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A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade:
Primary Documents
Robert Harms

William Smith, A New Voyage to Guinea, London, 1744, pp. 169-89.

SUBORDINATE to this Government is the Factory of Jacquin, about fixteen or eighteen Miles to the Eastward of that Fort, also that at Sabee about five Miles to the Northward of it, which is now reduc'd to Ashes, by the great and powerful King of Dahomey, who has lately made so much Noise even in Europe. His first Conquest: was that of Great Ardah, about fifty Miles to the North-West of Sabee, in the Year 1724. The King of Ardah having some Dealings, about that Time, with Governor BALDWIN of Whydah, and Accounts not being settled between them, his Majesty detain'd one Mr. Lamb, an English Factor at Ardah, in Hopes thereby to expedite their Accounts. During which Time, the City of Ardah happen'd to be besieg'd by the aforesaid King of Dahomey's Army. The People of Ardah, for some Time, made a stout Resistance, till their King was slain before his Palace-Gate, and then they submitted to the Conquerors, who took them all Prisoners, and among the rest the aforesaid unfortunate Mr. Lamb. The King of Dahomey's General, admiring so strange a Figure as a White Man, spar'd him, and carried him as a Rarity to the King his Master, who was then two Hundred Miles up in the Inland Country, where a White Man never was before. During his Stay there, he wrote a very long Letter to Governor TINKER, who succeeded Baldwin at Whydah, wherein he gives a Description of the Country, of the King, of the Taking of Ardah, and of his Sufferings. This being the very best Account that could be had of those remote Inland Countries, I have been favour'd by the Governor with a Copy of it, which is as follows:

From the Great King TRUD0 AUDATI's Palace of Abomey, in the Kingdom of Dahomey.

Nov. 27. 1724.

SIR, ABOUT five Days ago, the King of this Country gave me Your's of the first Instant, and immediately requir'd me to answer it in his Presence, which I did, though in a very indifferent Manner; so that if I do not recall it, I hope you will excuse that as well as this.

As to the late Conference I had with His Majesty, on receiving your Letter, I think he does not want to make a Price to let me go; for when I press'd him much to tell me, on what Terms he would send me away; his Answer still was, that he did not want to sell me, I was not a Black Man: But, upon my again pressing him, he made a Sort of a jesting Demand to the Sum of, I think, seven Hundred Slaves, about ten Thousand Pound Sterling, or fourteen Pound a-head. Which strange ironical Way of Talking, as I told him, made my Blood run cold in my Veins; and upon recovering myself I ask'd him, if he thought me King of my Country, and that you and the Company would think both he and I had lost our Senses should I have writ any Thing like what he had said. Upon which he laugh'd, and told me not to put any Thing of that in the Letter; for that he would order his Head-Captain of Trade to treat with you upon that Subject, and that if you had not something very fine for him at Whydah, you must write to the Company. Upon which I told him, I found I must die in his Country, and that I would only send for a few Cloaths and Necessaries, which I desir'd he would let his People bring for me, and he agreed to it; so that I dont find there is any other Way of redeeming me, than by the Company's sending him a Present of a Crown and Sceptre, which must be paid for out of what remains due to the late King of Ardah. I know nothing else but what he will think mean, being stock'd with great Quantities of Plate, wrought Gold, and other rich Things; also all Sorts of fine Gowns, Cloaths, Hats, Caps, &c. He has likewise all Sorts of common Goods beyond Measure, and gives away Booges like Dirt, and Brandy like Water, for he is prodigious vain and proud, but he is withall, I believe, the richest King and greatest Warrior in this Part of the World; and you may depend upon it, in Time, will subdue most of the Countries round him. He has already set his two Chief Palaces round with Mens Sculls, as thick as they can lie on the Walls one by another, and are such as he has kill'd in War; each of which Palaces are in Circumference larger than St. James's Park, about a Mile and an half round,

HE talks much of settling a Correspondence with the Company, and of having White Men come here, which you must encourage him in, and tell him that the Way to do it, will be to send me away; for he says he wants Ships to come to some Place only for his Slaves, and bring such Things as are only fit for such a King as he: To all which I give him the Hearing, and which if you humour may be a great Means to help me out of this wretched State. I hope my Royal Masters will take my Case into Consideration, and think of the long and many Sufferings I have had in their Service, and what a miserable Condition I am still in, as it were banish'd all the Pleasures of this Life, not only from my Wife and other Friends, but all Conversation in general; so that I am like one buried alive from the World, and think nothing can come near my unhappy Fate, to lose my Time, and spend my Youth as it were for no. thing in such a cursed Place as this, and not see a Likelihood of getting out of it, but that I must end my Days here. To prevent all which, I hope, that they and you, in their Behalf, will use your utmost Endeavours, by such Means as are requisite for my Deliverance, which I than very impatiently pray to God to bring to pass.

