The slave trade from the fifteenth to nineteenth century was the largest and possibly most violent forced migration of people in recorded history. In fact, most of the information we know about it comes from letters written by slave ship captains, slave traders, or people that opposed the trade all together. We have very little firsthand accounts from actual slaves as to what life was like for them. Randy J. Sparks', "The Two Princes of Calabar," reveals a bit of this mystery by telling the tale of two Princes out of Old Calabar that were captured and forced into slavery but were able to record some of their travels and eventually find their way back to freedom. Their journey takes them from Old Calabar, to the island of Dominica, to Virginia, to England, and finally back home to Old Calabar.
The experience of two Princes, Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin Robin John, was not what you would call emblematic of the typical African slave experience. At the time, "individuals sold themselves into slavery to escape famine, to seek protection, or to improve their circumstances," (Sparks, 38). However, "Individuals could be enslaved for debt," (Sparks, 38) or "as punishment for crimes or taken as prisoners of war," (Sparks, 39). This was not the case for the Robin Johns. They were actually slave traders themselves that were captured by an English slave ship captain during an ambush planned by a competing trader town.
Also, unlike many of the captives that were enslaved, the Robin Johns were fluent in the English language. As slave traders, it was not uncommon for them to learn the language to make it easier to communicate with the captains while conducting transactions. With this advantage they were able to manipulate their way into good standing with the crew. When they were finally sold for the first time on Dominica, their advantage of being "Atlantic Creoles" (Class Lecture, 1/17/2014) proved to be of great use to them. In the words of Ira...
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