Slave Captain: The Career of James Irving in the Liverpool Slave Trade

Slave Captain: The Career of James Irving in the Liverpool Slave Trade

Slave Captain: The Career of James Irving in the Liverpool Slave Trade

Slave Captain: The Career of James Irving in the Liverpool Slave Trade

Excerpt

Historical interpretations of Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade have, until recently, placed a disproportionate emphasis on abolitionist campaigning activity and achievements in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.1 This trend can be traced back to Thomas Clarkson's influential History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament published in 1808, the year after the passage of the bill to abolish the slave trade. The attention given to the work of humanitarian campaigners has tended to obscure Britain's position as the most prolific and efficient slavetrading nation in the eighteenth century.2

James Irving was among the many thousands of British men who contributed to the enforced migration of Africans in the transatlantic slave trade. This young Scottish surgeon undertook his first slaving venture from the port of Liverpool in 1783. During his career in Liverpool he was employed by John Dawson, Britain's leading slave merchant and 'possibly the world's leading slave trader'.3 As a surgeon on Guinea ships, Irving faced a very high risk of mortality but this position was also 'the second most profitable on a slave vessel'.4 Respected by his superior officers, Irving made rapid progress in the trade and was offered his first captaincy of a slave ship in 1789.

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