New York imported approximately 6,800–7,400 enslaved African people between 1700 and 1774. This was just a fraction of the over three million enslaved people brought to the Americas between 1500 and 1800.
In the early years of British rule, New York merchants bought enslaved people from Caribbean plantations. But after uprisings in 1712 and 1741, merchants began to go directly to Africa. They believed that enslaved people from Africa were less likely to plot and rebel.
In 1748 and 1749, New York merchant and political leader Philip Livingston commissioned Captain Peter James to take his sloop, the Rhode Island, along the coast of Africa. James was instructed to sell goods from North America and buy European and African goods, including enslaved people.
The Trade Book of the Sloop Rhode Island is an account of the transactions James made along the African coast. It records goods bought and sold, as well as losses endured during the 267-day journey. According to the account, the Rhode Island purchased 124 enslaved people for resale in New York. “Man,” “woman,” “boy,” and “girl” are the only identifiers; there is no record of their names, ages, or histories.
These are the last two pages of the account book. On the left, is a tally of rum lost from leakage. On the right, is a chart that indicates that thirty-eight enslaved people died during the trip across the Atlantic, 15 percent of all the captives. Eighteen of the deaths were women and girls, who were particularly vulnerable on slave ships. It was not uncommon for crew members to sexually abuse female captives of all ages, and women were not provided proper sanitation for their menstrual cycles or resulting pregnancies. Taken together, these two pages demonstrate how the slave trade reduced human beings to property, as well as the brutality inherent in the slave trade.