Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Revolt of the Marlborough: The Uprising

Part one of the story Revolt of the Marlborough can be found here.

Three days at sea after casting off from the coast of Africa, the crew and cargo of Captain Robert Codd's Marlborough were only just settling into a routine. Over three hundred enslaved people from Bonny (in modern day Nigeria) and the Gold Coast were confined aboard the ship, the ninth such voyage for Captain Codd.

It was October 14, 1752. An awning had been stretched over the deck to provide shade to the crew and possibly the enslaved as well. Codd was a slaver and used to the constancy of death among the enslaved, but he knew that his money would be made by delivering as many healthy slaves as possible.

To keep them presentable enough to be sold in the West Indies, Codd ordered that his human cargo be washed. Most of the crew took to the task of washing the enslaved with tubs and swabs on deck. A few were set aside as sentries behind the barricado.[1]

Precisely what happened next is unclear.

The first newspaper reports of the uprising state that "Capt. Codd had indulged 28 Gold Coast Negroes with their Liberty on Deck, for the Sake of their Assistance to navigate the Ship." There are many parts of this initial report that directly contradict the single eyewitness account that survives, and it is clearly unreliable. Codd, with his decade of experience in the slave trade, seems unlikely to have let nearly thirty enslaved men behind the barricado while keeping his sentries facing the opposite direction and the rest of his crew busily employed. It is, however, the only explanation of how the enslaved got to the other side of the barricado that survives. Perhaps there were only a few enslaved men on the quarterdeck behind the barricado, as that same newspaper report mentions that they "behaved, for a considerable Time, in a very Civil manner, and quite unsuspected of any Design of Mischief."[2]

"The Gold Coast slaves rose upon the Quarter Deck," John Harris, a young sailor, later wrote, "and alarm'd the whole Ship, knock'd the Centuries [sentries] down at the Barricado, and toss'd them over board."[3] Given sailors' notorious lack of swimming skill, and the sharks well known to follow slave ships, the sentries were as good as dead.[4]

"Representation of an Insurrection on board a Slave-Ship," Carl Wadstrom, 1787,
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and University of Virginia

Captain Codd was the next target. Seizing a blunderbuss, perhaps from one of the sentries now in the ocean, one of the Gold Coast men struck the captain with the butt end. Despite being knocked down, Codd managed to recover and escape into the rigging making his way to the fore top further. How precisely he escaped from the quarterdeck in the stern to the fore top near the bow is unclear, but it could be that he was never actually on the quarterdeck, and in fact was supervising his crew in the washing.

The rest of the crew climbed up onto the awning itself to escape the slaves who rose up on their side of the now useless barricado. Armed with "but an empty Musket and a few Platform Boards," two more of the crew were killed (presumably by the guns the enslaved had secured) before the survivors climbed aloft to the main and mizzen tops.

Unable to easily get at the men aloft, the enslaved turned their attention to the crew left on deck. Two men climbed into the punt and tried to make their escape, but were shot and beaten to death. After killing the crew below, the men in the tops became targets to the enslaved once more. When the third mate was shot through the thigh, he descended the ratlines to the deck "and relied on their Mercy, when four of them cut him Limb from Limb."

The remaining crew crawled to the fore top and cross trees, sheltering there from the incessant fire of the men below. For two hours they endured musket fire, with John Harris himself having taken two musketballs. He later wrote, "I pass'd it off as light as I could; for if I had then behav'd otherwise, they would have thrown me over-board, as they did the rest of the Wounded."

Eventually the firing ceased. Maybe cooler heads prevailed, noting that the crew would be necessary to help sail the ship back to the coast, or that such a heavy rate of fire would exhaust what ammunition they had.

Calling out to the survivors, the Gold Coast slaves promised mercy if they came down. Notably, they called to Harris by name in promising safety. Captain Codd did not descend, either because he didn't trust the promise of mercy, or that it was never offered to him in particular.

Of the thirteen or so surviving crew, four were thrown into the sea, and the rest preserved.[4]

"Misery," Thomas Rowlandson, 1786, Royal Collection Trust.

It is easy to see why Harris viewed the revolt as "barbarous" and "cruel." Shot, stabbed, mutilated, beaten, and tossed into the sea, the crew of thirty five were reduced to about a mere nine survivors.

But this shocking violence was not random nor unprovoked. The sentries and ship's officers were the ones specifically targeted, with the greatest violence being brought down on the captain, surgeon, and mates. These were the men most directly responsible for the torture and violence that defined the slave trade, and formed the spear-point of societal efforts to reduce Africans to inhuman commodities.

