Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-zlj4b Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-24T23:10:09.865Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Sources of the Nineteenth Century Atlantic Slave Trade

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009


A large proportion of the slaves captured at sea by the British Royal Navy during the early nineteenth century were landed at Sierra Leone. Statistical data on the make-up of the Sierra Leonean population at this period is available from several sources, and it provides some interesting clues to the scope and size of the slave trade from different parts of Africa.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1964

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


2 See, for example, Beltran, Gonzalo Aguirre, La poblacin negro de Mexico, 1519–1810: Estudio ethno-histórico (Mexico, D.F., 1946).Google Scholar

3 Statistics about the liberated Africans are notably unreliable. (See discussion by Kuczynski, R. R., Demographic Survey of the British Colonial Empire. Volume I, West Africa (London, 1948), 95150.) The Navy's figures for slaves recaptured and landed alive between 1810 and 1840 indicate a total of 94,703. The colonial statistics for the numbers liberated in Sierra Leone over the same period show 70,809.Google Scholar (Lloyd, C., The Navy and the Slave Trade (London, 1849), 275–6; Parliamentary Papers (1842), xii (551), 248–9.) The British West Indian colonies received a total of 3,212.Google Scholar (Roberts, G. W., ‘Immigration of Africans into the British Caribbean”, Population Studies, VII (19531954), 235–63, 259.) Some (but probably not a majority) of the remaining 20,000 were also landed elsewhere. Slaves landed from the slave ships were usually in very bad health, the death rate between landing and liberation through action of the courts was normally very high.Google Scholar

4 Koelle, S. W., Polyglotta Africana, or a Comparative Vocabulary of Nearly 300 Words and Phrases in more than 100 Distinct African Languages (London, 1854).Google Scholar

5 The Navy's figure for recaptives landed alive between 1840 and 1849 is 41,222. The number of recaptives who immigrated to the British West Indian colonies over this period was 23,206. (Lloyd, The Navy and the Slave Trade, 275–6; Roberts, ‘Immigration of Africans’, 259.) Other evidence also indicates that about half of the recaptives landed in Sierra Leone after 1840 were induced to emigrate to the Caribbean. (Kuczynski, Demographic Survey, p. 141.)Google Scholar

6 Parliamentary Papers (1842), xii (551), 248–9.Google Scholar

7 For the strategy, tactics and captures of the squadron see Lloyd, The Navy and the Slave Trade, passim.Google Scholar

8 Certain groups, such as the Bobangi of the upper Congo, known to have been common in the slave trade as early as the 1780s, are, however, missing. See Degrandpré, L., Voyage à la côte occidentale d'Afrique fait dans les années 1786 et 1787, 2 vols. (Paris, 1801), II, 1014.Google Scholar

9 Vansina, J., ‘Long-Distance Trade-Routes in Central Africa’, Journal of African History (1962), III, 375–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Davies, K. G., The Royal African Company (London, 1957), 222–3.Google Scholar

11 Newbury, C. V., The Western Slave Coast and its Rulers (Oxford, 1961), 2032.Google Scholar

12 Allen, William to Stanley, Lord, 5 02 1843, Parliamentary Papers (1843), xlviii (C. 472), 136.Google Scholar

13 The Hausa from Kano (133a) was carried to the sea by way of Katsina, Zaria, Ilorin, Ijebu, and Lagos. The Hausa from Katsina (133b), however, followed a more roundabout route, going first to Bornu, then (presumably along the Benue valley) to Ilorin before being sold down the familiar route through Yoruba to the ports of the Slave Coast.Google Scholar

14 Languages 9, 10, 11, and 12, being in the immediate hinterland of Sierra Leone, were represented by a ffuctuating population which came and went between the colony and the home country. This is why Koelle's informants could not give the number of fellow countrymen present at the time of the interview. The Sierra Leone census of 1848, however, gave a total of 3889 ‘Natives’ (excluding liberated Africans and Kru people), representing about 8 per cent of the colonial population.Google Scholar

15 This linguistic group included many African traders, who were merely transient in the colony.Google Scholar

16 Not to be confused with another group with the same name in Guinea.Google Scholar

17 Modern name is not known. Linguistically, Koelle's sample vocabulary is that of a Susu dialect.Google Scholar

18 Languages 20 and 21 are spoken in the immediate hinterland and were represented in the colony by a relatively large, but ffuctuating, population.Google Scholar

19 Not to be confused with two other West African groups sometimes called Basa. One of these is in northern Nigeria, the other in Cameroons. There is no connexion between the three, other than the chance similarity of the names.Google Scholar

20 Kru people had been coming to Sierra Leone for many decades in search of temporary employment. The Kru population in 1848 was 743. (Kuczynski, R. R., Demographic Survey, p. 82.)Google Scholar

