Pro-Slavery Perspectives

Nicholas Owen, from Journal of a Slave-Dealer. A View of Some Remarkable Axcedents in the Life of Nics. Owen on the Coast of Africa and America from the year 1746 to the year 1757

Nicholas Owen (d. 1759) was an impoverished Irish sailor with little formal education. He kept a record of "remarkable axcedents" that occurred during his sea voyages and during his life as a slave trader in Africa.

Owen sailed on slave ships that ran from the western coast of Africa to destinations including Rhode Island, Liverpool, and Barbados. He later worked as a slave trader from stations on Sherbro Island (off the coast of present-day Sierra Leone) and York Island, at first under the direction of an agent, and then later on his own account. This was a somewhat unusual situation; most British trade in Africa was regulated by a series of forts belonging to the Company of Merchants trading to Africa. Owen does not appear to have had contact with the Company. As he explains in this excerpt, he could make a much more advantageous trade for slaves as a local trader than many ships could manage to do. Owen is a middleman who trades European goods including cloth, flints, and pans to the people of Sherbro in exchange for slaves and other goods, such as ivory, palm oil, and rice.

Owen's perspective on the slave trade is that of a man who handles a valuable, but "troublesome" commodity. Though Owen's journal does give some details of the lives of the African peoples amongst whom he lives, he does not spend time reflecting on the moral questions raised by trafficking in human beings, to whom he refers as "dry goods". For Nicholas Owen, slavery is merely business.


We are now to return to our history of Sherbrow where I am now an inhabatent. Our chiefest busness is in the purchaceing of slaves, which is very troublesome. In the first place you are obliged to treate them all to liquer before you purchase anything or not; at the same time you are liable to thier noise and bad langague without any satisfaction. You are obliged to take all advantages and lave all bounds of justice when tradeing with these creatures as they do by you, otherwise your goods ont fetch thier starling price at home. Some people may think a scruple of congience in the above trade, but it's very seldom minded by our European merchts. Our common goods here for a prime slave is as follows — ships' boats indeed give more — goods for a slave up the river Sharbrow in the year 1755 (country money) stands thus:

C — Bars  
4 guns 20
2 kegs bowder 6
1 piece blew baft 10
1 kettle 4
2 brass pans 2
1 duzn. knives 1
2 basons 2
2 iron bars 2
1 head beads 1
50 flints 1
1 silk handk. 1
Country bars 20

Which changed into ship's bars stands thus:

  Bars S D
4 guns 16 0 0
2 kegs powder 4 0 0
1 baft 6 0 0
1 kettle 2 2 6
Bs. pans 1 2 8
Dzn. knives 0 4 6
2 basons 1 2 66
2 iron bars 2 0 0
5 flints 0 2 0
1 silk handr. 1 0 0
1 head beads 0 3 4
Ships bars 36 1 6

This is general goods on the coast of Guinea for slaves, considering your price in the country when sould on board this pressent year which is B.80, so that your prfits is coniderable if the price stands with shiping. Dye wood is much the same in trade, commonly giveing 3 country bars pr. quentall or 112, which will amount to 6 on board a ship; but these proffits are brought down by the expences of the kings and you[r] own people, which is verey unreasonable and great: as for example, in Sherbro there is 3 kings who divides the country among them, vizd. K. Sherbro, King Shefra, K. Sumana and some others of less note; every one of these expects custum from a white trader or ships boat, which comes to 14 or 20 bars each at your first comeing and after perhaps 10 or 12 bars, if you bring a shallop or long boat. I say this takes considerable of your proffits away.

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