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A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade
Robert Harms



From William Snelgrave, A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave Trade. London, 1734, pp. 19-26; 59-68.


The latter end of March, in the Year 1726-7, I arrived with the Katharine Galley in the Road of Whidaw, where I landed, and went to the English Fort, which is about three Miles from the Sea side, and likewise to the French Fort near adjoining. The white People that had been taken Prisoners, being returned to those Places but a few Days before, gave me a full account of the great Calamity fallen on the Country, about three Weeks before my Arrival; which gave me much Concern, I having traded there several Voyages. It was a lamentable Story to hear, and a dismal Sight to see, the Desolation of so fine a Country, lately exceeding populous, now destroyed in such a manner by Fire and Sword. The Carnage of the Inhabitants was, above all, a most moving Spectacle, the Fields being strewed with their Bones. Moreover the Concern for the Interest of my Voyage affected me not a little. But knowing it highly necessary to keep up my Spirits in so hot a Country, I resolved (humbly relying on Providence) not to be wanting in my Endeavours, for the Interest I had under my Care; and I met with far greater Success than any way I could have reasonably expected, considering the melancholy Prospect I had then of Affairs, which shall be related hereafter.

Having stayed three Days on Shore with the English and French, who, I found, were in as great a Doubt as my self how to act in their Affairs; I came to a Resolution to go for the Port or Road of Jaqueen, which lies about seven Leagues to the Eastward of Whidaw; and has about thirty Miles of Sea-Coast. This Place has always been the Sea Port to the Kingdom of Ardra, and tributary to it; having a hereditary Governour, who paid his Tribute in Loaves of Salt, there being great Quantities made here.

As soon as the King of Dahome had conquered Ardra, the Lord of this Place sent his Submission, offering the usual Tribute he used to pay the conquered King; which was readily accepted. This shews the Policy of the King of Dahome; for tho' he had made a terrible Destruction of the Inhabitants of the inland Countries he had conquered from Time to Time; yet he knew his Interest too well, to destroy the People of this Country in the same manner; for having now obtained his Desires, in gaining a free Passage to the Sea-Side, he judged the Jaqueens would be very useful to him, because they understood Trade, and now by their means, he should never want a supply of Arms and Gunpowder, to carry on his designed Conquests. More-over these People had ever been Rivals to the Whidaws in Trade, and had an inveterate Hatred against them, because they had drawn almost the whole trade from the Jaqueens, to their own Country. For, the Pleasantness thereof, with the good Government in former Times, had induced the Europeans to carry on the far greater part of the Trade, at their principal Town of Sabee.

It was on the third of April 1727, we anchored in the Road of Jaqueen; and soon after I sent on Shore my Surgeon, to the Lord of that Place, to settle an Agreement with him, before I landed my self; for I had never been at this Place, and had a Hint given me not to trust him, before all the Particulars I demanded were agreed to by him; for he had formerly plaid base Tricks with some Europeans, who had not taken such a Precaution. In the Evening my Surgeon sent me a Letter, informing me, he had obtained all I desired; For the Performance of which the Lord of the Place had taken his Fetiche or Oath, in presence of a French and Dutch Gentleman: On this Assurance I landed the next Day, and went up to the Town of Jaqueen, which lies about three Miles from the Sea side, where I was received very kindly, the Promises and Agreement made with my Surgeon being renewed, and a House appointed me to keep Factory in.

The next Day a Messenger came from the King of Dahome, whose Name was Buttenoe. He spoke very good English, and told me, "His Majesty having heard there was an English Ship arrived in the Road of Whidaw, he had ordered him to go there and invite the Captain to come up to his Camp; (which was about forty Miles directly within the Land in the Country of Ardra) but being told there I was gone for Jaqueen, he had followed me to make the King's Desire known to me: Assuring me in his Majesty's Name, I should be intirely safe in all Respects, and kindly used."