By contrast, those who were spared are also notable for their position on the ship. Two were common sailors, and likely saved for their ability to reef and steer. The bosun was saved as well, perhaps because it was the bosun who delivered corporal punishment to the crew, and thus established himself as a tool for use against the crew. The cooper and sailmaker were also spared, both roles that would have had less contact with the enslaved than their shipmates. About half of the crew that were spared were boys, and less likely to engage in violence against the enslaved or pitied as children incapable of understanding their actions.[5]

The violence of the revolt was no less than the violence the enslaved suffered in their capture and torture. Indeed, it might well have been more discriminate than the violence they endured. If survival and freedom for yourself and hundreds of others meant beating a man to death, there were few who would not take the opportunity.

Now began the next and uneasy phase of the insurrection: two factions of Africans held the ship, with a small and terrified group of Europeans in their grasp.

Next time: A broken alliance, and the promise of the African shore.

[1] John Harris, letter to his father, London Evening Post, April 5, 1753, page 4.
[2] This piece was reprinted word for word in many newspapers from Britain through the colonies, but I took this quote from the Maryland Gazette, May 10, 1753, page 2.
[3] Harris, Evening Post.
[4] William Bosman, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, 1705, page 281-282.
[4] Harris, Evening Post.
[5] Harris, Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal, March 24-31, 1753.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Labor Day - The History of Navigation

Celebrate Labor Day by joining me to learn about the labors of the navigator!

Teaching the traverse board. Photo courtesy Tim Abbott.
As longtime followers well know by now, the history of navigation is a fascination of mine.

As part of the Schooner Woodwind's History Mondays series, I'll be climbing aboard to demonstrate reproduction navigational instruments. Learn about the use of the cross-staff, quadrant, backstaff, and sextant in latitudinal navigation, handle the chip log, traverse board, and compass used in dead reckoning, and check out other aids to navigation like the lead line.

Light snacks, beer, and wine are available for this two hour cruise out of Annapolis, Maryland onto the Severn River. Stop by and say ahoy!

Buy your tickets here.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Revolt of the Marlborough: The Toll of Captain Codd

'In the Morning, they seeing the Skirt of his Coat, went to him, cut his Belly open, and tossed him over-board.'

Anyone even passingly familiar with the transatlantic trade of the eighteenth century is well aware of the brutality of the Middle Passage. Millions of men, women, and children were shipped from Africa to the Caribbean, South, Central, and North America. Captain Robert Codd and his slaver Marlborough were among the more experienced veterans of this trade. In 1753, Codd was on his ninth voyage to the African coast.[1] The Bristol based Marlborough had even more experience than her captain. Built in 1711, she was a remarkably aged vessel by the mid-eighteenth century, and had sailed from Bristol to Africa then to the Caribbean (and once to Virginia) almost every year since 1728. She most often called in at St. Kitts, but sometimes to Jamaica as well.[2]

Codd was the fourth captain of the Marlborough, and the one who had captained her for the most voyages. Under his watch, approximately 2,600 people were bought in Africa, with about 2,100 surviving the trip across the Atlantic. This places the approximate death toll on Codd's Marlborough at 20%. It is difficult to estimate average mortality on the Middle Passage, but this death toll appears to be on the higher end of average.[3]

To Captain Codd this was perhaps just another voyage around the Atlantic to earn his pay and keep the West Indies sugar plantations working. Joining him was John Harris, a young man who may have been working aboard as a ship's boy, and thirty four other sailors. These men sailed to the Gold Coast and Bonny in West Africa, and embarked over 300 people.[4]

The sight that met the eyes of the enslaved was a one hundred ton ship mounting four guns.[5] Marlborough's quarterdeck was protected by a "barricado," a wooden wall that separated the crew's quarters, weapons, and wheel from the enslaved men and boys further forward. Fear of revolt was a constant for sailors and captains of the slave trade. Perhaps one in every ten slave voyages experienced an insurrection.[6] The threat of violent resistance was so prevalent that slave ships could be identified by these palisades. The sailors had certainly pierced the barricado with slits through which they could fire muskets at their human cargo.

"Vue du Cap Français et du navire La Marie Séraphique de Nantes,"
artist unknown, 1772-1773, Les abolitions de l'esclavage.

