Untold lives blog

6 posts categorized "West Africa"

15 December 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 4 Women’s Lives

When members of the black Nova Scotian community expressed interest in going to Sierra Leone, it was not just men that applied - applicants also included single women.  Unmarried women who applied for land in Sierra Leone were given ten acres of their own.  The following certificates were issued just before the journey to Sierra Leone and show the allocation of land given to women on receipt of their satisfactory character references.

Promise of land to Margaret Halstead

Promise of land to Grace Pool

Promise of land to Mary

Promise of land to Hannah TighePromises of land in Sierra Leone to single women including Grace Pool, Add MS 41262 A, f.47, f.48, f.53, f.58. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Freetown a high proportion of householders were women.  Their independent status was recognised to the point that they could vote for their local representatives.  They were also instrumental in establishing trades in the new settlement: three of the six first shops to open in Freetown were run by women.

The following manuscript shows the allocations of eggs to women on Christmas Day 1792. It gives us many of the names of the women within the settlement.

Allocations of eggs to women  25 December 1792Allocations of eggs to women, 25 December 1792, Add MS 41263, f.218. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dinah Weeks, named on this list, is recorded as having being enslaved to a man called Robert Bruce in New York before the American Revolution.  He apparently granted her freedom and in 1783 she left New York for Nova Scotia on the ship L’Abondance.  On the same ship was Harry Washington, who had been one of George Washington’s slaves, but who had escaped to fight with the British.

The final name on this list is that of Elizabeth Black.  She was a mixed-race women who had been born in Madagascar and described as living in indentured servitude in America to a Mrs Courtland.  When she was finally released she travelled to Nova Scotia and came to live with the black community in Birchtown, before moving to Sierra Leone with many others.

The diary and notes of Dr Taylor offer more insights into some of the women who travelled to Freetown.  The Sierra Leone Company doctor kept notes on the patients he treated. These appear to run from shortly before departing to Sierra Leone in December 1791 and the early months of the settlement in the spring of 1792.

Entry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notesEntry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.37.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Listed in this manuscript volume is the case of Sarah Wilkinson, who is described as having a fever after catching a cold after suffering a miscarriage.  She received treatment from Taylor, but died shortly afterwards.  Dr Taylor notes that, by 11 April 1792, 41 women had died, mainly from fevers.  He also notes that fourteen babies had been born since embarking.

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mima Henry was also listed as having a fever.  We find that she lived in Birchtown, Nova Scotia before moving to Sierra Leone.  We know that Mima survived her fever because she is listed above in the allocations of eggs document that is dated later in 1792.

These documents may appear insignificant, but they give us the names, ages, backgrounds and land allocations of a number of black women who not only survived slavery, but strived to contribute to a free black society of their own, where they would play a foundational part in the beginnings of Freetown.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Clarkson Papers, Add MS 41262-41267. British Library.
Black Loyalist: Our Freedom, Our People: Documents
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

 

24 November 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 3 Cato Perkins and Nathaniel Snowball

The previous blog post in this series explored the written legacy of Thomas Peters.  This post explores letters from two other figures who travelled to Sierra Leone in late 1791.  These letters are addressed to John Clarkson after he had returned to England in December 1792.

Cato Perkins

Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson  26 October 1793Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson, 26 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.97  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Cato Perkins was born into slavery around 1739.  He was given the name Perkins after his enslaver, John Perkins of Charleston, South Carolina.  At the age of 39, he ran away from the plantation and joined the British forces at the Siege of Charleston.  In 1783, he left the USA on the ship Briton for Nova Scotia.  By 1792, he had joined others in the relocation to Sierra Leone where he became a vocal member of the settlers’ community.

In 1793 Perkins wrote that the management of the settlement was unacceptable.  Perkins was nominated to travel alongside Isaac Anderson to London to deliver a petition of grievances to the Sierra Leone Company and to ask that Clarkson be reinstalled as governor, but Clarkson had been dismissed from the Company.  Perkins stayed at 13 Finch Lane and from there would continue to lobby the Company.  He expresses his disappointment at not meeting Clarkson given how ‘all the people have been much put upon since you came away’.

