The Slaving Brig Henriqueta and Her Evil Sisters: A Case Study in the 19th-Century Illegal Slave Trade to Brazil
Tinnie, Dinizulu Gene, The Journal of African American History
The Middle Passage, the forced migration of millions of African captives across the Atlantic Ocean to enslavement in the Western Hemisphere, is arguably the most defining factor of the modern world. Yet, for all of its magnitude and its indisputably profound importance in altering human history, the tangible realities of the Middle Passage, particularly the experiences and perspectives of those most directly affected--the African captives, their communities, and their descendants--remain relatively unknown and unrecognized in academic and popular discourse. Most of what is available from historical records comes from non-African sources: ship captains, government officials, occasionally abolitionists, but all outside observers. The two notable exceptions were the "slave narratives" written by Ottobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano, which have stirred some controversy in their own right as to their "authenticity." (1)
Given these circumstances, clearly one valuable source of better understanding of the realities of the Middle Passage and its repercussions, particularly from the perspective of those silent and nameless souls whose lives were most affected and altered, is the surviving evidence and data pertaining to individual ships and voyages, and what might be reasonably extrapolated from them. These data, which often include the names of actual persons, places, and events, also have the advantage of reducing a story of such vast and abstract proportions to a more intelligible human scale.
Such is the case with one of the most significant vessels during the illegal slave trade era, the Henriqueta, a 19th -century Baltimore-built two-masted brig from Bahia, Brazil. (2) The history of the Henriqueta offers numerous detailed insights into the illicit traffic to that country, its impact on the Africans, the wealth it built, and the attempts by Great Britain to suppress its activities. Gathering the data for such a study of the illegal era, however, poses additional challenges since so many records of ships and voyages are non-existent, inaccurate, or deliberately falsified. Yet, paradoxically, as will be shown, the ruses and subterfuges to which ship owners and slaving captains resorted in order to circumvent the law often followed such predictable patterns as to become more revealing of the very facts that they were designed to camouflage.
Reconstructing the story of a single ship in this circumstance might aptly be compared to the archaeological task of recovering and reassembling the scattered remaining fragments of an ancient vase, whose pictorial decorations once had an important story to tell. But because each such vase was not only unique, but also typical of its time and culture, these fragments prove to be valuable for a more general understanding, in this case, not only of the illegal "trade" to Brazil, but also of the overall history of the Middle Passage. The fragmented story of the Henriqueta and her "evil sisters"--other slaving vessels linked to her in any number of ways--depends in large part upon primary archival sources in Brazil, as well as secondary sources such as historical accounts, and most notably, the comprehensive work of Pierre Verger and Howard I. Chapelle, the eminent historian and former maritime curator of the Smithsonian Institution. The history of this single slaving vessel of the 1820s might be viewed as a main stem with many roots and branches, each leading potentially to other case studies. (3)
FROM LEGAL TO ILLEGAL SLAVE TRADING
On 25 March 1807, the British Parliament, after more than a decade of debate, finally enacted legislation for the abolition of the "slave trade" (but not slavery itself) throughout its dominions and outlawed any further involvement in it by British citizens. (4) This prohibition was rooted in a growing sense of moral outrage vis-a-vis the ignominious centuries-old commerce in human lives, in which Britain was the largest participant. But the British were also greatly motivated by economic self-interest, as the burgeoning sugar economies of Brazil and Cuba, the two major markets for the "trade" at the time, were competing against the established British West Indian colonies with increasing effectiveness, and the lifeblood of that emerging ascendancy was a constant supply of enslaved labor. (5)
The British government's need to interdict this vital flow of unpaid manpower to these ever-stronger competitors therefore required not only the halting of its own citizens' engagement, but also an aggressive policy of extending the ban to other nations involved by negotiating formal treaties with each one wherever possible. One of the first of these agreements was with King Dom Pedro of Portugal, who having accepted exile under British protection in Brazil in 1810 during the Napoleonic wars in Europe, agreed to cooperate with Britain in "the gradual abolition of the slave trade." (6) A subsequent treaty with a weakened Portugal in July 1817 abolished slave trading north of the equator, but allowed for it to continue legally south of that line for five more years. (7) Even with this major concession, while the Portuguese government might officially have been a "willing partner," the planter class of Brazil resented and flouted the agreement. Indeed, by 1823 Brazilian elites declared the nation's independence from Portugal, thus requiring Britain to negotiate yet another treaty with the new Brazilian government, partly in exchange for official recognition. This new treaty of 23 November 1826 still allowed for the trade to continue legally south of the equator until 1830.
