October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. We begin with the start of the Atlantic slave trade and the first point on the ‘triangle’, where slaves were captured and exchanged for goods.
The first Englishman to definitely have traded in Africans was John Hawkins, who made three voyages to Sierra Leone between 1562 and 1567, transporting a total of 1,200 inhabitants to Hispaniola and St Domingue (Dominican Republic and Haiti). Initially, English interests in Africa lay with produce rather than slaves, however with the introduction and growth of plantation slavery in America slaves became more valuable and the trade began to grow.
The trade grew rapidly in the 17th century, with Portugal and Britain becoming the two most ‘successful’ slave-trading countries, accounting for about 70% of all Africans transported to the Americas. Britain was the most dominant between 1640 and 1807 when the British slave trade was abolished.
From 1660, the British Crown passed various acts and granted charters to enable companies to settle, administer and exploit British interests on the West Coast of Africa and to supply slaves to the American colonies. In 1672 The Royal African Company was formed in order to regulate the English slave trade, operating with a legal monopoly over the 2,500 miles of African coast from the Sahara to the Cape of Good Hope. The company was financed by royal, aristocratic and commercial capital. The monopolies of British companies were however unpopular with other traders and planters, who complained about restricted rights, limited supplies and high prices. Opposition from planters, traders and manufacturers was so strong that in 1698 the monopoly was removed.
In addition to the African companies, other companies set up under Royal charters were involved in the slave trade. For example, the East India Company was involved in the East African slave trade but also collected slaves from the West Coast of Africa for its settlements in South and East Africa and in India and Asia.
The trade would reach its height during the 18th century, particularly following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which concluded the War of the Spanish Succession and awarded Britain the 'Asiento' or sole right to import an unlimited number of enslaved people to the Spanish Caribbean colonies for 30 years.
For the British slave traders during this time, trading African slaves was a three-legged journey called the 'triangular trade'. Firstly, West African slaves were exchanged for trade goods such as brandy and guns, they were then taken via the ‘Middle Passage’ across the Atlantic for sale in the West Indies and North America, and finally, a cargo of rum and sugar taken from the colonies, was taken back to England to sell.
The slaves were acquired from two main sources; British traders or local tribal chiefs. The first source was the smaller of the two with British traders who operated in Africa ambushing and capturing African’s in their home settlements. The second more significant source was undertaken through British ‘Factors’ who lived full-time in Africa and bought slaves from local tribal chiefs. The chiefs would raid a rival village and sell their captured enemies as slaves. With the demand for slaves increasing, Western African powers were lured into the lucrative trade with nations such as the Oyo Empire (Yoruba), Kong Empire, Imamate of Futa Jallon, Imamate of Futa Toro, Kingdom of Koya, Kingdom of Khasso, Kingdom of Kaabu, Fante Confederacy, Ashanti Confederacy, and the kingdom of Dahomey participating. These powers relied on military power and would undertake raiding parties into the interior of West Africa and capture indigenous people.
Once captured the slaves were chained together in lines called coffles and marched to the coast being held in prisons called “factories”. From this point they would then be traded for cloth, brandy, copper, guns, ammunition and the like before being loaded onto ships to be transported across the Atlantic.
There was however resistance to the slave trade, with some African rulers refusing to participate and even occasionally attacking British slave ships and setting the slaves free.
In our next blog we will look at “Middle Passage” - where the slaves were shipped across the Atlantic.
These scenes was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Over the last few weeks we've been looking at some of the events which lay behind The Mayflower leaving England for America on September 6th 1620. Over the next couple of weeks we are bringing you a series of short biographies on some of the ship's crew members, beginning last week with Captain, Cristopher Jones. This week we will introduce you to the Mayflower's Master’s Mate and pilot, John Clarke.
John Clarke was the Mayflower’s Master’s Mate / pilot, an important role that saw him responsible for overseeing ship operations, and navigation when the captain was not on duty. He was also responsible for steering ships in and out of berths, through hazardous conditions, and boat traffic.
