolbred always found him eager to help.
In the years 1768 to 1772, English vessels annually took about 38,000 slaves from Africa to the western hemisphere. Of these, on average, almost 6,000 came from the Gold Coast. In 1771, Samuel Gist invested in the Meredith, a 120-ton ship, part of the fleet of slaving vessels sailing from Liverpool for Miles Barber & Company. Liverpool’s Africa trade far surpassed that of London and Bristol combined. Few ships had been designed and built to carry slaves; “any vessel was thought good enough for it.” Mariners spoke of a vessel that looked unseaworthy as “not better than a Guineaman.” Departing on September 30, the Meredith made a successful voyage to the Windward Coast of Africa and the Leeward Islands. By the usual standard, she would have been fully laden with 264 slaves on board. She took 280 to St. Kitts. During her voyage, Gist wrote: “The high Prices Negroes have sold for all over the West Indies Carolina & Georga. will I hope Prevent many Comg. to Virga.” He was unhappy that Barber had offered planters twelve months of credit without interest if the Meredith sold slaves in the Chesapeake. “This Mr Barber has certainly dreamt, for I never Promisd it.” Gist got his wish. The Meredith did not have to sail to Virginia to dispose of her cargo.
As the Meredith began her long voyage, ship’s carpenters, joiners, painters, and caulkers, as well as tradesmen, prepared the Hope for hers. No matter how much work they did, she would still be a French-built ship, “liable to all the accidents, to which ships of that construction are peculiarly subject.” She had to be converted from a smuggler to a slaver, leaving more space between the main deck and the lower deck, less in the hold. As she disposed of her cargo of goods on the Gold Coast, she would fill with Africans confined between decks most of each day. At 150 tons, she was about average for a slaving vessel. She needed manacles, fetters, and chains for three hundred men, women, and children. Slave ships took gallons of vinegar to be poured over the lower deck for cleaning. The best trading cargo included colorful patterned cotton cloth from India, silk taffeta, chintz, linen from Europe, woolen goods from England, felt hats, brass pans, gunpowder, gunflints, tobacco pipes, bottled beer, and malt liquor.
The owners and the captain hired a crew of thirty-eight for the Hope. Ten or twelve able seamen sailed a snow; the rest of a slaver’s complement were a chief mate, a second mate, a surgeon, a carpenter, a cook, a tailor, a number of ordinary seamen making their second or third voyage, and tradesmen whom the sailors called “Landsmen.” Captains met at Lloyd’s and agreed upon a uniform wage. Seamen’s pay ranged from £1 10s. to £2 per month. They received two months’ pay in advance and half their pay when vessel and slaves reached port in the West Indies or North America.
Gist found that buying the Hope, manning her, fitting her out, and furnishing a cargo of goods came to “a great deale of money.” The brig Unanimity, of the same tonnage as the Hope, was purchased at about the same time for £680 and prepared in London for the Africa trade at a cost of £4,658 15s. 1d. Gist paid a “Considerable” portion of his share of the Hope’s costs before she sailed. The remainder typically fell due six, nine, and twelve months later. By extending credit, manufacturers and storekeepers supplying goods for the Africa trade enabled men such as Miles Barber and John Shoolbred to send more vessels, to attract more investors, and to take bonds, not just cash, from purchasers of slaves. Eventually, Miles Barber & Company expanded its ventures to a total of more than £100,000, “never having a capital of a tithe of the money their own property.” Their “great push” ended in bankruptcy. Shoolbred and Gist were more prudent.
For master of the Hope, the owners turned to a man with experience in the slave trade, James Dougall. He had commanded vessels sailing from Bristol for the firm Thomas Jones & Company. He had just returned from a sixteen-month voyage to Annamaboe, St. Thomas, and Grenada. Four months after mooring at Bristol, he was getting ready to take the Hope from London to Annamaboe. Masters of slave vessels received a salary of £5 per month; a “coast commission” of £4 for every £104 worth of slaves bought in Africa; and the right to buy, transport, and sell five slaves on a private account. A chief mate took three slaves, a second mate two, and a surgeon three.
Compared to other routes, Africa voyages attracted seamen who were “more disorderly and irregular,” a retired captain said. Many had “a turbulent, refractory Disposition.” For their part, sailors told stories of especially cruel captains in slave ships—tales of short rations, little water, kickings and beatings with handspikes, musket butts, and rope ends. Captain George Colley, who took slaves to Fredericksburg in the snow Hare in 1761, was an “inhuman monster,” who caused the deaths of some seamen. Captain Samuel Pemberton, master of the ship Matty on the African coast with the Hope, treated his men in “a very barbarous manner.” Accounts of his brutality still made the rounds seventeen years later. With more violence or with less, or with threats of it, ships’ masters ruled their crews.
