Entry for December 31, 1854, while off Pernambuco, Brazil: “At 3pm passed a bark steering about S by W afterwards. Exch[ange] colors.  She proved to be a Buenos Ayrean.  She look rather suspicious, had “windsails” fore and aft.  Am inclined to think she was a “slaver.” 10am saw a vessel ahead standing same way, coming up with her fast.“

In searching our collection for logbooks of vessels visiting Africa in the years before the Civil War, I came upon the logbook for the ship CORINNE (MS11) commanded by John Knight Stickney in 1853. While it turned out his African destination was Cape Town, South Africa on a passage to India, in reading I found the logbook entry above.  In noting the ships he encountered around Brazil during two journeys that year, I created an ArcGIS map to help position the entries geographically.  Although only that one bark raised suspicion for Captain Stickney, the map shows the prevalence of ships around Brazil as the prevailing winds blew ships traveling around Cape Horn between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the Americas, as well as those headed for the Cape of Good Hope for ports in Asia along the Indian and Pacific Oceans.  Without the tell tale windsails that brought fresh air to the enslaved Africans in the holds below, how many of the other ships sighted also carried passengers against their will?  While that question may not ever be answered, I could answer other questions.

Who was Captain John Knight Stickney?

Captain John Knight Stickney (1817-1898) was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts and died in Watertown, Massachusetts.[1]  In addition to being a master mariner, he represented Watertown in the state legislature.[2]  As a teenaged seaman, he served aboard the Salem bark PRUDENT bound for Liverpool in 1831, the brig CAMBRIAN bound for Matanzas in 1832, the ship BLACK WARRIOR bound for Cape of Good Hope in 1835. In 1847, he was captain of the Salem brig THREE BROTHERS bound for Penang.[3]

What was the history of the CORINNE?

The ship CORINNE was built in 1852 in Barneyville (now part of Swansea), Massachusetts by Mason Barney.[4]  Barney (1782-1868) started his shipyard in 1802, and the town named after him grew up around the successful business with its own store, tavern, foundry, post office, brickyard, and bank.  The yard built about 150 ships and schooners for the merchant marine and fishing industries that sailed to every corner of the world. The yard ceased operations in 1860 under competition pressure from steamships and the impending Civil War.[5]  The Barney shipyard produced slave ships, coastal traders, whaling vessels, canal boats, government gunboats, and a clipper ship.[6] 

Barney built slave ships?

Mason Barney’s shipyard built the slave ship ERIE in 1850.[7]  Barney owned a share in the ship until about 1853, and lost track of her, according to testimony at the trial of ERIE’s captain Nathaniel Gordon of Portland, Maine.[8]  The ship was captured in 1860 off the Congo River transporting 900 enslaved African people.  Gordon was the first and only slave captain to be executed for his crimes.[9]

What was the history of slavery in Buenos Ayres?

Buenos Aires imported slaves for work inside Argentina, and served as a major entrepot to supply Chile and Peru.  Argentinians believed enslaved labor was vital to the agricultural industry and serving in urban households.  The Portuguese in Brazil from 1683-1777 brought thousands of slaves to the Colonia do Sacramento, across the River Plate from Buenos Ayres, and smuggled them into the Spanish colonies.  When Spain captured Colonia do Sacramento, the merchants of Buenos Ayres revived the Spanish trade in enslaved Africans.  In 1800, 30 percent of Buenos Ayres Black population were first-generation enslaved Africans.[10] 

Enslaved Afro-Argentinians assisted the Spanish-Argentinians in their War for Independence in 1810, and 40 years later in 1853 the first constitution of Argentina abolished slavery.  In the intervening time, the slave trade was legally abolished in 1813, but continued on, even with another attempt by the Anglo-Argentine anti-slave-trade treaty of 1840.  In 1853, the corsario LAVAELLEJA brought 100 Africans ashore in Patagonia. [11]  Even Argentina’s slow abolition of slavery was eclipsed by Buenos Ayres, which did not join the Argentine Confederation until 1861.  In the intervening period, Buenos Ayres continued to practice slavery.  Its provisional constitution of 1854 banned the slave trade, but kept slavery in place until finally joining and abiding by the Argentine constitutional prohibitions on slavery.[12]

Why were the ships headed for Bahia and Rio de Janeiro?

Rio de Janeiro was the largest point of transshipment of enslaved Africans to the River Plate. Eighty-five percent of Rio de Janeiro’s enslaved peoples came from Luanda and Benguela, Angola.  Like Brazil, Angola was a Portuguese colony. In the time period between 1821 and 1867, Brazil brought 1,269,400 enslaved Africans to its shores.

