Journal of the Slave Ship Mary
Manuscripts Collection, Georgetown University Library, Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
Gift of Robert S. Askew, facilitated by John and Jack Pelose, 2017.
This journal, a log book of the daily activities of the 232-ton slave ship Mary, documents in detail a voyage undertaken by ship owner and slave trader Cyprian Sterry. The ship set sail from Providence, Rhode Island, on November 22, 1795 and arrived on the west coast of Africa on December 24, 1795. Under the command of Captain Nathan Sterry, the crew acquired and then subdued African men, women, and children at several ports along the Senegambia, Windward Coast, and Gold Coast. It departed the coast of Africa with 142 African men, women, and children on June 17, 1796. It arrived in Georgia on August 19, 1796.The writer of this journal, whose name is unclear but was a trusted assistant of Captain Nathan Sterry, meticulously recorded the locations, nautical conditions, the health of the crew and the enslaved, work performed on the ship, and commercial transactions. The deaths of enslaved people were noted by a number, indicating the number dead at each point of the voyage. By its end, 38 enslaved people had died from causes including suicide, injuries sustained from harsh discipline, and infectious diseases such as dysentery.Several entries suggest the harsh discipline imposed by Captain Sterry to maintain control of the ship. On June 10, one week before its departure from Africa, several enslaved men escaped from their shackles and attempted to take over the ship; the crew responded swiftly and killed four enslaved men. This violence was not isolated. On March 21, three members of the crew tried to kill Captain Sterry and take over the ship; he placed them in shackles and ultimately expelled them from the boat. On April 23, Captain Sterry tried to stop a crew member James Aburn from beating an enslaved person with a rope; Aburn defied Sterry by striking him, and the captain responded by whipping Aburn.The crew of the slave ship Mary conducted their business at notorious slave castles that now serve as memorials to those transported by Atlantic slave traders. These include Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) on Gorée Island, Fort James on the Gambia River now known as Kunta Kinteh Island, Cape Mount on the Windward Coast, and two sites on the Gold Coast, Elmina and Cape Coast Castle. On August 19, the ship arrived at the Cockspur Island Quarantine station (also called Coxburrow Island, now part of the Fort Pulaski Monument) near Savannah, Georgia. Most of the enslaved people were purchased by Mr. Robertson of Charleston and a Spanish merchant. By August 31, all of the enslaved people had disembarked.The most active slave trader based in Providence, Cyprian Sterry financed at least 18 voyages that transported more than 1,500 enslaved persons to the southern United States and the Caribbean during the 1790s. This trade flourished even as the state of Rhode Island and U.S. federal government passed laws to limit the Atlantic slave trade. The Providence Abolition Society prepared to sue Sterry for violation of state law if he did not abandon the African slave trade. This threat produced the desired result: the last known voyage of one of Sterry's vessels was completed in May 1797.This voyage is included in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (https://www.slavevoyages.org/voyage/36631/variables). Selections are transcribed in Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America: v. 3: New England and the Middle Colonies, edited by Elizabeth Donnan (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1932), 360-378.
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