Adding to the trauma of the newly enslaved, mariners also used the barricado for an even more sinister reason. The barricado marked the line between male and female slaves. Such a barrier gave European sailors easy access to the enslaved women and girls, enabling the sexual abuse for which the slave trade is notorious.

"Coupe interne de La Marie Séraphique, artist unknown, c.1772-1773,
Les abolitions de l'esclavage.

Harris later described the ethnic divisions between the enslaved people of Bonny and the Gold Coast, one that turned violent at times. With physical and cultural barriers separating the enslaved, a large crew of armed European sailors, and an experienced captain, the crew of Marlborough let their guard down. This was a fatal mistake.

Next time: The enslaved spill blood for their liberty.

[1] Slave Voyages Database, accessed July 1, 2016. The search function of this website was used to identify the voyages captained by Robert Codd.
[2] Ibid., voyage identification number 26089, accessed July 1, 2016.
[3] Herbert S. Klein, et. al., Transoceanic Mortality: The Slave Trade in Comparative Perspective, Stanford University.
[4] Slave Voyages Database, voyage identification number 17322, accessed July 1, 2016.
[5] Bristol, Africa, and the Eighteenth Century Slave Trade to America, Volume 3: The Years of Decline, ed. Joseph Bettey, Britol Records Society: 1991, page 49.
[6] Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History, Penguin: 2007, page 300.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt (Part 2), 1753

Copperplate engraving from The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt, published 1753, Google Books.

Continuing the story of the privateer trumpeter James Wyatt, we follow the crews of the Revenge and (I believe that's the vessel in the background here) Hamburgh. By chance, the Revenge chased and caught up with what prove to be a fellow English privateer. Her captain told the Revenge he had successfully raided a wine cellar at Point Niger, and the only thing preventing him from taking more was that his boat was too heavily laden with plunder. At that, Point Niger was virtually defenseless and prime for another raid.

Hamburgh and Revenge sailed to the point and Wyatt was chosen as one of eleven sailors to accompany the master and second lieutenant ashore. Hamburgh's captain warned them against the raid, saying that the coast appeared to be more populated and well defended than their fellow privateer thought. On landing, they were opposed by the Spanish residents of the point, who threw stones at them, but made no organized effort to resist.

Wyatt and his mates were disappointed to find the wine cellar empty, except for some women's shifts which, for some reason, they put on over their slop clothes. Taking their time to seize other, less valuable plunder, the privateers were surprised to see "near an Hundred" residents gathered on the hills armed with rocks and some firearms. The two sides exchanged gunfire, and the sailors ran back to the boat. Unfortunately for them, the boat struck hard on a rock, and the sailors had to wade through four feet of water to clamber in. This soaked their powder, and the Spaniards closed it, pelting them with stones.

The master ordered Wyatt to the rudder, which he unshipped and used as a shield. Despite the dangerous situation, the shore party managed a narrow escape, and gave the Spanish three cheers before rowing back to their vessel.

The crew do not appear to be wearing the shifts they stole, except perhaps a larboard oarsman amidships. Instead, they wear jackets with cocked hats and at least one round hat. Wyatt can be see in the stern trying to shield himself and his mates in the water from the stones.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt (Part 1), 1753

Copperplate engraving from The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt, published 1753, Google Books.

Recommended long ago by follower Justin Jolly, I have finally gotten around to the copperplate engravings contained in the 1753 memoirs of James Wyatt.

A common sailor with an uncommon career, James Wyatt served as a privateer aboard the Revenge in the opening months of the War of Austrian Succession and (if this colorful account is to be believed) was captured by the Spanish, narrowly saved from execution, escaped, captured by the Barbary Pirates, and eventually rescued.

Wyatt had been enlisted as the privateer's trumpeter and, through some unnamed dispute, came to be challenged to a duel by the Master at Arms. James Parry, a fellow musician and author of a memoir entitled The True Anti-Pamela, demanded they fight with small swords, but none were to be had, and so the duel was called off. Hours later, despite receiving permission from the captain to go ashore, Parry declared Wyatt a deserter and ordered the sentry to shoot him. When the sentry hesitated, Parry took the weapon and fired at Wyatt himself.

Wyatt is oddly okay with the attempted murder, stating that Parry was drunk and unaware of what he was doing. Even so, the story finds its place as a copperplate engraving in Wyatt's memoirs.

