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Port Royal, Jamaica, and the Slave Trade

David A. Johnson
Thesis: December 2000
Chair: Dr. Kevin J. Crisman
Nautical Archaeology Program


In the eighteenth century, the British Empire rose to an eminent role in transatlantic slave trade. British ships are thought to have transported more individuals into bondage during this century than in any other period in the history of human existence. Arguably the wealthiest city in the British colonies of the New World, Port Royal, Jamaica, was an important center of the maritime slave trade. This thesis concerns the role of the slave trade in the maritime community of Port Royal during the later half of the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century, a time when Port Royal was at its commercial peak and the British slave trade was undergoing its greatest development.


Primary and secondary sources provide a basis for understanding the conduct of the slave trade in Port Royal. Primary documents, which include official records, personal accounts, correspondence, probate inventories, wills and records of deeds and grants, reveal information beyond census and the volume of the trade. These documents afford the opportunity to study Port Royal's slave trade on an individual level. The documents record the various participants in the trade, such as slaves, traders and purchasers, agencies and agents, and investors, so that relationships and roles can be assessed and the nature and conduct of the trade can be interpreted.


Underwater excavation of the ship Henrietta Marie has yielded a significant representative collection of the slave trade's material culture. Wrecked at the turn of the eighteenth century in the Florida Keys, Henrietta Marie had just quit Port Royal after off-loading her human cargo. The artifact collection of shackles, ship's equipment and trade goods represents the trappings of the maritime slave trade. Particularly, the shackles are a grim reminder of the trade's more brutal aspects. Comparative analysis of this collection with shackles from other sites reveals the role of these devices in the slave trade.

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