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Part 2: Slavery Collections from the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool

The Merseyside Maritime Museum (MMM) is a major archival repository for sources relating to the Port of Liverpool and the business that was conducted there.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries Liverpool became Britain’s busiest Atlantic port and the focus of the slave trade. It is not surprising then, that many of the records held at MMM are vital to our understanding of the political, commercial and social dimensions of the slave trade.

Parts 2 & 3 of our 'Abolition & Emancipation' series provide generous coverage of these records and are an important source for Slavery Studies, Maritime History, African Studies and World History. Part 2 features:

The Earle Family Papers
One of the earliest items is a letter of instruction from the owners of the Chesterfield to Captain William Earle, for a slaving voyage from Liverpool to Calabar, 1751. There is also the logbook of the Unity, recording a voyage between Liverpool; Cape Coast Castle, West Africa; and Jamaica, 1769-1771. A slave revolt took place on this ship and it is interesting to compare this with events on the Amistad. There are instructions to Captain Hayslam of the privateer Enterprise, 1779; articles for the fitting out of the privateer Mars of Liverpool, 1779; and material on the Harlequin, 1781. There is a large collection of papers relating to Berbice, now part of Guiana, covering the period 1823-1895, mainly on plantations, and documents from 1672 onwards relating to slave plantations in Jamaica.

The Letterbook of William Earle includes a letter to "Duke Abashy", an African Chief, regarding two young members of the chief’s family who had been taken in error. There is much on the conditions under which Liverpool merchants carried on the Slave Trade, 1760-1761. A further Letterbook, 1801-1807, covers the Leghorn trade.

The Sandbach Tinne and Cobham Papers from the Bryson Collection
There is material concerning Demerara cotton plantations, negro slaves, plantation management, and the American Civil War. A forty five page report on plantation operations, c1840-1870, from William Russell to Mr Cowrie, describes Russell's background and training, labour conditions, wage levels, health, labour shortages, investment requirements, yields and running costs. The letters from Henry Cobham in Pennsylvania to his cousin in Liverpool cover English and American politics, business affairs and the Civil War.

The Cropper Family Papers
The Cropper family made a significant contribution to the abolition of slavery. James Cropper (1773-1840) was a successful Quaker merchant. He and his collaborator, the Anglican Evangelist, Adam Hodgson, worked together for the abolition of slavery, using both ethical and economic arguments. Cropper sent parcels of East Indies coffee and sugar to every MP to demonstrate that these commodities could be produced without slave labour. There is correspondence with other leading abolitionists such as Clarkson, Macaulay, Sturge and Wilberforce, along with circulars and handbills on the subject of abolition. There are descriptions of a Spanish Schooner captured slave trading off Benin in 1822; an album with a copy of the Declaration of the objects of the Liverpool Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, 1823; papers concerning the Tropical Free Labour Company, 1826, and the American Colonisation Society which established Liberia, 1832-1833; an indexed album of anti-slavery news cuttings, 1824-1826; remarks on a proposed grant to compensate planters in the West Indies after 1830; and the Declaration of the Anti-Slavery Convention, Philadelphia 1833.

Danson Family Papers
J T Danson (1817-1898) was economic correspondent of The Globe. We cover his notes and articles on slavery as well as a number of pamphlets including The Administration of Governor Light in British Guiana, 1848 (with notes on the emancipation of slaves) and Economical Causes of Slavery in the United States and Obstacles to its Abolition, 1857.

Other Original Manuscripts
We also include a number of individual manuscripts dealing with the Slave Trade such as: The Slave Trade invoice book of the Eadith, Chesterfield and Calveley, 1758-1762; the Slave Trade invoice book of the Snow, Aston, 1771-1773; correspondence about Kitty's Amelia, 1804-1806; a list of slaves and a fragmentary account of the voyage of the slaver, Sally, 1806; Articles of Agreement and Crew List of Liverpool Hero, a slaving vessel, 1783; Deed of sale of a Negro Slave, New Orleans, 1852; details of trade with the West Indies, 1717-1727; and the Clay Papers concerning trade in Jamaica and Antigua.

Crosbie-Oates Family Papers
These papers cover privateering, politics and religion, the oil trade with West Africa, trade with the USA and, in particular, the journals of the voyages of William J Oates (trading master on voyages to West Africa) including his first voyage to Bonny, West Africa aboard the Hants of Liverpool, and his return on the Celma, 1852-1854; and his second voyage from Liverpool aboard the Charles Horsfall, 1856-1859.

MacGregor Laird Papers and Minutes of the African Steamship Company, 1853-1923
MacGregor Laird developed his Steamship Company dealing in the West African Palm Oil trade, partly in order to enable Britain to keep an eye on the slaving activities of other nations. He believed that trade in such commodities was one of the best ways of improving the economy of that part of Africa and of bringing about a world-wide end to the slave trade.

The Liverpool Registers of Merchant Ships, 1739-1823 (comprising the Wool Act Register, 1739-1792, the Plantation Registers, 1743-1773 and 1779-1784 and the Register Books for 1786-1823) along with the Subsidiary Register of Books of Non-Liverpool Registered Vessels, 1788-1818

These volumes cover all ships registered in Liverpool, including slaving vessels, and give names and occupations of owners, names of masters, and a description of the vessel (length, breadth, decks, masts, size of hold and tonnage, plus type). They also record vessels which have been taken as prizes. These records are described by Gordon Read, Curator of Archives at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, as "perhaps the single most important collection held by the Museum" (Guide to the Records of Merseyside Maritime Museum, 1995).

By the 1730s about 15 ships a year were leaving Liverpool for Africa and this grew to about 50 a year in the 1750s rising to just over a 100 in each of the early years of the 1770s. Numbers declined during the American War of Independence (1775-1783) but rose to a new peak of 120-130 ships a year in the two decades preceding the abolition of the trade by Britain in 1807. It was not until 1833 that the institution of slavery was abolished in British possessions overseas. Many nations carried on trading slaves well into the second half of the 19th century. Ships leaving Liverpool continued to be involved indirectly with the slave trade, in privateering, related trades and as monitoring vessels.

The registers are packed with data for the historian. They should be equally helpful either for scholars trying to track down details about particular vessels, voyages, captains or masters or for those researchers attempting more detailed lines of enquiry.

The Slavery Collections from the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool offer a rich store of evidence for the senior historian and the student, enabling both to explore topics such as:

- Why did Liverpool become such an important port by the second half of the 18th      century?
- How profitable was the slave trade?
- Who was involved?
- What goods were traded for slaves?
- What was the middle passage like?
- How were slaves treated in the West Indies?
- How did the abolition movement affect the trade?
- How did trade and shipping activities change after 1807?

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