Monday, June 10, 2019

Captain Cannon: Voyage of the Ship Iris - Part 2

This is a continuation from the prior post.

On June 9, 1798, the log notes the “Skerry Light House” and “Holy Head” which are in North Wales.[1] It also noted that three ships were accompanying her, one of which would be the Martha.


            A letter dated June 10, 1798, from Ralph Fisher to David Miller Esq. & Co. in St. Vincents: “I have the Pleasure to inform you the [ship] Martha[, Captain] Taylor[,] sails hence for Bonny the 8th Cur[re]n’t  I hope he will be with you in Novr so that you will be prepared for him, as I have placed the most implicit confidence in your respecting this, having positively engaged her to you. I make no doubt of you making him a good Average with short sighted Bills. I hope you’ll procure him a full Freight Home by the first Convoy. I have given [Captain] Taylor Orders to write you from Africa.”


            On June 11, 1798, the log notes that the carpenter was making shot lockers, the gunner and crew were making wads and the cooper was making deck pails.

Iris and Martha

            On June 16, 1798, the log notes that the Iris “Hove too[2] for the Martha.”

            On June 17, 1798, the Iris again “Hove too” and went to the northwest so that the Martha could “Come up”.


            On June 22, 1798, the crew was weaving mats,[3] twisting spunyarn and mending sails and the cooper was “Making tubbs for the Slaves”.

            A letter dated June 27, 1798, from Ralph Fisher to Alexander Lindo[4] in Finsbury Square, London: “The Purport of this is to advise you the Iris sailed on the 8th Currt for Bonny; at your leisure will thank you to send me a Guarantee for your Friends at Kingston in Jamaica on the terms you & me fix’d on her, please advise your Friends there that they may be prepared.”

            On July 3, 1798, they cast out the lead line.[5] They went 90 fathoms[6] and did not touch bottom.

            On July 5, 1798, the crew were mending sails and making gaskets[7] and points.[8]

            On July 6, 1798, they cast out the lead line again to 90 fathoms and did not touch bottom. The crew was “making Cage Nettings for the Main Deck” in preparation for slaves.

            On July 7, 1798, the carpenter was making a crew house and the cooper was making “Crews,” apparently small wooden storage containers.[9]

            On July 8, 1798, they cast out the lead line to 80 fathoms and did not touch bottom.

            On July 9, 1798, they cast out the lead line to 90 fathoms and did not touch bottom.  After that, they did soundings every two hours.

            On July 10, 1798, at 4:00 p.m., Cape Palmas,[10] at the southern end of Liberia, near the border with Cote D’ivorie, was four leagues[11] to the north north east. At 5:00 p.m. a canoe came along side the ship.

Iris and Martha

            A letter dated July 12, 1798, from Ralph Fisher to Lindo Lake & Co. in Jamaica: “No doubt our mutual Friend Mr. Lindo has advised you he has given me a Guarantee for my Ship Iris, who sail’d for Bonny on the 8th ult. for 420 Negroes, you are advised also of the Terms; I have order’d Ct Spencer to take one half in Produce[;] I beg you’ll give him of the best Quality and no doubt at a fair Markett Price; I hope you’ll exert yourself in making a great average and procuring him a full Freight for hence. I will thank you for as early Intelligense as possible of the Value you think you may ship, for my Guide in [obtaining] Insurance [on the cargo]; you will oblige in drawing the Bills in Terms of about £500 each, in my Favor. I hope the Iris will be with you in all Novr the Martha about the same Time from the same Place[. S]he is for 384 [slaves] and goes to Mr Thos Aspinall House; [P]lease procure for me & ship by the Iris two Pipes of choice Madeira Wine if Mr Thos Aspinall has not provided them; I think I only order’d Captn Spencer to bring one. I wish another, wishing the Iris speedily with you in good health…Oh Please ship me 4 or 6 Bils choice sugar”. A letter the same date, from Ralph Fisher to “Captn Jn. Spencer, Ship Iris,” care of Lindo Lake & Co. in Jamaica: “Have nothing further to add since your original Orders, have sent you my Agreement with Mr Lindo, which…[missing the balance of the letter]. Another letter the same date, from Ralph Fisher to “Captn Thos. Taylor, Ship Martha,” care of David Miller Esq. and Co. in St. Vincents: “I hope Messrs Miller and you will agree at St Vincents[. W]e have no objection to receive any part in produce; as you was possitively order’d to them, I expect they will sell [your negroes]; [I]f not proceed to Kingston in Jamaica to Mr Thos Asprinall who will recommend you to the new firm[; I] presume he will have resigned[; A]s I am not clear of that make my apology for not writing them; [A]s Mr Lindo’s House sells the [cargo of the] Iris[; I] wish Mr Asprinall’s house to sell you[r cargo; T]he Iris is to have one half produce, no doubt but they will give you the same, or in lieu am willing to take bills for one half at 6, 9, and 12 mos allowing the Disc[oun]t down to that period, or the same as Mr Lindo’s terms; [D]on’t omit writing us fully what you do[; F]or our guide in insurance take great pains in having your ship well stow’d and fill’d with freight[,] don’t spare your decks with cotton, having leave by your bills lading from the shippers, be frugal and sail your ship cheap home…Request them not to keep your negroes long on sale”.


