A Grandfather's Tale, Chapter 5, THE AFRICA TRADE


A GRANDFATHER'S TALE: LIVERPOOL SLAVE TRADER WILLIAM BOLDEN 1730-1800



Chapter Five:  THE AFRICA TRADE

William Bolden returned to Liverpool in 1767. John Sparling preceded him in about 1765. Together the partners devoted the next six years of their mercantile careers to the slave trade. All their energies and resources were committed to this 'new business' of theirs, in a determined bid to reap as much profit as possible from the traffic in human beings. The money they had made from their trading in Virginia provided the essential seed-capital for their venture. For the rest, they were dependent on the combined human capital of their own management skills, and that of their carefully cultivated contacts in the Liverpool merchant community.

Between the departure of the Fanny on 9 January 1768 and that of the Friendship on 25 November 1773, Sparling and Bolden were investors in 18 slave ships sent to Africa ('the Coast'). These 18 slaving voyages were responsible for purchasing a total of 4,521 'Guinea pieces', to be transported to the slave markets of the Caribbean islands ('West Indies') and the mainland colonies of North America. An estimated 1,133 of their 'Negro captives' died while crossing the Atlantic (the infamous 'Middle Passage'), a truly appalling mortality rate of 25 per cent.

To modern minds, the transatlantic slave trade was a cruel and criminal enterprise. It involved the brutal transfer of 12.5 million African people to enforced labour on American plantations. Its harshness is scorched into history by the evidence that probably only 10.7 million of these even survived the journey, confined below decks in chains, in hot, foul, and congested conditions, without enough air or water, (let alone the rigours of slave labour that awaited them at their 'destination').

To contemporary eighteenth-century minds, however, the 'Guinea trade' represented economic opportunity. One useful attempt to describe the historical 'mood of the moment' is contained in Hugh Thomas' The Slave Trade: 1440-1870. Thomas writes that, "any commercial undertaking involving the carriage of millions of people, stretching over several hundred years, involving every maritime European nation, every Atlantic facing African people...and every country of the Americas, is a planet of its own". (1)

Into the centre of this busily revolving 'planet', this 'other world' so large that it generated its own set of social and moral values, stepped Sparling and Bolden. And it was huge. A vast 'ocean of movement' that connected three continents and made nation-states into empires. So big that it was impossible for merchants and mariners to imagine its non-existence.

For the people of Liverpool this was certainly the case. The Africa trade was dominated by Britain, and in turn, the competing ports of London, Bristol, and Glasgow were out-manned and out-sailed by slavers from Liverpool. Whether in terms of money invested, numbers shipped, or range of destinations reached to load or unload their human cargoes, Liverpool interests were at the forefront.

With all the commercial activity that was generated by slaving, as well as the number of English livelihoods reliant on its success, the 'business' was 'naturalised'. It was 'normal' to transport human beings, just as it was 'normal' to traffic in other 'commodities'. In the words of David Eltis in The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Data-Base, "the shipping of Africans across the Atlantic was morally indistinguishable from shipping textiles, wheat or sugar". (2)

The Fanny 1768-69

From the start, Sparling and Bolden were adopters and adapters, rather than innovators, in the slave trade. They used a conventional business model for their slaving vessels, the common practice of multi-party investment. Liverpool merchants formed small partnerships of co-investors, based on family, friends, and close colleagues. This system was founded on personal trust, an important ingredient of 'over-the-horizon' trading. It was also integral to financing ships, an effective way of spreading risk. Each invited partner initially funded a share (1/2, 1/4, 1/8, etc.) in the hull, in its 'fitting out' and 'merchandising', and remained liable for proportional costs incurred in each part of the voyage thereafter.