To this I answered, "I would consider his Majesty's kind Invitation, and he should know my Resolution next Day." But perceiving I had some Distrust in my Mind, he represented to me, "That if I did not go, it would highly offend the King; that he feared I should not be permitted to trade, besides other bad Consequences might follow." This black Messinger, as mentioned above, spoke very good English, having learnt it when a Boy in the English Factory at Whidaw: He belonged to Mr. Lambe, and was with him at the time he was taken Prisoner by the King of Ardra. They both fell into the King of Dahome's Power, as related above, where he learnt the Country Language; and in this respect I had as capable an Interpreter as I could desire. So, upon considering the matter, finding the Interest of my Voyage depended on my going to the Camp to wait on the King, I resolved to undertake it, tho' the many Barbarities I had been told his People had been guilty of, gave me some Concern. However, soon after, I had further Encouragement, by others offering to accompany me. For a Dutch Captain's Curiosity prompted him to it, whose Ship had been destroyed just before by the Portuguese: Moreover the Dutch chief Factor proposed to send one of his Writers with large Presents to the Conqueror; likewise the Lord of Jaqueen offered to send his own Brother, to pay his Duty, with great Presents to the King; not having done it before. So having prepared all Things for our Journey, which took us up three Days, we set out in the following manner.

The eighth of April, at nine a Clock in the Morning, being accompanied with the aforesaid Persons, we went to the Side of the River that runs on the Back part of the Town of Jaqueen, having in our Retinue One hundred black Servants. We ferried over the River in Canoes, which are a sort of Boats, made of large Trees hollowed. The People of the Town attended us in great numbers to the water side, praying for our success: For they were under terrible apprehensions for our safety, amongst such barbarous People as we were going to: Especially they were highly concerned for the Duke, their Lord's Brother, who was a Person endowed with the most amiable qualities I ever met with amongst Persons of his Colour.

Being landed on the other side of the River, we set out on our Journey, the proper servants of each person attending in their several places. I had six Hammock-men, who relieved one another by turns; two at a time being only required to carry the Pole which it is fastened to. I had likewise a small Horse to ride on, when I was weary with lying in the Hammock. The other Gentlemen were accommodated in the same manner. Our travelling was at the rate of about four miles an hour; for we made frequent Stops for our Baggage-carriers, there being no Carts nor good Horses at Jaqueen; the few Horses that are there being but little bigger than our Asses. The Country, as we travelled along, appeared beautiful and pleasant, and the Roads good; but desolated by the War, for we saw the remains of abundance of Towns and Villages, with a great quantity of the late Inhabitants bones strewed about the Fields.

* * * *

About three a Clock that Afternoon, a Messenger came from the great Captain, to inform us, the King had appointed immediately to give us an Audience. This was an agreeable Surprize to us, for now we had hopes of being quickly dispatch'd, so we prepared our selves, and went to the King's Gate, our Presents for his Majesty being carried before us.

On our coming into the Court, where we had seen the King at our former Audience, we were desired to stay a little, till the Presents were carried into the House, that his Majesty might view them. Soon after we were introduced into a small Court, at the further end of which the King was sitting cross-legg'd on a Carpet of Silk, spread on the Ground: He was himself richly dress'd, and had but few Attendants. When we approached him, his Majesty enquired in a very kind manner, How we did? ordering we should be placed near him; and accordingly fine Mats were spread on the Ground for us to sit on. Tho' sitting in that Posture was not very easy to us, yet we put a good Face on the matter, understanding by the Linguist, that it was their Custom.

As soon as we were placed, the King ordered the Interpreter to ask me, What I had to desire of him? To which I answered, "That as my Business was to trade, so I relied on his Majesty's Goodness, to give me a quick dispatch, and fill my Ship with Negroes; by which means I should return into my own Country in a short time; where I should make known how great and powerful a King I had seen." To this the King replied by the Linguist, "That my desire should be fulfilled: But the first Business to be settled was his Customs." Thereupon I desired his Majesty to let me know what he expected? There was a Person then present (I believe on purpose) whose name was Zunglar, a cunning Fellow, who had formerly been the King's Agent for several Years at Whidaw; where I had seen him in my former Voyages. To him I was referred to talk about the Affair. So Zunglar told me, "his Master being resolved to encourage Trade, tho' he was a Conqueror, yet he would not impose a greater Custom than used to be paid to the King of Whidaw." I answered, "As his Majesty was a far greater Prince; so I hoped he would not take so much." This Zunglar not replying readily to, and the King observing it, (for the Linguist told him every word that pass'd between us) His Majesty himself replied, "That as he was the greater Prince, he might reasonably expert the more Custom; but as I was the first English Captain he had seen, he would treat me as a young Wife or Bride, who must be denied nothing at first." Being surprized at this turn of Expression, I told the Linguist, I was afraid he imposed on me, and interpreted the King's words in too favourable a manner." His Majesty observing I spoke with some Sharpness, asked him what I said? Which the Linguist having told him, his Majesty smiled, and expressed himself again to the same purpose: Adding, "I should find his Actions answerable to his Words." Being greatly encouraged by the King's gracious Expressions towards me, I took the Liberty to represent to his Majesty, "That the best way to make Trade flourish, was to impose easy Customs, and to protect us from the Thievery of the Natives, and the Impositions of great Men; which the King of Whidaw not doing, had greatly hurt the Trade. For the ill usage the Europeans had met with of late from him and his People, had caused them to send fewer Ships than formerly they did. And tho' a large Custom might seem at first for his Majesty's Advantage, yet it would soon be found, that a great number of Ships would thereby be hindred from coming to trade; so that in this respect he would lose far more in General, than he would gain by that Particular."

