Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bunce Island Slave Post

Bance Island in Sierra Leone


By Joseph Opala, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition Yale University -- Between about 1750 and 1800, Bance Island was one of the major slave trading operations on the Rice Coast of West Africa. Bance Island (now Bunce) is located in the Sierra Leone River about twenty miles above modern Freetown. It is a small island, only one-third of a mile long and uninhabited today, but in the days of the Atlantic slave trade it was an economically strategic point. Because Bance Island was at the limit of navigability for ocean-going vessels, it was the natural meeting place for European slave traders arriving in large sailing ships and African traders following the rivers down from the interior. As early as 1672 the Royal African Company of England established a commercial fort on Bance Island, but that company was poorly managed and abandoned its operation. (source: Yale)



Map of Sierra Leone

Then, about 1750, the London firm of Grant, Sargent, and Oswald took control of Bance Island and made it into a commercial success. The London partners rebuilt the fort, established a shipyard, assembled a fleet of small vessels to cruise the Rice Coast in search of slaves, and expanded the African work force. They also concentrated heavily on supplying slaves to one particular market—Charlestown, South Carolina where local rice planters were eager to purchase slaves from Sierra Leone and the neighboring areas. (source: Yale)


The remains of the Bunce Island jetty where thousands of slaves began their horrific journey to the southern American states, where plantation owners paid high prices for slaves from the region (BBC)
Richard Oswald was the principal partner in the London firm that operated Bance Island. About 1756, Oswald established a close personal and business relationship with Henry Laurens, one of the wealthiest rice planters and slave dealers in the Colony of South Carolina. As Laurens' papers have been preserved by the South Carolina Historical Society (and recently published), we can reconstruct the complicated business arrangements between these two men. Oswald's agents at Bance island dispatched several ships a year to Charlestown, each containing between 250 and 350 slaves and goods such as ivory and camwood (a red dyewood). (source: Yale)



Cannons defended the island against outside attack. Bunce Island was attacked twice by pirates and four times by the French when it was a going concern. (BBC)

Laurens advertised the slaves, then sold them at auction to local rice planters for a ten percent commission. He used the substantial earnings from the sale to buy locally produced Carolina rice which he sent to Oswald in London, together with the ivory and camwood, and often in the same ship that brought the slaves from Africa. If Oswald's ship were headed directly back to Sierra Leone, Laurens sometimes loaded ship building supplies such as masts, spars and plank-the products of South Carolina's forest industry. At times, the wealthy Laurens sent his own ship directly from Charlestown to Bance Island to obtain Sierra Leonean slaves for his expansive rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia. In a letter to Oswald, Henry Laurens once noted that slaves from Bance Island were "as advantageous as any" imported into South Carolina. (source: Yale)


Six forts were built on the site during its time as a major regional trading post. (BBC)

The profitable slave trade connection between Oswald and Laurens—between Sierra Leone and South Carolina—was significant enough to affect the course of American history. During the Revolutionary War Henry Laurens served as President of the Continental Congress (the provisional government) and was later appointed American envoy to Holland. Laurens was captured en route to his post by the British Navy and imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of high treason—the highest ranking American official ever captured during the Revolutionary War. Richard Oswald posted bail for his American business partner; and Laurens remained in London until the conclusion of the War, when he was freed in exchange for the British commander in North America. (source: Yale)


After the British Abolition Act of 1807, Bunce Island was used as a saw mill and trading post.(BBC)

Laurens was then appointed as one of the four American Peace Commissioners who negotiated United States independence under the Treaty of Paris. But, amazingly, it was Richard Oswald who was named to head the British negotiating team, no doubt, because of his American business contacts and friendship with Laurens. United States independence was, thus, negotiated, at least in part, between a British slave trader with operations in Sierra Leone and his agent for rice-growing slaves in South Carolina. The slave trade connection, based on rice, had helped to boost both men into positions of wealth and international prominence. (source: Yale)


Slaves held on the island awaiting transportation to the Americas were kept in cramped underground dungeons. (BBC)

Laurens was then appointed as one of the four American Peace Commissioners who negotiated United States independence under the Treaty of Paris. But, amazingly, it was Richard Oswald who was named to head the British negotiating team, no doubt, because of his American business contacts and friendship with Laurens. United States independence was, thus, negotiated, at least in part, between a British slave trader with operations in Sierra Leone and his agent for rice-growing slaves in South Carolina. The slave trade connection, based on rice, had helped to boost both men into positions of wealth and international prominence. (source: Yale)


Some slaves didn't survive captivity long enough to make the crossing and were buried on the island.(BBC)


Some of the traders also met their end on the island, British firms like the Royal Africa Company operated here from about 1670. (BBC)

5 comments:

  1. Atlantic, it is economically more strategic perspective, so I agree. But it is very unfortunate that in the 21st century there are still slaves. Everyone should be free. There are beautiful photos on the blog.

