A local author tells an untold story about the slave trade in RI | New

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI — Christian McBurney’s new book, “Dark Voyage: An American Privateer’s War on Britain’s African Slave Trade,” opens up a potentially untold story about Rhode Island’s episode in the African slave trade during the British War. independence.

As McBurney recounts, he was attending a Revolutionary War conference when he heard of the privateer ship Marlborough and its investor, officers and crew, all from Rhode Island and all involved in the slave trade. African slaves.

“My heart rate immediately increased. I knew that this subject had never been the subject of a book. At that point, I knew what my next book would be,” said McBurney, a lawyer, author of six books, and Revolutionary War historian.

“It’s a groundbreaking book that tells a story and a facet of the Revolutionary War and Rhode Island history that has never been told before,” he added. The story is largely based on a logbook prepared by a Newport captain’s clerk.

The Rhode Island Historical Society will have McBurney, who splits his time between Washington, DC and West Kingston, as a speaker on Wednesday, August 17 at 6 p.m. to discuss his work on the book. He also spoke in July at the Kingston Free Library.

Corsairs were not pirates. They were instructed by the Continental Congress to only attack enemy ships. American privateers shared the value of enemy ships and the cargo they captured – 50% to investors and 50% to officers and crew.

American privateers sold the African captives they had seized aboard British slave ships to plantation owners in the French Caribbean.

“The mastermind and main investor behind the voyage was Providence merchant John Brown. With his experience as a slave trader – he had been an investor in two previous slave voyages,” McBurney said, describing Brown as a bold character and dispatching his new 20-gun privateer Marlborough which was built in Providence.

Before sailing to Africa, the Marlborough had to execute the British naval blockade of Narragansett Bay and the Marlborough narrowly escaped, pointed out McBurney, also the author of numerous scholarly reports on the American Revolutionary War and Rhode Island history.

He is president of the George Washington American Revolution Round Table of the District of Columbia and is the publisher and editor of smallstatebighistory.com’s online journal, dedicated to Rhode Island history.

In the book, McBurney notes that other New England privateer investors lacked Brown’s experience in the slave trade.

“So they were reluctant to send a privateer to Africa,” he said. However, the privateer Marlborough left Providence in December 1778 with a Rhode Island crew mostly from North Kingstown and Exeter, the author noted.

The ship’s captain, George Waite Babcock, was born and raised in Exeter, but resided with his family in North Kingstown, like most officers. Babcock, after the trip and with the proceeds of his run, bought Silas Jones’ house in East Greenwich, which still stands.

In his research, McBurney also encountered a few surprises.

“While Rhode Island was by far the leading slave-trading colony among the original Thirteen Colonies, the percentage of slave voyages by them was low, about 2.6% of all slave voyages in the world,” he said.

“I (also) discovered that American privateers were capturing so many British slave ships that British investors in Liverpool, London and Bristol were drastically reducing their investment in slave trade voyages,” he said.

“I discovered that American privateers had captured at least 41 British slave ships with over 11,000 African captives on board. The Marlborough, by attacking an important slave trading post in Africa and capturing British slave ships off the African coast, damaged the British slave trade more than any other American privateer,” he said.

As a result of British investors’ reduced investment in slave voyages, “I estimate that up to 60,000 Africans were spared being forced across the Atlantic Ocean and enslaved in the islands of the British Caribbean – Jamaica, Barbados and others,” he said.

In addition, he said he discovered that the captains of British slave ships and slave traders whom Marlborough had captured on the African coast had quickly agreed to cooperate with the Americans and provided them with useful information in return for the return of their ships.

“They were ready to betray their own country to make more money in the slave trade,” he said.

The officers and crew of the Marlborough wanted to further the cause of independence from Britain by harming the British economy, but they also wanted to enrich themselves by selling the plunder they had captured, including enslaved Africans.

In Africa, Marlborough’s officers encounter an array of African and European slave traders willing to help them attack the British. This book is also the first study to detail the numerous captures American privateers made of British slave ships during the Revolutionary War.

The program, sponsored by the Rhode Island Historical Society, will take place at the organization’s Aldrich House in Providence. Tickets are free and available at rihs.org. The book is available online, including through Amazon Books.

Lola R. McClure