The King took what I said in good part, telling me, " I should name my own Custom, which I at first declined: But being prest to do it a second time, I told the Linguist to ask his Majesty, "Whether he would be pleased to take one half of what we used to pay at Whidaw?" To this the King readily agreed; adding, "He designed to make Trade flourish; and I might depend upon it, he would prevent all Impositions, and Thievery, and protect the Europeans that came to his Country, saying, that his God had made him the Instrument to punish the King of Whidaw, and his People, for the many Villanies they had been guilty of towards both Whites and Blacks: That the Embassadors now in his Camp from the said King, had informed him of me and my Character, and that by the account they had given him of my former dealings in their Country, he could put much Confidence in me."

Then his Majesty having asked me divers Questions concerning our former ill usage in the Country of Whidaw, to which I answered as I thought proper; I took this Opportunity of pleading for the common People of that Kingdom; representing, "It was the great Men amongst them that had encouraged their thieving, in which they shared: But if his Majesty would be pleased to receive them to Mercy, and restore them to their Country, on paying a certain Tribute, they would be of great advantage to him; because they were very industrious in cultivating the Land, and many of them understood Trade exceeding well, which his own People were little versed in. Moreover it was a Maxim amongst the white Princes, that the number of useful Subjects was their greatest Glory and Strength; and if his Majesty thought the same, he had an opportunity of adding many hundreds of thousands to his former Vassals." To this the King replied, "He was sensible of the truth of what I alledged, but that the Conquest of Whidaw could not be secured, till he had the King's Head; and he had already offered the People to restore them to their Country, as soon as they should send him alive or dead to his Camp." I did not think proper, on hearing this, to say any thing more on the matter, or observe to his Majesty, how wrong a Policy it was, to oblige Subjects to act so villanous a part towards their Sovereign. For as the Custom of these black Princes was little known to us, I was afraid of giving offence: So I only answered, "That as the King of Whidaw was on an Island by Popoe, with many thousands of his People, the rest that were disspersed up and down the Country in the Bushes, could not possibly perform what his Majesty required of them: For if they were ever so ready to do it, yet having no Cannoes to ferry over to the Island, it was not in their Power to take the King from thence; and that I believed if he did not receive them to Mercy quickly, the far greater part of them would perish by Famine."

After this his Majesty fell into a variety of Discourse, and amongst other things complained of Mr. Lambe, (who, as I have related in the beginning of this Book, had been taken Prisoner in the Ardra War,) saying, "That tho' he had given him, at his leaving the Court, three hundred and twenty ounces of Gold, with eight Slaves, and made him promise with a solemn Oath to return again in a reasonable time, yet twelve Moons had now pass'd, and he had heard nothing from him: Adding, He had sent a black Person with him, whose name was Tom, one who had been made a Prisoner at the same time, being a Jaqueen-man, who spoke good English; and this Man he had ordered to return again with Mr. Lambe, that he might be informed, whether what that Gentleman had reported concerning our King, Customs, and manner of Living was true." To this I replied, That I had no personal Knowledge of Mr. Lambe, but had been informed, before I left England, that he went from Whidaw to Barbadoes, which is a Plantation where the English employ their Slaves in making Sugar, and which is at a great distance from our own Country; But I hoped he would prove an honest Man, and return again to his Majesty, according to his Promise and Oath."

To this the King replied, "Tho' he proved not as good as his Word, other white Men should not fare the worse on that account; for as to what he had given Lambe, he valued it not a Rush; but if he returned quickly, and came with never so large a Ship, she should be instantly filled with Slaves, with which he might do what he thought proper.