These captains had reason to stay wary not only of slaves between decks but also of crewmen. Sailors often wound up in the trade because their fortunes were desperate. Captain Joseph Spencer departed for the coast of Africa a few months after the Hope did and returned safely to Liverpool. But on his next slaving voyage he died at the hands of his men. The boatswain and part of the crew of his brig Will plotted to seize her and become pirates. About 200 miles east of Madeira, during the night, the men of the watch killed Spencer, his chief mate, and the carpenter, then threw the bodies overboard. The boatswain proclaimed himself commander. To reduce the size of the crew, he ordered men out in the longboat, intending to leave them at sea. One sailor, fearing the boatswain’s enmity, killed him with a hammer. The second mate regained command. Another seaman was killed and four put in irons. A few days later, the Will arrived at Madeira, bearing a story that spread quickly. Owners and masters ran risks in sending out large crews in small vessels, but they needed these seamen and officers because the African trade “requires experienced men on the coast as much as the Greenland trade requires experienced Harpooneers.” Captain Dougall had shown that he could control a crew, as well as buy and sell a cargo of slaves.
Sailors in the slave trade who did not mutiny still had more than the usual excuse for “Debauchery and Intoxication” when they reached port. One of their chanteys ran:
Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin
There’s one comes out for forty goes in.
Anchored along the coast of Africa or sailing across the Atlantic with a cargo of people in chains, mostly young men, who outnumbered them eight to one, they faced both the customary perils of the sea and special risks. While James Dougall made a safe voyage from Bristol in 1770 and 1771, other vessels did not. The Duke of Bridgewater out of Liverpool was boarded by Africans and set on fire. On the coast of Sierra Leone the African Queen was boarded and run aground, with Captain North and nine of his crew killed. Every man in the George except Captain Bare was killed by an African boarding party off the Windward Coast, taking Africans whom Bare had bought. Seriously wounded, Bare sailed for Liverpool with a new crew, but the George foundered at the entrance to Liverpool Harbor. After a successful voyage to Africa and Barbados, the Sam, bound for Liverpool, foundered off the coast of Ireland. Her crew was picked up by a passing vessel. The Loyalty, bound for Georgia from Gambia, foundered during a gale in the Atlantic. All the slaves went down, as did all but two of the crew.
Few words at sea troubled a sailor’s ear as much as the word “founder”— to fill with water and sink. On January 16, 1770, the sloop Expedition, two days out of Senegal with 110 slaves on board, began to take on water. Captain Edward Williamson hailed a passing sloop, the James. Her master agreed to take on board the crew of the Expedition. The James then sailed on, leaving behind chained Africans in a leaking sloop. Three weeks later the James arrived at Barbados. Captain Williamson filed a report, enabling Edward Grace, owner of the Expedition, to recover £3,200 insurance on the sloop and her cargo. He thought this sum “full as much as they could have produced if they had arrived at a market.”
But the Expedition had not foundered. The leak was not so bad as her captain reported. With no one at the helm, she drove before the wind until her tattered sails had blown from her yards. Below deck Africans died, their corpses still chained to the living. When sailors of the ship Gregson sighted her, she looked like a ghost vessel, adrift with neither canvas nor crew. By admiralty law, she belonged to anyone who took her. Of the 110 Africans from Senegal, 60 still lived. The Gregson, out of Liverpool, also pursued the slave trade. Captain Richard Hanly took the Expedition’s survivors on board his vessel, adding them to his cargo of slaves. Since the Expedition could not make way without sails, he scuttled her. She went to the bottom at last, and the Gregson sailed on to the West Indies.
The members of the Dismal Swamp Company in Virginia took Samuel Gist’s advice to buy more slaves. They accepted his offer to lend money for this purpose. They wrote to John Tucker, brother of the late Robert Tucker, in Barbados with an order for twenty slaves and instructions to draw a bill of exchange on Gist to pay for the purchase. This was not what Gist had expected. The Hope was going to deliver slaves to Virginia. How could his partners suppose that he would advance £800 or more to buy slaves in Barbados? Gist wrote to Tucker “to desire he will not make the Purchase.” He let William Nelson and others know that he would not honor Tucker’s bill. Nelson had to scramble to make sure that some other merchant in London would take up any bill Tucker drew. To one firm he vented his anger at Gist: “He is (S.G.) a dirty Fellow, and I was sorry he was admitted a Partner.”
