The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“Run away”: a life in 78 words

A guest post by Simon Newman

His name was Quoshey [sic], an Akan day name that tells us he was quite likely born on a Sunday on the Gold Coast of West Africa. But on Christmas Day 1700 Quashey was a frightened teenager who was a long, long way from home, as this short newspaper advertisement reveals.

A Negro, named Quoshey, aged about 16 years, belonging to Capt. Edw. Archer, run away from Bell-Wharf the 25th Instant, having on a Plush Cap with black Fur, a dark Wastcoat, a speckled Shirt, old Callamanca Breeches, branded on his left Breast with E. A. but not plain, and shaved round his Head. Whoever brings him to Mr. Rowland Tryon in Lime-street, or to Mr. Richard Clearke at Bell-Wharf in Shadwell, shall have a Guinea Reward, and Charges.

London Gazette, 30 December 1700, pg. 2.

The seventy-eight words of this advertisement may well be the only surviving record of Quashey’s very existence. They identify him as an object rather than an individual, the enslaved property of another man. Other than his name, age, the rough clothing he wore, and the initials of his owner branded on to his breast, we know nothing about him.

Wenceslaus Hollar. “Portrait of an African Boy.” Image from Luna

Except that we do. He escaped or at least he tried to, resisting his enslavement by eloping from his master’s house on Christmas Day. When this newspaper advertisement appeared five days later Quashey was still at liberty. The very existence of this advertisement suggests the agency and individuality of a teenaged boy who was willing to assert his right to mastery over his own body by stealing himself away. What else can we learn from this advertisement, delving through records available in the Folger? How can we flesh out the stories hinted at in the spare words of newspaper advertisements such as this?

We can begin with Captain Edward Archer, the man who owned and advertised for Quashey and whose initials were painfully branded onto the teenager’s breast, imposing the identity of master upon enslaved. Archer lived (or had lived) by Bell Wharf on the eastern edge of Shadwell in London’s East End.

Wenceslaus Hollar, London. The Long View. (MAP L85c no.29 part 2) Click on the image for a large view, or on the link here for the zoomable LUNA image.

This fast-growing suburb was defined by the ocean-going ships moored on the Thames and was filled with the homes of seafarers and their families, all of the industries associated with building and outfitting ships, and the taverns and businesses that supported this community. Within a few blocks were taverns such as the King of Denmark and the King of Sweden, as well as Blackamoor Alley, Parrot Alley, Sugar House Yard, and Tobacco Alley, all testifying to the cosmopolitan nature of the area, its inhabitants, and the goods and people they transported.

Excerpt from “The Parishes of St. John, Wapping, and St. Paul, Shadwell,” in John Stow, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster… By John Strype (London: for A. Churchill et al, 1720), Vol. 2, Book 4, page 47.

For at least some of his career Archer was a slave ship captain. It is quite possible that in late 1696 or early 1697 Quashey had been taken from a Gold Coast trading post such as Cape Coast Castle and loaded onto Archer’s ironically named ship, the Happy Return.

Photograph of the Door of No Return through which enslaved people left Cape Coast Castle. They were loaded onto canoes and rowed out to the waiting slave ships. (Ghana, 2007, photograph by Simon Newman).

It was a fairly small slave ship of fewer than 100 tons, and 122 enslaved souls were packed tightly between the decks. Of these only 98 survived the Middle Passage, a mortality rate of almost one-fifth. Most of the 98 were sold to Barbados planters, but Quashey might have been retained as a favourite by Archer, who was entitled to ship and sell or keep several enslaved people for his own profit.

The newspaper advertisement in December 1700 did not, as was common, state that Quashey had run away from his master, instead stating that the teenager, “belonging to Capt. Edw. Archer,” had “run away from Bell-Wharf.” The wording makes more sense when we realise that Archer had sailed from London on 29 November on another slave ship, the Mayflower, which like the Happy Return was destined for West Africa and then Barbados. Why did Quashey not accompany Archer? Did the captain not trust the young boy? Or did he want to protect him from the diseases and the horrors of this deadly voyage? And with whom did Quashey reside, and what was he doing?