Clarke remained around Jamestown for around forty days, making himself useful by piloting ships in the area carrying various stores. It was while engaged in this work however that he encountered a Spanish vessel and following a brief confrontation was taken prisoner and transported to Havana in Cuba. He would be held in Havana for around two years, then being transferred to Spain where he was in custody for five years. In 1616, he was finally freed in a prisoner exchange with England. In 1618 he was once more back on the other side of the Atlantic, piloting a ship called the Falcon, which was based in Jamestown. He returned to England in 1620 and was shortly after hired as the pilot of the Mayflower.
The Mayflower reached North America in November 1620 and while the crew of the Mayflower had hoped to return to England straight away, sickness meant they had to stay moored off the coast until sufficient crew were fit again. In December, the passengers of the Mayflower were shuttling in and around the shoreline of Duxbury and Plymouth, using a small shallop as transportation. On one occasion a storm came up quickly and threatened the small boat, with Clarke serving as captain. The crew spotted a small island off the coast of Duxbury and rowed for it. Back on solid ground, the Pilgrims and crew paused to give thanks for their deliverance from the storm. For his part in saving those on board, the Pilgrims named the island Clark’s Island.
Soon Clarke decided to settle in America and headed south to Virginia where he would attempt to make a home in Jamestown. Jamestown was a vastly different society to the ones the Pilgrims were trying to create in New England and relations were approaching breaking point with the local Native American tribes. Matters came to a head in 1622 when Chief Opchanacanough and his Powhatan Confederacy attempted to eliminate the English colony once and for all. On the morning of March 22nd, they attacked outlying plantations and communities up and down the James River in what became known as the Indian Massacre of 1622. More than 300 settlers were killed in the attack, about a third of the colony's English-speaking population. Jamestown was spared only through a timely warning by a Virginia Indian employee. There was not enough time to spread the word to the outposts. Of the 6,000 or so people who came to the settlement between 1608 and 1624, only 3,400 survived. Clarke was among the dead.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Simon Pickard as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Over the last few weeks we've been looking at some of the events which lay behind The Mayflower leaving England for America on September 6th 1620. But who was responsible for sailing her? The number of the crew is uncertain with estimates ranging between 30 and 50. Best estimates suggest the crew was made up of around 14 Officers, and the remainder, however many they were, were seaman. We know little about most of the crew but a few are known to us. Therefore over the next couple of weeks we will bring you a series of short biographies on these crew members, beginning with the Captain, Cristopher Jones.
By his mid-thirties Jones had become a somewhat prominent citizen of the town and was named as a burgess of Harwich in a new town charter granted by King James. Jones was coming into his own about this time, and with an assist from a bounty, he built a 240-ton, larger than average ship of his own which he named after his second wife – Josian. Jones used the ship for trading voyages as far south as to Bordeaux in France.
It is not until August 1609 that Jones is first recorded as master and part owner of the Mayflower. At this time the ship was chartered for a voyage from London to Drontheim (Trondheim) in Norway, and back to London. Due to bad weather, on her return the ship lost an anchor and made short delivery of her cargo of herrings. Litigation was involved and was proceeding in 1612.
In about 1611 Jones decided to leave Harwich and moved south to London, where he made his home in Rotherhithe parish, a mile downstream on the Thames from the Tower of London. Records have the Mayflower in the Thames in London in 1613 – once in July and again in October and November. Records of 1616 again state Jones' ship was in the Thames and the noting of wine on board suggests the ship had recently been on a voyage to France, Spain, Portugal, the Canaries, or some other wine country. Indeed, up until Jones was commissioned by the Pilgrims to sail to North America, the Mayflower appears to have made many trips to transport wine back from Europe, which would be exchanged for goods such as wool.
In addition to wine and wool, with Jones as captain the Mayflower transported hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops and vinegar to Norway and he may have taken the ship whaling in the North Atlantic in the Greenland area. Jones had traveled to Mediterranean Sea ports, being then part owner with Nichols, Robert Child, Thomas Short. In 1620 Capt. Jones and Robert Child still owned their quarter shares in the ship, and it was from them that Thomas Weston chartered her in the summer of 1620 to undertake the Pilgrim voyage.
