Voyages and Applied history

Jelmer Vos (Emory University), 2007

The Voyages Database has the potential to be of value to those interested in current affairs, as well as to scholars involved in strictly academic research. One area where the database can be useful is the debate over the payment of reparations, monetary or otherwise, to descendants from the survivors of the Middle Passage. Other possible fields are those of business and family history. In this context, the database has helped to establish connections between the predecessors of a major international financial institution, the Dutch bank ABN AMRO, and African slavery in the Americas. It proved especially helpful in tracing the bank’s historical involvement in various financial aspects of the slave trade. Employing some of the database’s basic variables, we can see how the database can be used effectively in applied history, a joint endeavor in which historians collaborate to answer questions raised by other professionals.

In 2005-2006, at the direction of LaSalle Bank Corporation, at the time the U.S. subsidiary of ABN AMRO, History Associates Incorporated conducted a study of the Dutch bank’s predecessors to determine historical connections to African slavery in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas. In combination with archival research, the Voyages Database substantiated evidence that some of the bank’s predecessors provided insurance for slaving voyages, purchased interest in slaving voyages, or supplied credit to clients participating in the slave trade.

Logbooks at the Rotterdam municipal archives indicate that the Rotterdam banking firm of Chabot brokered insurance on cargo carried by the ship Vrouw Maria Isabella, commanded by Carsten Edebool, in 1774. The database confirmed that this vessel set out on a slaving voyage to Africa and Surinam (Voyage ID 10830). Moreover, comparing entries from the account books of the Mallet brothers with vessel names in the database, it was found that this French firm held interests in several vessels connected with the trans-Atlantic slave trade during the late 1700s. Examples of slaving vessels in which the Mallets had invested included the Infant d’Angole (owned by Renault and Dubois ), the Dame Cécile (owned by J. R. Wirtz and Company) as well as the Madame, Henri Quatre and Magdeleine (all owned by Delaville and Barthelemy). Similarly, the house of Mallet as well as another French predecessor, Banque André, had business dealings with numerous persons and firms which the database identified as outfitters of slaving voyages. For example, the Nantes houses of Ambroise Perrotin, Auguste Simon, and Fruchard Fils all received substantial loans from Mallet at the time they organized slaving voyages to Africa. Meantime, in 1819 the bank of André negotiated a loan of FF 15,000 with Vasse-Mancel from Le Havre, who five years later organized a slaving voyage to Senegal (Voyage ID 34411), while in 1823 they arranged payments on behalf of Philippon and Company from Le Havre for purchases in Liverpool for a slaving voyage to Brazil (Voyage ID 34376).

The study by History Associates made use of only three basic variables in the Voyages Database: vessel, captain, and owner names. Nevertheless, the database confirmed that important connections existed between the European world of high finance and the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

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