Bahia, Brazil located northeast of Rio de Janeiro, brought enslaved Benin and Angolan peoples to its shore.  Between the mid-1500s and 1888, Bahia sugar, tobacco, and cassava planters brought 1,300,000 Africans to forcibly work.[13]  It was second to only Rio de Janeiro in the Americas in the number of enslaved Africans imported.[14]

What was the state of the slave trade in South Africa at the time?

The CORINNE spent 20 days in Cape Town before heading to India.  At the time, the economy of the Cape Colony in South Africa was mostly based on wine and wool.  The log gives no record of why the ship stopped and if it took on any cargo.  By 1850, the slave trade had ended in Cape Town.  Interestingly, both Cape Town and Bahia, Brazil were the landing place for Africans captured on slave ships for resettlement as freedmen.  Cape Town was one of the largest sites for resettlement from 1839-1852.[15]

Take a look at the ArcGIS map here.  It includes scans of entries from the logbook in which ships were sighted along the way.  Let us know if you find anything related in your collections or research: cgood@pmm-maine.org.



[1] Ancestry.com

[2] http://thestickneys.com/STICKNEY_web/ppl/0/5/cff8065c922270b2f392eca3450.html

[3] https://research.mysticseaport.org/databases/crew-lists-salem/

[4] http://internationalmaritimelibrary.org/2020/12/10/corinne-6/

[5] https://www.whalingmuseum.org/explore/library/finding-aids/mss156

[6] https://www.thesunchronicle.com/ship-model-a-tribute/article_96e92207-55d5-5d03-8e95-60ceaad4e7c1.html

[7] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Ship_Registers_and_Enrollments/n27NAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=ship+%22erie%22+mason+barney&pg=PA80&printsec=frontcover

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/1861/06/19/archives/law-reports-court-calendarthis-day-united-states-circuit-court.html

[9] https://redhookwaterstories.org/exhibits/show/slaveship/full-article–slave-ship

[10] https://www.institutomora.edu.mx/Documentos_RHITMO/Atlantic-History-and-the-Slave-Trade-to-Spanish-America.pdf

[11] https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199766581/obo-9780199766581-0157.xml

[12] Andrews, George Reid. The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980. 57. http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/21145/1/31735066979950_optimized.pdf

[13] http://slaveryandremembrance.org/articles/article/?id=A0129

[14] Ribeiro, Alexandre. (2008). The Transatlantic Slave Trade to Bahia, 1582-1851. 10.12987/yale/9780300134360.003.0004.

[15] Richards, Jake Christopher. Anti-Slave-Trade Law, ‘Liberated Africans’ and the State in the South Atlantic World, C.1839–1852, Past & Present, Volume 241, Issue 1, November 2018, Pages 179–219, https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gty020

5 thoughts on “Sighting a Slave Ship: The Logbook of the ship CORINNE, commanded by John K. Stickney in 1853

  1. Thank you so much for this informative post! Perhaps you can help me find more details regarding a Gloucester, Ma, brig seized at Cape Town. Two citations noted the Helen
    Mar (sometimes spelled locally as the Hell-en-Mar!) seized by the British Collector of Customs in the Port of Cape Town for an alleged violation of an order in council of 1832 concerning contraband articles; and the use of the American flag by other nations as a cover for carrying on the slave trade.

    The first is in the Guide to Non-federal Archives and Manuscripts in the United States Relating to Africa:Alabama-New Mexico. By Aloha South, (United States. National Archives and Records Administration H. Zell Publishers, 1989-1250 pages, p. 22)The Helen Mar was also cited in the American Claims on Great Britain. 1836-1840. The brig was seized at Cape Town for alleged carrying of contraband. (Guide to the Materials in the London Archives for the History of the United States Issue 90, part 2. Charles Oscar Paulin, Frederic Logan Paxsin 1914, p. 96).

    Gloucester valuations show the listed owner of the Helen Mar in 1838 as William Parsons II (1815-1882). I uncovered documents that shows Parsons invested heavily in vessels that shipped enslaved Africans from Ouidah to Bahia in the 1840s. They include the schooners, the Illinois and the Leda–captained by Hough’s brother-in-law, William Pearce Jr (the third), along with the bark Pilot, with the same Gloucester slave ship captain, Joseph Swift, that embarked with Africans on the Illinois). These vessels, but not the Helen Mar, are listed on slavevoyages site.

