Manuscripts Division William L. Clements Library University of Michigan
Finding aid for Thomas Clarkson Manuscript, Lettres nouvelles sur le commerce de la Côte de Guinée , 1789-1790
Finding aid created by Rob S. Cox, July 1993
Title: Thomas Clarkson manuscript, Lettres nouvelles sur le commerce de la Côte de Guinée
Creator: Clarkson, Thomas, 1760-1846 Inclusive dates: 1789-1790 Extent: 162 pages Abstract:
The Thomas Clarkson manuscript, arranged in 13 letters, addresses various aspects of the slave trade in the region that lies between the Gambia and Senegal Rivers.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
1992. M-2872; P-1647.
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
Thomas Clarkson Manuscript, Lettres nouvelles sur le commerce de la Côte de Guinée , William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
Thomas Clarkson began his lifelong crusade against slavery and the slave-trade shortly after receiving his B.A. from St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1783. In 1784 and 1785, he won the members' prizes for Latin essays at Cambridge, and his winning essay of 1785 was published the following year as An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African (J. Phillips: London, 1786). In the course of locating a publisher for this essay, Clarkson formed working relationships with several of the most important emerging figures of the anti-slavery movements in Britain, including James Phillips, Granville Sharp, and William Dillwyn, and Clarkson is credited with bringing M.P. William Wilberforce into the movement at the formation of the Quaker-influenced Committee for Abolition (1787). The continued efforts of the Committee to lobby Parliament and raise the consciousness of the British people to the cruelties of the slave trade resulted, in 1788, in the introduction of legislation before Parliament to curb the harshest forms of treatment, though it was not until 1807 that a bill to end the slave trade managed to pass both houses.
Responding to the egalitarian rhetoric of the French Revolution, Clarkson traveled in Paris in August, 1789, to agitate for anti-slavery legislation before the Assemblé Nationale. While he was moderately successful at attracting political allies, including Lafayette and Brissot de Warville, no legislative action resulted. As part of his efforts, in December, 1789, and January, 1790, Clarkson wrote a series of 13 long, informational letters to the poet Mirabeau, then at the peak of his political influence, to "bring the entire facts of the case [for abolition] before him" (DNB). These letters were never published in French, however, when Clarkson returned to England in February, 1790, they were translated, much compressed and published as Letters on the slave-trade, and the state of the natives in those parts of Africa, which are contiguous to Fort St. Louis and Goree (James Phillips: London, 1791).
Collection Scope and Content Note
The manuscript, arranged in 13 letters, addresses various aspects of the slave trade in the region that lies between the Gambia and Senegal Rivers, the region that historically comprised the three "Kingdoms" of Cayor, Sin and Sallum, and bordered by the "Kingdoms" of the Wolof (Oualo) and Bambara. From this region, Clarkson estimated an annual trade of 2,240 slaves, of whom approximately 1,790 passed through the French Fort St. Louis and 450 through Gorée. Like Mungo Park, Clarkson found that the most common method employed to capture slaves is "pillage," or the organization of forces by the King of a region for secret raids on neighboring villages from which men and women are kidnapped.
Clarkson's letters include geographic and, to a degree, ethnographic notes on the region, plus detailed information on the means of acquisition, transport, and handling of enslaved individuals in Africa and on the Middle Passage. While Clarkson is strongly concerned with the moral issues raised by the slave-trade, the manuscript is designed partially to sway the opinion of politicians and often assumes an informational tone. He constructs his narrative so that the moral issues arise "naturally" from a consideration of the "facts" presented.
The manuscript contains nine illustrations, including a map of the region under study, several illustrations of implements used to restrain captives, two hand colored copper-plate engravings of African scenes, and a printed version of Clarkson's well-known diagrammatic cross section of a slave ship. There is at least one reference in the text to an illustration no longer present.
The association of this manuscript with Mirabeau is primarily circumstantial, and there are a number of differences between this version and the loose translation published in 1791. On the supporting side, however, a slip of paper in contemporary hand notes "title and table of contents in the hand of Mentelle," referring to Edmé Mentelle, close associate of Mirabeau. Secondly, one page of notes (p. 1) appears to indicate "cet oeuvrage appartient au Citoyen Mentelle," though Mentelle is strongly effaced, and makes reference to comments on the text by Geoffroy de Villeneuve. In the published English language version of his letters to Mirabeau, Clarkson cites Villeneuve, aide-de-camp to the Governor of Gorée, as his source of information for the African sections.