Gist sent instructions to John Tabb for selling slaves. The Hope, he said, would bring more than three hundred Gold Coast slaves but would not arrive early in the selling season of May to August. “These Slaves are rather too good for Virga.—that is ordinary slaves sell for near as much money.” He remembered thirty years past, during rapid expansion of slavery in Virginia—William King & Company sold a Gold Coast slave for £5 more than one from elsewhere. Now he had to rely on Tabb to make the best of the Hope’s cargo. A few days after Gist wrote, John Shoolbred approached him with an offer. Would Gist take a share in another Shoolbred slave ship, perhaps the Mentor? Gist declined, later telling Tabb he had done so because “you do not chuse to go deeper in that Article.”
On Wednesday, December 11, 1771, Captain James Dougall obtained a pass for the Hope from the Admiralty. The following week she dropped down the Thames, passing miles of flat fields, to the anchorage at Gravesend. On December 20, the Hope weighed anchor and, with a southwest wind, sailed out of the estuary, bound for Africa.
Vessels to the Gold Coast usually followed a familiar route. Its three principal points were the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, and Cape Palmas, where the African coast turned eastward. Once past Cape Finisterre, the Hope could run before the northeast trade winds. Dougall guarded against the easterly current into the Straits of Gibraltar that wrecked vessels on the coast of Morocco. From the Canary Islands the route lay amid strong land winds and dangerous waterspouts between the Cape Verde Islands and Senegal, westernmost point of Africa. The Hope sailed through the horse latitudes and picked up the Guinea current. On this passage, early in winter, sailors encountered the harmattan, a dry wind from the northeast bearing clouds of red dust lifted off the Sahara. These darkened the sky, parched the skin, and coated decks and sails far from shore, giving vessel and crew their first taste of Africa.
A wise captain rounded Cape Palmas well out to sea, reducing the risk that southerly winds or a mistake in calculating longitude would land his vessel west of the cape. It was safer to make landfall at Drewin, 120 miles east of Cape Palmas. Sighting high ground at the mouth of the Sassandra River, experienced seamen knew that a few days’ run would bring them to Annamaboe. The Hope dropped anchor in Annamaboe Road in February 1772, after a voyage of about eight weeks.
The Hope mounted two pieces of artillery. Custom and courtesy required Captain Dougall to fire a salute to the great fort at water’s edge. A gun would return the salute from the fort. Sailing along the Gold Coast, the Hope had passed other forts belonging to the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, as well as Dutch and Danish posts. More lay to the east. All had been built to protect the slave trade. Looking westward from his anchorage, Dougall saw, ten miles away, Cape Coast Castle atop a rocky headland jutting into the sea. There the Company of Merchants’ chief officer, David Mill, had his headquarters. From his vantage point, Mill kept his eye on shipping anchored in the road.
Shipping was almost always in sight. English slavers trading as far west as Appolonia or as far east as Great Prampram and Little Prampram, beyond Accra, remained at Annamaboe. Often a dozen or more vessels rode at anchor a mile off shore. The shore’s edge was rocky. Winds and breakers, though severe only during spring rains, warned any vessel to beware. Men and trade goods in canoes plying between ships and land sometimes arrived soaked. From May to August a “dreadfull Sea” often came on from the southwest, forcing canoes to stay on the beach, breaking them to pieces if they did not. The waves were high enough to swamp a ship’s longboat. A man in the water might not live long, because the “road is full of sharks.”
Above the shoreline at Annamaboe, thick woods and shrubs covered low hills and valleys, except where fields of corn grew. In the distance, 100 miles north, a chain of hills ran along the coast—the land of the Asante, as every master of a slave vessel knew. Back of the beach stood the new white fort, two stories high, 40 yards square, built of imported bricks covered with whitewashed plaster. The southwest and southeast bastions pointed out to sea, the northwest and northeast overlooked the town. In its parapets, embrasures opened for artillery and slits for small arms. Within, its buildings were stone. Inside the northeast bastion stood holding cells for slaves, a row of narrow vaults with stone floors and high, dark walls. The fort held forty-seven cannons but only one gunner. It was authorized a garrison of thirteen soldiers but had only nine. It was a post for trade. Around it lay a town with two districts: the English called them Fishing Town and Fantee Town. Both contained substantial dwellings holding several thousand people. Another large brick building near the northwest bastion loomed over the town. Its owner, Richard Brew, called it “Castle Brew.” A former employee of the Company of Merchants, he was a private trader in slaves. Within his home he strove for the effect of an English country residence. His guests were masters of vessels anchored in the road.
