Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Captives on the Move: Tracing the Transatlantic Movements of Africans from the Caribbean to Colonial New England

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Captives on the Move: Tracing the Transatlantic Movements of Africans from the Caribbean to Colonial New England

Article excerpt

Editor's Introduction: This article explores the many ways that West Africans arrived in New England by way of the British American Caribbean during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Rather than being shipped directly from Africa, Africans who arrived in New England were usually the "residue" or leftover human cargo from these Guinea voyages. Small numbers of Africans were shipped with the rum and sugar sent back to New England as part of the provisions and carrying trade. Africans who arrived in New England by these circuitous migrations were the captive cousins of the hundreds of thousands of Africans who labored on Caribbean sugar plantations. They shared ethnic origin, language, cultural, and spiritual beliefs and practices as well as kinship connections. This article argues that the propensity to resist enslavement often found in the Caribbean was also true of enslaved Africans in New England.

Historians agree that most enslaved Africans who lived in colonial New England were transshipped from the Caribbean, namely from the British colonies of Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua, and Nevis. Robert S. Desrochers concluded that one-third of the slaves imported to Massachusetts in the 1700s came directly from Barbados.1 In The Akan Diaspora in the Americas (2010), Kwasi Konadu also found that enslaved blacks in Boston came from Barbados and Jamaica. However, Konadu does not make a connection between the Gold Coast presence in Boston and the incidences of slave rebellion in that colonial town.2 The most well-known authority on New England slavery, Lorenzo Johnston Greene, documents the myriad ways that enslaved Africans in New England resisted slavery, from running away to poisoning, arson and murder. However, he does not link the incidences of slave resistance in New England to the presence of Africans who had been "seasoned" in the Caribbean and had therefore participated in or at least witnessed acts of rebellion before being transshipped to New England.

In this article, Dr. Kerima Lewis attempts to make an ethnic and cultural link between Africans in New England and the Caribbean by demonstrating that acts ofresistance were in the repertoire of many enslaved West Africans no matter their location, whether in New England or the Caribbean. At the same time, she documents the many prominent New England families who became involved with importing these rebellious slaves from the Caribbean to New England.

Africans held in slavery in New England shared a close ethnic affinity with Caribbean slaves. Slave traders from Massachusetts as well as Rhode Island exchanged gallons of rum, a variety of foodstuffs, and dry goods for Africans along the West African or "Guinea Coast." Although most Africans purchased in the transatlantic slave trade were sold in large allotments to anxiously waiting Caribbean sugar planters, many slave ship captains regularly brought along a few Africans when they returned to Boston and Newport.3

Thus, enslaved Africans who arrived in New England colonies were "part and parcel" of the hundreds of thousands of Africans delivered to the Caribbean during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although separated by the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, these captive cousins shared languages, worldviews, and kinship ties as well as spiritual ideas. Since they shared both an ethnic and cultural relatedness, it follows that those in New England would have exhibited a similar propensity for resistance typically attributed to enslaved Africans in the Caribbean.

Africans who were transshipped from the Caribbean on New England slave ships were often labeled "refuse" because they were children, aged, sickly, or those known to be rebellious. Caribbean planters enjoyed the privilege of purchasing the more physically robust West Africans for their sugar plantations while the "residue" or "leftovers" were often sold to interested buyers in New England.4 Acts of slave resistance occurred in different ways in various locations across the Atlantic, from slave rebellions organized on the coast of West Africa to slave ships during the Middle Passage and upon their arrival in the Americas. …

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