The American Slave Trade (Spears)/Chapter 2

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3511463The American Slave Trade (Spears) — Chapter 21907John Randolph Spears



David Lindsay as a Typical American Slaver of the Eighteenth Century — With a Rotten Ship that Showed Daylight Through Her Seams "All Round Her Bow Under Deck" He Reached the Slave Coast, Gathered His Cargo in Spite of Fevers, Deaths in the Crew, and Competition, and Finally Landed at Barbadoes with "All in Helth and Fatt" — An Astrologer's Chart for a Slaver's Voyage — Tales of the Slaver Vikings of Liverpool — Debt of Early American Commerce to the Slave Trade — John Paul Jones a Slaver.

Details of the characters of the men and of the ships that were engaged in the American slave-trade during the eighteenth century are lamentably hard to find in these days, but fortunately such as remain to us are sufficiently graphic and significant.

For a type of the Yankee slavers of the day we may very well choose Captain David Lindsay, who hailed from Newport, R. I., in the middle of the eighteenth century, when that town was one of the liveliest of American ports. His story has been preserved in a considerable number of letters and documents that were printed in the American Historical Record some years ago.

The earliest mention of Captain Lindsay's existence is found in a letter that comes literally from the sea — a letter that is dated "June ye 13 1740 at Sea Latt. 8° 30' N. Long. 39° 30' W."' It was written by one George Scott, himself a slaver captain, and it contains a variety of matters of interest to the slave-trade in addition to the references to Captain Lindsay. It reads ag follows:

"Gentlemen:—Meeting with this opportunity I was very glad to acquaint you of our miserable voyage. We left Anamaboe ye 8th of May, with most of our people and slaves sick. We have lost 29 slaves. Our purchase was 129. My negro Bonner is ded; the slaves we have left is now all recovered. We have five that swell'd and how it will be with them I can't tell. We have one-third of dry cargo left, and two bhds. rum. If I had staid there for it and sold I believe I should have lost all our slaves. I think to proceed to Antigo and fit ye sloop and take ye other trial on the coast. Tt will not do to give up for one bad bout. If I go directly back I'll sell ye rum for gold, if I gitt but twenty pence for it before I'll by slaves. The slaves that died, I believe there was one above twenty-two years old and none under fourteen. I have sent by Captain Lindsay sixteen ounces of gold, which is all. I wrote you by Capt. Kinnecutt, who sail'd ye 10th April. I have repented a hundred times ye bying of them dry goods. Had we laid out two thousand pound in rum bread and flour, it would [have] purchased more in value than all our dry goods. I have paid a good part of the wages. My serviss to all friends, pray excuse all blunders, for I am now aboard Capt. Lindsay and in haste to gitt aboard."

Observing, by the way, that Captain Scott was determined to "fit ye sloop and take ye other trial on the coast"—that he was a man of pluck himself—the references to Lindsay mean much to a sailor.

Scott was more than a month out from the African coast and yet had covered but thirty degrees of west longitude. Then along comes a vessel, commanded by Captain Lindsay, that is also bound west, and immediately Captain Scott not only writes a letter to the owners of his ship, which he gives to Lindsay to carry, but he also entrusts all the gold-dust he had obtained to the same hand.

Manifestly Lindsay must have had a fast ship, and he was a man known to make quicker voyages, at least, than Scott. What is of equal importance, Lindsay must have had a reputation as an honest man. Our introduction to Lindsay, though it comes from an unknown slaver and out of the sea, is decidedly in his favor.

The next reference to Lindsay in these documents is in 1752, when he was in command of the brigantine Sanderson, belonging to William Johnson, of Newport, R. I. The register of the vessel has been preserved, and reads in part:

"The Brigantine Sanderson, whereof David Lindsay is at present master, being a square stern'd vessel of the burthen of about forty tons, was built at Portsmouth, in the colony aforesaid, in the year Seventeen Hundred and Forty-five, and that this deponent at present is sole owner thereof, and that no Foreigner, directly or indirectly, hath any share or part or interest therein." William Johnson.

