How important was Newport to the American slave trade?

While historians often note Rhode Island played an out sized role in the North American slave trade1, carrying over 110,000 enslaved Africans to the new world, one wonders just how large was Newport’s role compared to other Rhode Island ports in this deadly trade? The answer is striking.

 

 

RI Slave Voyages-1709-1809

Slave Voyages – Newport & Other R.I. Ports2

Newport Dominates R.I.

Newport dominated the Rhode Island slave trade for more than a century. Only at the end of the eighteenth century did other Rhode Island ports play a significant role. Further, Newport’s peak in slave traffic was in 1807, a full 20 years after Rhode Island law banned the slave trade in an 1787 Act (clearly with little effect), and 13 years after the federal government banned importation of slaves to the U.S. in the Slave Trade Act of 1794.3 None of this legislation4 appears to have deterred Newport slavers. When South Carolina reopened the importation of slaves in 1803, both Newport and Bristol exploded with more slaving than ever before, reaching their all-time peak in 1807.

  1. The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade, 1700-1807, Jay Coughtry, Temple Univ Press, 1981
  2. Numbers are from documented voyages only (many were not documented). Data is from Emory University Prof. Emeritus David Eltis’ research project, www.slavevoyages.org.
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_Trade_Act_of_1794
  4. See http://abolition.nypl.org/print/us_constitution/

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