For example, each investor was responsible for insuring their own part of the cargoes over every leg of the journey: the manufactured goods out to Africa, the slaves to auction in the Americas, and the plantation produce back to Liverpool. The burden of finance was similarly shared. The purchase of the first cargo was made on various terms with manufacturers from the surrounding districts. These "Tradesman's Notes" were then subject to "division" among the investors, who became liable to make the remittances as they fell due. (3) 

In this instance, the Fanny, a snow (or 'snauw') of 100 tons burthen (its capacity to carry freight) and 6 guns (its armament of cannons) under Captain Charles Swift, took its assortment of merchandise to the Senegambia region of West Africa. In exchange for its cargo of manufactured textiles and refined metals, 230 slaves were loaded for transport to the West Indies island of St Kitts for sale. At St Kitts 197 were unloaded, at an immediate cost of 33 lives. (4) 

The system of personal trust, or co-investing with an established, 'known' network, is evident in the list of "owners" from the firm's first ship. At the top of the list for the Fanny in 1768 was the snauw's lead or primary investor, John Sparling. Following, in probable order of the size or fraction of their shares, are Edward Mason, William Bolden, William Shepherd, and Thomas Langton. 

The first thing to note is Sparling's confidence as primary investor, relative to Bolden's more tentative contribution. This may reflect the different temperaments of the two partners. Another possibility is that Bolden was still recovering his funds from the Virginia trade, whereas Sparling had more time in Liverpool to finalise his American affairs.

Of interest too, is the identity of the other three "names". Edward Mason, the second investor, was a Liverpool timber merchant. William Shepherd and Thomas Langton were Lancashire sailcloth and twine makers. Each of these men had existing links with Virginia, by importing turpentine and tar for 'treating' or water-proofing their products, and exporting the finished article for sale in the Colony. (5) 

In other words, Mason, Shepherd and Langton, were already known to Sparling and Bolden, as indeed Sparling and Bolden were known to them. There was a prior relationship of 'honest trading' between the parties. They already had a degree of commercial confidence in one another. While none of them seem to have had previous involvement in fitting out their own slave ships, they did have shared business experience -- firsthand knowledge of how each other conducted themselves in commerce.

The Bolden 1768-69

The second vessel committed to the Africa trade by Sparling and Bolden was the self-consciously titled Bolden. In August 1768, this ship, of 130 tons burthen with 2 guns and a crew of 35 under Captain John Elworthy, sailed for Calabar in the Bight of Biafra. On arriving at the Coast she loaded 280 slaves, bound for Dominica. At the end of their Middle Passage 217 were unloaded, a death toll of 63.(6) 

Once again, Sparling was the lead investor in a list of five "owners". Bolden was fourth. However, at number two was Jonathon Blundell, the second generation of a wealthy family of successful slavers. Number three was William Crosbie Jnr, a part of the Blundell family 'connection' by marriage. At number five was Captain John Elworthy, the Master of the Bolden, and also part of the Blundell connection, having been one of their most 'seasoned' Guinea-men.

Elworthy's position as both master and investor demonstrates the critical importance of having an experienced 'slaver' in charge of the actual voyage. Seafarers with this sort of history were what Stephen Behrendt has called the "Human Capital" of the British slave trade. Attracting and retaining a ship's captain of Elworthy's calibre was a core strategy in profitable slaving. Entrepreneurial "Guinea captains" were worth more than their wages, particularly on those parts of the Coast where British forts were few and access to slaves was controlled by African traders. (7) 


Elworthy's value lay in knowing 'his' part of the Coast, in having developed longstanding 'arrangements', and being respected enough to negotiate with even the most mercurial of them, drunk or sober. It was also important to have the latest market intelligence. This enabled accurate assessment of the "right assortment" of manufactured goods to meet the constantly changing context of fashion and demand on the Coast.

Inability to bargain and close sales in the bizarre bazaars of Calabar kept many captains away from the Niger Delta. Because of its reputation for political instability and murderous lawlessness, cautious and less experienced slavers from London and Bristol avoided Old Calabar (on the Cross River), Bonny and New Calabar. Those Masters prepared to risk bartering with the cabal of "caboceers" on the rivers of Biafra and Cameroon were invariably from Liverpool. (8) 

For those who did take that risk, the reduced competition at these ports of purchase led to cheaper and healthier slaves. The loading rates for this part of Africa were faster than other regions. (It has been calculated that Bonny ships loaded at 3.1 slaves per day, compared to 1.0 at Gambia and the Windward Coast, 1.3 on the Gold Coast, and 1.7 along the Angola Coast.) (9) Higher rates of loading minimised delay and its direct consequence, disease. As the Liverpool slave merchant William Earle put it to his agents in 1761, "long purchases make sickly ships". (10) The quicker that ships could leave African shores with a full load, the greater the prospects for a profitable voyage.