            On July 13, 1798, the crew was binding cables, scraping and scrubbing the main deck and making a main deck awning.[12]

            On July 14, 1798, the crew worked on the boats, including fitting the boat sails.

            On July 15, 1798, they cast the lead line and found blue mud at 14 fathoms. Thereafter, they sounded, or cast the lead line, every ten minutes. The log notes Cape Formosa, the dividing point between the Bight of Benin and the Bight of Biafra or Bight of Bonny, in modern day Nigeria. The log also notes something about the “5th River” which appears to be a reference to the river leading to Bonny Island.[13] There are no further log entries until September 2nd.

The Ship North America

In August 1798, the ship North America, originally an American ship of 219 tons burthen, was captured by a French Schooner[14] Privateer, La Fleur de la Mar, Captain J. Dupin, and carried to the City of Santo Domingo on the Island of Hispaniola, also known as St. Domingo, where it was condemned as a Prize by the Tribunal of Prizes in Santo Domingo. [The next entry for the North America is September 13, 1798]


On August 23, 1798, Hendrick Farmor (35) drowned. This probably means that the Iris had landed in Bonny.

Uncle Toby

On August 25, 1798, the Uncle Toby left St. Ubes for New York with a cargo of salt. It carried 440 mogs of St. Ubes salt equal to about 8,000 or 9,000 American bushels. She was between 293 and 300 tons berthen when captured. She was “well found with cables, anchors, etc.” and had spare rigging on board “of trifling amount,” perhaps $300 in value. The Uncle Toby was worth about $10,000 to $12,000. [The next entry for the Uncle Toby is September 21, 1798]


            Captain John Spencer died on August 30, 1798, likely in Bonny, making George Cannon master or captain of the Iris.

            The Iris may have picked up two extra crew in Bonny, Gease Neoudth and James Jameson, to replace John Spencer and Hendrick Farmor who had died. Both signed the Agency Agreement on November 9, 1798 as members of the crew, but were not listed on the Muster Roll.

The Ships Britannia, Friendly Cedar and Martha

            It appears that there were at least three other ships in Bonny collecting slaves at the same time as the Iris. The ship Britannia, under Captain Joseph Carshore, was a smaller ship, 209 tons, with 35 crew, and left Liverpool eight days before the Iris. It left Bonny about the same time as the Iris (see September 2nd entry) and delivered 337 slaves to Antigua.  The ship Friendly Cedar, under Captain J. Jones or J. Green, was even smaller, 132 tons. It left Liverpool more than a month before the Iris, left Bonny about the same time as the Iris (see September 5th entry) and delivered slaves to Barbados. The sister ship of the Iris, the Martha, under Captain Thomas Taylor, was also in Bonny at the same time, collecting 384 slaves, which were to be delivered to St. Vincent.

Iris and Britannia

            On September 2, 1798, the Iris log begins again after leaving Bonny. It notes the ship Britannia and Captain “Cashaw” were astern and out of sight.


            On September 3, 1798, the crew was stowing the anchor, putting mats on the rigging[15] and setting up the bowsprit[16] shrouds.[17] The Iris had obtained its full legal allotment of 420 slaves, which were fed 200 yams, leaving 13,495 yams remaining. From this point on, the log keeps a regular record of the yams consumed and yams remaining.

Iris, Martha and Friendly Cedar

            On September 4, 1798, the Iris “Lost Sight of the Ship in Company”, which was likely the Britannia. 180 yams fed the slaves.

            On September 5, 1798, the Iris joined company with the Martha and the “frindly Ceasar” which was likely the Friendly Cedar.[18] The log noted sighting Cape St. John, a promontory off of Equatorial Guinea, north of Corisco Bay. 196 yams fed the slaves.