To acquire a cargo of slaves, Captain Dougall had to negotiate with the slave dealers of Annamaboe. They were Fante, and the principal man—or omanhene—at Annamaboe, Amonu Kuma, was friendly to the trade. The most important British posts lay within the territory of the Fante states, stretching along the coast from the Pra River, 90 miles eastward, almost to Accra. The Fante took pains to deny their neighbors, especially the Asante, direct access to the sea and to white men who came to buy slaves. The British on the coast believed that dealing with local leaders within a Fante confederation served their interests better than if the trade were controlled by the Asante. Still, Dougall knew from past months at anchor in Annamaboe Road, and other British captains complained steadily, that Fante businessmen were shrewd bargainers. A former governor of Cape Coast Castle had called them “the most rapacious set of People on earth.” Yet the British were glad to deal with these men whose greed they reproached. Governor David Mill believed that, without the Fante, “our trade would be totally ruined.”
Since Captain Dougall had been away from Annamaboe only a year, he could expect to welcome on board the Hope the same Fante gold-taker who had worked with him before. In some vessels he dined at the captain’s table. One or more of the gold-taker’s men lived on board as long as the Hope remained at Annamaboe. He and his men ensured the quality of gold used in transactions and arbitrated any dispute between Dougall and slave dealers. By old custom they received salaries, and the gold-taker a commission equivalent to 4s. 6d. or 5s. on each slave.
All captains knew the principal slave dealers in Annamaboe. These included Amonu Kuma himself and a man claiming to be his son, Kwasi Tuh. The chief elders of Fishing Town and Fantee Town, known to the British as Yellow Joe and Little Adu, as well as Sham, who lived in Fishing Town, were discriminating judges of merchandise in a slave ship’s trading cargo. Kwasi Kuah was a great trader; a variety of other men operated on a smaller scale: the bush trader Amuru, the military man Kwasi Nkomah, the corn merchant Kobea, and the linguist known as Old Tooth John. Annamaboe had more than sixty slave dealers, and many people in the towns sold a few slaves to make extra money. A young Fante man, Philip Quaque, who had returned to the Gold Coast after his ordination in the Church of England, deplored “the vicious practice of purchasing flesh and blood like oxen in market places.” He wished to evangelize, and he blamed the “gentlemen of the fort” for opposing anyone who might obstruct the “cursed slave trade.”
Enslavement had a long history in West Africa. Most people sold on the Gold Coast in the decades before the voyage of the Hope had been prisoners or spoils of war, as the Asante expanded their rule. Opportunities for profit made war more lucrative, and Europeans brought to the coast weapons making combat more effective. During his previous stay at Annamaboe, Captain Dougall had disposed of lead, gunflints, and gunpowder. The Fante prohibited sale of these to the Asante, but demand among the Asante was “fully, tho’ secretly, supplied, by those very Fantees.”
Slaves bought on the Gold Coast might be Asante, Fante, or Koromanti. People could be enslaved for unpaid debts, for witchcraft, and for crimes such as murder, adultery, and theft. Others had been kidnapped. Passing through the hands of several African dealers and on board Europeans’ ships, slaves found few who showed interest in the story of their enslavement. One English trader said: “The Gold Coast Brokers go from 100 to 150 Miles up the Country to pursue them; from what further Distance they may be brought, it is impossible to say; but it is probable they come from a very great Distance, and from different Countries, for they talk different Languages.” Bound with rope made of grass or bark, lying wet in a canoe at the feet of a Fante dealer, slaves were rowed out to the Hope and other vessels. Dealers sold slaves from Gabon, Lagos, and Benin, sometimes persuading a novice captain that he was buying Gold Coast Africans. On his first voyage to Annamaboe, one trader wrote of the Fante: “they think it meritorious to Cheat a White man all that lyes in their power.”
Captain Dougall began buying in February. He found the trade slow and the supply unequal to the demand. His cargo of goods would not go as far as Gist had calculated. It looked as if he would have to linger at Annamaboe longer than he had stayed in the autumn of 1770. To buy an adult male slave at the latest price set by dealers, ten ounces, Dougall must pay either five ounces of gold, which was out of the question, or goods valued at ten trade ounces, slightly more than £20 retail. But he could not get a slave solely with manufactured goods. Dealers insisted on at least some gold with each transaction. Captains found gold expensive; Africans might hold out for £30 in goods as the price for five ounces of gold. Nor did dealers always accept whatever goods were offered—they expected to receive an assortment of their own choosing. Fashion changed rapidly. An official of the Company of Merchants wrote: “the Choice of Goods entirely Commands the Trade.”
