Slave Trading in Liverpool as Late as 1825?

In the eighteenth century, Liverpool was a key port in the “triangular trade” in which ships sailed from Britain to West Africa, collected a cargo of living humans, then crossed the Atlantic to the Americas to sell them on. Many of Liverpool’s wealthiest families were involved in slave trading, or profited from slavery, including several who lived in Abercromby Square, now part of the University of Liverpool. The trade was made illegal in 1807, though of course slavery in the United States and the Caribbean continued for years afterwards.

But what the law says should happen, and what actually happens, are sometimes quite different. Back in 2014, while I was researching a short piece on Henry Howard Brownell, the American Civil War poet and abolitionist, I came across an interesting letter (reproduced below) that is suggestive, to me at least, of slave trading going on in Liverpool as late as 1825. It’s far from definitive–there is no actual mention of slaves, for obvious reasons–but it’s intriguing.

As an abolitionist, Brownell had an interesting background. His mother came from the DeWolf family of Rhode Island so he was a close relative of James DeWolf (sometimes written D’Wolf), a major ship owner, slave trader and privateer. Although based in the North East, the DeWolfs were slave owners in Cuba and the southern US states, and are known to have continued to transport and trade in slaves well into the nineteenth century, and to have used their influence to evade the law. They were immensely rich and often packed the courts with family members, and controlled the excise in Bristol, RI.

The letter itself is from a man called Martin (?) Bennett to John DeWolf (James’s brother I think), dated April 16 (?), 1825, and was written when the ship (owned by DeWolf) arrived in Liverpool with cotton from New Orleans. Apart from revealing the massive profit on cotton, it ends with the following:

I purchased the goods according to your memorandums at this port and at the lowest rate payable. I shall take particular care of the goods and keep them onboard the vessel until I return.

There is no certainty in this of course, but word “them” and the bit about keeping them on the vessel under “particular care,” suggests something alive, which I doubt was sheep.

I’d be interested to know what others think. Hat tip to the Rhode Island Historical Society, which is where this came from.

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Melville in Liverpool on BBC Radio 4

On Monday I was interviewed on BBC Radio Four for a programme by poet Paul Farley on Herman Melville and his relationship with England and with Liverpool in particular. Melville came to England three times: as a cabin boy in 1839, as an established, and quite famous writer in 1849, and as a writer facing “annihilation” in 1856. We talked by the side of a breezy, chilly Albert Dock. I’ve done several radio and TV interviews over the years and even though we cowered in an alcove by the entrance to the public toilets, this was, from my point of view at least, the most enjoyable and relaxed. The programme, Herman Melville’s Sea Change, is very atmospheric and thought-provoking. If you are in the UK can be heard at this link until early March.

 

Robert Cain Goes To Vegas

Cains bottleBack in 2006 when I first met Sudarghara and Ajmail Dusanj at the Robert Cain brewery in Liverpool they expressed admiration for the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston, Mass., in particular for the way that small operation had managed to become internationally recognised. Then in March this year, after a tumultuous twelve months, they announced they were making a bid to become an exporter. And now comes the news that Cains is attending the National Beer Wholesalers’ Association convention in Las Vegas, with the aim of exporting Cains Export Lager to the United States. I hope they also take along a few copies of my book.

Read the press release here.