Neither Jones nor the Mayflower had completed a transatlantic voyage previously and it may have been deterirating trade conditions in Europe that pushed him towards undertaking such a task. Of course we know the voyage was a success and Jones and his entire crew remained in North America over the winter of 1620/21. Originally he had planned to return to England as soon as the Pilgrims found a settlement site, but members of his ship's crew were ravaged by the same illnesses that overcame the Mayflower passengers, and so he had to remain in Plymouth Harbor "till he saw his men began to recover".
The Mayflower remained in Plymouth Harbor through the winter and then on April 5th, with her empty hold ballasted by stones from the Plymouth Harbor shore, Jones set sail for England. The Mayflower made excellent time on her return voyage back to England. The westerly winds that had buffeted the ship on departure pushed her along going home and she arrived at her home port in Rotherhithe on the Thames on May 5th 1621 – less than half the time it had taken her to sail to America.
By the summer of 1621 Jones had resumed his former trading voyages to continental Europe. But by this time it had become evident that the severe deprivations of the transatlantic voyage had badly undermined his health. He died in early March 1622 at about age 52 after coming back from a voyage to France. St Mary The Virgin in Rotherhithe records his burial as March 5th in their churchyard.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Having married Prince Phillip of Spain in July 1554, Mary I’s priorities turned to the task of producing an heir, thus preventing the ascension of her half-sister Elizabeth to the English throne and the return of England to a Protestant state. This was going to be no easy task, especially in the 16th century when the death of mother and / or child was a fairly common results of childbirth.
Anyway, three months into the marriage positive signs of a pregnancy began, at least positive enough for her doctors and most of the court to believe she was with child. These signs included gaining weight and a swelling stomach, which were usually considered to be pretty good indicators of a pregnancy. Recognising the risk to Mary’s life, Parliament passed an act that would make Phillip regent in the event of her death.
In late April 1555, Mary said that she felt the child move in her womb and so the Court set about in preparation for the coming child. Elizabeth was released from house arrest and called to court as a witness to the birth, while thanksgiving services were held in the diocese of London were held after false rumours that Mary had given birth to a son spread across Europe.
However, rumours were all they were and Mary did not give birth. Mary expected to give birth in May and so preparations continued with the hiring of care workers, the preparation of a birth chamber and nursery and the creation of an intricately carved cradle. Letters announcing the birth were written, with the date and name of the child to be filled in once he or she had been delivered. The expectant couple made final preparations and moved to Hampton Court where they wanted the child to be born.
By June, with still no sign of a baby, doubts about the pregnancy began to spread. In July her abdomen receded and Spanish ambassador Giovanni Michieli joked that the pregnancy as more likely to "end in wind rather than anything else". Michieli's bad jokes aside, unfortunately for Mary the pregnancy turned out to be false. The Queen took the news badly and considered it to be to be "God's punishment" for her having "tolerated heretics" in her realm. Soon after Phillip left England to command his armies against France in Flanders and Mary was left apparently heartbroken and depressed. Michieli, demonstrating that he could do more than tell poorly timed jokes, was apparently touched by the queen's grief and wrote that she was "extraordinarily in love" with her husband, and was disconsolate at his departure.
Elizabeth remained at court until October, apparently restored to favour. In the absence of any children, Philip was concerned that one of the next claimants to the English throne after his sister-in-law was the Queen of Scots, who was betrothed to the Dauphin of France. Philip persuaded his wife that Elizabeth should marry his cousin Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, to secure the Catholic succession and preserve the Habsburg interest in England, but Elizabeth refused to comply and parliamentary consent was unlikely.
On this day in 1620 the Mayflower left Plymouth for North America, carrying on board 102 passengers and 25 to 30 crew members
Having first attempted to make the crossing in August the Mayflower had been forced to dock due to her companionship, the Speedwell, repeatedly springing leaks. It was here that the Speedwell would be left, here condition too poor to make a successful voyage likely.
