Eaten by a shark

Council’s declaration

We, the undersigned officers and sailors Daniël Pruijmelaar, Petrus Couperus, Johannis Coijwijk Jan Eward, Anthonie Colombo, Otto Westman en Jacobus Rankin, all in service of the Hon. Commercie Compagnie of the city of Middelburg in Zeeland appointed to the snowship The Unity, hereby declare on request of our captain Jan Menkenveld to whoever this may concern:

Thus do I declare, first deponent, Daniël Pruymelaar, that on the Upper Coast, I was forbidden by the previously mentioned captain Jan Menkenveld to allow the canoe negroes to talk to our slaves, because we had not mastered the negroe language fully enough to know what passed between them. I was also told not to allow them to sell or trade edible goods or other goods to our slaves in order to prevent all incidents between the free negroes and our slaves. Yes, it even happened that the free negroes, even when warned several times, went to the slaves with fish and other foods which the slaves bought. They were in in such danger that they would have lost their lives if they had not received help from the officers and ship’s folk.

The first deponent also has a letter dated the last 24th of April and received here at the roadstead from the captain Jan Menkenveld, with the following content: that if sometimes the rowers of the watercano talk to the slaves we should not allow this and duly find out whether the slaves were scared by them. On the … of April two man slaves were lost without anyone knowing, and missing in the morning without knowing the cause of it.

So it happened on the … of April in the forenoon, when the watercanoe came on board, I saw that the negroes from the watercanoe were trading their foodware with our slaves for leaf tobacco. Since this was still in hands of the free negroes and since, according to previous orders my duty was to provide in this, I went down the man-rope to retrieve the tobacco,

after I had knocked away the slaves who were sitting on the edge of the board with a whip in my hand. (Since this is often used and taken in hand on a slave ship to castigate the slaves if they hit each other or wrangle, which happens often).

Once in the canoe, where I was visiting the baskets, three negroes had jumped out of the canoe. At this jumping out of the negroes I was so aghast, that I had forgotten to look after the tobacco. I also do not know where it was left. I also saw that there were one or more sharks near the ship which took away one of these negroes. I saw blood drifting on the water; dismayed, I left the canoe and went on the ship, without having beaten the canoe negroes. At this point, the mentioned canoe negroes were the first to ship off to the shore with 6 empty barrels and without waiting for the others or their bottle of liquor.

Further do I declare, 2nd deponent, Petrus Couperus, surgeon on this ship, that since I was in the waist to bandage the slaves, I saw the chief mate enter the canoe after he had first gotten rid of all the slaves sitting on the board because it was seen that they were again trading their tobacco for foodcantjes. I also saw the chief mate standing in the canoe; as soon as he wanted to visit the aforementioned baskets of the canoe negroes, three of these jumped overboard while holding themselves to the sloop tugger. They were laughing at the fact that the chief mate was so deceived, knowing that the officer would not following them into the water. In this they gave themselves away, also because it was forbidden for them to associate with the slaves, let alone trade with them. From this it was clear that they already had the tobacco in their canoe.

At this, I returned to my bandages. However, as soon as I had started again I heard: “A shark ate one of the negroes”, at which I again looked over board. I saw nothing but a piece of lung, which was also eaten by the sharks. I also declare that the chief mate touched the negroes with neither hand nor finger, let alone hit them.

Furthermore do I declare, third deponent Johannis Coijwijk, that here on the Upper Coast captain Jan Menkenveldt charged us multiple times that no free negroes were allowed to speak to the slaves, nor sell or trade food. He also told us that the free negroes were not allowed to go with their foodware among the slaves because their lives would be endangered and their goods taken away from them, and they did not need it. Also the slaves were not permitted to buy; they had nothing to pay with.

However, if the free negroes safely entered the quarter deck with their foodwares then the captain could buy it for the slaves. Yes, this is what happened here: the free negroes came on board with fish and had mingled with the slaves. The fish was taken from them and they were beaten, since the slaves were resentful towards the free negroes; it would have cost them their lives had not the chief mate and the ship’s folk ousted them. At this the aforementioned chief mate took the fish away from the slaves and gave it back to the owner, ordering them to immediately go into the canoe, which they did.

I also declare that while we were laying with the ship at the roadstead here, a letter signed by captain Jan Menkenveld and sent to the first officer Daniël Pruijmelaar passed through my hands. It dated the 24th of april, and stated that sometimes the rowers of the water canoes spoke to the slaves. The first officer should definitely not allow this and should find out whether the slaves had been frightened.

Also in the morning of the … of April two man slaves were missing, who had been taken away without anyone’s knowledge. I do not know the cause of this, of which a report has also been made by order of the first officer to the captain. So it also happened on the … of April in the forenoon, that I was busy in the cabin and the water canoe came onboard with water when I heard: “A shark took one of the negroes”. As I came to the quarter deck I saw blood drifing on the water. I went back into the cabin and did not see anything else.

Furthermore do I declare, fourth deponent Jan Eward, standing on the ship’s board to help hand over the empty barrels into the canoe, and I, fifth deponent Anthonie Colombo, being in the sloop on the side of the ship, that we saw the negroes take leaf tobacco from the water canoe. We then saw the first officer coming to the man-rope, at which the negroes threw the tobacco out of the canoe and the largest negroe of the three jumped out of the canoe. When the first officer entered the canoe to search for the tobacco, the other two negroes jumped out of the canoe. However, we did not see them hit by the chief mate. There was one or more sharks near the ship, who took one of those canoe negroes. At this, they left for the shore without wanting to take in more barrels.

Furthermore do I declare, sixth deponent Otto Westman, that I was busy handing over empty water barrels into the canoe. I saw the slaves trading their tobacco and wanted to warn the first officer. He was already coming and chased the slaves off board. When the first officer entered the canoe, three negroes jumped out of the canoe; I saw one of these canoe negroes being torn away by one or more sharks.

Furthermore do I declare, seventh deponent Jacobus Rankin, that as I was standing on the board I saw the chief mate enter the waist in order to knock off the slaves on the board, since they were trading their tobacco to the canoe negroes for food. Since the first officer was on the man-rope, the largest of three negroes jumped out of the canoe. When the chief mate was in the canoe to visit the baskets, the other two jumped out of the canoe. At this point, one or more sharks near the ship took away one of these canoe negroes. I did not see that the canoe negroes were indulsted by the chief mate, let alone hit.

We, the undersigned, hereby close our declarations, giving reasons of the knowledge in this text of that which we have heard, seen, been present at and which is still fresh in our memories. This, should the need arise, may be presented under oath.

Actum on board of said snowship The Unity this May 1762, at the roadstead of Elmina CastleGhanaElmina.


Daniël Pruymelaar

P. Couperus

Johannis Coijwijk

Jan Ewardt

This + is the signature of Anthonie Colombo