MANUSCRIPTS - SLAVERY. Autograph letter signed by M. Higgins of Grenada, 1792
Lot 39
MANUSCRIPTS - SLAVERY. Autograph letter signed by M. Higgins of Grenada, 1792
Sold for £275 (US$ 461) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed by M. Higgins of Grenada, to Mr McCalmont, "Stabrock/ Demerary" (Guiana), announcing that last night "the King Gray Cap.t Cash arrived from Cape Mount with 244 Slaves"; adding: "if they prove a good Cargo, I'll send you fifty" since "it was out of this ship I bought the fine slaves I sold Waterton & Daly last Year"; integral address leaf, 1 page, light dust-staining where folded and exposed but in fine, fresh condition, 4to, Grenada, 18 April 1792

SELLING KING GRAY'S 'FINE SLAVES' FRESHLY ARRIVED FROM THE WINDWARD COAST TO BRITISH GUIANA: the slave ship cited in this letter took her name from King Gray, an African ruler who had his main town at Mando on the southern part of Lake Pisu , with a trading agency at Fanima on Cape Mount peninsula on the Windward Coast, in what is now Liberia. He was to be supplanted by Zolu Duma, known to Europeans as King Peter, round the turn of the nineteenth century. A number of slavers at this date were being given names that openly reflected their purpose and, as in the case of King Gray, their specific trades: 'In Upper Guinea, there was a similar progression from the general to the specific in the second half of the eighteenth century. Instead of the "King of Sherbro" in the 1760s, we have several voyages of the "King Grey" and its French counterpart "Roy Grey" in the 1780s and 1790s. The king in question was a southern Vai ruler from whom both French and English obtained slaves' (David Eltis, 'Abolition and Identity in the very Long Run', in Migration, Trade, and Slavery in an Expanding World: Essays in Honor of Pieter Emmer, edited by Wim Klooster, 2009, p. 238; see also 'The Cessation of External Slave Trading', extract from an uncredited PhD thesis, on the website). The following year the King Gray was to be taken by a French privateer and Captain Cash and crew thrown into chains, although later rescued by a British frigate, the fate of their cargo being unrecorded (Gomer Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 1897/ 2010, pp. 312-3).

The author of this letter appears to be Matthew Higgins who held his main estates in Demerara (British Guiana) – near, therefore, those of his correspondent – but also had interests in Grenada, and whose widow Janet is recorded as receiving £15,343-8s-1d by way of compensation for the loss of 284 slaves in Guiana on 18 July 1836 (T71/887; British Guiana claim no. 2289). His correspondent, can be identified as Hugh McCalmont, a Belfast planter who owned an estate at Berbice in Demerara; our letter being addressed to him at Stabroek (later known as Georgetown) as this is where mail was handled by the postal agent during the period when Demerara was under Dutch control.

The "Waterton & Daly" to whom Higgins had earlier sold his "fine slaves" were Thomas Waterton, father of the naturalist, pioneer ecologist, traveller and eccentric, Charles Waterton, and his uncle Michael Daly. Charles Waterton himself was to spend seven years on his family estates in Demerara and from there undertake, in 1811, the first of his South-American 'wanderings' for which he is famous.
  1. John Walwyn-Jones
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