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  2. This is an excellent write-up on the history of Bunce Island, and it looks great with the addition of the photos.

    But please correct the source.

    It's not "Yale" as appears here, but an individual person -- the historian Joseph Opala.

    The write-up was taken from this website:

    http://www.visitsierraleone.org/attractions/historical-and-heritage-sites/Bunce-Island.html

    You'll see the author is credited this way in the website:

    Courtesy of Joseph Opala
    Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition Yale University

    At that time, Opala was on a temporary fellowship at Yale's slavery study center.

    He's now based in Sierra Leone serving as the Director of a $5 million preservation project devoted to Bunce Island.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2011/0805/US-funded-coalition-restores-key-West-African-slave-trade-castle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments and your update on Joseph Opala.
      The purpose of this post was meant to contextualize Bunce/Bance Island, Sierra Leone. It really is two accounts of this slave trading post, one from the British perspective on the BBC -- their photography was absolutely brilliant, and the other from an American viewpoint that of Joseph Opala. It is sandwiched between two posts one discussing the Blood Diamonds of Sierra Leone and the other was "Priscilla's Story" that reported on Opala's discovery of a direct blood descendant of a slave girl who was sold in South Carolina. Here are the two posts.

      http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/05/blood-diamonds-true-story.html

      http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/05/priscillia-slave-story-part-3.html

      I have corrected the failure to give complete credit to the author, I have listed him on the first line and provided a link to the document as well. I checked the links within the post and they ALL link to the original article from Yale. Perhaps it was published at Yale and Visit Sierra Leone, but I have never visited the Sierra Leone site -- just BBC and Yale.

      Professor David Blight at Yale runs an excellent program on slavery. They usually have wonderful and rich sources for educating about the human tragedy of slavery.

      I serendipitously became aware of Joseph Opala's Bunce/Bance Island research unexpectedly through an article in the Providence Journal about a slave girl named Priscilla. From his own account, in that article, he didn't seem like the slave expert, but he was a tenacious researcher, and as a fellow seeker you've got to respect that.

      I have been hoping he'd write a book or a documentary about Priscilla. It is the most American of all of the American stories. The guy who bought her signed the Peace Treaty after the American Revolution with the guy who sold her. It just sounds like an epic drama. But, now even the links to the original article are bogus and I can't even find part 1 and 2. I loved this story that featured a decaying character called Bance/Bunce Island.

      There is so much history to contextualize for non-academics. One could tease this story apart and explain the whole story of the USA, from the 8 Lords Proprietors to the enslavement of the Native Indians, to the immigration of the Barbados sugar planters and their slaves, to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Seminole Indian Wars, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the Scramble for Africa, WWI, WWII and Civil Rights -- it's all in the story of South Carolina via Bance/Bunce Island and the slave girl named Priscilla.

      I could go on and on and on, but I'll just leave it there. Thanks again for the information.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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    2. I'm sorry, I replied to your comment without investigating the link you provided. Yes, this was written by Joseph Opala, but this is NOT the article you linked above. There is a link provided at the end of each paragraph that goes to the source of this article at YALE.

      I post a plethora of lectures and scholarship from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition Yale University. I have indeed provided links (and unlike the Providence Journal, these links are good).

      Since this is an EDUCATIONAL site, scholars, historians and primary sources make-up the bulk of the posts on this blog. I don't make one blessed dime off of this site, since this site has exactly ZERO advertisers. It is for educational purposes only.

      To me, slavery is an historical crime scene, we need to tape it off, so to speak, and examine the evidence.

      I'm not an historian, I'm a Nobody from Nowhere USA. This site seeks to unearth the truth about the system of enslavement and its aftermath.

      It breaks my heart to read that ONLY $5 million dollars have been allocated to Bunce Island. The island needs a water management system with locks, dams and a hydro power-- this is 1882 technology.

      Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

      Delete
  3. Just wish to say your article is as astounding. The clearness in your post is simply
    cool and i can assume you're an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.
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