Merchants' letter to Captain Earle

This letter of instruction was sent by Liverpool merchants to Captain Earle of the slaving ship Chesterfield on 22 May 1751

It is one of the letters from the Davenport papers, which give a fascinating insight into workings of the slave trade in the 1750s.

"Captain Earle

You being commander of our snow [two-masted vessel] the Chesterfield we give you the following instructions which you are to observe.

The first favourable opportunity you are to sail hence for Douglas, Isle of Man. There, take on board from Mr Paul Bridson sundry goods as per list enclosed, from thence proceed for Old Callabar where you are to barter our cargo as per invoice annexed for slaves and elephants teeth.

As you are experienced in the custom there, we need not dictate to you how to act. Therefore we depend on your prudent management with the natives and ships in the river in your trade for our best interest. Should the purchase be very tedious and slaves scarce, we think it advisable that you leave the river when you have got 350 slaves rather than risk your own lives by such long detention, and what goods remain lay over for teeth of any size if possible and then proceed to Barbados and apply to Mr Samuel Carter, merchant there who will advise you the state of prices for slaves at the other islands, from which you will judge whether to proceed farther or stop there.

If you go to Antigua apply to Messrs George and Ralph Walker and Mr Andrew Lesley. If to St Kitts, Messrs Guichard and Scerett and Messrs Payne and Leigh, any of which will make the most in sales given the earliest dispatch and best remittance.

If none of our islands offer to encourage your calling, proceed directly from Barbados to St Eustatia and if you can, obtain 17 per head there with full remittance in good bills at thirty, forty or sixty days sight. If not, proceed to Jamaica. There apply to Messrs Hibbert, Woodcock and Sprigg and Mr Peter Furnall, either of which will take you on the best terms and load the ship with the island produce, provided the prices are not so extravagant as heretofore. In that case get a freight if possible to London or Bristol and bring the remittance in bills of exchange. Be always on your guard against insurrections and strictly charge your people to act cautiously that no accident happen by fire or otherwise and see that nothing be wanting that's necessary for your hands.

You are to have for your privilege, two slaves, Mr Bankes your mate one slave, your doctor Mr Black one slave and one boy slave. Pay your doctor his head money, your coast commission one dollar in ten and pay what seamens' wages they'll take in the West Indies. In case of your mortality, (which the Almighty prevent), your mate Mr Bankes is to succeed you in command and observe there our directions, and when he arrives in the West Indies, that he be entirely directed by Mr Carter of Barbados whether to stay there or proceed farther and to what place.

We hope what letters we write to meet you will come in due time and may perhaps think of some other mention which we have therein omitted. Advise us by every opportunity of your proceedings. We wish you health success and safe return to.

Your assured friends

Wm Whaley
Rob Hallhead
John Williamson
Peers Legh
Edward Lowndes
John Clayton
Willm Davenport

PS: You are to make choice of your privilege slaves in the river or when you leave Callabar. We would have you purchase all the elephants teeth you possibly can at all events. Rather chooses to have them to depend upon even if your cargo should not purchase your full compliment of slaves. But as your cargo is so large hope that will not be the case."