The letter below introduces the petition and declares that the settlers ‘want nothing but what you promised us’.  Clarkson would reply that despite his insistence the Company meet with Perkins that they had refused to.  Perkins returned to Sierra Leone where he continued to protest against conditions in Freetown.

Letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson  30 October 1793A letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson, 30 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.101 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Nathaniel Snowball
Nathaniel Snowball was 39 years old when he was evacuated from New York to Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.  He was a slave in Virginia before escaping to the British lines in the Revolutionary War.  His wife Violet, son Nathaniel and his 3-month-old daughter Mary, all travelled to Nova Scotia.  He travelled with his family to resettle in Sierra Leone.  There he became particularly dissatisfied with the lack of good farmland and the management by the Sierra Leone Company.  His objections eventually led him to lead a group of settlers out of Freetown into a new location at Pirate's Bay.  The letter below explains his intentions to take ‘departure as the Ezerlities did’ to escape the ‘boundage of this tyranious crew’.  He explains that he negotiated the new land from King Jimmy, a local tribal leader.

Letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay  24 May 1796A letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay, 24 May 1796. Add MS 41263, f.129  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan  29 July 1796The signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan 29 July 1796, Add MS 41263, f.131.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Clarkson Papers contain many more letters from members of the Freetown settlement.  These were written by members of the community who enjoyed positions of importance, such as preachers and elected representatives.  Up to thirty people seem to have been responsible for authoring the surviving letters.  Among the authors are Boston King, Moses Murray, Isaac Anderson and James Liaster, but absent are the voices of the women of the settlement.  The next post in this series will explore what we know of the women who travelled to Sierra Leone in 1792.

Signatories of a letter to John Clarkson  all members of the Freetown settlement  including Luke Jordon  Moses Wilkinson (preacher)  American Tolbert  Rubin SimmonsSignatories of a letter to John Clarkson, all members of the Freetown settlement, including Luke Jordon, Moses Wilkinson (preacher), American Tolbert, Rubin Simmons and many more. Add MS 41263, f.115.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Jessica Gregory,
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

 

03 November 2020

Tracing the Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 2 Thomas Peters

This blog post explores some of the documents within the British Library collection relating to Thomas Peters.  Peters was a former slave who had joined the British Army Regiment, the Black Pioneers, during the American Revolutionary War.  Like many other ex-slaves, he was evacuated to British Territory in Nova Scotia after the British had lost the war.  These documents relate Peters’ campaign to secure better lives for his black community in Nova Scotia, where conditions were inhospitable both environmentally and socially.

Peters formed a petition which outlined the grievances of the community in Nova Scotia and he sailed to England in the aim of presenting it to the British government.  There he met Granville Sharp, abolitionist and activist, who had previously relocated some of the ‘London black poor’ to Sierra Leone as part of a philanthropic project.  Granville probably helped Peters to meet Sierra Leone Company directors.  The following document records the essence of Peters’ petition and gives an account of the meeting.  It describes how the Company was willing to instigate a relocation of the ‘free blacks’ of Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, and how Peters was given a set of terms upon which people would be considered for the trip.

A record of Thomas Peters meeting the Sierra Leone Company officialsA record of Thomas Peters meeting the Sierra Leone Company officials, Add MS 41263, f.158.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On return to Nova Scotia Peters took on the task of finding people who would be willing to re-locate to Sierra Leone.  In this letter, Peters writes to Lawrence Hartshorne outlining his progress.  He describes people as in ‘high spirits’ and expresses his eagerness to see John Clarkson, the Company Agent who was in charge of the mission to Sierra Leone.

A letter from Thomas Peters to Lawrence Hartshorne  written from Saint John  New BrunswickA letter from Thomas Peters to Lawrence Hartshorne, written from Saint John, New Brunswick, [which at the time, was part of Nova Scotia] October 1791, Add MS 41262, f.13.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Peters writes again to the Company in the letter below.  This letter was sent shortly before the departure of the ships to Sierra Leone for a new life.  In the letter,  Peters and his friend David Edmon[d]s ask humbly that the ‘black people of Halifax bound for Sierra Leone’ have some ‘frish beef for Christmas diner’ for their last Christmas Day in America.

