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Sale 2503 Lot 1
(SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) Agreement for an American slave ship captain to bring an illegal cargo of slaves from Africa to Havana. Document Signed twice each by Christopher Deey and 2 witnesses. 2 pages, 13 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches; folds, minor wear, integral blank apparently removed. Newport, RI, 26 February 1806
Estimate $4,000 - 6,000
The Slave Trade Act of 1794 banned American merchants from engaging in the international slave trade. The law was poorly enforced. In Rhode Island, the main center of the trade, President Jefferson appointed officials who allowed the trade to flourish. "From 1804 to 1807, prosecutions of slave traders ceased, and African clearances from Rhode Island ports soared. . . . Intimidation and violence had silenced informers and cowed juries"--Coughtry, The Notorious Triangle, page 229. The schooner Commerce was one of 47 known illegal slave-trading voyages out of Rhode Island in 1806 alone, and was not carrying only Christopher Deey's slaves; it brought 141 slaves from Africa to Havana (Coughtry, page 281).
This agreement was completed between merchant Christopher Deey, the owners of the slave schooner Commerce (John Spooner and Benning Pickering), and its captain Joseph B. Stevens. "Schooner Commerce is bound from Newport to the Coast of Africa and will probably in the course of said voyage touch at Cape Coast Castle [now in Ghana]. . . . She shall there receive on board twenty one prime slaves and carry the same to the Havanna on the account and risk of the said Christopher Deey, which said slaves shall be put on board said vessel by the said Christopher Deey's agents . . . and to deliver the said slaves to the order of the said Christopher in the Havanna." The captain was to receive $45 for each slave delivered alive, or $20 for each slave who died en route. An addendum clarifies that "if during the voyage war shall break out between the United States and Spain or if the port of the Havanna shall be blockaded . . . then the said slaves shall be carried to Charleston, South Carolina." Provenance: Spink's Floyd Risvold sale, 27 January 2010, lot 905, to the consignor.