Saturday, June 29, 2019

Captain Cannon: The Ship Helen

Just under a year from arriving back in Liverpool on his voyage on the Good Intent, George was back out to see on the Ship Helen.

The Helen was 197 tons, built in Liverpool in 1787 and refurbished with a new deck and new upper works in 1795. The Helen was owned by George Case, a part owner of the Good Intent, George Cannon’s prior ship. Also like the Good Intent, John Brine was the captain and George Cannon was the first mate.[1] The Helen was cleared to leave Liverpool on June 21, 1796 for Angola and was authorized to obtain 328 slaves. [2]

The Helen actually left Liverpool on June 26, 1796. In addition to John Brine and George Cannon, there were 29 other crew members (31 in all), including a surgeon, two second mates, a third mate, a fourth mate, a carpenter, a carpenter’s mate, a boatswain, a gunner, a cooper, a steward, a cook, ten seamen and seven boys.

The journey to Africa was done in one of two ways. The first, was to sail to the Cape Verde Islands and then follow the coast. This was the route in the winter or when traveling to the Gulf of Guinea. The second, and their likely route, was to stay out in the Atlantic until heading east-southeast to Angola, the general route between March and August when the southeast trade winds could cause difficulties closer to the coast, or when the primary destination was Angola or the Congo. [3]

They likely arrived in Angola in August. While there, on October 5, 1796, George Cannon’s second child and first daughter, Leonora Cannon, was born back in Peel, Isle of Man. The Kirk German parish register records “Leonora daur of George Cannon & Leonora Collister” was baptized on October 9, 1796. Several weeks later, on October 21, 1796, one of the seamen on the Helen drowned.

They left Angola, intending to go first to Barbados, then to Antigua to sell the slaves. On their way, perhaps December 7, 1796,[4] the Helen was captured by the Scipio, a French privateer. The Helen, now guided by a French master, continued on to the West Indies where it was captured again, this time by the President Sloop, a ship in Admiral Henry Harvey’s[5] squadron patrolling the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. The re-captured Helen was escorted to St. Kitts[6] where the slaves were sold and George found a ship to take him back to Liverpool. He likely arrived back in Liverpool in early May 1797, and would have been gone about 11 months.[7]

[1] Lloyd’s Register 1797. 
[2] Accounts, Presented to the House of Commons, Respecting the Trade to the Coast of Africa, for Slaves; & c., Parliamentary Papers, 1801-02 (88), IV [hereafter “House of Commons 1802”], p. 4); Parliamentary Papers 1806.
[3] Slave Trade, p. 313.
[4] The Muster Roll indicates that the entire crew was discharged on December 7, 1796. I am assuming this is the date they were captured.
[5] Sir Henry Harvey was born in 1737 and obtained an education at L’Ecole Royale de la Marine at Calais, France. He entered the British Navy in May of 1751. On July 4, 1774 he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral and in April of 1796, became commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. He resigned this command in July 1799 and returned to England. He was named an admiral in 1804 and died in 1810. (
[6] Lloyd’s List, dated February 17, 1797, indicates that the Helen, from Africa to Barbadoes and Antigua, has been taken by the Scipio French Privateer, and retaken by the President Sloop and carried to St. Kitt’s. Lloyd’s List, dated March 31, 1797, indicates the Helen and Alpi, both from Africa, were retaken in the West Indies by Admiral Harvey’s Squadron. [Lloyd’s Register of Shipping 1797; Paliamentary Papers 1806 (265), XIII, no. 1 and 1801-2(88), IV, no. 1, may have additional information].
[7] Captain Brine filled out and signed the Muster Roll on May 10, 1797. This assumes that George Cannon got back to Liverpool on the same ship and that the Muster Roll was prepared shortly after arriving back in Liverpool.

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