"The Purposes Both of Interest and Humanity”: The British and African Slave Trading Community and the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:50 AM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Randy J. Sparks, Tulane University
In 1776, the English captain of a Liverpool slaver on the Gold Coast hired an African sailor named Amissa to sail with him to Jamaica, not an uncommon practice.  When the ship reached Jamaica, the captain had Amissa and three other sailors row slaves to shore after they had been sold to a local planter.  When they reached the shore, he informed Amissa that he, too, had been sold to the planter.  When the captain returned to Amissa’s hometown, he told Amissa’s family that he had died during the Middle Passage.  However, two years later, another African returned from Jamaica with the news that Amissa was alive and well.  Amissa’s family then commissioned the captain of another slave ship in route to redeem him.  After nearly three years in slavery, Amissa reached London where his case came before the African Committee, which ordered that the captain who enslaved Amissa be prosecuted to discourage kidnapping.  England’s most distinguished jurist, Chief Justice Lord Mansfield, heard the case and recommended that the jury give exemplary damages to the victim, which they did. The Royal African Company returned Amissa to his grateful family. While Amissa's case was unusual, it was by no means unique.  Amissa was one of only a tiny fraction of the millions of victims of the slave trade who escaped slavery and returned to Africa. Kidnap victims were far more likely than other slaves to return from the Americas, and they did so by exploiting the close relationships forged between European and African traders.  These cases provide important historical evidence into the intertwined histories of the English and African traders. Following these exceptional cases reveals the tangled threads, the warp and the woof, that knit Britain, Africa, and the Americas together to create the 18th-Century Atlantic World.