THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION ban on the slave trade went into effect January 1, 1808 and at that point, Bristol, Rhode Island had "outstripped Newport" as Rhode Island's slave trading capital.1
Of course, that ban was on the previously legal slave trade. Illegal slave trading would continue.
Many New England ports along with New York traded in African slaves most of the nineteenth century, which included the War Between the States and afterward. As W. E. B. DuBois wrote in The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870,2 Boston and New York were the largest slave trading ports on the planet in 1862, a year into the war.
John Brown of Providence, Rhode Island, and Captain James DeWolf of Bristol are "two of America's most audacious slave merchants."3
Brown entered Congress in 1799, a few years after he became the first American indicted for violating the federal government's earliest attempt to restrict the slave trade. DeWolf served a term in the Senate, even though, during his years as a slave ship captain, he had been accused of drowning a female slave infected with smallpox.4
Breaking slave trading laws was routine. They were viewed as "annoyances made to be broken."
Captains routinely ordered sick slaves thrown overboard, almost as a matter of hygiene, to keep them from contaminating the whole ship.5
It was rumored that one of DeWolf's captains "cut off the hands of two sick slaves who were clinging to his ship's railing."6
John Brown, who was also a fiery Revolutionary War patriot, founded Brown University with his brothers:
John himself laid the cornerstone of its first building. His still-standing home on the Brown campus in Providence was once described as 'the most magnificent and elegant private mansion' in America.7
The patriot Brown "led one of the first violent acts of rebellion, the 1772 attack on the British customs schooner Gaspee that patrolled Narragansett Bay."8
Slave trading was full of risk and many traders went out of business.
A Brown ship, the Sally, left behind the fullest records of any American slave ship from her voyage of "September 1764 to October 1765."
For that voyage, the Browns had chosen Esek Hopkins as captain. Hopkins would later command, for a while, "the Continental Navy, flying a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag as his ensign. Before the war, he commanded privateers...".9
The Sally was "loaded with 17,000 gallons of rum" and "goods to barter, including crates of spermaceti candles; a small armory of muskets and cutlasses; and 40 sets of manacles and shackles." She needed to return with 140 slaves to make a profit.10
Hopkins worked on commission like many captains. As captain of the Sally:
The Browns promised he could have 10 'privilege' slaves to sell himself, 4 more slaves for every 100 he delivered to market, and 5 percent of the gross sales. . . .
The Browns also ordered Hopkins to set aside, if available, 4 healthy young slaves 'about 15 years old' for their own use.11
Rhode Island slave ships were smaller than European ships but they "poked into river villages and shopped at the slave 'factories,' or warehouses, strung along nearly 2,000 miles of coast. At each stop, bribes or gifts had to be dispensed before the real bargaining for slaves could begin."12
Hopkins got to Africa in mid-November 1764 and immediately had trouble. Slave captains try to get away from the African coast and the high risk of disease but:
Hopkins lingered. On May 1, he recorded the first death of a slave, a boy. A few weeks later, a woman slave hanged herself below deck. Another 20 slaves died, presumably of natural causes, before Hopkins finally escaped the coast in late August with a cargo of about 170 Africans.13
A few days later the slaves revolted despite Hopkins and all captains knowing "from experience that the danger of revolt was greatest when the ship was close to the coast and slaves still hoped they could regain their homeland."14
Slaves rose on us was obliged [to] fire on them and destroyed 8 and several more wounded badly 1 thye & ones ribs broke."15
In October, "Hopkins landed at Antigua after stopping at Barbados" and reported that "half his slaves had died." Some had drowned themselves and others starved themselves. The 90 survivors were in a "'very sickly & disordered manner.'"
The voyage lost a fortune. One friend "wrote that the voyage was the most disastrous he'd every heard of by a Providence vessel."16
Insurance policies covered some things: "A policy written for a DeWolf ship covered losses from 'risks of the Seas, Men or War, Fires, Enemies, Pirates, Rovers, Thieves, Jettisons . . . Captures at Sea by American cruisers and Insurrection of slaves but not of common mortality.'17
Loading a slave ship was dangerous:
[S]hips waited at anchor for small boats to ferry their cargoes from shore. The loading process could be brutal and dangerous. Africans who balked on the beach might be whipped. Slaves and captors alike drowned in heavy surf that capsized their ferries.18
On board, slaves might be stripped and branded but:
They had to be brought above deck to eat . . . . Meals were cooked in enormous vats that fueled a common African fear: many had heard that white people were cannibals.19
The African coast was called "'the White Man's Grave'" because of "smallpox, dysentery, malaria, ophthalmia (an infection that caused blindness)" and other diseases.20
Slaves became depressed and "had to be forced to exercise and sometimes even to eat. Their aerobics in chains became a ritual 'dance' practiced to the very end of the slave trade."21
A slave attempting to starve himself might be "force-fed, their mouths pried open with a speculum oris---a plierslike instrument."
These things prove the greater brutality of the slave trader who, unlike the master, did not have to live with his slaves but just deliver them and collect his profits.
