Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library
LETTER FROM JOHN FOWLER TO JAMES STOTHERT, 1789
Another letter from John Fowler of Martha Brae. Like the previous letter dated 1788, it was to an absentee proprietor back in Scotland, James Stothert,whose estates John Fowler managed.
In this letter John Fowler refers to expecting a delivery of slaves in March 1790. He actually got two shipments in 1790, but later in the year; 263 slaves delivered on July 15, and a further 141 on September 3. The second delivery (141 slaves) is the subject of a letter he wrote in 1790.
Here Fowler begins by rewriting the text of a letter which he had sent in August, as he had received no response. He immediately continues with his letter dated September.
Martha Brae, 5 August 1789
James Stothert Esq. COPY
Since my last, I have little to advise, the seasons continue fine and moderate.
The patch of canes left for supplying made only about a puncheon of rum, which is kept for the Negroes use.
I have hired Charles to Mc Farquhar and Moffat, two men who are employed by Mr. Grant and Mr. Perry in St. James at £60 for one year certain from the first instant. I request you to order out by the first ship from London, the two Main roller Mill Cases, which I requested by letter of 12th April 1787, one in use will be a great improvement to the Mill and relief to the Stock. I am ____ dimensions of Main roller Cases, to be turned and fluted 30 inches long to the Champher, 18 1/2 inches outside diameter.
~ ~ ~
8 September 1789
Since my last, I am without any of your favors, I have little to advise you of, but that a scarcity of provisions at present prevails throughout the parish, and it is very unacountable, for I do not recolect such general good seasons. I am obliged to assist your people a little.
As I expect a Cargo of Ebo Negroes about this first of March, if you please I will postpone purchasing for you untill then, I will have it in my power to give a preference of a pick, I am with sincere regard
Yr most obedient servant
~ ~ ~
[Back of letter--which was used in that era instead of an envelope, to show the addresses of the sender and the intended receiver]
Post paid 7 1/2
James Stothert Esq.
Care of Robert Milligan Esq.
of Cargen by
~ ~ ~
5 August 1789
[Data taken from the University of Cambridge's Transatlantic Slave Trade Data; analysis and comments by John Fowler.)
The following information on the July 1790 shipment (mentioned in the above letter) is remarkable for the extremely low loss in transit : 270 slaves embarked, for a shipment loss of only 2.6%.
The "Crescent", a 164 ton ship (i.e. 3 masts) mounting 2 guns and with a crew of 26, left Bristol on the 4th of October, 1789, under the command of Captain William Roper. This was Capt. Roper's first command in the slave trade. The owners of the venture were :
James Rogers and Co.
Sir James Laroche
(James Rogers was one of the largest slave traders operating out of Bristol, and John Fowler was his agent in Martha Brae).
This was the Crescent's first voyage in the slave trade - she was an almost brand new vessel, built in Liverpool in 1787.
The database lists the "Bananas Islands" and the "Iles de Loss" as the first and second places of slave purchase, with "Sierra Leone (no dominant location, Rio Nunez to Cape Mesurado)" as the principal "port" of slave purchase. This implies that the Crescent followed the coast, calling at established slaving ports, buying slaves at several ports until she had a full load. The database notes that the Crescent encountered some difficulty during the trading phase, at one point the vessel's boats were "cut off from the African coast" - this does not imply an attempt to rescue the captive slaves, more likely it was coastal pirates trying to grab trade goods or "cargo" for themselves, with any slaves they made off with likely being sold to other slavers.
On departure from the last slaving port the Crescent had 270 slaves on board - the database has no information on how many were purchased and whether there were any deaths before starting the "Middle Passage". The date of leaving the last slaving port is not given, so the duration of the Middle Passage cannot be calculated.
The Crescent disembarked 263 slaves at Martha Brae on July 15, 1790, 286 days after departing Bristol, implying that 7 slaves died in transit. This gives a 2.6% slave mortality, remarkably low (10-15% mortality was more common). It is interesting to note that there were only 23 crew on arrival at Martha Brae. Assuming no crew left or were taken on in Africa, this would imply that there were 3 deaths in the crew, but the number of crew at the start of the Middle Passage was not recorded, so crew mortality can only be inferred.
The Crescent left Martha Brae with a crew of 12, returning to Bristol on October 12th, 1790, just over 1 year after departing on this voyage. It was fairly typical to return to England with a smaller crew than the crew arriving in Jamaica. Without slaves to manage, ships required a smaller crew, and presumably sailors could find employment in the ports, on another ship, or on the plantations.
After this first voyage the Crescent went on to make 2 more voyages from Bristol, under Capt. Roper's command. On the 3rd voyage, Captain John Kennedy was listed as a second captain. The Crescent then went on to make a further 2 slaving voyages, out of Liverpool, under the command of James McGauley. All 5 voyages were to Jamaica (to the ports of Martha Brae, Montego Bay and then 3 times to Kingston). At the end of the 5th voyage, the Crescent was sold in Jamaica and did not return to England or undertake any more slave voyages (at least not under the same name).
The Crescent had one of the best records for slave survival - 1,389 slaves left Africa, 1,349 arrived in Jamaica, for an overall mortality of 2.9%. The Roper/ Kennedy team went on to make another voyage to Jamaica on a different ship, the Swift, which had only a 2.4 % slave mortality on the Middle Passage (although an additional 2 deaths in port brought the overall mortality up to 3.9%) - in contrast over 1/3 of the crew (13 out of 33) died on the Middle Passage. In total, for Roper's 4 voyages for which records exist, he embarked 914 slaves and disembarked 877, for an overall mortality of 4.0%. Capt. Roper went on to make one more slave trading voyage, which ended in a shipwreck, with the loss of all hands, on the return trip from Barbados to England.
Also noteworthy, Capt. McGauley's two voyages on the Crescent had a combined mortality of only 1%. Capt. McGauley made a total of 8 slaving voyages, but not all had as few deaths as his voyages on the Crescent. For the 5 voyages for which accurate statistics survive, Capt. McGauley embarked 1572 slaves, of whom 1453 survived, for an overall mortality of 7.6%, relatively low for the trade. One of the 5 voyages went very badly, with 24% mortality. Since the other 4 voyages had a combined mortality of 2.4%; one has to assume that a major outbreak of disease resulted in this high mortality.
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