“Original Correspondence: West Africa”

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0001 February 1, 1864.] Anti-Slavery Reporter. 27

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Original Correspondence.

West Africa.

THE following interesting letter is from a native African, who, when quite a child, was kidnapped from the interior of Nubia. and after being several times sold, finally fell into the hands of an English family at Alexandria, where he acquired the rudiments of education, namely, a knowledge of the English alphabet. After remaining with this family for some time, he came to England in the capacity of servant; and having undergone many vicissitudes, at length went out to Lagos, to try what he could do on his own account. By his good conduct and excellent principles, his sobriety, industry, and perseverance, he gained the confidence of the parties to whom he had been recommended, and his name is honourably mentioned in the despatches of Captain Burton, whom he accompanied on his recent visit to the King of Dahomey, and who has again engaged him for his present expedition. We have received other communications from him, from time to time, but they were strictly personal. The present one appears to us to offer sufficient interest to merit a place in our columns, and we print it without correction.

"Fernando Po, Nov. 16, 1863.    

"Respected Sir,—Your kind favour of the 14th August came to hand on my return from the Congo River, to which place I accompanied Consul Burton last July. The condition of that country, as far as we ascended, viz. 160 miles into the interior, is in a most deplorable state. The slave-trade and its accompaniments have been, and still are, ruling rampant in that river; and the result is a thorough demoralization of the inhabitants. The copious drafts of rum and other luxuries, showered upon the people by the Portuguese slave-traders, has made them so thoroughly idle, that the earth groans for the want of some one to cultivate it. We found the poor victims to the influence of the vile traffic entirely in the hands of Satan; for thefts and debauchery of every description are rife throughout the whole country, but more especially from Shark Point, the mouth of the river, to Embomma, some eighty miles in the interior. Along the whole of the line are established baracoons and factories of every size and description. At some of these I saw plenty of slaves, and more particularly at one house in Embomma, where the unfortunate wretches were put in irons, awaiting the first opportunity of being sent down to the coast. I cannot give you a better example than this. We found, in the lower part of the river, the weaker sex awfully given to drunkenness, and, although nominally acknowledged by some one as their husband, they are
0002 28 Anti-Slavery Reporter. [February 1, 1864. in reality nothing but common property. I have now travelled through the greater part of West Africa, the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Gold Coast, Dahomey, Lagos, Badagry, Porto Novo, and for 400 miles into the interior of the Euroba, or Yoruba country, the Benin, the Nun, the Brass, New Calabar, Bonny, Old Calabar, Cameroons, Fernando Po, Gaboon, and St. Paul's de Loando. I have visited Africans in their most primitive condition; but never in the whole of my experience did any thing like the state of affairs in the Congo River ever present itself to my notice. I am happy to say, however, that Her Majesty's cruisers are doing their utmost to suppress this market for human blood. When we left the mouth of the Congo last October, the Zebra, the Archer, the Griffin, the Lee, and the Afulet, were on duty there, so that we hope, ere long, to hear that the Portuguese are ultimately compelled to leave the river. I hear that, according to present arrangements, the power of Portugal ought not to extend beyond Ambrizette, forty miles south of the Zaire, or Congo. If so, they ought to be turned out of the river by force; for so long as they exercise their influence over the natives, no legitimate commerce can be established with them. Messrs. —— and —— is the only English house in the river, and I am sorry to say that it is a failure; for, encouraged on every point by the slave-traders, the native chiefs find it more profitable to catch men and sell them for plenty of rum and beads and cloth, than to spoil their fingers by the manufacture of palm-oil. In fact, I cannot see how a profitable traffic in native produce can be carried on unless the slave-traders were driven out, and the river shut up for two or three years, to purge it from the effects produced by the vile system existing in its bosom. In about five or six days I hope to accompany Captain Burton (by whom I am now employed) to the Court of the Dahomey King. This will be our second visit to that country; and, from my slight experience of the country and people, I think Captain Burton is just the right man in the right place.

"Many thanks for the receipts, which came to hand all safe, as also the copies of the Reporter. The subscribers are quite delighted with the news, and wonder they had never heard of the Society before this. As the subject has now been introduced to their notice, I hope they will keep up the communication regularly with home; and I see no reason why all the intelligent natives on the coast should not become subscribers. I am sorry to say that the present system of education on the coast is not calculated to raise the natives much beyond their former scale of usefulness. There are only two things that they are educated for, viz. clerks and merchants. Everybody cannot be a merchant. Why not encourage agriculture? The same money that makes the merchant can make the farmer, and I must confess that the latter would be the most independent of the two; for, singular to relate, that the prejudice of the native against the European, and, vice versâ, of the European against the native, is any thing but encouraging. The natives have great capacities for trade; but the goods supplied to them on the coast are invoiced at such high prices, that it is really impossible for them to, realize any thing for themselves. To prove this, I have only to mention the case of Mr. ——, one of our subscribers. Last year he paid in something like 800l. (Eight hundred pounds) sterling as his yearly trade account with Messrs.—— and ——. Out of this he received commission about fifty pounds with which to maintain himself, his wife, and the Kroo-boys, besides a nephew and four children. Had it not been that Mr. —— had other sources to depend upon, his brokerage between the Europeans and natives would never keep his house in more than dry bread and water. He begged of me to recommend him to some gentleman in England with whom he could deal    .          .          .          .          .

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.        .        .        He has about 300l. to 400l. worth of palm-oil, his own private property; and I should feel truly grateful if you will put him in the way of trading direct with England. He intends shipping some of his oil the moment he receives a communication from you. As for myself, I must candidly confess that I have found it more profitable for the present to be travelling about. That, however, cannot last, for, sooner or later, I must settle down somewhere. There are already too many engaged in palm-oil; I therefore think of starting a cotton plantation at the foot of the Cameroon mountains as soon as my period of servitude with my present employer has expired. Two or three thousand acres taken in and sown with cotton would not require more than 350l. to 400l. out here, and, from experiments already tried, the farm could be made self-supporting after the first year. I do not think we shall be more than three months Dahomey, after which I think my master goes to England, and then I shall be at liberty to try for myself. I enclose a sample of cotton which I have grown this year in the Consular grounds. There are about two acres sowed with cotton, and I expect to gather about three cwt. With many thanks for your kind wishes,

"I remain, respected Sir,                        

"Your grateful Servant,        

"Selim Aga.

"L.A. Chamerovzow, Esq."

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Item Details

Author(s) & contributor(s): Louis-Alexis Chamerovzow; Selim Aga

Date(s): 16 November 1863; 1 February 1864

Form & transmission history: Original letter, as edited, contextualized, and published by a British writer in a British abolitionist periodical.

Original publication details: Anti-Slavery Reporter (1 February 1864): 27-28

Digital edition & date: One More Voice, 2020

Critical editing & encoding: Caitlin Matheis, Adrian S. Wisnicki

Cite this digital edition (MLA): Chamerovzow, Louis-Alexis; Selim Aga. “‘Original Correspondence: West Africa’” (16 November 1863; 1 February 1864). Caitlin Matheis, Adrian S. Wisnicki, eds. One More Voice, site launch edition, 2020, https://onemorevoice.org/html/transcriptions/liv_020027_TEI.html.

Rights: Critically-edited text copyright One More Voice. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

Explore complete/original item: Nineteenth Century UK Periodicals, Part II: Empire

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