The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina

The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina

The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina

The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina


From 1754 to 1755, the slave ship Hare completed a journey from Newport, Rhode Island, to Sierra Leone and back to the United States--a journey that transformed more than seventy Africans into commodities, condemning some to death and the rest to a life of bondage in North America. In this engaging narrative, Sean Kelley painstakingly reconstructs this tumultuous voyage, detailing everything from the identities of the captain and crew to their wild encounters with inclement weather, slave traders, and near-mutiny. But most importantly, Kelley tracks the cohort of slaves aboard the Hare from their purchase in Africa to their sale in South Carolina. In tracing their complete journey, Kelley provides rare insight into the communal lives of slaves and sheds new light on the African diaspora and its influence on the formation of African American culture.

In this immersive exploration, Kelley connects the story of enslaved people in the United States to their origins in Africa as never before. Told uniquely from the perspective of one particular voyage, this book brings a slave ship's journey to life, giving us one of the clearest views of the eighteenth-century slave trade.


They had names, the seventy-two people Caleb Godfrey purchased on the Upper Guinea coast in late 1754, but we do not know what they were. They were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, and cousins. They surely possessed as wide a range of characteristics as can be found in any collection of seventy-two people, but we will never know what those were. the very existence of the seventy-two men, women, and children Godfrey packed onto the sloop Hare is revealed to us solely as a consequence of their enslavement. They enter the historical record as a mere tally of goods to be purchased and sold: twenty-eight men, twenty-five women, twelve girls, and seven boys.

It is no accident that the Hare captives’ names were never recorded. Slaves are people whose right to kinship has been extinguished. Names speak to kinship, belonging in a community, and personhood before the law. Godfrey’s elision was an intrinsic part of the process through which fathers, mothers, and children were transformed into commodities, the new property tie to the slave owner displacing the former ties of family and community. None of this means that the Hare captives or any other slaves actually ceased to be people or forgot who they were simply because someone did not consider it important to record their names, and none of it means that they failed to establish new family and community bonds. Still, we could say so much more about them if we knew their names.

This book reconstructs the voyage of a single Rhode Island sloop that carried captives from Sierra Leone to South Carolina in 1754–55. It seeks to answer a seemingly straightforward question: who were the Hare captives? the hope is that grappling with that problem—even if definitive answers should prove elusive—will yield new insight into the old question of the African experience in the New World, an issue that lies at the center of American history and identity. Most Americans are accustomed to thinking of their country as a historical extension of Europe. Few realize that by 1775 . . .

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