We cannot answer these questions, but we can surmise that the teenager was unhappy enough to escape. Perhaps he was being treated poorly by those who ruled him; or maybe Archer had denied him the opportunity to sail back to West Africa. Or perhaps he simply missed the captain. It is quite possible that Quashey had developed a bond of real affection with Archer, and Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography shows that enslaved boys and young men could become very close to the ships’ officers who owned them. Indeed, having sailed on a Middle Passage ship and seen the horrors below decks as well as the terror of arrival in the Caribbean, how could Quashey not feel grateful to a man who had preserved him from the worst of all this? And yet if Quashey did feel such affection it may have been a manifestation of what we might think of as Stockholm Syndrome. Enslavement and sale in West Africa, the Middle Passage, and exposure to Caribbean plantation slavery must surely have had a deeply traumatic effect on boys like Quashey.

Given Archer’s absence, the advertisement gave two names and locations where anybody who recaptured Quashey might take him and receive the significant reward of one guinea. How ironic that the price of his freedom was a coin named for the gold taken from his West African homeland, and bearing the Royal African Company’s emblem of a castle and a West African elephant? By 1700 perhaps as much as £250,000 worth of West African gold poured out of the continent and into Western Europe each year, and the profits of the slave trade filled the purses of those in England who held these small gold coins.

Obverse of early 18th century guinea coin bearing elephant motif of the slave-trading Royal African Company. British Museum (Museum Number 1935,0401.8239) reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

One of the contacts named in the advertisement was on Bell Wharf in Shadwell, and he was quite possibly Quashey’s master during Archer’s absence. The other was in Limehouse, closer to the center of the City of London. It is all but impossible to identify Richard Clearke or Clarke in Shadwell. He may have been a mariner, or perhaps he was a tavern or inn-keeper, or one of the area’s numerous craftsmen and tradesmen. Given that Quashey was reported to have escaped from Bell Wharf and this was Clearke’s address, Quashey had quite likely been living and working in Clearke’s home.

We know a little more about Rowland Tryon in Limehouse. The Tryons were a well-known mercantile family in the City of London with connections to the Caribbean. In the mid-1690s Rowland Tryon can be found in the lists of tax-paying property owners in Stepney, which was adjacent to Shadwell and this might be how he was acquainted with Archer and Clearke. But a few years later Tryon was listed as a church warden for St. Dionis Backchurch on Lime Street, the address mentioned in the advertisement. Tryon appears to have been a merchant specialising in trade with Barbados (his uncle Thomas had spent five years as a merchant in Barbados), and Rowland Tryon was himself in Barbados when he died in 1720. A wealthy and successful man, the trade in enslaved people and what they produced had enabled Tryon to indulge himself by, amongst other things, subscribing to the first octavo edition of the Tatler.

Excerpt from “Lime Street Ward” showing Lime Street and St. Dionis Backchurch, in John Stow, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster… By John Strype (London: for A. Churchill et al, 1720), Vol. 1, Book 2, page 83.

Perhaps what is most important about Archer, Tryon, and maybe Clearke is that they illustrate how deeply racial slavery had permeated London. These men were part of a large complex of aristocrats, gentlemen, merchants, craftsmen, ship captains, and others who made possible the trade in enslaved people and the goods that they produced. In London these people were efficiently networked, and when Quashey escaped the network went into action as this advertisement suggests. We know that the young freedom-seeker was free for at least five days, and it is just possible that he escaped permanently. London was more racially diverse than we sometimes appreciate, and there were opportunities for young men of colour as personal servants to those who could afford such living emblems of colonial power and success, or as sailors on board slave and trade ships. With a degree of immunity to the tropical diseases that laid waste to English sailors in West Africa and the Caribbean, young and healthy black sailors were popular recruits for these voyages. In the final analysis all that we can be sure of is that slavery existed in London in 1700, but so too did resistance. If only for a few hours or days, children and men and women of colour sought freedom from enslavement in the imperial metropolis. We know little of their fate, but while some and perhaps many were recaptured or forced into servitude, some may have secured liberty.

Simon P. Newman is the Sir Denis Brogan Professor of History at the University of Glasgow. He is an historian of racial slavery in the British Atlantic World, and has spent the 2018-19 academic year as the Mowat Mellon Fellow at the Folger Institute.

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