GOVERNOR Baldwin promis'd me in his last, upon his Arrival in London, he would lay my Case before our Royal Masters. Therefore when you write, I beg you will remind him and them thereof, and note the Contents of what I now write. If any Letters come from England for me, I believe either them, or any Thing else, will come safe to my Hands by this King's People. He is very willing I should have Letters come to me, or any Thing else, nor will he be guilty of any mean Action in keeping any Thing from me, if it were Twenty Slaves: Neither do I believe he would detain any White Man that should come here, but me whom he deems a Captive taken in his Wars. He sets a great Value upon me, he never having had a White Man here before, only an old Mullatto Portuguese, which he bought of the Popo People, at the Rate of about five Hundred Pound, as near as I could compute. And tho' this White Man is his Slave, yet the King keeps him like a great Caboceroe, and has given him two Houses, and an Heap of Wives and Servants. It may be, that once in two or three Months he mends (he being a Taylor by Trade) some Trifle or other for his Majesty, but after the Devil of a Manner. So that if any Taylor, Carpenter, Smith, or any Sort of White Man that is free be willing to come here he will find very good Encouragement, and be much caress'd, and get Money, if he can be contented with this Life for a Time; his Majesty paying every Body extravagantly that works for him. And then it might be one Means of letting me go, with a Promise of returning to trade with him; but he now says, if I go, he does not know, whether he shall see any more White Men, thinking they add to his Grandeur; so that if any Fellow whatsoever comes up and goes down again, it will possess him with a Notion that more White Men will come, and so let me go, in Order to encourage their Coming. Or, if my little Servant Henry Tench be at Whydah, and is willing to come to me, it may in Time be much for his Interest, as now being a Boy, the King will be entirely fond of him; for though I do nothing for him, he has put me into a House, and given me Half a Dozen Men and Women Servants; also a constant Supply to maintain myself and them. If I lov'd Brandy, I might soon kill myself, having enough of that; also of Sugar, Flower, and the like: And when he kills Oxen, which is often, I am sure of a Quarter, and sometimes a live Hog, Sheep, or Goat; so that I shall not starve, (but all this is nothing, I still want Content) and when he comes out in Publick, the Portuguese and I are call'd to sit all Day in the Sun, only our Boys are permitted to hold our Kideysolls, or Umbrellas, over our Heads, but then he pays us pretty well for it; sometimes giving us two, sometimes times three or four Grand Cabess [1] apiece, and a large Flask of Brandy to drink there, besides one or two more for each to carry Home; so that the Portuguese and I endeavour to live as well as I can; and think it enough if we can keep up our Hearts, and ourselves in Health: But I being weary of this wretched Life, some Time ago requested his Majesty to put me into the Hands of his great Captain of War, or General, and give me a Horse, and let me go to War: To which he would by no Means agree, saying, he did not want me to be kill'd, for that he should anon find other Business for me; wherefore he would have me be easy, and sit and see what he does; the Meaning of which I do not at present understand. My going to War was likewise much oppos'd by the aforesaid General, who alledg'd, that if I should be kill'd, it might bring a Pallaver upon his Head, and make the King angry with him, as thinking him to be the Occasion of it. However, his Majesty order'd me a Horse, and told me, whenever he went out, I should go with him, which he often does for his Pleasure, in a fine Hammock with gilded Awnings and Curtains. He likewise very often adjourns to some other of his Palaces, which are some Miles distant from hence; and, as I am told, in Number Eleven. In this Labyrinth, I am willing to make Life as comfortable as possible, but as it is very uneasy to ride a bare Horse, I pray you will not fail to send me an old Furniture with Spurs and Whip. The King has likewise desir'd me to write to you for the best Horse-Furniture that is to be got at Whydah, and he will pay what you than demand for it; likewise a little English Dog, and a Pair of Shoe-buckles, and if you think well of it, you may charge them to me with the following Things both for the King and myself, being assur'd that even a trifling Present, will not only be acceptable from me, but very much encrease my Interest whether I stay or go, which at the shortest must be very long. I therefore beg you will not fail to send me what is to be got of them, which may not only make my unhappy State a little the better, but may make his Majesty conclude there is no Thought of Ransoming me; and so send me Home in some of his Majesty's Whims.

