March 29, 2007 / 3:42 PM / 10 years ago

Brown exhibit traces links to slave trade

<p>A handout book image from a Brown exhibit on slavery shows a small boat filled with purchased slaves approaching a slave ship off the coast of Africa. A new exhibit at Brown University illustrates links between the Ivy League school and the 18th century slave trade.John Carter Brown Library/Handout</p>

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (Reuters) - More than 100 Africans perished on the slave ship Sally in the voyage from Africa in 1765 -- some hanged themselves or starved to death. Some rebelled and were shot dead or drowned.

The ship's log book, detailing the deaths of slaves that occurred almost daily aboard the ship, is encased in glass in a new exhibit at Brown University that illustrates links between the Ivy League school and the 18th century slave trade.

The exhibit follows a "Slavery and Justice" report by Brown in October that acknowledged its co-founders used money from the slavery of Africans to build the school, a reminder that slavery once flourished in New England -- hundreds of miles (km) from the U.S. South, where it became entrenched.

The U.S. Northeast, whose politicians, Quaker pastors and abolitionists led the fight against slavery, benefited extensively from the trade before it was abolished in 1807.

Brown, the seventh-oldest U.S. university, was built with contributions from people who owned slaves or traded in Africans, including the original Brown family, who owned the Sally and sponsored the voyage that killed 109 of its 196 captives.

"This history surrounds us and we've learned not to see it," said James Campbell, chair of Brown's Committee on Slavery and Justice, which produced the 109-page "Slavery and Justice" report after three years of research and debate on campus.

Newspaper clippings, ledgers of merchants, passages from journals, drawings and other evidence of Rhode Island's domination of North America's share of the transatlantic slave trade are spread over two libraries at the prestigious school in the state capital Providence.

It includes the first North American advertisement for slaves, published in 1704: "Two Negro men, and one Negro Woman & Child; to be Sold by Mr. John Colman, Merchant; to be seen at Col. Charles Hobbey, Esq. his House, in Boston."

A 1652 document shows slavery outlawed in Rhode Island, but it was never enforced. More than 1,000 slave voyages were mounted from Rhode Island, mostly in the 18th century, carrying more than 100,000 Africans into slavery, the university said.

Four brothers in the Brown family -- Nicholas, Joseph, John and Moses -- were not major slave traders but owned slaves and invested in the trade, which the university said "permeated every aspect of social and economic life in Rhode Island, the Americas and indeed the Atlantic world" at the time.


The display, which opened to the public in February and runs through April, is part of Brown's efforts to make amends for contributing to slavery.

Brown has also announced a $10 million endowment to educate urban children in the state's capital and is planning memorials, new teaching initiatives and a research center to educate its students and the public about the practice.

Brown's Committee on Slavery and Justice, which stopped short of seeking reparations as urged by some African Americans, was appointed by Brown president Ruth Simmons, a great-granddaughter of slaves and the first black president of an Ivy League institution.

The exhibit traces the origins of New England's slave trade beginning with the capture of Native Americans in the 17th century and their sale in the West Indies, in contrast to the region's later history and image as emancipator of slaves.

The disastrous voyage of the Sally to the Windward Coast of Africa marked a turning point for the Brown family. Moses Brown freed his slaves eight years later and became a vocal opponent of slavery, while his brother Joseph, who was the school's treasurer, became a public defender of the trade.

The exhibit shows how their debate influenced politicians of the time, and how Rhode Island slowly transformed into a leading voice against slavery in the unfolding national debate, helped by the campaigning of Moses Brown.

The southern Rhode Island port city of Newport passed one of the first anti-slave trade resolutions in U.S. history.

"By the 19th century the Browns started doing manifestly anti-slavery things and when you study the family's history you see a 10- or 12-generation record of philanthropy after philanthropy," said Richard Ring, a librarian at the John Carter Brown Library, where one of the exhibits is on display.

The United States abolished the practice of slavery in 1865 after a four-year civil war.

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