The Friendship 1768-69

This small vessel, a brigantine of 70 tons burthen under Captain Hughes, was the first, and the last, voyage that Sparling and Bolden were involved in with William Crosbie Jnr as lead investor. It too traveled to Calabar, but with depressing results. Of the 160 slaves loaded in Africa, only 80 survived the Middle Passage to St John on Antigua. (11) 

Notwithstanding the dreadfully low standards of the day, fatalities of 50% doomed a voyage to inevitable financial loss. This reflected badly on the competency of Crosbie as the organiser of slaving voyages. He was not entrusted with further investments from Sparling and Bolden.

The Martha 1769-70

In August 1769 Sparling and Bolden returned to the same list of owners that had proved successful with their first vessel. The Martha, a 100 ton ship under Captain John Bisbrown, went to the Bassa region on the Windward Coast. 181 slaves were loaded there and taken directly across the Atlantic to the Upper James River in Virginia. 144 slaves survived the journey and were sold at Bermuda Hundred by auction. Despite the shorter Middle Passage, 33 died en route, but Sparling, Mason, Bolden, Shepherd and Langton were still within the possibility of profit. (12) 

Captain Bisbrown also proved 'a keeper' for Sparling and Bolden ships. Like Captain Elworthy (who was master for four of their voyages and a co-investor on nine), Bisbrown went on to make two more trips for them.

The Peggy 1770- and the Union 1771- 

The fifth and tenth vessels in which Sparling and Bolden had an interest were with the brothers Thomas and Clayton Case as lead investors, and Captain Charles Pole as ship's master. Both voyages are significant for their blatant disregard of maritime safety.

The journeys started normally. The Peggy, a ship of 100 tons burthen and 4 guns, left Liverpool in October 1770. At Anomabu, near a British fort in present-day Ghana, 352 slaves were loaded. These were transported to Jamaica where 288 survivors were sold, at a cost of 64 lives lost at sea. (13) The Union, a ship of 160 tons burthen, left Liverpool in August 1771. It too went to Anomabu, where it loaded 285 slaves. These were transported to the Upper James River in Virginia, where 280 slaves were unloaded and sold, for the comparatively low mortality of 5 deaths during the Middle Passage. (14) 

However neither ship returned to its home port of Liverpool. The Peggy is recorded as "Shipwrecked or destroyed" after "Slaves disembarked in Americas". The Union is recorded as "Abandoned or condemned for unseaworthiness" after "Slaves disembarked in Americas". Within these generalised words are grounds for suspecting that neither the Peggy nor the Union were in particularly seaworthy condition at the time they set out on their voyages. 

It is a reported fact that the Naval Officer at Hampton, Virginia, condemned the Union as unfit for sea and ordered her burnt to the waterline. The evidence from Kingston, Jamaica, is less clear as to the exact fate of the Peggy, but it can be inferred from her disappearance straight after unloading, that she too was not in good enough condition to make the journey safely home.

The Case brothers were minimising start-up costs by buying cheap, sub-standard ships. They gave cynical expression to the common view that wooden ships only had one or two voyages to tropical waters in them, before they became rotten and had to be abandoned anyway. The chance they took with old or unsound hulls was the possible loss of the investors' freight income from the third or last passage back to England. But far more seriously, they placed their entire cargo of slaves, and the captain and crew, in very real danger of drowning at sea on the second or middle passage. 

The Cases' calculated carelessness towards the potential loss of all the ship's company, committed not once but twice, was apparently too much for the more conservative members on the owners' list. Sparling and Bolden did not invest in any more voyages involving the Cases, or their Captain Pole.

The Bolden 1770-71

The Bolden left Liverpool again in April 1770. Captain Elworthy returned to his old haunt at Calabar, where he loaded 352 slaves. These were transported across the Atlantic to the West Indies islands of St Kitts and Dominica. 287 slaves were unloaded and sold, after 65 had perished on the Middle Passage. (15) 

The second voyage of the Bolden had a list of five owners. Once more, the lead-investor was John Sparling and John Elworthy was the fifth co-investor. William Bolden remained at fourth position. But it is the identity of the second and third names, of Jonathon and Bryan Blundell, which is interesting here. Their inclusion speaks volumes of Sparling and Bolden's growing acceptance into the 'House of Blundell' connection. It is recognition of the two partners' increasing proficiency in the slave trade, their reliability, and creditworthiness. It is a 'stamp' of approval from people who mattered in Liverpool.