One commodity was always in demand on the Gold Coast: tobacco from Brazil, grown in the Portuguese colony of Bahia. A 50-pound, 300-foot roll of this dark, rank, “reject” tobacco, slathered with molasses by the Portuguese, substituted for an ounce of gold. Yet Dougall could buy it from the captain of a tobacco vessel for £3 in goods. A large Portuguese snow might be laden with 5,000 rolls. And such vessels visited or sailed by Annamaboe Road often, bound eastward to buy slaves for Bahia. Both the government in Lisbon and Dutch officers on the Gold Coast told Portuguese captains not to trade with the British, but neither orders nor punishments stopped them. John Shoolbred said that tobacco from Bahia was “essential to the African trade,” and he knew from his captains and from governors of the Company’s forts that the rolls were “not to be got accidentally.” The Dutch disliked sales between tobacco vessels and the British because the Dutch wished to be sole suppliers, forcing the British to buy from them.
Charles Bell and David Mill usually kept a stock of tobacco in Annamaboe Fort and Cape Coast Castle, just as they kept slaves. Bell and Mill offered these for sale but at higher prices than the Portuguese or the Fante dealers charged. Since Captain Dougall was working for men in London who were close to the committee of the Company of Merchants, he could expect courtesy and assistance from Charles Bell and David Mill. The governors sold tobacco or slaves, however, not as representatives of the Company of Merchants but as private traders. Bell meant to make his fortune and retire to Rose Street in Edinburgh. He supplemented his salary and profits from slave sales by embezzling £7,000 from the Company of Merchants. No one need look to him for bargains. A captain buying slaves in the forts was a captain in a hurry to leave the Gold Coast or a captain who could get slaves nowhere else.
Shortly after the Hope reached her anchorage, the snow Greenwich, out of Bristol, sailed into Annamaboe Road, bringing with her a schooner from Jamaica and a story of the kind familiar to men in the slave trade. The Greenwich had been out eleven months and still did not have a full cargo of slaves. Her captain had died and been succeeded by Captain Edmund Williams. Off Grand Bassam, 190 miles west of Annamaboe, Williams sent out a longboat. An officer in it sighted the Jamaica schooner in distress. On board were only two boys. They said that along the Ivory Coast above Grand Bassam the schooner had been boarded by Africans, who killed Captain John Blow and all the crew except themselves. They got off with the vessel but could not make a voyage on their own. Captain Williams delivered the schooner to Governor David Mill, and he put her up for sale. The auction was attended by most of the captains in Annamaboe Road. The Greenwich did not sail for Tobago with a cargo of slaves until she had stayed on the African coast for eighteen months.
Spring brought no increase in the number of slaves for sale on the Gold Coast. It did bring more news of other captains and crews. On the coast of Sierra Leone, upriver from Yawri Bay, slaves on board a brig from London, the Exeter, concerted an uprising. They killed Captain Richard Savery, a veteran of the trade between Sierra Leone and South Carolina, his mate, and twelve of his crew, allowing only a boy to live. They cut the Exeter’s anchor cable, stranded her, and escaped.
The ship Betty and Jenny, commanded by Captain Alexander Thomson, sailed from London a few weeks before the Hope departed. She took on a cargo of slaves at Gambia. Bound for Charleston, South Carolina, she was nearing Dominica, in the Leeward Islands, when the Africans rose against Thomson and his crew. In the fighting, the sailors killed several slaves. The rest were “got under” by force. Captain Thomson, taking no more chances, sold them in Dominica.
James Dougall and the Hope had waited in Annamaboe Road more than a month, but trade had grown worse. He bought, on average, two slaves every three days. At that rate, he would take a year to get a full cargo. Ever since she had dropped anchor, the Hopehad shared the road with twelve to eighteen other vessels, yet fewer than three hundred slaves had been offered for sale in the first three months of 1772. Fante dealers raised their prices to eleven trade ounces for a man and nine trade ounces for a woman. They demanded two ounces of gold with each purchase and scorned the best silk taffeta, insisting on gold. Of course, the cost of gold rose: “you must sell your goods 20 per cent under prime cost, and you may think yourself happy to get it even at that rate.” Charles Bell and David Mill, by their private purchases at the forts, competed with the captains.
On Dougall’s previous voyage he was one of eighteen captains buying slaves, and he took nine months to fill his vessel. Finally, his snow Thomas and the other Bristol vessels—the Roebuck, the Maesgwin, and the Marlborough—sailed to Grenada. All but two or three of the rest sold their slaves in Barbados or Jamaica. In that competitive autumn of 1770, to make their purchases of slaves easier, Dougall’s fellow captains from Bristol—Thomas Gullan of the Roebuck, Robert Howe of the Maesgwin, and John Marshall of the Marlborough—bought rolls of tobacco from the captain of a Portuguese bark. No one knew the Gold Coast trade better than John Marshall, who made nineteen voyages before he retired. He spoke the Fante language fluently, and he spent more of his adult life on the coast of Africa, mainly the Gold Coast, than in any other one place.