IF my two Chests left at Jacquin are yet come to Whydah, I pray they may be sent to me with every Thing in them good and bad; also the following Things if to be got on any Reasonable Terms, viz. &c. &c. of no Use to the Reader, and too tedious to be inserted.

I HOPE you will not scruple sending any Thing I write for, as not having receiv'd any Salary, or Diet-money since I have been in Guinea. Nor would I have you admire at my sending for so many Things, seeing his Majesty has order'd another House to be built for me, at a Town he mostly resorts to when he is preparing for War, which fills me with melancholy Thoughts, and looks no Way like my going out of this Captivity speedily.

IF you think well of my agreeing for any Slaves with the King, you must talk with his Servants thereon, and send me a Mark, [2] for while I am here, I am willing to do the Company some Service if possible, their Interest being always what I shall study to promote to the utmost of my Power; but then I must have a Specie of all Sorts of Goods, mark'd and number'd with the Rates, to prevent Mistakes. Most of the Ink you sent me being unfortunately spilt, I beg you will send me a Paper of Ink-powder: His Majesty has likewise got from me the greatest Part of the Paper, having a Notion in his Head of a Kite, which, tho' I told him was only fit for Boys to play with, yet he says, I must make one for him and I to play with. So I beg you will send me two Quire of Ordinary Paper, and some Twine for that Use, and a Scane of Match; his Majesty requiring me sometimes to fire his great Guns, and I am much in fear of having my Eyes put out with the Splinters. He has twenty-five Cannon, some of which are upwards of a Thousand Weight, so that a Man would think the Devil help'd to bring them here, this Place being above two Hundred Miles distant from Whydah, and at least an Hundred and sixty from Ardah. His Majesty takes great Delight in firing them twice round every Market Day, only now that his People are making Carriages for them; and though he seems to be a Man of great natural Parts and Sense as any of his Colour, yet he takes great Delight in trifling Toys and Whims; so that if you have any Thing of that Kind, I pray you will send them to me, or any Prints or Pictures, he much loving to look in a Book, and commonly carries a Latin Mass-Book in his Pocket, which he had from the Mulatto, and when he has a Mind to banter any Body out of their Requests, he looks in his Book as studiously as if he understood it, and could employ his Thought on no other Subject, and much affects scrawling on Paper, often sending me his Letters, but then he sends an Interpreter with a good Flask of Brandy and a Grand Cabess or two. If there is any Cast-off Whore, either White or Mullattoe, that can be persuaded to come to this Country, either to be his Wife or else practice her old Trade; I should gain his Majesty's Heart entirely by it, and he would believe any Thing I say, about my going and returning again with more White Men from the Company. I pray you'll comply with as much of this Letter as possible, which may be much for my Interest. As to any one's coming, they need not fear his using any Compulsions, having at least two Thousand Wives, which he maintains beyond any Black King; and suffers them to do nothing but for his own Use in his own House, or Palace, which is as big as a small Town. And when one Hundred and Sixty, or two Hundred of them goes with little Pots for Water, they one Day wear rich Silk Waist-cloaths, call'd Arse-Clouts; another Day they all wear Scarlet Cloaths with three or four large Strings of Coral about their Necks, and their Leaders sometimes in Crimson, sometimes in Green, and sometimes Blue Velvet Cloaths with Silver-gilt Staffs in their Hands, like Golden Canes.

WHEN I came here first:, the Portuguese had a Mullattoe Whore, who his Majesty used with Abundance of good Manners, continually giving her Presents. He gave her two Women and a Girl to wait on her, but she dying of the Small Pox, he wants mightily more to come, and says, that no white Body shall ever want any Thing he can purchase for Gold: He likewise gives great Encouragement to all Black Strangers, and is extremely kind to some Mallay People who are now here.

