New England Merchants and the Circum-Caribbean Slave Trade

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 8:30 AM
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Jennifer Anderson , Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
In 1771, Captain James Card, of Newport, Rhode Island transported "two Negro Men named Prescot and Wiltshire," from Jamaica to the Bay of Honduras, along with other cargo, including rum and gunpowder. On another occasion, he carried a slave "tryd for stealing and Condem'd to be Transported" along the same route. Most likely, the condemned man, taken from a Jamaican sugar plantation, ended up doing heavy labor as an enslaved logger in the mahogany forests of the Bay. While Captain Card regularly shipped small numbers of slaves along his established trading routes (between New England, South Carolina, the West Indies, and Central America), shorter jaunts like these allowed him, and his ship’s owner back in New England, to generate profits between his longer seasonal voyages to North America or across the Atlantic. While unquestionably, the vast majority of Africans enmeshed in the transatlantic slave trade passed through large centralized slave markets, this more localized, small-scale slave trade often transpired informally as itinerant slave traders strategically moved human property in search of profits. Ships of all nations routinely ferried individual slaves from place to place within the Caribbean Basin, as they were bought, sold or leased out by their owners. Yet whereas New Englanders’ participation in the 18th century transatlantic slave trade is amply documented, this paper focuses on their opportunistic role in this circum-Caribbean slave trade and argues that, cumulatively, their transactions contributed to a constant low-level dispersion of slaves, with often profound human consequences. As the range of possible destinations multiplied, these forced migrations buffeted people about – among different owners, among different islands, from rigid plantation regimes to more latitudinous slave systems on the colonial periphery, or vice versa. As labor and capital was thus redistributed, innumerable enslaved persons found their lives and relationships disrupted.
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