Jonathon and Bryan Blundell were second and third generation slave merchants. The founder of the family fortune was Bryan Blundell Senior (1675-1756), one of the original sea captains from Liverpool to focus on the Africa trade. He sailed to Virginia for tobacco and naval stores before turning his attention to slaving. His sons Jonathon and Richard followed him into the business, as did his grandsons Bryan and Henry. The Blundell's influence in Liverpool slaving extended by marriage to include Samuel Shaw, and his son Jonathon. As noted in earlier chapters, Samuel Shaw and Company were closely involved in the Virginia trade with Sparling and Bolden.

Making enduring connections with the established and prominent Liverpool merchant house of Blundell, which specialised in the lucrative but high risk slave trade, was extremely valuable for the smaller firm. Over the next few years, the Blundells were the only co-investors in five of Sparling and Bolden's slave voyages, while Sparling and Bolden were sole co-investors in three Blundell ships.

The Friendship 1770-71

The Friendship was a brigantine of 70 tons burthen, a small nine year old vessel with a crew of 18 under Captain Stephen Field. This voyage, the seventh with Sparling and Bolden as investors, is significant because it was the first in which William Bolden personally took on the role of lead investor. Following Bolden's name in the owners' list is Jonathon Blundell at number two, then Bryan Blundell Junior, John Sparling, and John Elworthy.

Captain Field left Liverpool in June 1770 and was not to return until October 1771. Boldly for a 'new' captain, he made for Calabar (although there is some suggestion that he stopped at Gambia on the way).  A total of 163 slaves were purchased in Africa and the next port of call was at Dominica in the Caribbean. There he sold 131 slaves, after 17 deaths on the Middle Passage. Field then sailed on to Virginia, where he sold another 15 slaves (having lost two more on this stretch), before making his way home to Liverpool with a colonial cargo. (16)

The split voyage seems typical of Bolden's attention to detail. As 'manager' of the voyage, his probable instructions to his captain were to maximise the slave sale-price between the two (island and mainland) destinations. If the residue of his slaves could only be got rid of at giveaway prices in Dominica, Field had the option of sailing on to Virginia, where plantation work was less gruelling and planters less 'choosy'. In addition, Sarling and Boldens' contacts in Virginia would at least ensure a full hold of produce for the final passage to Liverpool, something that could not always be guaranteed in the West Indies.

Bolden's responsibilities as 'principal' owner were considerable. The skills and judgment necessary for a successful slave voyage took time to acquire. Those who proved competent in this capacity were rare, and consequently, respected men in the Liverpool merchant community. Lead-investors generally contributed more capital and took a larger share in the outcome than their co-investors. More critically, the Ship's Husband, as they were called, was the hands on manager and accountant for the venture.

A Ship's Husband was responsible for the purchase and 'fitting out' of the vessel, the selection of an experienced captain and crew, procuring the first passage cargo from a range of individual suppliers (making sure to choose the 'correct' sort of trading goods that were currently in demand at the particular African market from which it was intended to source the slaves), attracting investment from suitable (i.e. solvent) business associates, and, finally, settling all outstanding accounts and apportioning dividends at the end of the voyage.

Because of the specialist knowledge and current market intelligence required to be a successful Ship's Husband, such men formed a relatively small and tight-knit "management elite", the secrets to their expertise "jealously guarded". For the relevant period from 1766 to 1774, when Sparling and Bolden were active in the trade, it has been estimated that "just 20 merchants managed 70% of Liverpool's slaving voyages". (17)

The Juba 1771-72 and the Marcia 1771-72

William Bolden continued to be listed in the prime position, and therefore acted as Ship's Husband, for all of the firm's subsequent slaving voyages, with Sparling stepping back to number two position on the owners' lists. In the seventh and ninth ships sent to Africa, Bolden also returned to, and expanded, the earlier non-Blundell group of investors. At its core were the sailmakers Shepherd and Langton from Kirkham, joined by their new partner John Birley, and timber merchant Edward Mason, joined by his new partner Cornelius Bourne.

