- Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619–1807 by Gregory E. O’Malley
Gregory O’Malley has written a book that is sure to be required reading for students and scholars of the slave trade in the colonial British Atlantic World. Building on scholarship of the Atlantic slave trade and the material in Voyages: A Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, he extends the study of the Atlantic slave trade to what he terms ‘‘final passages’’: the voyages of the intercolonial slave trade. The book deftly combines material from the author’s database of intercolonial slave trading voyages, records, and correspondence of merchants and colonial officials, and the limited available testimony of captives in the slave trade to provide an impressive overview of this understudied aspect of Atlantic slavery. Final Passages traces the course of the intercolonial slave trade from its origins with pirates and the grey market to supplying underserved colonies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and redistributing captives in the second half of the eighteenth century.
O’Malley’s conviction that historians must understand that the ‘‘human drama of the victims and the cold calculus of the traders went hand in hand’’ informs the book from start to finish (349). The opening chapter discusses captives and their experiences, and the author is careful to show that while understanding the logic of traders is central to comprehending the mechanics of the trade, such an approach can highlight, rather than obscure, the testimony from captives that appears throughout the book. In explaining why traders forced slaves to particular destinations on board smaller ships, Final Passages shows how the experiences of slaves in the intercolonial trade could differ markedly from the experience of captives in the Atlantic trade. One of O’Malley’s many surprising insights is that the mortality rate of the intercolonial slave trade may have been comparable to that of the deadly Middle Passage. Despite conditions that [End Page 432] were in many ways less horrific — captives were less likely to be shackled or held below decks and shorter voyages meant less risk of dehydration or starvation — other factors, such as piracy and prevalence of sick and weakened individuals, may have made the intercolonial trade similarly dangerous for captives.
The fifth chapter, covering the North American periphery of the intercolonial trade from the Caribbean, is perhaps the most original section of the book. In the chapter, O’Malley explains how captives from the Caribbean ended up in North American ports, forced to labour on North American plantations. The many strengths of the book are on full display as the text guides the reader through the complex machinations that drew slaves to busy colonial ports like Charleston and backwater colonies like North Carolina. The analysis brings together a wide array of factors — from the limited reach of the Atlantic trade in North America to the desire of Caribbean slave traders for profitable markets for captives undesirable in the West Indies — to explain not only why captives were forced to North America, but also how these additional voyages and destinations took a toll on captives.
In Final Passages, planters and merchants struggle for control of the slave trade, each hoping for different results. Merchants looked to facilitate trade more generally in areas that were closed to them, while planters wanted to keep slaves within the British Empire to work on their plantations. Planters usually lost these battles, leading the British crown, imperial officials, and colonial merchants to use captives as bait to open up new markets. They relied on the thirst of colonists for enslaved labour to create trade networks for a broad range of goods. O’Malley shows how London tried to use their contract to supply slaves to Spanish colonies in the Americas to open those markets to British goods, how British merchants used sales of slaves to secure purchases of lucrative plantation crops, and how the slave trade helped create Caribbean ‘‘free trade’’ in the second half of the...