Friday, July 31, 2009

George Cannon compared to Hugh Crow

This is a continuation of a series of blog posts on Captain George Cannon. The initial post contains a list of all posts on Captain Cannon.

Memoirs of Captain Hugh Crow:

Aside from John Newton, the author of the hymn, Amazing Grace, the most well known Slave boat captain is probably Captain Hugh Crow. Hugh Crow directed his executors to publish his memoirs and spent the last several years of his life collecting material. The memoirs were published under the very lengthy name of Memoirs of the Late Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool, Comprising a Narrative of his Life, Together with Descriptive Sketches of the Western Coast of Africa, Particularly of Bonny, the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, the Production of the Soil, and the Trade of the Country, to which are added Anecdotes and Observations Illustrative of the Negro Character. The memoirs were originally published in 1830 and were republished in 1970 by Frank Cass and Company Limited, of London.

A picture of Hugh Crow follows:

There are many amazing parallels between Hugh Crow and what we know of George Cannon’s lives, from when and where they were born and raised, to when and where they were involved in sailing and the slave trade. I think reading Hugh Crow’s memoirs is one of the best windows into understanding Captain George Cannon’s world. In this post, I will set forth some of the parallels.

Birth and First Known Sailing Voyage:

Hugh Crow was born in 1765 in Ramsey, Isle of Man. George Cannon was born one year later, in 1766, in Peel, Isle of Man. Ramsey is on the northeast coast and Peel is on the southwest coast (the Isle of Man is only 32 miles long, so the distance between the two cities is very small). Both have good harbors and are fishing towns.

George Cannon’s first West Indies voyage as a sailor was in 1779, at the age of 13, when he went from Liverpool to Jamaica and back. Hugh Crow’s first West Indies voyage was three years later, in 1782, at the age of 17, when he went from Liverpool to Barbados, Antigua and St. Martins and then back to Liverpool.

First Slave Ship Voyage:

George Cannon’s first voyage on a ship involved in the slave trade left Liverpool in April 1790. The ship visited Lisbon on the way to Anomabu and Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast of Africa, then delivered the slaves to Falmouth, Jamaica. Hugh Crow’s first slave voyage left Liverpool in October 1790, just six months after Cannon’s, visited Rotterdam on the way to Anomabu, the same African destination as Cannon, then Lagos, Benin and New Calabar in Africa. The slaves were delivered to Dominica in the West Indies.

Capture by a French Privateer:

Hugh Crow was on a ship captured by the French ship Robuste, a privateer, in July 1794, near the Isle of Guernsey. He was taken as a prisoner of war to France. George Cannon was also on a ship captured by a French privateer, the Scipio, in 1796 while on the Middle Passage (taking slaves from Africa to the West Indies). George’s ship was recaptured by an English ship and he was taken to the Isle of St. Kitt’s in the West Indies.

First Voyage as Captain of a Slave Ship:

One of the most amazing parallels is when they both first captained slaves ships. The circumstances are almost mirror images of each other.

George Cannon’s ship, the Iris, left Liverpool with a crew of 40 men on June 8, 1798 (George was actually the first mate and became captain later when the captain died in Africa). Hugh Crow’s ship, the Will, left Liverpool with a crew of 46 men on July 30, 1798, less than two months later. Both ships were intended to go to Angola for slaves and both ended up in Bonny in Africa. Cannon’s ship had two deaths in Africa, including the captain. Crow’s ship had three deaths. Cannon’s ship delivered 414 slaves to Kingston, Jamaica, arriving on November 4, 1798. Crow’s ship delivered 420 slaves to Kingston, Jamaica, arriving on December 29, 1798, less than two months later. While in Jamaica, Cannon had 7 crew members die, 16 were impressed by the Royal Navy, and 9 deserted. While in Jamaica, Crow had 10 crew members die, 15 were impressed by the Royal Navy and 6 deserted. Cannon added no new crew members before leaving Jamaica on February 12, 1799. He arrived in Liverpool on April 12, 1799 with 6 crew (I assume the ship was not carrying any significant cargo, which was not uncommon). Crow added 13 crew members before leaving Jamaica on February 14, 1799, just two days after Cannon. He arrived in Liverpool on April 9, 1799, three days before Cannon, with a crew of 23.

Certainly Cannon and Crow knew each other. It is likely that they met and interacted in both Bonny and Kingston on this voyage.

Second Voyage as Captain of a Slave Ship:

The parallels for their second voyages as captains are not as great, but there are still enough to make comparison worthwhile.

Both captained the same ship as on their previous voyage: Cannon the Iris and Crow the Will. Cannon left Liverpool on July 5, 1799 with a crew of 44. Crow left Liverpool 20 days later, on July 25, 1799, with a crew of 42. Cannon went to Angola in Africa for slaves and arrived in Kingston, Jamaica on August 6, 1800 with 409 slaves on board. Crow went to Bonny in Africa for slaves and arrived in Kingston, Jamaica on March 7, 1800, 5 months earlier than Cannon, with 405 slaves on board. Cannon had 10 crew deaths and 3 desertions. Crow had 6 crew deaths and 4 desertions. Crow left Jamaica for England on May 19, 1800, well before Cannon arrived in Jamaica. Cannon’s ship was not seaworthy and was condemned in Jamaica. He had to catch another ship to get back to England.

Because of the amazing similarities, Captain Crow’s life truly is a window into the life of Captain Cannon.


  1. Amazing. Kind of like how your grandparents knew my uncle and my mom, and your OTHER grandparents knew my mom and dad.

  2. Hello, Another fictional but interesting glimpse in the slave trade is Barry Unsworth's SACRED HUNGER. The research in this book is good and goes into areas never written in journals or ships logs about what it must have been like in those times. The captain of the ship in this novel was killed by his crew in mutiny after many voyages in the trade. I would certainly like to know more about that in the case of Captain Cannon. I really appreciate your research on this topic. It has been of interest to me for a long time.

    Hal Cannon

  3. Hal,

    Thank you. I will read the book.

    Bob Cannon