restricted access Extending the African Names Database: New Evidence from Sierra Leone
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Extending the African Names Database:
New Evidence from Sierra Leone*

In 1999 the authors of The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-Rom emphasised that one of the “basic limitations” of the data set was it contained “thousands of names of shipowners and ship captains, but … no names of the millions of slaves carried to the Americas.”1 In many respects, the anonymity of the African men, women and children forcibly transported to the Americas reflects problems inherent in business records generated by slave merchants and captains who saw no utility or interest in recording the names of Africans routinely dehumanised as items of cargo.2 By representing Africans as anonymous figures devoid of any personal or cultural identity, the abolitionist image of the slave ship Brooks featured on the front cover of the original database reinforces the importance of recovering from obscurity details of African lives shattered by the Atlantic slave trade.3 The availability of systematic quantitative evidence on the forced migration of millions of unidentified men, women and children in this groundbreaking database, however, has undoubtedly stimulated new research initiatives to trace the African identity of these individuals.4

In terms of retrieving the identities and origins of at least some of the Africans affected by the trade, an important development in the new expanded Slave Voyages database is the inclusion of the names of 67,228 African men, women and children derived from lists of liberated Africans held in the FO84 series at the National Archives at Kew.5 Although these individuals represent less than one per cent of an estimated 12.5 million Africans transported in the transatlantic slave trade between the early-sixteenth and the mid-nineteenth century, the evidence offers considerable potential to trace the features of the trade in the early nineteenth century from an African perspective.6 In contrast to [End Page 137] the “mass of black human flesh” depicted in the image of the Brooks,7 these Registers of Liberated Africans provide rich details of the names, gender, appearance, age and height of enslaved Africans released at Sierra Leone and Cuba from illicit slaving vessels intercepted by Royal Navy patrols between 1819 and 1845. Over 80 per cent of the African Names Database is composed of the names of Africans landed at Freetown between 1819 and 1845, with a further 10,378 names derived from the registers of the Court of Mixed Commission at Havana between 1824 and 1841.8

The earliest entries in the Registers of Liberated Africans at Kew (and hence in the African Names Database) date only from 1819, eleven years after the commencement of policies of slave trade suppression by royal naval patrols stationed at Freetown.9 However, important evidence on the earliest groups of African recaptives landed at Freetown in the immediate aftermath of British abolition has recently re-emerged after a period of neglect during a collaborative British Library Endangered Archives project under the direction of Paul E. Lovejoy.10 Registers of Liberated Africans, containing details of enslaved Africans released by the Vice-Admiralty Court at Freetown in the early phases of suppression activity from 1808, were retraced in the Sierra Leone Public Archives at Fourah Bay College in Freetown in February 2010. Entries for 15,967 Africans are contained in nine registers spanning the period between 1808 and 1822, and they include Africans taken off intercepted slave vessels, Africans released as a result of naval attacks on slave barracoons on the coast, as well as a smaller number of “slaves seized in the colony.”11 Comparison between these nine early Registers of Liberated Africans and the African Names Database indicates that they provide the names of approximately 12,000 Africans adjudicated by the Vice-Admiralty Court who are not currently listed in the Database, thereby substantially increasing the total of known names of enslaved Africans.12 The registers spanning 1808 to 1819 potentially include 12,178 entries which are not currently listed in the African Names Database. However, the number of African names actually listed is lower as some entries are blank. For example, no names or descriptions are provided in the [End Page 138] registers for recaptives...