Not only was she small—there are few, if any, of the Hudson River brick schooners that will not carry more cargo—she was a cheaply built vessel, as appears from another document which shows that during the year she was built she was offered for sale for £450, when the cost of building a first-class ship varied from £24 to £27 per ton register.

Finding no sale for her she was kept going, and in the year 1752, with Lindsay in command, she went to the West Indies for molasses, whence Lindsay wrote home that she was "tite as yett" She was probably still "tite" on her return to Newport, for she was at once loaded for Africa, where she arrived in due time, and it is then that we learn what kind of pluck Lindsay had. In a letter dated "Anamaboe 28th Feby 1753"? he says:

"Gentlemen:—This third of mine to you and now I am to Lett you know my proceed'gs sense my last, Dated 3d Jany, & I have Gott 13 or 14 hhds of rum yet Left abord, and God noes when I shall Gett clear of it. Ye traid is so dull it is actually a noof to make a man creasey. My cheefe mate after making four or five Trips in the boat was taken sick & Remains very bad yett: then I sent Mr. Taylor & he Gott not well & three more of my men has been sick. James Dixon is not well now and wors than yt have wore out my small cable also oakam & have been oblige to buy one heare, for I thought the concequance of yr Intrust on bord this vesiel was Two great to Rusk without a cable to trust, therefore I begg you not Blaim me in so doeing. I should be glad I cood come Rite home with my slaves, for my vesiel will not last to proceed farr. We can see daylight al round her bow under deck. However I hope She will carry me safe home once more, I need not inlarge. Heare lyes Captains hamlet, James Jepson, Carpenter, Butler & Lindsay. Gardner is dun. firginson is Gon to Leward. All these is Rum Ships. butler is in a brig with 150 hhds from Barbadoes, belongs to Cape Coast Castle. I've sent a Small boye to my wife. I conclude with my best Endeavors for Intrust. Gentlemen, your faithful Servant at com'md David Lindsay. "N. B. on the whole, I never had so much Trouble in all my voiges, I shall rite to barbadoes in a few days."

Mr. Taylor was the second officer. Both first and second were in their bunks, and three of the men in

See page 52.
the forecastle were sick. Terribly short-handed, with slaves in the hold likely to rise up and strike for freedom in case they learned this fact, and with the probability that others of the crew would take the fever, Captain Lindsay found himself in a serious strait, but, worse than all that, "he could see daylight al round her bow under deck."

And yet Captain Lindsay came up from that fearsome look at the open seams of his vessel and went on loading her for the long voyage across the Atlantic.

If we will but look at the case in the light of that day the courage, the fortitude, of the stout-hearted old skipper was inspiring. Nor shall we fail to observe his thoughtfulness for the wife that would hear of the condition of the rotten ship with quaking fears,

So it is with a feeling of relief, and with increased admiration for his pluck, that we find a letter which shows that he reached Barbadoes safely after a most perilous voyage; our admiration is all the greater because the perils are described so simply. The letter is as follows:

"Barbadoes, June 17th, N. S. 1753.
"Gentie'n:—These are to acqt of my arivel heare ye Day before yesterday in 10 weeks from Anamaboe. I met on my passage 22 days of very squally winds & continued Rains, so that it beat my sails alto pieces, soe that I was oblige Several Days to have sails onbent to mend them. The vesiel, Likwise is all open Round her bows under deck. For these Reasons am oblige to enter my vesiel heare and have valued myself on Mr, Elias Meriveal, who is to despatch me in three or four wecks' Time. My slaves is not landed yet: they are 56 in number for owners, all in helth & fatt. I lost one small gall. Ive got 40 oz gould dust & eight or nine hundred weight Maligabar pepper for owners.
"Not to Inlarge, shall rite in a day or 2. We are all well on bord. Mr. Sanford died the 3d day of March, & one John Wood who went in ye boat with him, died ye 3d of April, at sea. I left Capt. Hamblet at Cape Coast, sick. His slaves had rose & they lost the best of what they had. Heare is no slaves at market now."

The reader who knows the sea will fully appreciate the condition of that tiny ship during those "22 days of very squally winds "—the tiny ship that was "open all Hound her bows under deck."

For she was short-handed through deaths and sickness, and yet her pumps had to be kept going during all that time, while several days were spent in repairing sails that the winds had blown to pieces.