The Maesgwin, this time commanded by Captain Windsor Brown, returned to Annamaboe Road in the spring of 1772. She spent a year there to get 270 slaves for South Carolina. James Dougall also shared the market with the Sally and the Surry from London, the Swallow from Liverpool, and a rum vessel from Rhode Island, the Adventure.
The slow trade at Annamaboe came almost to a stop in May. The borderland between the Asante and the Fante, home of the Assin, usually welcomed its neighbors to hold their markets, exchanging European goods from the coast for slaves from the interior. Surprising their victims, Assin began to plunder Fante traders, taking many goods. Fante elders assumed that the Asante ruler, Osei Kojo, had approved these attacks as a sign that the Asante would soon wage war against the Fante. War did not come; the Asante already were fighting on their eastern front, and they did not attack the coast. But, during the months of threats, the Fante and the Asante suspended their usual commerce. Few slaves were brought to the coast. After ten weeks at Annamaboe, Captain Dougall had purchased fewer than seventy slaves.
The slaves lived between decks, men forward, women aft. In slave vessels of the Hope’s tonnage anyone confined below who was taller than about five feet four inches, could not stand erect. Iron fetters locked one man’s leg to another’s. Partitions of grating separated men, women, and children. Wooden platforms on each side ran the length of the vessel. On these, slaves sat or lay. Slave ships were not quiet. Despite occasional vinegar washes, they were not clean. At her widest part, the snow’s beam was less than 25 feet. Slaves remained between decks for at least two-thirds of the day. Heat and cramped confinement made them cry out. When rain hit, sailors pulled tarpaulins over the deck gratings; “hideous yelling” rose from below. Where a dozen or more slave ships rode at anchor, no passerby could mistake the nature of their trade, even from a distance. In April and May rain, clouds, fog, and boisterous winds covered the Gold Coast, and the leeward current ran strong to the east.
While James Dougall waited helplessly, his previous vessel, the Thomas, under the command of Captain Thomas Lewis, sailed to Virginia by way of Africa and Grenada. At the end of July she dropped anchor in the James River “with two Hundred fine healthy SLAVES” on board, according to Lewis. She had departed from Bristol for Africa only three weeks before the Hope left the Thames. In the middle of October she was safely moored in her home port.
Four months before the Thomas reached Chesapeake Bay, the House of Burgesses approved an address to the king on April 1. It asked the Crown to change the governor’s instructions and allow him to approve a law prohibiting importation of slaves from Africa. In saying that the traffic “greatly retards the Settlement of the Colonies with more useful Inhabitants,” the burgesses meant white immigrants. In saying that its continuation “will endanger the very Existence of your Majesty’s American Dominions,” the burgesses hinted darkly at slave revolt. Though some people in Britain “may reap Emoluments” from sending slaves to Virginia, the burgesses added, it “hath long been considered as a Trade of great Inhumanity.” In London the address began its slow movement through the Board of Trade and a committee of the Privy Council.
By the end of the first week of May, James Dougall, now grown impatient or desperate, took action—rash action. He sighted a Portuguese tobacco vessel passing Annamaboe Road on the easterly current, and decided to barter with her captain. He lowered the Hope’s longboat, heavily laden with trade goods. He took with him his chief mate and six seamen. All went armed. They set the longboat’s sail and stood out to sea in pursuit of the Portuguese. Dougall, his men, and his boat were never seen again.
Mr. Gricewood, second mate of the Hope, and Charles Bell in Annamaboe Fort waited several weeks for Dougall to return. Vessels sailing to leeward down the coast sometimes could not beat their way back for weeks. But Bell finally concluded that Dougall and his men had gone down at sea, and he wondered what had happened. Had Dougall overloaded his longboat with goods and found himself in the water among sharks? Why had he armed everyone? Portuguese captains were usually friendly and eager to trade. Had he tried to force the Portuguese to trade? Had the tobacco vessel sunk the longboat with her guns? Or were Dougall and his men facing confinement in one of Brazil’s prisons? Another captain found these “filled with murderers and such an inhuman race of mortals no Christian could suppose were under the denomination of Christians.”
At last Charles Bell left his fort and went out to the Hope. Masters of other vessels anchored in the road also came on board. Together, they drew up an inventory of the remaining merchandise and confirmed Gricewood as captain of the Hope. He and the surgeon wished to make a success of the voyage by completing their cargo of slaves before October.