The Juba left Liverpool in July 1771. She was a larger than usual ship of 200 tons burthen, with a crew of 33 under Captain Bisbrown. At Calabar 282 slaves were loaded. These were transported to Barbados where 230 were sold, a loss of 52 lives on the Middle Passage. 11 of the crew also died on this voyage. (18) 

Captain Bisbrown's trip may have been only marginally profitable. The Juba was sent out with a first passage cargo of merchandise sufficient for the purchase of an intended complement of 400 slaves. His loading of 282, well short, and the deaths of 11 crew members, suggests his time at Calabar was troubled. Tropical diseases then common to the creeks and inlets of the Niger Delta may have prompted his departure before he could get a full shipment.

It has since been calculated that for a profitable voyage it was necessary to make delivery of at least 55% of the provisioned number, or their equivalent in "prize" or "quality" slaves. The standard measure of 'quality' was a prime, male, adult slave. Older and teenage males, females, and children, were all discounted from this ideal. A 'prize' male slave might fetch 40 or even 50 Pounds in America. However, "the average price of negroes sold" for Calabar slaves sent to Dominica (including male, female, and juvenile), was recorded as 27 Pounds 12 shillings in 1770, and 30 Pounds 13 shillings in 1771. (19) 

The Marcia left Liverpool in October 1771. She was a small brig (2 masts square rigged) of 70 tons burthen, with a crew of 20 under Captain John Baird. At Calabar 192 slaves were loaded. These were also taken to Barbados, where 170 were unloaded and sold, after 22 deaths on the Middle Passage. (20) 

Of note here is that the voyage home to Liverpool was completed under Captain John Jones. It is not clear whether Captain Baird died on board or his command was superceded for some other reason. Neither are the number of crew deaths reported in this instance. However, it is worth noting that the occupation of slaver was also deadly for Englishmen. According to one authority, "in the second half of the eighteenth century, one in five crewmen died within eight months of leaving England", and "the large majority of deaths occurred on the African Coast". (21) 

The Blundell  1772-73

As the name suggests, this vessel was essentially a Blundell-owned ship, although the lead-investor position on her list of owners was taken up by her captain, John Dawson. At second and third place were Jonathon and Bryan Blundell, followed by John Sparling, William Bolden, and John Elworthy. The Blundell was a ship (three masts square rigged) of 120 tons burthen, with a crew of 34. She sailed from Liverpool in April 1772, bound for Calabar. 392 slaves were packed into her hull and taken to St Kitts. 320 were unloaded and sold, 72 having perished on the way. (22) 

The Bolden 1772-73, the Friendship 1772-73, the Juba 1773-74, the Marcia 1773-74

William Bolden was Ship's Husband for the next four voyages. All four vessels, two ships, a snauw, and a brigantine, were ones he had fitted out before. Three of the captains also had prior voyage experience on Sparling and Bolden slavers. Two of these voyages were funded in association with the Blundell family connection and two with the Kirkham group. All were despatched to Calabar for their slaves and all their slaves were sold in the West Indies.

Leaving Liverpool in April 1772, Elworthy on the Bolden loaded 343 and delivered 280, after 63 deaths (10 out of his crew of 30 also died). Field on the little Friendship left Liverpool in June 1772, loading 148 slaves and delivering 131, after 17 deaths. The Juba under Bisbrown sailed from Liverpool in March 1773, loading 318 slaves and delivering 260 alive, after 58 deaths. The Marcia, under a new captain, Daniel Wilcox, left Liverpool in July 1773. She loaded 194 slaves in Africa and landed 166 of them in the Americas, after 28 deaths.(23)

The impression gained from this series of regular departures is that of an efficient factory assembly line -- reliable, like clockwork. Bolden was sending out slaver after slaver in the season, at the rate of two per year. Returns on the owners' investments were also fairly 'regular', not enormous but no losses either.

Mortality rates of 18.4%, 11.5%, 18.5%, and 14.4% respectively, are obscene in the modern context, but were nothing out of the ordinary at the time. Stowage rates of 2.6, 2.1, 1.6, and 1.5 slaves per burthen ton respectively, while high enough by later standards, were less extreme than the 3.3 per ton crammed into Dawson's Blundell. That all four vessels arrived back in Liverpool at the end of their voyages is another (admittedly baseline!) measure of Bolden's steady competence as Ships' Husband.