In this engraving, three men are shown in the boat. Two hold oars and presumably were the bargemen ordered by the captain to bring Wyatt ashore. They wear long jackets with cocked hats and at least one has a long waistcoat. Their hair is in the bob wig style. It is difficult to say what the figure in the stern is wearing, aside from a rather nondescript jacket. Mr. Parry wears a frock coat and cocked hat, and just astern of him is a sailor in the rigging with a cocked hat, single breasted short jacket, and trousers.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Honest Ben, 1786

Honest Ben, printed by C. Sheppard, 1786, Bodleian Library Broadside Collection.

Today's entry in the sailor's farewell trope is a broadside ballad sang from the throat of a sailor heading gout to see. Ben shares a "parting glass" with his love Sue, while the boatswain calls for him to repair to the ship.

This is one of the very few images I have found explicitly depicting a boatswain. I can confidently say that this is the bosun depicted here, because unlike many engraves of broadside ballads, C. Sheppard appears to have custom illustrated his rather than reusing the same engravings for multiple songs. Unfortunately, the publicly available digital scan of "Honest Ben" is not high resolution.

The boatswain waves his rattan toward Ben, beckoning him to the waiting warship. It is difficult to make out much beyond that. It appears that he's wearing petticoat breeches and jacket, but I'm not even positive about the boatswain's hat.

I am slightly more confident about Ben's clothing. He wears a round hat with a conical crown bound in a lighter colored band. His jacket ends at the top of the thigh, features flap pockets, and closed mariner's cuffs. Under his arm is tucked his trusty stick. Ben's trousers end well above the ankle, but I am not sure if they are striped or plain. He also wears white stockings and pointed toe shoes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Ospray: A Case Study in the Transatlantic Trade

The transatlantic trade of the eighteenth century was the lifeblood of European empires. The Dutch, Spanish, French, and British nations all relied on the goods and people moved across the Atlantic to generate wealth. This wealth came at the cost of labor, unfree and otherwise.

In the 1764-1765 voyage of the brig Ospray, a slaver, we have a remarkably typical voyage through all the major points in this system.

Ospray was a Newport, Rhode Island based brig rigged vessel. Her captain Nathaniel Potter appears to have been experienced in intercolonial trade on his side of the Atlantic, based on various newspaper references to his voyages, but it appears this voyage was his first across the Atlantic.

Within the British Atlantic, the English dominated the slave trade. American colonists throughout most of North America relied on Liverpool slavers to deliver Africans. The most notable exception to this was Rhode Island. Newport and Providence funded, built, and crewed slavers to the West African coast regularly, and it was a profitable trade.

A plan of the town of Newport in Rhode Island, Charles Blazkowitz,
1777, Lewis Walpole Library.

Along with his first mate Richard Champlin and six other sailors, Champlin sailed out of Newport on April 23.

Detail from Newport Mercury, 1764 Apr 23, page 3

Most likely, the Ospray called in Britain and probably Madeira or the Azores on her way down to Africa. Four months had passed before she finally arrived and began trading at Cape Coast Castle, a major slave trading fort on the shores of what is now Ghana. The imposing fortress still stands today.

Cape Coast Castle, photograph by David Ley, Wikimedia Commons.
The small crew of Rhode Islanders loaded about one hundred enslaved people aboard their brig over long months. It is unclear precisely why they remained in Africa so long, but the delay took its toll. Captain Nathaniel Potter died aboard the Ospray sometime before their departure.

When she finally put Africa to her stern, Ospray made the crossing to Kingston, Jamaica, where she sold the surviving eighty or so enslaved people. 

Detail of "View of Port Royal and Kingston Harbours," Peter Mazell, 1774,
John Carter Brown Library: Archive of Early American Images

Although I don't yet know what cargo she took on, sugar was the cash crop of the time, and the most likely to have been taken aboard the Ospray. Champlin, who had taken command after the death of Potter, remained in port from February through the early days of May.

From there it was a speedy return to Newport, Rhode Island. For the first time in well over a year the sailors were returning to their homes and families. In this hope they were thwarted by the frigate Maidstone.

The Royal Navy had tasked the Maidstone to enforce the Navigation Acts along the North American coast, and in her pursuit of smugglers the frigate required men. Second Lieutenant William Jenkins pressed the sailors of the Ospray into naval service. This act so enraged the people of Newport that they rioted and burned one of the Maidstone's boats.

A typical voyage came to an unusual end, an end that will be explored on August 27th at the Newport Historical Society's event "Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport." I'll be there to talk about life at sea and maritime navigation of the eighteenth century, so stop by and say hello!