The month of June 1772 was memorable to men of business in Britain: a financial panic spread over the country. Robert Bogle wrote that “the South Sea affair was a Triffle to what has now happened.” The firm Bogle & Scott stopped payment on June 20, and the family’s estates were put in trust. John Shoolbred worried about two hundred slaves bound for Virginia in one of his vessels. He had consigned them to the agent of Bogle & Scott in Norfolk, John Gilchrist. He did not wish these slaves to be “disagreeably interwoven with Messrs. Bogles & Scott’s property.” A friend wrote for him to John Tabb, agent for Samuel Gist, and to John Tayloe, asking them to relieve Gilchrist of the consignment. The day of that letter Robert Bogle, Jr., “in a phrenzy,” jumped out of a window of his home. The London Chronicle reported his death. Soon people learned that “he happily fell in such an attitude as only to bruise his latter end.” But by the end of the year it was clear that “every Shilling of Mr Bogles Fortune & Mr Scotts is sunk in this most unfortunate Abyss.” In Norfolk, the following year, John Gilchrist, “from some unknown cause,” killed himself with a pistol.
In the summer and autumn Captain Gricewood and the surgeon of the Hope worked to buy a full complement of slaves. Other vessels arrived in Annamaboe Road: the Swallow, the St. John, the Barbara, the Bee, the Africa, the Ingram, and the Hannah from Britain, as well as four from Rhode Island. In November, John Shoolbred sent his snow Woortman from London to Annamaboe. During the summer, rain swept over the ships. In squalls with onshore winds, longboats stranded and were lost. Every morning and evening fog hid ships from one another and from the fort. After the fog lifted, few canoes came out to offer slaves for sale. No one could recall a time when the trade had come so close to a dead stop. Some vessels had been anchored near the Hope for six months but had on board fewer than fifty slaves. Perhaps a victim of the fever that took lives in other vessels, Captain Gricewood no longer commanded the Hope.
After Captain Ferguson became master of the Hope in the autumn, he found that she had sprung a leak—a bad leak in a bad place. If she did not get repairs, she would sink in Annamaboe Road. To stop the leak she must be heaved down to let a carpenter work on her hull. But the African coast had no port and no place to careen a vessel. The nearest such facilities were on the Portuguese Ilha do Príncipe, known to the British as the Island of Princes, 650 miles southeast of Annamaboe, just north of the equator. Captain Ferguson had no choice. The Hope must sail there or go to the bottom.
The captain and the surgeon oversaw removal of the slaves. The Africans were put back into canoes and borne to the fort. After James Dougall disappeared, Governor Bell promised the owners of the Hope that he would give her all assistance in his power. He locked the slaves in his fort’s dark cells, known as “the Hole.” Captain Ferguson discharged the Hope’s remaining cargo of merchandise, which Bell stored in the fort to await her return. The surgeon remained at Annamaboe with goods and slaves.
Catching a land wind rising from the continent at dawn, the Hope stood out to sea and sailed for the Island of Princes. Fortunately for men working her pumps, she was not becalmed in the doldrums. Before the island came in sight, sailors knew they were close; they saw thousands of birds diving for fish. The island’s high, sheer rocks rising from the sea, its mountaintops hidden in clouds, and its deep, overgrown valleys were familiar to veterans of the slave trade. Every year, more than thirty vessels called there for water and provisions. The Hope sailed between Captain’s Point and Point of the Salt Beach, then dropped anchor in four and one-half fathoms under the guns of the fortress of Santo António da Ponta da Mina.
As soon as any vessel entered the harbor of Santo António, a customs officer came on board to collect anchorage fees in goods or gold. This officer or a soldier remained with her throughout the vessel’s stay. The Hope had fallen under the jurisdiction of the capitão-mor of Príncipe and São Tomé, Vicente Gomes Ferreira. Among the Portuguese he was notorious for his “arbitrariedades e extorsões”—injustices and exactions. The Island of Princes depended upon the slave trade, charging high prices for ships’ supplies. To Gomes Ferreira, every arrival offered an opportunity. In April he had confiscated a schooner out of Liverpool, the Fancy, worth more than £1,300. Her owners, Thomas and John Case, and the British government protested in vain that this seizure was unlawful.
Once the Hope was careened and closely inspected, she turned out to be “totally irrepairable” and was condemned. In accordance with custom and admiralty law, Gomes Ferreira ordered Captain Ferguson to pay the sailors their wages. About £18 was due each man. While waiting to get a berth or passage in a visiting vessel, they could spend their money in Santo António.