Letter requesting provisions for Christmas from Thomas Peters and David EdmondsLetter requesting provisions for Christmas from Thomas Peters and David Edmonds, December 1791. Add MS 41262, f.24.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The handwriting differs between these two letters, so it seems that one of them was drafted on behalf of Peters.  The extent of Peters’ literacy is difficult to determine.  It is noted that his petition of grievances was redrafted to correct his spelling and grammar before it reached the British Government – implying a general level of literary.  However, putting the physical penmanship aside, these letters record the words of an individual who had lived through kidnap from Africa, the horror of the journey through the middle-passage, enslavement in South Carolina and the American Revolutionary War.  Peters was then influential in establishing a colony of free black people in Sierra Leone, where today is he remembered as one of the founding fathers of Freetown.  These few documents are therefore a rare and important recorded legacy of a voice so regularly absent from the written record.

The next blog post in this series will expand on this written legacy by examining some of the other letters written by the Sierra Leone settlers.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

Tracing the lives and letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 1 The Journey to Sierra Leone

15 October 2020

Tracing the lives and letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 1 The Journey to Sierra Leone

With the outbreak of the American War of Independence in April 1775, the British Army soon realised that it lacked the manpower it needed to prosecute the war.  One action taken was the issuing of the Dunmore Proclamation in November 1775 which decreed that slaves who joined the British to fight against the American revolutionaries would be freed from slavery.  Thousands of slaves joined the British forces in response where they became known as the Black Loyalists and were formed into a number of military units such as the Black Pioneers and the Ethiopians.   The Black Pioneers accompanied General Henry Clinton to Rhode Island when he was tasked with taking Newport in 1776.

Map of Rhode Island in 1776 marked with the positions of British RegimentsMap of Rhode Island in 1776, Add MS 57715, f.3. The map is marked with the positions of British Regiments. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the conclusion of hostilities, the future of the Black Loyalists remained uncertain and they were under threat of re-enslavement.  General Washington demanded that the British obey the Treaty of Paris (1783) which had specified that all American property, including slaves, be returned.  The British instead attempted to keep their original promise by relocating thousands of ex-slaves outside of the United States.  Sir Guy Carleton, commander of British forces in North America, oversaw the evacuation of Black Loyalists and many other black individuals living behind British lines – some runaway slaves, some born free men, as well as their families - to British territory including Jamaica, London (where many became known as London Black Poor), and Nova Scotia.

A manuscript record of some of the orders issued by Sir Guy Carleton during the American War of IndependenceA record of some of the orders issued by Sir Guy Carleton during the American War of Independence. Add MS 21743, f.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Nova Scotia the Black Loyalists were promised land and freedom, but Nova Scotia proved to be hostile both environmentally and socially.  A description of the relocation to Nova Scotia is given in a report commissioned by Sir Carleton.

Title page of the manuscript report on Nova ScotiaTitle page of the report on Nova Scotia, Kings MS 208, f.1. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Page from manuscript report showing increase in population in Nova Scotia as ‘New Inhabitants’ arriveThis page traces the increase in population in Nova Scotia as ‘New Inhabitants’ arrive. Kings MS 208, 24 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The report made direct reference to the Black Loyalists settling in Nova Scotia and stated that they numbered around 3000 at the point of writing in 1784.

The following page of the report explains the difficulties that have arisen already with lack of land to cultivate and insists that provisions be made for the new settlers lest they ‘perish – they have no other country to go to – no other asylum'.

Manuscript document giving description of the shortcomings of resettlement in Nova ScotiaDescription of the shortcomings of resettlement in Nova Scotia. Kings MS 208, f.32 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With many of the black settlers feeling betrayed, an unusual and challenging plan was devised: to relocate these families from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, to form a new colony of free people, who would govern themselves.  The decision to relocate the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia developed upon an earlier project that had relocated a number of the ‘black poor’ of London to Sierra Leone.  Granville Sharp, philanthropist and abolitionist was a seminal figure in the original plan.  The recently formed Sierra Leone Company would orchestrate the new project and instigated John Clarkson - the younger brother of abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson - as the agent in charge of the mission.  However, the figure who was instrumental in devising the plan was the former slave and Black Pioneer, Thomas Peters.