21 The two neighbouring groups, now called Ge and Sikon, were formerly referred to jointly as Gbe.Google Scholar

22 Since speakers of Yoruba dialects were by far the largest group among the liberated Africans, the informants were unable to give an accurate estimate of the numbers. See, however, appendix II.Google Scholar

23 These closely related languages (45 and 46) are now considered to be dialects of a single language spoken in northern Ghana.Google Scholar

24 Koelle obtained his sample of this language from the same informant as 47. It is therefore not shown on the maps. The language itself is now considered to be a dialect of Kasena.Google Scholar

25 Koelle notes that the Ibo were recognized as having a common culture and similar language, but they did not call themselves Ibo. Instead, they identified their home countries by more local names, of which he listed fifteen, giving samples of five. Since the Ibo were second only to the Yoruba as the most numerous group among the liberated Africans, the best indication of their numbers will be found in the census figures, appendix II.Google Scholar

26 Not to be confused with the quite different Basa groups in Cameroons and in Sierra Leone, or with the true Basa of northern Nigeria, language 75. The language is, in fact, a riverine dialect of Nupe, and Basange, the alternative name for the people, means ‘We are not Basa’.Google Scholar

27 All of the Ebe arrived in Sierra Leone in a single ship, no others having come either before or since.Google Scholar

28 Here and below, where more than one date is given, Koelle obtained his information from several informants.Google Scholar

29 Nguru was the seat of government of the Galadima of Bornu, or the warden of the Western Marches. The name reported is therefore a geographical, rather than an ethnic or linguistic, designation.Google Scholar

30 The inconsistency here is Koelle's. He reports thirty members of the Ekoi group as a whole, but the numbers reported for the subdivisions add up to forty-five.Google Scholar

31 This informant had been a slave, but he was not a recaptive. Following his original capture, he spent fifteen years as a slave in Brazil, then came to Sierra Leone as a free immigrant about 1835.Google Scholar

32 This informant had been a slave in Demerara for six years before coming to Sierra Leone in about 1838, after the emancipation of the slaves in the British West Indies. Koelle's notes throw no light on the problem of his apparent sale to Demerara in 1832, when the enforcement of the British anti-slave-trade legislation was supposedly effective in British colonies. See also number 126 below.Google Scholar

33 The early date of capture for this informant is accounted for by the fact that he served some twenty-one years as a slave, then as an agent for the slave trade in Luanda and Brazil. He came to Sierra Leone in 1821 as a crew member of a captured slaver and stayed on as an immigrant.Google Scholar

34 The informant, however, reported that there had once been fifty Wolof in Sierra Leone, but the others had emigrated, presumably returning to Senegal.Google Scholar

35 This informant, like number 107, had been sold to Demerara about 1833. After being emancipated in 1838, he came to Sierra Leone as a free immigrant.Google Scholar

36 This informant was initially a prisoner of war, rather than a slave in a strict sense. He was imprisoned by the British in Accra about 1825, during the Ashanti War. Later he was enlisted in the British army and served on the Gold Coast and the Gambia before settling in Sierra Leone.Google Scholar

37 This informant, together with 134b below, was captured by the Gobirawa while resisting the Habe invasion of Kano in 1844–1885.Google Scholar

38 The informant in this case was a recaptive, but many Fulbe from the Gambia region came to Sierra Leone as free immigrants.Google Scholar

39 This informant was not a liberated African, though he had been a slave. He was initially captured by the Hausa in the early years of the Fulani jihad and sold to Jamaica before the British slave trade became illegal. There he apparently obtained his freedom and enlisted in the forces, which brought him to Sierra Leone in about 1814. On his discharge from the army about 1829 he settled down as a free immigrant.Google Scholar

40 Date of capture not given. The informant arrived in Sierra Leone in about 1846, but he had already spent some time as a slave in other parts of Africa, first of the Fulani who captured him, then in Hausa, and finally in Yoruba before he was sold to a Portuguese slave dealer.Google Scholar

41 The informant reported that he came from a small chiefdom with only two towns, about one day's travel north of the flenue river. The language is not known to be recorded in recent linguistic literature, and it is possible that Boritsu disappeared after the Fulani raid of about 1828, in which the informant was captured.Google Scholar

42 Koelle's notes are unclear as to whether this informant was a recaptive or a free immigrant.Google Scholar

43 Not shown on map. Informant was a native speaker of the Adrar dialect, who also supplied vocabulary of his own language, 160b.Google Scholar

44 Pine, Benjamin, ‘Annual Report for Sierra Leone 1848’, 2 11 1829; Parliamentary Papers (1949), xxxiv (C. 1126), 304–5.Google Scholar