Several weeks after the Hope’s seamen were discharged, a brig sailed into the harbor of Santo António: the Nancy, out of Liverpool. She had sailed with a cargo of slaves from Cape Lopez, at the southern end of the Bight of Biafra, intending to call at the Island of Princes. Her master, Captain Roger Williams, died at sea, as did her other officers, leaving only the carpenter, the seamen, and the slaves. No one knew how to navigate. The Island of Princes lay only 180 miles from Cape Lopez, but the Nancy spent three and a half months wandering in the Gulf of Guinea. On short rations, slaves began to die. The crew buried thirty Africans at sea before finding the birds and sighting the green mountains of the island.
Leaving behind his former crew and the hulk of the Hope, Captain Ferguson took passage to Annamaboe in a vessel calling at Santo António. At the fort, he found that the Hope’s surgeon had died in December. Charles Bell and David Mill sent to the owners a report of the slaves and goods remaining. In May 1773, Ferguson was still awaiting passage home. In April the Hope’s obituary appeared in Lloyd’s Evening Post, New-Lloyd’s List, the London Chronicle, and the Daily Advertiser: “The Hope, Ferguson, late Dougall, is condemned on the Coast of Africa.”
Learning that Captain Dougall had vanished with his men and his longboat, Samuel Gist said: the “[un]derwriters must pay.” His reaction to the news that the Portuguese had condemned the Hope was: “the Ship is Insured.” Gist knew that underwriters would not pay until slaves and trade goods from the Hope had been sold. Only then could they fix an exact amount of loss. The ship Ingram sailed from Liverpool for Annamaboe in June, and Captain James Paisley took a letter from the committee of the Company of Merchants to Governor David Mill. After reading it, Mill assured the committee: “Particular attention shall be paid to the Concern of the Sneau Hope.” At first, Gist hoped to get the slaves to market quickly, in one or more of the vessels in Annamaboe Road. But months passed, and he could only wait for word that the slaves had been transported to the West Indies and sold.
As the Ingram sailed from Liverpool, John Shoolbred received news from the Gambia River. His snow New Britannia was a total loss. Far upriver, at Yanimarew, in the hill country, Captain Stephen Dean had purchased 230 slaves, about two-thirds of the number he intended to buy. While he and Shoolbred’s resident agent were getting more, some of the African boys in the New Britannia, who were not chained, found the ship’s carpenter’s tools. They took these below and gave them to adults. The Africans ripped up the deck beneath them. In the hold the trading cargo contained guns and gunpowder. Early in the morning of January 24, 1773, the Africans rose against the crew. Blacks and whites fought for more than an hour, with deaths on both sides. Realizing they could not get free of the vessel, the Africans fired the powder magazine. The explosion blew up the New Britannia, killing more than three hundred people, including all but ten of the slaves and about ninety other Africans. Shoolbred’s agent died, as did most of the vessel’s officers and one-fourth of her crew.
Notwithstanding loss of the New Britannia, Shoolbred’s fleet of slave ships grew. In 1773 he sent at least six vessels to Africa. Others already were on the coast, at sea, or in the West Indies or Charleston Harbor or the Chesapeake. That year the slave trade flourished on the Gold Coast. In 1772, the number of slaves exported dropped to 3,725. In 1773, it rose to 6,820; and in 1774, to 8,156. Among these were the slaves once held in the Hope. They suffered the middle passage, probably in Shoolbred’s snow Peggy, commanded by Captain Hercules Mill. A vessel of 200 tons, she sailed from Annamaboe to Grenada with four hundred slaves.
As the day of sale approached, slave ship surgeons tried to heal or hide damage done to Africans by months of being shackled between decks—“putrid dysenteries” and “foul ulcers, tending strongly to mortification.” Advertisements told planters that newly arrived slaves were fine and healthy. In port, slave dealers or the captain usually sold the slaves on successive days, in descending order of their value for labor. In the autumn of 1773, as the Peggy’s slaves were taken ashore and sent to the sugar plantations of the Windward Islands, a cargo of slaves from Annamaboe arriving in Jamaica sold for £54 each, on average. Five times as many of the best slaves would have sold at the highest price. If Captain Mill had not found a good market at Grenada, he could have sailed on to Jamaica, as others did.
Writing a letter in the first week of February 1774, Samuel Gist gave signs of impatience. Insurance on the Hope remained unsettled. He still waited for an account of sales of slaves and for bills of exchange in remittance. Even as he wrote, the Peggy was sailing up the Thames to her mooring near Tower Hill. After all the papers lay before them, Gist’s colleagues at Lloyd’s who had taken a line on the Hope’s policy did not offer as much as Gist sought to recover. He sued them. Almost a year passed before the case was resolved. Gist did not recover his full claim because some of his underwriters went bankrupt. But he congratulated himself on bringing the story of the Hope to “a tolerable good end.”