Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807

Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807

Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807

Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807


This work explores a neglected aspect of the forced migration of African laborers to the Americas. Hundreds of thousands of captive Africans continued their journeys after the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Colonial merchants purchased and then transshipped many of these captives to other colonies for resale. Not only did this trade increase death rates and the social and cultural isolation of Africans; it also fed the expansion of British slavery and trafficking of captives to foreign empires, contributing to Britain's preeminence in the transatlantic slave trade by the mid-eighteenth century. The pursuit of profits from exploiting enslaved people as commodities facilitated exchanges across borders, loosening mercantile restrictions and expanding capitalist networks.

Drawing on a database of over seven thousand intercolonial slave trading voyages compiled from port records, newspapers, and merchant accounts, O'Malley identifies and quantifies the major routes of this intercolonial slave trade. He argues that such voyages were a crucial component in the development of slavery in the Caribbean and North America and that trade in the unfree led to experimentation with free trade between empires.


In November 1755, more than three hundred Angolan men, women, and children sailed into the Caribbean Sea, crowded aboard the French ship l’Aimable. They were bound for the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue but never got there. As l’Aimable traversed the Lesser Antilles, she ran across “his [British] majesty’s ship” Fowler, armed to the teeth and cruising for prizes. Though official declaration had yet to arrive, the Fowler signaled war’s descent on the Caribbean. At its helm, Admiral Thomas Frankland led a naval squadron that was getting a head start on privateering. l’Aimable was among the first victims. the African captives on board likely heard a warning shot from the Fowler’s cannon but were probably spared the terror of a significant battle, as a slave ship was no match for a naval fleet. What capture by British privateers meant for the enslaved cargo of l’Aimable was a change of ownership and itinerary. Instead of heading to Saint-Domingue, l’Aimable set a new course for Barbados, where the Middle Passage ended for these 327 survivors of the Atlantic crossing. For some, all that remained of their voyage to American slavery was a short, overland trip within the island. For others, however, much of the journey was still to come.

Under British naval custom, Admiral Frankland was entitled to one-eighth of his fleet’s prizes, so he claimed 146 of l’Aimable’s captives—his share from not only that ship but also two other French slavers captured and sent to Antigua around the same time. Frankland did not sell his prizes locally. Instead, he partnered with a Bridgetown merchant, Gedney Clarke, in transshipping the Angolan people to South Carolina. Clarke maintained steady correspondence with traders in other colonies, and Charleston merchant Henry Laurens had informed Clarke of exceptionally high demand for enslaved Africans in South Carolina in recent months. Furthermore, Laurens had reported that the only expected slave shipments to South Carolina that year were from the Gambia River region, and the first ships to arrive from Gambia had reported that such vessels “are not likely to get half their Compliment of Slaves … [because]

1. “Antigua, December 9,” South-Carolina Gazette, Dec. 25, 1755–Jan. 1, 1756. For more on l’Aimable’s transatlantic voyage, see Voyages: the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, accessed August 2011, (hereafter cited as Voyages), Voyage id no. 31523.

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