Now in September, western gales turned the North Atlantic into a dangerous place to sail, yet the Mayflower left port on what William Bradford called "a prosperous wind". They could ill afford to stay longer; provisions were already quite low when departing Southampton, and they became lower still by delays of more than a month.
At about 180 tons, the Mayflower was considered a smaller cargo ship and so the 130 or so people on board would be forced to endure extremely crowded conditions. This would be her first transatlantic trip, having previously been used to ship wine and clothing between England and Bordeaux. She was not in particularly good shape either and would be sold for scrap four years after her Atlantic Journey. The stakes for both passengers and crew was therefore very high.
In our next blog on the voyage, we will look at what life aboard the Mayflower was like for its passengers and crew.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Recently we went back to the events leading to the Mayflower’s voyage and looked at how the Separatists decided to leave England. The Separatists, a group of Puritan Christians who wanted to see the reformed church in England go through further reform, were having to meet in secret, which was against the law in England. This led to their persecution and a number of members from the Scrooby congregation leaving England for Holland where there was a greater level of religious tolerance.
In 1607 the congregation from Scrooby, led by John Robinson, had travelled by foot the 60 miles to Boston and after being betrayed to the authorities by the captain of the ship they were going to escape on they spent a short time in the cells of Boston’s Guildhall. There is however no record of any convictions of offence. The second escape attempt wasn’t much more successful. Attempting to leave via the coastal town of Immingham in Lincolnshire, the Sepratists attempted to board a Dutch ship, Hoy. However, with the men aboard the ship the boat carrying the woman and children got stuck in the tidal mud. As they tried to free themselves a group of armed horseman came to seized them. The captain of the Hoy panicked and fled, leaving the woman and children to be captured and sent to prison.
Meanwhile the men on Hoy sailing to Holland were not having an easy time and were caught in a North Sea storm. The storm was so severe that even the crew came below board, leaving the ship to its fate. The ship was blown of course ending up near Norway. Eventually the men arrived in Holland. Back in England the woman and children were set free following protests by the locals and they later joined the men in Holland. William Brewster, who would become a senior colonist in North America, arrived in Holland in autumn 1608 with another future Mayflower passenger, John Robinson, following a few months later.
Initially the Separatists set up their new lives in Amsterdam. However, there was tension in the Separatist church with different factions falling out over matters of belief. In 1609 Brewster and Robinsion applied for residency in Leiden. They were welcomed in the religiously tolerant city and were able to find work there through their skills as textile workers. After a few years they were able to collect enough money to buy a building in the south-west area of Leiden near the Pieterskerk/St Peters Church. They used the building as accommodation and a meeting hall and built a row of single cottages for their poorer members, which became known as Engelse poort (English Alley) and dubbed by the locals as ‘Stink Alley’.
Along with their textile work, Brewster and Robinson a worked spreading their views, holding lectures and publishing respectively. Much of the Separatists literature made its way to England and Scotland when in 1618 he published De regimine Ecclesianae Scoticanae, a piece of work by Scottish minister David Calderwood. Due to the critical nature towards King James VI of Scotland and I of England and his government of the Kirk, King James ordered an international manhunt for the writer and publisher. Brewster and Calderwood went underground.
Furthermore, the religious tolerance that initially attracted them to Leiden began to trouble them. The Separatists disapproved of Leiden’s officials turning a blind eye to the presence of a small Catholic community as well as the city’s lax observance of Sabbath observations. In an attempt to counter this within their community they banned their youngsters marrying outside the congregation. This led the authorities to ban the Separatists from carrying out their own marriages. This led some of the Separatists to believe that they had fled one set of persecutions for another. At the same time there was a growing threat of war recommencing with Spain as the Twelve Year Truce was due to end in 1621.
This combination of factors led the Separatists to reconsider life in Leiden. England was not an option and so they looked further afield to North America. The search for a ship was on. Yet despite their growing dissatisfaction with Holland, their time in Leiden would influence their ideas about their future society. For example, they bought to civil marriage to America, which was a Dutch invention brought in to allow those outside the state church to be married.
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