The next blog post in this series will examine Thomas Peters’ role in the establishment of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and the letters in the British Library that were composed by him.

A view from the sea of the New Settlement in Sierra Leone 1790 with a sailing ship in the foregroundA View of the New Settlement in Sierra Leone by Cornelis Apostool. 1790, before the re-settlement of the Nova Scotian Black Loyalists. British Library Maps.K.Top.117.100 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

14 March 2019

Crossing the Line

I forgot to mention the fact that we crossed the line yesterday and the fun which had been in store for some days came off in grand style.

We have recently catalogued the journal of Engineer Frederick Thomas Pendleton, documenting his time on board HMS Hecate on patrol with the West Africa Squadron. In addition to descriptions of daily shipboard life and provision stops along the west coast of Africa, Pendleton provides an entertaining and detailed account of a ceremony to mark crossing the equator.

Journal entry describing the ceremonyAdd MS 89374, ff 37-38 Description of the Crossing the Line ceremony

Crossing the Line ceremonies have been documented in European navies since the 17th century, and Pendleton’s account appears to be fairly typical of the ceremony as performed on British vessels in the mid-19th century. Events begin the day before the line is crossed, with the ship receiving a message from Neptune, King of the Sea, announcing his intention to visit the crew and welcome those of his ‘children’ who have not visited his realms before.

Sailor dressed as Neptune© IWM (A 33252) Crossing the Line 2 June 1955 on board HMS Newcastle, Imperial War Museum https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163820 

My attention was called by a messmate to a deep gruff and somewhat, as my friend said, sepulchre sort of voice, but in whose tones I recognized that of old Joe the Quartermaster, who was evidently doing his best in the supernatural line…

Following the exchange a lighted barrel of tar was allowed to float off astern, representing the departure of Neptune and his crew. The next morning the deck was transformed into an arena to welcome the aquatic host -

…all being ready the curtain was drawn aside, and the drummer leading the van the procession started: Neptune; his better half the huge Amphirite; & their son Triton were seated on the Gun carriage of the field piece, and drawn round the deck by the bears, and followed by the policemen, Doctor, Barber, and a host of assistant comprising those who have been lucky enough to have crossed the equator previous.

Sailors dressed as Neptune, his Queen, and Lady in Waiting© IWM (A 5340) On board troop transport at sea, August 1941. Father Neptune with his Queen and Lady in Waiting. Imperial War Museum https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205139568 

The initiates were marched to meet the royal party, and forced to sit with their backs to a large bath of water. Here they were interrogated by Neptune and a policeman as to their character. Crewmen judged of good character went straight to the barber, where they were lathered and shaved, before being ducked by the bears and released to the fellow crewmates.

3 razors made out of an old iron hoop Nos 1, 2, 3 by name lay alongside the barber, should the policeman’s account of character be good, he scrapes with a no 3 and a good ducking…

Sailors being dunked in a water tank© IWM (A 5176) Initiate being ducked by the bears on board the troop transport Empress of Australia, August 1941. Imperial War Museum https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185436 

A bad assessment of character – typically given to unpopular crew – attracted a much more unpleasant and violent ceremony, beginning with the attentions of the doctor:

… if on the contrary a bad one be given, then I pity the unfortunate delinquent should he attempt to speak in justification & his mouth is instantly filled with all sorts of offal and dirt – someone cried out he’s fainting, the doctor approaches armed with his smelling bottle, through the cork of which protrude several long sharp needles… the doctor then states that the patient is in a fit state to undergo the operation – cold Tar is smeared on his chin, and scraped off with the horrible No 1 razor… very much resembling a common hand saw.

Pencil sketch of the ceremonyPhotograph copy of a sketch depicting a Crossing the Line ceremony performed onboard the troopship HMS Alfred, reference Mss Eur C615

The shave was then followed by repeated ducking from the bears, and additional watering –

when at last permitted to go, he is saluted with buckets of water from the rigging, and at the end of the gangway is met full in the face by a powerful jet of water, coming from the hose of the fire engine – no doubt shortly after you will see him playing a very prominent part in the punishment of others.

