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History of the Henrietta Marie Slave Ship

The Henrietta Marie was a merchant ship such as this one and encountered a storm on its last fateful voyage home.

The Henrietta Marie was a merchant ship such as this one and encountered a storm on its last fateful voyage home.

Conditions aboard the slave ships were wretched. Men, women and children crammed into every available space, denied adequate room, food or breathing space. The stench was appalling - the atmosphere inhumane to say the least.¹

Triangular route of the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Triangular route of the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Slave Ships

Slave ships engaged in a most inhumane treatment of humanity. Slavery had been in effect since antiquity but the abolishment of the active slave trade of Africans to European countries and the Americas was only prohibited in 1807 by a bill passed by the British Parliament. The United States passed a similar bill a year later. According to Cate Lineberry, there was no one questioning the morality of the slave trade in the 1700's. The infamous Middle Passage which was one leg of a triangular route between Europe, Africa and the West Indies or the Americas was actively sailed by a number of slave ships including the Henrietta Marie. A minor protest against slavery at the time came from the Quakers who began their preaching against this practice in the early 1600's due to its inhumane qualities. They banned their members from importing slaves in 1696. However, it was another 75 years before the first anti-slavery group was formed, again by the Quakers!

The Henrietta Marie Merchant Ship

The Henrietta Marie was a three-masted square-sterned merchant ship from 60 to 80 feet in length. It could hold a cargo of 120 tons and had a crew of 18 men. Relatively small, the ship was still capable of holding about 400 slaves. It is thought that it was built in France during the 17th century but it was acquired, probably as a war prize by the British, possibly during the War of the Grand Alliance. The British put it to use immediately in the Atlantic slave trade and it made at least two trips in this capacity between 1697 and 1700. On its first voyage, in 1697 travelling to West Africa and then to Barbados, it carried about 200 Africans of which about 188 of the survivors were sold as slaves in Barbados.

Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788

Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788

The Last Voyage Of The Henrietta Marie

In 1699, captained by John Taylor (although some sources claim the captain was a Thomas Chamberlain), the Henrietta Marie left England on the first leg of its triangular trade route carrying goods including iron and copper bars, pewter utensils, glass beads, cloth and brandy to be used in trade. The ship was held under license by the Royal African Company, holding a monopoly on English trade with Africa.

  • This company took ten percent of the profits made by their ships.
  • Documents found indicate that the Henrietta Marie traded goods for captured Africans from New Calabar at the Guinea Coast.
  • These Africans were sold by rival tribes of their own country for mostly iron and copper bars given to their captors by the British crew.
  • The ship then completed the second leg of its triangular voyage to the West Indies.
  • On May 18, 1700, the British merchant ship, the Henrietta Marie, was again engaged in an awful business, its hold crammed with human cargo to be sold in Jamaica.
  • After her business was completed, the crew was to make their way back to England.
  • They left Africa with about 300 captives.
  • Records found indicate that only 191 slaves were offered for sale.
  • As they neared the shore of Jamaica, Captain Taylor ordered his crew to prepare the slaves for the sale.
  • On deck, the men, women and children to be offered as slaves had their wounds finally seen to and they were fed, cleaned, shaved and oiled.
  • The slaves were auctioned at Port Royal, Jamaica, naked and chained.
  • Their bellies were prodded, their teeth were checked by prodding fingers.
  • Oddly, their sweat was tasted, as according to lore, the taste of sweat was a gauge of health.
  • Most of these slaves were destined to work in the sugar plantations of Jamaica where many would die in their first five to ten years of service.

It is estimated that the Henrietta Marie took in the equivalent of $400,000 for their investors. Captain Taylor cared not for the fate of the slaves and in late June set sail for England and home weighed down with a new cargo of sugar, cotton, wood, ginger, indigo and leftover trade goods.

  • Documents record substantial goods bartered for in the sale of the slaves.
  • These documents record 81 barrels of muscovado sugar, 11 barrels of indigo, 14 bags of cotton, and 21 tons of logwood.
  • These goods were received from the sale of 191 slaves.