[1] The Skerries lighthouse is located on a series of wind-swept and treeless islands by that name, two miles off Carmel Head on the northwest corner of Anglesey, North Wales, and eight miles north of Holyhead harbor, in an area of shallow rock outcrops and vicious currents. The area was notoriously treacherous and claimed many ships as victims. (
[2] “Hove to” is a way to stop a ship and maintain position by balancing rudder and sail to prevent forward movement. The ship does this by lying nearly head to the wind and maintaining this position by trimming the sails.
[3] To prevent chafing, a thick mat was woven from strands of old rope, spun yarn, or foxes, containing a greater or lesser number of rope yarns in proportion to the intended mat to be made. Entries from the logbook on the Ranger, another slave ship, from December 5, 1789 and December 7, 1789, state, respectively,: “Making mats for the lower yards sinet” and “making mats for the rigging and yards.” Wilkins, Frances, Manx Slave Traders: A Social history of the Isle of Man’s involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade (Wyre Forest Press, Worcestershire: 1999), pp. 94-95 (hereafter “Manx Slave Traders”).
[4] Alexandre Lindo started his career as a merchant in Jamaica, buying and distributing slaves from slave boats and buying and reselling the goods of prizes captured in the Caribbean. Then he began a credit business with local merchants. By 1793, Lindo & Lake was the largest slave factoring company in Jamaica. In 1793, Alexandre Lindo moved to England, but his oldest son, Abraham Alexandre Lindo, remained. In December 1796 he began the partnership of Lindo, Lake & Co. as an absentee partner, along with his son and Richard Lake. From 1796 to 1802, Lindo, Lake & Co. probably marketed more slaves than any other merchant house in Jamaica. Alexandre Lindo was also a partner in the London firm of Aguilar, Dias & Son which provided credit for Lindo, Lake & Co.  The “friends” being referenced are Lindo, Lake & Co. [Eli Faber, Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight (Reappraisals in Jewish Social and Intellectual History, (NYU Press: August 1, 1998), pp. 39, 121; Jackie Ranston, The Lindo Legacy (Toucan Books: London, 2000) found on]
[5] A line with a weight on the end used to measure depth. The lead is dropped into the water and marks on the line are read to determine the current water depth. The lead usually has a cavity to return a sample of the bottom type mud, sand, etc. Over time a method of navigating from one depth to another based upon the condition of the bottom developed. For example, see the entry for July 15, 1798 where it looks like they were navigating by depth.
[6] A fathom is 6 feet or 1.83 meters.
[7] Gaskets were rope ties used to tie up sails when they were furled to the yards on the masts. When a sail was to be stowed, it was folded and bagged within itself, pulled onto the top of the yard and then the gaskets were brought around over it and secured to hold it in place.
[8] “Pointing” was unlaying and tapering the end of a rope and weaving some of its yarns about the diminished part, preventing it from being “fagged out” and making it handy for “reeving in a block”, etc. Similar entries from the slaving ship Ranger: “making gaskets and points” (December 14, 1789); “Making points for the new topsail” (December 17, 1789). Manx Slave Traders, pp. 94-95.
[9] On September 3, 1798, the Iris log states they “Expended 8 Crues Bains & Ditto rice.” In the context of another slave voyage in 1789, the ship Ranger left the coast of Africa with “600 crues of beans, 90 crues of rice, 357 crues of corn”. On December 17 and 21, 1789, the Ranger logbook records, “Cooper making crues.” Manx Slave Traders, pp. 91, 94-05. “Crue” is defined in Admiral W. H. Smith’s Sailor’s Word-book A Dictionary of Nautical Terms 1867 as another word for kreel, a framework of timber for the catching of fish. The dictionary defines a “cruse” as a small earthenware container, such as a pot or jar, for holding liquids.
[10] Cape Palmas separates the Pepper or Grain Coast and the Ivory Coast. (Wikipedia Encyclopedia: Harper and Liberia).
[11] A league is a measurement of length used in estimating sea distances. In Great Britain, the league had a recognized length of 6,075 yards or approximately 3 nautical miles, 1/20th of a degree of latitude.
[12] A canvas canopy secured over the ship’s deck as a protection from the weather.
[13] In 1791, a Captain Landolphe described a journey with descriptions similar to the Iris. He stated: “I took the wind direction to get out of the gulf of Benin and cross Cape Formosa. I wanted to explore the rivers of Calabar, where many English trade, especially in the Bani river. I note here that, when one has Cape Formosa in sight, one must count six rivers on this point, and that the seventh is that which leades to Calabar…” ( Bonny is located before Calabar and the 5th River appears to be the river leading to Bonny Island.
[14] A schooner is a small ship with fore and aft sails on two or more masts.
[15] Rigging is the general term for all ropes of the ship.
[16] The bowsprit is like a mast, it holds sails, but it extends forward from the bow (front of the ship) at about a 45 degree angle to minimize the risk of the bowsprit being buried in large waves.
[17] Shrouds are thick ropes reaching from near the top of the masts (or as in this case, the bowsprit) to the ship’s sides, to support the masts and prevent them from moving sideways.
[18] There are no records for a slave ship called the “Ceaser” or “Ceasar.” However, there is a record for the slave ship “Friendly Cedar” (#81515) which left Liverpool more than a month before the Iris (May 1, 1798) and went to Bonny for slaves. It delivered slaves in Barbados on November 2, 1798, about the same time that the Iris delivered slaves to Jamaica.

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