Nor does this letter tell us of fortitude alone, for it is a significant fact that Lindsay "lost one small gall" only, while all the rest were landed "in helth & fatt." They had been cared for in kindly fashion. The facts seems to show that Lindsay was superior to the average slaver of his day. It was then a lawful trade, and we have testimony that it was "very genteel." More important still, it was a trade that, more than all others, taxed the trading ability, the patience, the skill as a seaman and the fortitude of the men engaged in it; also, it was, when successfully carried on, the most profitable branch of commerce. Naturally the most capable men of the sea were called to this trade. In short, Lindsay was a type of the race of Yankee slaver captains.

With all these facts in mind it is amusing to turn to one other characteristic of this hard-headed old slaver. Before starting on this eventful voyage he must needs consult an astrologer, or conjurer, as the seers of the time were often called, to learn the day and hour when the ship must sail in order to have all

a page from a slaver's ship records 1752

the kindly influences of the heavenly bodies in her favor. Fortunately the chart which he obtained has been preserved, and we know from it that "D. L." sailed "for Guinea at 11.32 o'clock on Aug. 22d, 1752."

Of the English captains engaged in the American trade there was Captain "Billy" Boates, also called "William Boates, Esq., whose extensive transactions in the commercial world rendered him a most useful member of society," to quote an obituary notice of the man from a Liverpool paper. Captain Boates was a waif. His mother or her friends cast him adrift in a Liverpool harbor boat a few hours after his birth. He was picked up, reared in an orphan asylum, apprenticed to a ship master, and then began a career that showed the kind of stock from which he sprang. From the forecastle to the after-cabin required but three steps easily taken. From the cabin to the counting house was a step longer than the three preceding taken together; but he made the leap.

In the Knight he sailed from Anamaboe on Januuary 6, 1758, with three hundred and ninety-eight negroes, of whom, after a voyage that lasted less than six weeks, he landed three hundred and sixty at Jamaica. That was a voyage worth recording for its speed alone; but off the Leeward Islands the Knight fell in with a French privateer that carried "twelve carriage guns and full of men, which attempted to board him several times."

The odds against Captain "Billy" were tremendous, but what he lacked in men and arms he made up by his magnificent pluck. The privateersmen swarmed to his deck, "but never a Dago that got over the rail lived to return."

More famous still as a fighter was Captain Hugh Crow, the one-eyed slaver of Liverpool, "one of the bravest, shrewdest, quaintest and most humorous old sea-dogs that ever breathed"; but he was of a later date than Lindsay or Boates, being, in fact, captain of the last lawful Liverpool slaver. One would like to tell his whole story, but space can be spared only to say that when in the slaver Mary he was attacked at night by two sloops-of-war, each of which was of far superior force. Captain Hugh supposed they were Frenchmen, and, calling his men to quarters, for six hours fought off the determined attacks of both meno-war. And then when daylight came he found they were British sloops at that. They had supposed that he was French. All things considered, that was the most splendid battle known to the history of "peaceful commerce."

Indeed as the most important branch of British commerce—the commerce of the new England as well as the old England—the slave-trade became the chief nursery of British seamen. The instincts inherited from viking ancestors were fostered and encouraged there. It must be frankly admitted that not only did the boasted prosperity of both English and American over-sea commerce have its foundation in the slave-trade, but also that the magnificent qualities of the Anglo-Saxon naval seamen of the eighteenth century were nourished in the tiny traders, "of an average of seventy-five tons burthen" from Liverpool, of an average of forty tons from Newport and Boston, that went forth to face the unavoidable hurricanes of the tropical seas and to meet, yardarm to yardarm, the war-ships, privateers, and pirates that were ever on the lookout for such rich prizes as the slavers. The fact is the seamen who manned our ships in the War of the Revolution, and by their pluck and skill captured the munitions of war that enabled Washington to win at last, were trained on the decks of slavers. And John—Paul Jones, one of the "true sea-kings, whose claim to the title lies in the qualities of the head as well as of the heart," came through the forecastle of the slaver King George to hoist the first American naval ensign above the quarter-deck of the first American flag-ship.