However, their treacherous path home, through the Tortugas and Marquesas Keys, led the crew of the Henrietta Marie through massive storms. They sank on New Ground Reef, 34 miles (55 km) off of the coast of Key West, Florida near the Marquesas Keys and settled in 30 feet of water. It is assumed that all aboard perished.

The Discovery of the Wreck Of The Henrietta Marie

Nearly 300 years later, a salvage company owned by Mel Fisher, discovered the wreck of the Henrietta Marie, bringing to the surface the first relics of this most important historical find. Two anchors, an ivory tusk, and a cannon were among the first relics recovered. Because their interests were more in the nature of gold rather than historical relics, (they were actually hunting for the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and other treasure ships of the 1733 Spanish treasure fleet wrecked along the Florida Keys in a hurricane), they abandoned their find; however, in the 1980s scientists and archaeologists began the salvage operation again rescuing and conserving items recovered from the wreck. The salvage operation continues to the present day. The fragile hull continues to be examined and relics continue to be found in the surrounding sand. The Henrietta Marie is the oldest slave ship ever found and one of few discovered in American waters. It is a vital piece of American history according to marine archaeologist David Moore.

  • The discovery of the ship's bell allowed for the identification of the ship itself as the Henrietta Marie.
  • Artifacts and historical documents have revealed investors involved in the voyages of the Henrietta Marie.
  • Thomas Stark, Anthony Tournay, and the first captain of the ship, William Deacon were investors contributing glass beads, iron bars, linen and rolls of cloth for trading.
  • Through the documents, it is now known that wealthy merchants and royalty were primary supporters and benefactors of the slave trade.
  • European royalty and nobility funded the barter system within the triangular trade route for more than 250 years.
  • They contributed heavily to the largest capture and trade of humanity from one continent.
  • It is estimated that from nine to 15 million Africans were were forced into intolerable, inhumane transportation conditions aboard ships of the Middle Passage.
  • It is estimated that from one fifth to one third of the captured Africans perished on route to their destination.

Despite the wishful thinking and rhetoric of its practitioners, despite the numerous cargo manifests attesting to the non-human nature of the chained captives packed into the ships' holds, this was not a commerce in passive, docile "slaves" but in living human beings, with families, knowledge, skills, responsibilities, dreams and aspirations no less legitimate than those of any other human beings.²

Location of the Wreck of the Henrietta Marie Slave Ship

Social Impact of the Wreck of the Henrietta Marie

Resources Used

Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society. A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie. 2007.

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²Tinnie, Dinizulu Gene. Historical Museum of Southern Florida. The Henrietta Marie in Perspective.

Steinberg, Jennifer. National Last voyage of the Slave Ship Henrietta Marie. August, 2002.

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. The Henrietta Marie. 2008.

¹Walsh, Robert. Eyewitness to History. Aboard a Slave Ship, 1829. 2000.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 19, 2012:

Hyphenbird, I couldn't agree with you more. The depths to which humanity can sink always amazes me. And yet, with many other actions there is hope!

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 19, 2012:

As I continually study and learn about the awful and indeed unbelievable treatment of slaves, my heart aches continually. Some of these true stories make me wonder if the "people" responsible were really human or some sort of demons. Your information about the Henrietta is very well researched and laid out. Thank you for bringing this information to us.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 31, 2012:

aviannovice, this hub was a learning experience for myself as well. I learned a lot by writing this although it pains me that man can be so cruel to man!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 31, 2012:

Teresa, this is wonderful history, though an awful trade. I knew nothing about this ship until now.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 30, 2012:

It amazes me the atrocities humanity perpetrates in the name of profits. It is so important to research the archaeological evidence of our past evils in the hopes that we avoid the same mistakes, although human trafficking occurs even today. Knowledge is power however. I'm glad you found it appalling clevercat. I did myself.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on August 30, 2012:

This is fascinating but absolutely appalling. An excellent writeup on a very controversial topic. Voted up and interesting!

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