Thomas Jefferson in a draft of the Declaration of Independence had protested the slave trade and stated that King George III had forced it on the colonies. Jefferson wrote that the English king had:
'waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's [sic] most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.'22
That language was not in the final rendition of the Declaration of Independence "in deference to proponents of slavery" such as New England and New York slave traders, and those who wanted to buy slaves for labor.23
John Brown testified in Congress that Americans should not leave the enormous profits from slave trading to Europeans:
'Mr. B said our distilleries and manufactories were all lying idle for want of extended commerce. He had been well-informed that on those [African] coasts New England rum was much preferred to the best Jamaica spirits, and would fetch a better price. Whey then should it not be sent there, and a profitable return be made?'24
Brown had famously said:
'there was no more crime in bringing off a cargo of slaves than in bringing off a cargo of jackasses.'25
The premier historian of the Rhode Island slave merchants wrote that "'in the annals of the American slave trade, the deWolfs are without peer."
The DeWolfs launches 88 slave voyages between 1784 and 1807, four times more than their closest Rhode Island rivals. DeWolfs personally commanded many of these voyages. Captain James DeWolf is supposed to have made a farewell voyage in 1807 aboard the Andromache, the pride of the DeWolf fleet.26
The DeWolfs "ran an integrated business, shipping molasses from their Cuban sugar plantations to their distilleries in Bristol." They founded a bank and insurance company to support their slave trading.27
They set up an office in Charleston in 1804 with a young DeWolf running it. When Congress voted to end the slave trade:
the DeWolfs rushed 18 ships filled with Africans to South Carolina alone in just seven months. The Traffic became so heavy that Charleston newspapers ran articles worrying about the health threat from dead slaves floating in the harbor.28
Rhode Island and New England hypocrisy was on full display in 1820 when they opposed admitting Missouri as a slave state. James DeWolf was then "newly elected to the Senate" and had to listen to South Carolina Senator William Smith confront him and set the record straight:
'The people of Rhode Island have lately shown bitterness against slaveholders, and especially against the admission of Missouri . . . This, however, cannot, I believe, be the temper or opinion of the majority, from the late election of James deWolf as a member of this house, as he has accumulated an immense fortune in the slave trade.'29
Smith went on:
[I] would show the Senate that those people who most deprecate the evils of slavery and traffic in human flesh, when a profitable market can be found, can sell human flesh with as easy a conscience as they sell other articles.'30
Today, New England's massive participation in the slave trade is deliberately hidden so they can falsely claim to be the heroes of American history, though so much of their history is a lie.
Senator Smith, when he exposed New England hypocrisy in the United States Senate, also
submitted records he'd collected from the Charleston customshouse for the years 1804 to 1808. The 'black catalog,' as he called it, showed that of 12,000 slaves imported on U.S. ships, nearly 8,000 were shipped on Rhode Island vessels.31
Southerners in antebellum times correctly pointed out that the British, then Northerners, especially New Englanders and New Yorkers, had forced slavery on the South.
DeWolf helped with a treaty that "allowed the British and U.S. navies to jointly patrol the African coast for illegal slave ships." It also forbid the British from searching American ships so, by 1860, the year before the war:
the fact that the British could not board U.S. ships helped give New York City the freedom to become the criminal headquarters of a massive illegal slave trade to markets in Brazil and Cuba.32
It was not just New York but also Boston and other New England ports that W. E. B. DuBois said, in 1862, were the largest slave trading ports on the planet.
New Englanders were always clever slave traders and smugglers from the colonial era on but "Rhode Islanders were masters." They
anticipated many of the illegal slave traders' methods. They disguised their ships with foreign flags and landed illicit cargoes in remote coves. They bought back confiscated ships for a fraction of their value.33
The slave trade made the DeWolfs, New England and New York rich and powerful but in 1820 "Congress passed a law mandating the death penalty for those trafficking in African slaves."
As a result, by 1825, George DeWolf went bankrupt as did the economy of Bristol, Rhode Island, itself.
Newport, Rhode Island followed.
Slave trading with its enormous profits was in the blood of New Englanders. As customs collector and signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Ellery, wrote:
'An Ethiopian could as soon change his skin as a Newport merchant could be induced to change so lucrative a trade.'34
A Comprehensive Review of
How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery
by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank
of The Hartford Courant
Chapter Six: New York's Slave Pirates
(Click Here to go to last week's blog article:
Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant - A Comprehensive Review by Gene Kizer, Jr., Part Eight, Chapter Five: Newport Rum, African Slaves, Part One)
(Scroll down for:
Complicity, Actual Citation from Book)
1 Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (New York: Ballantine Books, Copyright 2005 by The Hartford Courant Company), 100-101.
2 W.E.B. DuBois, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870 (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), 178-80.
3 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 101.
4 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 101-102.
5 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 102.
8 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 101.
9 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 104.
10 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 103.
15 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 105.
18 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 105-106.
19 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 106-107.
20 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 107.
22 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 108-109.
23 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 109.
25 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 110.
26 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 111.
29 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 112.
33 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 112-113.
34 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 113.
Actual Citation from Book