    Accounts of Parsons and Hough’s slaving Leda and Illinois were read at the Senate in 1844. Parsons visited DC around that time and introduced his Gloucester travelling companion to the Senators and Representatives from Massachusetts, who wrote “Bill Parsons speaks to them all as though they were his inferiors.” No doubt his ability to cow politicians served to their advantage. Parsons and Hough were never prosecuted.

    A current biographical sketch of William Parsons II does not mention his illegal slaving activities. Rather, it describes him a prominent Gloucester shipping merchant, a long-time director of the Cape Ann National Bank, and a philanthropist who was a founder of the seamen’s Widows and Orphan’s Aid Society (see Fitz Henry Lane online at the Cape Ann Museum).
    Parsons’ primary slaveship partner, BK Hough Jr, has two portraits on display at Gloucester’s Sargent House Museum where is he glossed as a successful shipping merchant and philanthropist.

    1. Here are the records in our collection related to vessels named the HELEN MAR. None are from Massachusetts, though.
      – HELEN MAR, Sch., Tremont, 74 tons, 64.0 x 17.5 x 7.7, Billet head, Square stern. Built Newcastle, Maine, 1832. Official #11228. Owners: Ebenezer Higging, Joseph Atkins, John Kendrick and others, 1832; C. B. Dix, George Pool and others, 1855. Masters: Ebenezer Higgins, 1832; Abner Lunt, 1855. Notes: Hailed Tremont, Maine, 1878.
      -A Canadian brig: http://internationalmaritimelibrary.org/2020/12/10/helen-mar-10/
      -HELEN MAR, Sch., Searsport, 105 tons, 75.0 x 20.0 x 8.0, Billet head, Square stern. Built Searsport, Maine, 1834 by Henry Matthews. Owners: Nathaniel Munsey and others, 1834. Notes: One report read ‘built Belfast’. Fate: Lost with all hands, no date. (Source: Sailing Days on the Penobscot)
      -HELEN MAR, Sch., Bucksport, 81 tons, 65.0 x 18.0 x 8.0, Billet head, Square stern. Built Bucksport, Maine, 1832. Owners: William Jarvis, John Jarvis and William Witherle, 1832. (Source: Sailing Days on the Penobscot) Masters: Herod Ginn, 1832.
      We also have a cod fishery document of this schooner from 1848 with John Bray as master. Any information that the one in question was a fishing schooner?
      -HELEN MAR, Sch., Camden, 67 tons, 61.0 x 17.0 x 7.0. Built Camden, Maine, 1832 by Joseph Stetson. Owners: Ephriam Hosmer, Camden, Maine, sole, 1832. William Blake, William Munroe and others 1839-41. Masters: E. W. Hosmer, 1832. William Munroe, 1839. Nathaniel Eaton, 1841. Fate: Sunk in a collision in Long Island Sound in 1878. (Source: Sailing Days on the Penobscot)
      -HELEN MAR, Sch, Deer Isle, 54 tons, 53.7 x 16.6 x 7.1, Billet head, Square stern. Built York, Maine, 1836. Owners: Stephen Thurston, Deer Isle; and Ambrose Thurston Mount Desert 1849. Masters: Nathaniel Thurston, 1849. Fate: Reported lost 30 June 1882.

  2. Thank you so much for checking your records. The Gloucester archivist shared that valuations indicate that by 1842 Parsons no longer owned the vessel (no tonnage listed) for which he was taxed in 1838. I don’t know what occurred during the intervening years. There may have been another schooner by the same name in Gloucester (described as 64 tons), or Parsons may have sold it, or perhaps this is the vessel that was confiscated for a period.

    The Ship Registers of the District of Gloucester 1789-1875, compiled by Stephen Willard Phillips, did not include any vessel by this name so the Helen Mar or Helen Mars must have been registered at a different port. Nor did Willards list a John Bray as a master or owner, although Bray is a common Gloucester surname.
    Yes, other Gloucester schooners served as first fishing vessels before engaging in the slave trade.
    Do you have access to any of the sources cited above?

    1. No, we do not have access to the Gloucester ship registers or the other books you mentioned. Have you checked in Salem or at the Peabody Essex Museum?

  3. Thanks. I have a copy of the Gloucester Ship Registers. The sources cited yesterday are not held by the Phillips Library, but the National Archives at College Park may have them since the cases involved British confiscations of American vessels. If anyone with access is so kind…

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