However, the greatest number of available African captives, and therefore the highest profits per voyage during this period, was to be found in the "Slave Coast" region of the Bights of Benin and Biafra, well north of that line. Thus, the challenge for the Brazilian slavers became how to access those sources under the guise (should their ships be stopped and inspected by British patrols) of trading legally to the south, within the shrinking time frame that the treaty allowed. (8) The pivotal years 1823 through 1830 thus set the backdrop for a key chapter in a drama in which the brig Henriqueta would play a prominent role.
THE HENRIQUETA AND HER SISTERS
We were first introduced to the notorious slaving vessel Henriqueta by Howard Chapelle in his classic study The History of American Sailing Ships (1982). An illuminating chapter called "Privateers and Slavers" presents the history of the H.M. Brig Black Joke, the swift British Royal Navy vessel that would make history by capturing numerous slavers on the African coast. (9)
Late in the 20's, the British were lucky enough to capture a very fast slaver-brig that had been built in Baltimore. This was the [Henriqueta,] taken by the Sybille, Sept. 6, 1827. The slaver had made six trips previous to her capture during which she landed 3,040 slaves in Brazil, making $400,000 for her owners in less than three years. This vessel was purchased into the Royal Navy as the Black Joke and employed on the slaver patrol. The Black Joke was very successful as a slaver-catcher, but she was worn out in 1831 and was burned by order of the Admiralty on the Cape of Good Hope station at Sierra Leone on May 3, 1831, and so her lines were never taken off [i.e., drawings of her design plan were never made]. Her portrait shows a low-sided brig with very raking ends, a very handsome little ship. She was 90'-10" [27.69 m.] on the gun deck and 26'-7" [8.10 m.] beam. (10)
By these calculations it will be seen that each of the Henriqueta's six voyages landed on average 507 Africans in Brazil, producing an income per voyage of roughly $67,000, or approximately $132.00 per person sold, in the currency of the 1820s. This number of persons, it should be noted, represents only the survivors at the end of the journey, not the total number originally embarked in Africa. Additional details of this highly profitable slaver's voyages, including the seventh, which ended in her capture, are outlined in Table 1.
Table 1 THE SLAVING VOYAGES OF THE BRIG HENRIQUETA Brig of 256 tons; crew of 30; master Joao Cardozo dos Santos Departures from Returns to Salvador (11) Salvador (12) 1) 30 Oct. 1824 13 Mar. 1825 return from Molembo in [1.96] 19days with 504 captives 2) (x) 15 July 1825 3 Nov. 1825 " " " " 18 " " 504 " [1.96] 3) 29 Nov. 1825 11 Mar. 1826 " " " " 23 " " 441 " [1.72] 4) 24 June 1826 11 Oct. 1826 " " " " 21 " " 524 " [2.04] 5)--?-- (13) 26 Mar. 1827 " " " " 25 " " 523 " [2.04] 6) (Y) 12 Apr. 1827 30 June 1827 " " " " 17 " " 544 " [2.13] TOTAL 3,040 7) (z) 12 Aug. 1827 (captured on the coast of Africa, 6 September) [Numbers in brackets at right indicate ratio of captives per ton; see below: "Tonnage and People"] (x)--On voyage no. 2, the American ship Lafayette, which arrived in Onim (Lagos) on 25 October, witnessed the Henriqueta awaiting a cargo of captives. She was partly laden but hurriedly disembarked the captives on shore just in time to escape legal capture by H.M.S. Maidstone, which then departed. Subsequently, the Henriqueta re- embarked them and made for the open sea, succeeding in escaping the pursuing Maidstone. (14) (Y)--This departure is documented in correspondence of Pennell to Canning, 4 July 1827. (15) (z)--Departure documented in British records. (16) Arrived in Lagos on 2 September, embarked 569 Africans, captured on 6 September. (The Henriqueta was licensed to carry …
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Publication information: Article title: The Slaving Brig Henriqueta and Her Evil Sisters: A Case Study in the 19th-Century Illegal Slave Trade to Brazil. Contributors: Tinnie, Dinizulu Gene - Author. Journal title: The Journal of African American History. Volume: 93. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 2008. Page number: 509+. © 2008 Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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