The Blundell 1773-

It is not too trite to say that Bolden's four modestly successful vessels in 1772 and 1773 were 'the calm before the storm'. Slaving was not by nature an evenly modulated affair. Its fortunes were more often violently mixed.

The Blundell family's namesake left Liverpool in October 1773. Once again, Captain Dawson was its lead-investor, and at the helm. At numbers two and three on the list of owners were Jonathon and Bryan Blundell. Following them were Sparling, Bolden, and Elworthy. 

The Blundell traveled to New Calabar and Bonny Island in the Delta to purchase slaves. When she left there she had on board 452, an excessive number stowed at the ridiculously dense capacity of 3.8 bodies per burthen ton. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Data-Base provides the following terse summaries of her almost inevitable foundering: "Shipwrecked or destroyed after embarkation of slaves or during slaving"; "Slaves perished with ship". (24) 

The sinking of the Blundell was a near complete disaster, tragedy on an epic scale. 443 slaves were drowned. Captain Dawson and most of his crew of 40 took to the ship's boat and survived. Only 9 of the slaves were rescued. These few were forwarded to the West Indies by another vessel and sold.

A cynic might conclude that the loss of the Blundell was not a terminal blow to Sparling and Bolden's finances. It was not 'their' ship -- they were not the Ship's Husband and neither were they the major investors. It was not necessarily a total loss -- they had the opportunity to insure their share of the risk. And these sorts of 'unfortunate misadventures' where known to happen every now and again -- just part of the extraordinary 'game of chance' that was the slave trade.

However, for William Bolden, the catastrophe of the Blundell and its mass drownings seem to have severely shaken his confidence. It effectively marked the end of Sparling and Bolden's slave trading. Thereafter the firm took the position that they were consignors of dry goods, exporters of manufactured products and importers of colonial crops. Not slavers, not Ship's Husbands, and not even ship owners if that could be avoided. Judging by his actions in subsequent years, Bolden in particular, remained determined to never be personally responsible for a sea-going vessel again.

This policy predated the American War of Independence by two years (during which time the shipping of slaves to America fell into recession), and continued after the Peace of 1783 (when other Liverpool slavers increased their commitment to slaving as if to make up for lost time).Despite their apparent aptitude for arranging slaving voyages, and without any evidence that they were forced into financial difficulty by the calamity, Sparling and Bolden ceased playing 'the great game'.

The Friendship 1773-

This Bolden ship, the last slaver in which he was involved, left Liverpool in November 1773, only a month after the departure of the ill-fated Blundell. It was therefore fitted out and sent to the Coast well before the tragedy unfolded, or the news of the Blundell's demise could possibly have reached him in Liverpool.

Captain Field and his small brigantine also went to Bonny and New Calabar, where 133 slaves were put on board. On reaching Jamaica, 118 survivors were sold, after 15 deaths on the Middle Passage. While most of its slaves disembarked safely on this final voyage, the vessel itself did not return to Liverpool, her "subsequent fate unknown". (25) By this time the Friendship was 13 years old and probably rotten. It is also likely that by this stage William Bolden no longer cared.

In Summary

The firm of Sparling and Bolden were active slave merchants for a concentrated six and a half year period, from the beginning of 1768 until the middle of 1774. They were 'investors' in 18 slaving voyages. In 13 of these they acted as lead-investors, or Ship's Husband. Sparling was Ship's Husband for four voyages, Bolden for nine.

Overall they were instrumental in purchasing 4,521 slaves on the Africa Coast and selling 3,388 of that total in the Americas. Their trafficking was at a cost 1,133 slaves who died during the Middle Passage, a mortality rate of 25%. Shipping capacities averaged 116 tons burthen and stowage rates averaged 2.3 slaves per ton, possibly a fairly representative figure for Liverpool slavers in an age of arbitrary disregard for their Negro captives.


Sparling and Bolden's slave voyages seem to have been broadly within the Liverpool model of slaving practices in other respects as well. Twelve of the 18 voyages sourced slaves from the Bight of Biafra, a region of half-crazed 'African capitalism' that centred on Old Calabar, Bonny Island, and New Calabar. Fifteen of the eighteen voyages delivered their slaves to Caribbean islands of the West Indies, where the demand for forced labour was driven by sugar plantations on British (and French and Spanish and Dutch) colonial possessions.