You can imagine that the desire to subject officers to the same treatment would have been fairly strong among a number of the crew, but Pendleton identified a common mitigating factor –

Officers underwent the same process though with less severity, attributable in many instances to sundry bottles of Grog, distributed among Neptune and his attendant spirits – I must say that I enjoyed the scene, and shaving very much

Detail of pencil sketch of the ceremonyCloser detail of the ducking scene, Mss Eur C615

The full account of the ceremony can be read in Pendleton’s journal, now available to view in the Manuscripts Reading Room, Add MS 89374.

Additional reading

Add MS 89374, Naval Journal of Frederick Thomas Pendleton

Mss Eur C615, Logbook of the troopship Alfred

Simon Bronner, Crossing the Line: Violence, Play and Drama in Naval Equator Traditions (Amsterdam University Press, 2006)

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

20 January 2016

East India Company trade in West Africa

For a brief period from 1657 to 1666 the East India Company traded to the Guinea Coast of West Africa.  Cargoes of textiles and manufactured goods were sent from England to be exchanged for gold and ivory which were shipped to India to support Company commercial operations.

Map of Guinea Coast

Detail from facsimile map 1729 by d’Anville  in  George Peacock, The Guinea or Gold Coast of Africa  (Exeter, 1880)

The main English base was Fort Cormantine, but the East India Company also took over factories (trading posts) at Cape Coast and Wyamba (Winneba), and established new ones at Anto, Tantamkweri, and Benin. The factories were exclusively male domains – the Company had no intention of maintaining a proper settlement. Men were sent out to be merchants, soldiers and workmen.  Some did return to England, but the mortality rate from disease was very high. Over 50 deaths are recorded in the India Office Records, approximately half of those named as Company employees in West Africa. Frequent requests were sent to London for more men to be sent to replace the dead and sick. Agent Lancelot Staveley was given permission to return home in 1658: ‘I find my strength & ability of body soe much decayed by my long stay here that itt is dangerous for me to remaine longer’.

Rivalry between European powers on the Guinea Coast was keen, with each nation striving to gain the friendship of influential Africans. The English negotiated with  John Cloice (or Claessen), for the right to occupy Cape Coast Castle after it was surrendered by the Dutch.  Cloice was a powerful African merchant who was de facto ruler of Fetu from 1656 until his death in 1662. Friendly relations with the Africans were vital for successful trading, but disputes did break out from time to time.  Company merchant Nicholas Herrick’s behaviour offended the King of Aguinea and the factory at Wyamba was looted as a result.

The East India Company directors gave clear instructions that their merchants were not to participate in the slave trade supplying African labour to West Indian plantations, saying that this had previously proved very much to the Company’s ‘prejudice’. However the directors ordered the shipment of black labourers from the Guinea Coast to serve the Company elsewhere.  A total of 35 men and women are recorded as sailing for St Helena, Pulo Run and Bantam, some taken from the complement of labourers kept at Fort Cormantine. In June 1661 the Company merchants wanted to send a pinnace to Arda to procure black labourers since Africans recruited locally tended to run away.  The directors responded by stating that Africans must be willing to serve the Company and were not to be coerced. Captain John Mallinson of the ship American was instructed to take to St Helena twenty of the Africans at Fort Cormantine who could speak English, but the Company merchants refused to send away any of their labourers: ‘they have all wives and children in the country and will never thrive after beinge transported, and the sending away of some will cause all the rest to run into the countrey’.

The East India Company was forced to withdraw from the Guinea trade when Charles II granted a charter to the Company of Royal Adventurers into Africa.  Jean Barbot’s journal of his voyage to Guinea 1678-1679 and a plan of Cape Coast Castle made for the Royal African Company in 1740 are currently on display in the British Library’s fascinating exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song which is open until 16 February 2016.

West Africa exhibition publicity banner

 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Margaret Makepeace, ‘English Traders on the Guinea Coast, 1657-1668: An analysis of the East India Company Archive’, History in Africa 16 (Atlanta, 1989).
Margaret Makepeace, Trade on the Guinea Coast 1657-1666: the correspondence of the English East India Company (Madison Wisconsin, 1991).

 

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