THIS Country is mighty healthful, lying so very high, and is daily refreshed with fine cool Breezes: It is likewise extremely pleasant, having all Great Popo in View, tho' at a vast Distance, neither are we pester'd with Musketoes.

I HOPE I shall have a better Opportunity to describe the Power and Grandeur of this conquering King, which has often surpriz'd me, not thinking ever to see any Thing like it in this Part of the World. I shall therefore conclude my Letter with a short Account of that War, whereto I was an unfortunate Eyewitness, and from whence I sav'd nothing in the World but what I had on my Back; and narrowly escap'd perishing in the Flames, being the Fate of many Hundreds, which I had shar'd, had not a Man haul'd me over the Wall of old Blanco's House, in which I was suddenly shut up as soon as the Cry of War came. And were it not for that Misfortune, I might had a Chance to make my Escape, which, I suppose, the King and old Blanco were afraid of, for which Reason they sent to secure me. However, that House being the first they set Fire to in Town, I got soon enough out to be a melancholy Spectator of the ensuing Desolation, and Destruction. Some Time after I was hauled out, they carried me through the Town to the King's House, where this King's General was; and though he was in a great Hurry, and flush'd with Victory, he took me very kindly by the Hand, and gave me a Dram; which was some Comfort to me, tho' I knew not who he was: At first, I took him to be the King of Ardah's Brother, but then I admir'd at his Face [3] being cut, and the House being in Flames; but I soon understood who he was.----When we went out, there was scarce any stirring for Bodies without Heads; and had it rain'd Blood, it could not have lain thicker on the Ground. Night being come, I walk'd among Crowds of People with the General to the Camp, who after giving me two or three Drams gave me in Charge to one of the petty Captains of War, who was extremely kind to, and careful of me. The next Day, they brought one of my Boys to me, who was Captain Blanco's Son, but he being mortally wounded in the Head, so that his Brains might be seen, was not able to let me know what they said. Two Days after, the General call'd me to come and sit with him and the Petty Captains of War, while they counted the Captive Slaves, which they did by giving a Booge to every one: The whole amounted to upwards of two Grand Cabess, or above Eight Thousand in Number, among whom I saw two more of my Boys, one of which was wounded in the Thigh, and the other in the Knee. This Accident gave me an Opportunity of a little more Talk with the General, who endeavour'd to hearten me up, calling for a Flack of Brandy, he drank to me, and bid me keep the rest: He likewise offer'd me some Pieces of Chints, Sletias, &c. which I having no Use for refus'd, telling them, if they found among their Plunder any Shirts, or Cloaths, I should be thankful for them, being, as you may suppose, very dirty.

THE People to whom my Servants were Captives would never permit them to come to me, without coming with them; however the General bid me not be uneasy at that, in the leafs, for no-thing should hurt me till I saw the King, his Master, who would receive me extremely well and kindly, which indeed he afterwards did. The General gave me a Kideysoll and Hammock, to carry me up in the Country, which I gladly accepted of.

HAVING seen so many Cruelties committed on the Bodies of old Men and Women, also on such as were not able to travel by Reason of their Wounds and Burns, &c. I could not chuse but labour under dismal Apprehensions, particularly the first Morning when they led me out, as I imagin'd, to sacrifice me, with Drum beating a Sort of a dead March before me, and many Hundreds gather'd about me jumping and tearing enough to rend the very Skies, with such a Noise as would fright the Devil himself. Many had drawn Swords and Knives in their Hands, which they flourished about me as if ready for Execution. While I was calling upon God to have Mercy upon me, the General sent Orders to the Petty Captain of War to bring me to him, being retir'd about two Miles out of the Camp. His Orders were quickly obey'd, and I brought to him, which put an End to my Fears.

I SHOULD have given you an Account of my Introduction to the King, had not his Majesty sent this Minute in a Hurry to me for this Letter, which I cannot have Time either to copy or correct as I intended; I therefore beg you will pardon Tautology, and all other Faults, being with hearty Service to all the Gentlemen, Sir,

Your most Obedient Humble Servant,


1. Forty Booges make one Tokey; five Tokeys one Gallina; and twenty Gallinas, one Grand Cabess, equal in Value to One Pound Sterling.

2. Thirty-two Pounds.

3. Some Inland Countries do cut and scarify their Faces for Ornament Sake.