These decisions of embarkation and disembarkation ports were driven by market considerations, about cheaper African slaves and dearer American prices, and they relied on the experience and enterprise of ship's masters at both ends of the trans-Atlantic crossing. As Ship's Husband for 13 voyages, Sparling and Bolden employed the same three 'seasoned' captains when possible -- Elworthy, Bisbrown and Field each did three trips for the firm. Where it was necessary to employ 'occasional' captains, the partners chose 'easier' slave zones, such as Bassa on the Windward Coast (twice), and 'easier' sale-zones in British colonies like Jamaica. 

Finally, as Ship's Husband both Sparling and Bolden relied on extra capital and support from two basic groups of 'known' investors. In six of their voyages it was the Kirkham connection of Shepherd, Langton, and Birley (sailmakers), with Mason and Bourne (timber merchants), who took up shares. In their other seven voyages it was the Blundell connection of Jonathon and Bryan Blundell, and their captains Elworthy and Dawson, who co-invested. In turn, Sparling and Bolden co-invested in three Blundell ships.

The financial risk of what the famously reformed slave captain John Newton called a "game of chance" was effectively spread, or 'shared', between parties known to, and trusted by, the main investors. In this too, Sparling and Bolden followed the Liverpool model of slaving. Ironically, slave merchants based their 'industry' on the principle of commercial trust. They evaluated their peers carefully. In their minds, co-investment in a slaving voyage was a mark of acceptance and membership into a self-selected elite, an association of 'honourable' men. Creditworthiness was their ultimate (and perhaps only) test of human character and 'decency'.



NOTES:
(1) Hugh Thomas, 1997, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870, New York, Simon & Schuster, p. 11
(2) David Eltis, 2013, 'Introduction', The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Data-Base, <www.slavevoyages.org>
(3) Nicholas  Radburn, 2009, 'William Davenport, the Slave Trade, and Merchant Enterprise in Eighteenth-Century Liverpool', MA thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, pp. 73-75
(4) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91424, Fanny (1768)>
(5) Maurice Schofield, 1964, 'The Virginia Trade of the Firm of Sparling and Bolden of Liverpool, 1788-99', Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. 116, p. 121
(6) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91477, Bolden (1768)>
(7) Stephen Behrendt, 2007, 'Human Capital in the British Slave Trade', in Richardson, Schwarz & Tibbles (eds), Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery, Liverpool University Press, pp. 66, 68, 84-85
(8) Paul Lovejoy & David Richardson, 2007, 'African Agency and the Liverpool Slave Trade', in Richardson et al, pp. 48, 51-53, 55
(9) As above, p. 58, Table 2.4
(10) Cited in Katie McDade, 2011, 'A Particular Spirit of Enterprise: Bristol and Liverpool Slave Merchants as Entrepreneurs in the Eighteenth Century', PhD thesis, University of Nottingham, p. 81
(11) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91432, Friendship (1768)>
(12) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91550, Martha (1769)>
(13) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91614, Peggy (1770)>
(14) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91789, Union (1771)>
(15) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91651, Bolden (1770)>
(16) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91677, Friendship (1770)...Voyage 91768, Friendship (1771)>
(17) David Richardson, 1976, 'Profits in the Liverpool Slave Trade: The Accounts of William Davenport', in Anstey & Hair (eds), Liverpool, the African Slave Trade, and Abolition, Liverpool University Press, pp. 67-68
(18) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91778, Juba (1771)>
(19) Gomer Williams, 1897, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, with an Account of the Liverpool Slave Trade, London, William Heinemann, p. 529
(20) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91809, Marcia (1771)>
(21) Stephen Berhendt 2007, citing his research in 'Crew Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century', Slavery and Abolition, Vol. 18 (1997), pp. 49-71
(22) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91831, Blundell (1772)>
(23) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91840, Bolden (1772)...Voyage 91853, Friendship (1772)...Voyage 91779, Juba (1773)...Voyage 91980, Marcia (1773)>
(24) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91832, Blundell (1773)>
(25) <www.slavevoyages.org/...Voyage 91854, Friendship (1773)




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