Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library

1790 Letter from John Fowler to James Rogers & Co.

The letter consists of a single sheet.

Address/ outside

The following is written on what would be the outside after folding, in the same hand as the body of the letter :

Messrs. James Rogers & Compy.
(? not clear) favor of Capt Goodrich

Along with the following, in another hand

Jama 8 Sept, 1790
J. Fowler

Body of Letter

Messrs James Rogers & Co. Jamaica, 8 Sept. 1790

Gentlemen               I have the pleasure to enclose your Sales of one hundred & forty one Slaves, received from Capt Goodrich of the Sarah, and although the Slaves are not of the Country preferred here, which are eboes, from Bonny, I hope You will acknowledge the Average to exceed any made in this part of the Island. I also enclose my acct" Currt with bills, on Mr. Jacks, for the Balance as trustee V Eighteen months Sight, although your letter of 6 April fixes the Bills to be at 12, 18 & 24 mo"s S"t, hope you will allow Mr. Jacks acceptances to draw (?) that time, the House of Messrs Parkinson & Barrett do not draw at less than 15, 21 & 27 mos -  I Shall be happy if Capt Goodrich is Sent for a Cargo of real Eboes1, to Consist of Young people. I think if he arrives here by the first of May I Could turn them to good account, I am with Respect,


1Apparently Rogers & Co. took Fowler's advice, because the next two voyages of the Sarah were to Bonny.

Behind the routine, matter-of-fact tone of John Fowler's report lies a much darker picture of the horrors of the slave trade.  The "Transatlantic Slave Trade Database" provides the following summary of the voyage that brought these 141 Africans to Jamaica.

The Sarah, a 154 ton brig (brigantine, a 2-masted sailing vessel) was built in Newfoundland in 1788.  She left Bristol, England on September 21, 1789 on her maiden voyage in the slave trade, with a crew of 27, captained by John Goodrich.  She went on to make 2 more voyages, both to Jamaica : the second voyage also under the command of Captain Goodrich, the third voyage under the command of Captain James Crean Hunt.  On the 3rd voyage she was shipwrecked on the way back to England, after disembarking her cargo in Kingston, Jamaica.1  In total, an estimated2 626 slaves left Africa3 on her, of whom 458 survived to disembark in Jamaica4.

The 1789 voyage was owned by a consortium5:

James Rogers and Co. (one of the largest Bristol slave traders)
Sir James Laroche
John Goodrich
Richard Fydell
Richard Blake
John Powell Jr.

On December 18, 1789 (88 days after leaving Bristol), the Sarah began purchasing slaves, at Bimbia6 in West Africa, followed by additional purchases at the Cameroons River and at Calabar (one of the largest and most infamous West African slave ports) In total, 256 slaves were purchased :

Cameroons River...168

The age/ sex breakdown of the purchases at the individual ports is not recorded in the database, but the overall composition of the 256 slaves was :



1 The 3rd voyage is the only one where the disembarkation port in Jamaica was recorded.
2 Presumably the ship's records of the third voyage were lost in the shipwreck, so the number of slaves at the start of the voyage is unknown, but the compilers of the database estimated the number embarking.
3 In addition, on the first voyage (the best documented), it appears that 34 slaves died before leaving Africa - a similar proportion may have died on the other voyages, but there is no data.
4 The database does not record the ship's agent in Jamaica, but judging by the ownership and captain, there's a good chance that John Fowler would have been the ship's agent in Jamaica for the second voyage.  John had been dead for over a year by the time the 3rd voyage arrived, and the Fowler family was based in Trelawny, not Kingston, geographical base, so most likely there was no Fowler involvement in the 3rd voyage.
5 All 3 voyages were owned by substantially the same consortium.
6 Bimbia is a small (current population 7,000) coastal town in the Republic of Cameroon http://www.bakweri.org/bimbia/index.html   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isubu


The Sarah departed from Calabar with 222 slaves on board, 34 fewer than the number purchased.  An optimistic interpretation of the disappearance of these 34 is that (since Calabar was a major trading port) the captain may have realized, and purchased more slaves at outlying ports than he intended to transport, with the intention of selling the surplus in Calabar to turn a quick profit.  If this was the case, the purchase of 47 slaves in Calabar is hard to explain - maybe the captain was adjusting the age/ sex ratio to what he thought would best fit his intended market in Jamaica, or he purchased some slaves in Calabar in small lots, held them on the ship and then sold them in bulk to other traders.  Unfortunately, these optimistic scenarios are probably wishful thinking, the grim reality is that 34 of the slaves probably died waiting for the Middle Passage to begin.

The date of departure from Calabar, and the duration of the Middle Passage are not recorded, but the Sarah arrived in Jamaica (port unspecified) on September 3, 1790, with 143 slaves on board.  Apparently an additional 2 slaves died after arriving in Jamaica, because only 141 were disembarked.  This gives a mortality of 36% for the Middle Passage, which is high even by the standards of the time, implying that there was disease on the ship, or that the slaves were in poor condition leaving Africa, which would support the assumption that the 34 missing slaves died before the start of the Middle Passage.  Comparing the number of slaves disembarked in Jamaica to the 256 slaves purchased, the overall slave mortality from purchase in Africa to sale in Jamaica was a staggering 45%.  By comparison, the Sarah arrived in Jamaica with a crew of 21, compared to the original crew of 27 leaving England.  Assuming the difference in crew was entirely due to deaths (no-one deserted or left in Africa, no additional hires), the crew mortality was 22%.

The Sarah left Jamaica on September 13, 1790, with 19 crew (there could have been additional deaths in Jamaica, or some of the crew could have chosen to remain).  She arrived back in Bristol on November 2, 1790 (50 days passage from Jamaica, 408 days total voyage), with 16 crew surviving.  The relatively high (16%) mortality for the trip home was probably a consequence of the very short layover in Jamaica, which would not have given the crew much time to rest and recover, and is circumstantial evidence that the 2 missing crewmen probably died in Jamaica.  Overall, with an initial crew of 27, and only 16 returning home, the crew mortality on the Sarah could have been as high as 41%, not much different than that for the slaves.


                                             Point Augst 30th. 1790
John Fowler Esq. for Brig Sarah
                                   Bot of Thomas Dunn
2 hundred Salt Fish - @ 50/-. £5. -. -.


This was a Bill of Sale for 200 salt fish at 50/- per hundred, sold by Thomas Dunn to John Fowler Esq. for the Brig Sarah.

Documents and text for this page were provided by John Fowler.

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