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Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. and the Atlantic WorldSlave Trader, Plantation Owner, Emancipator$

Daniel L. Schafer

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780813044620

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813044620.001.0001

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“My Saddle Bags Loaded with Specie”

“My Saddle Bags Loaded with Specie”

Caribbean Commerce in the Age of Revolution

(p.35) 3 “My Saddle Bags Loaded with Specie”
Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. and the Atlantic World

Daniel L. Schafer

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

During the 1790s, Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. was a ship captain engaged in sugar and coffee trade in the West Indies. In 1793, his ship was seized by a French privateer and sold at an Admiralty Court auction at Charleston. With France and Britain at war and privateers capturing commercial vessels owned by citizens of an enemy nation, Kingsley decided to change his British nationality to that of a neutral nation. He pledged loyalty to the United States, and continued his maritime trade in the West Indies with an added degree of protection while sailing under a neutral flag. Between 1793 and 1797, while a massive slave rebellion against the French colonial government was underway in Saint-Domingue, the French colony on the Island of Hispaniola, Kingsley traded for coffee in the southern province then under military control of Britain. The United States then became involved in an undeclared naval war against France, however, endangering Kingsley’s neutral trading status. In 1798, he moved to the Danish Island of St. Thomas and pledged loyalty to neutral Denmark.

Keywords:   Age of Revolution, Privateer, Overseas wars of the French Revolution, Slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue, Oath of loyalty, Neutral port, West Indies coffee trade, British occupation of Saint-Domingue

On October 3, 1793, Zephaniah Kingsley secured the Argo, a British-registered brigantine, to a wharf jutting into the Cooper River at Charleston. It was a homecoming of sorts for the twenty-eight-year-old ship captain, but it was not to be a happy occasion. Charleston had been his home between 1770 and 1783, but that ended when his father was banished for supporting Great Britain during the American Revolution. The family home for the next decade had been St. John, New Brunswick, although Kingsley Jr. had returned to Charleston occasionally while learning the maritime trade on his father’s ships. In the late 1780s he became a ship captain in his own right, and by February 1791 he was master of the Dolphin, a sloop employed in the Caribbean trade. On February 23, 1792, he registered as the captain and owner of the Argo when clearing customs at Savannah with a cargo from Kingston, Jamaica.1

When Kingsley arrived at Charleston on October 3, 1793, he was a seasoned mariner familiar with ports in the Caribbean and the Atlantic coast of North America. The October 1793 voyage, however, was his last aboard the Argo. In late September, Kingsley departed Jamaica bound for Wilmington, North Carolina, but his ship was seized as a prize of war by a French privateer, Captain Jean Bouteille and the fifty-man crew of the Sans Pareille. Boteille, out of Saint-Domingue, was operating under license of a “letter of marque and reprisal” issued by an official of the French Republic, which authorized him to confiscate property of the enemies of France. Seizure of a merchant ship on the open seas would normally have been condemned as an act of piracy, but England and France were at war in 1793. The continental (p.36) war between Britain and the revolutionary government of the French Republic, begun in February 1793, had quickly become a worldwide maritime conflict.2

Boteille and his heavily armed crew escorted Kingsley and the Argo to Charleston, the nearest neutral port that permitted French privateers to bring their prizes before a court of admiralty. A few days later, the ship and its cargo were condemned as a prize of war and sold for £288 British sterling to a Danish citizen, who immediately sailed for Barcelona, Spain, with a new captain and crew. It was a devastating blow to Kingsley. He lost his most valuable possession and was stranded in Charleston scrambling to find employment. A more cautious person might have considered a less hazardous occupation, but Kingsley was motivated by the lure of fortune from the immense volume of Caribbean trade.

The French colony of Saint-Domingue alone produced roughly 40 percent of the sugar and 60 percent of the coffee consumed in Europe. Nearly all of the sugar, coffee, indigo, and cotton exported from Saint-Domingue was produced by the forced labor of enslaved Africans brought to the colony in astonishing numbers. Nearly 700,000 Africans arrived in chains from 1700 to 1791, more than half that number between 1776 and 1791.3

The numbers of ships and sailors involved in the Caribbean trade is equally astonishing. The historian Julius S. Scott has estimated that “roughly 21,000 British mariners traveled to the West Indian colonies each year” in the late 1780s. Jamaica, a British colony, “employed close to 500 ships and well over 9,000 seamen” in 1788, and in the following year nearly 19,000 French sailors were aboard the 710 ships that arrived at ports in Saint-Domingue. Guadeloupe, Martinique, Cuba, and the other West Indian colonies of France, Britain, Denmark, Spain, and the Netherlands all offered shippers the possibility of great profits.4

The loss of the Argo dramatized for Kingsley that profit from Caribbean trade was tempered by the great peril faced by mariners during a time of international warfare. French and British naval vessels patrolled the waters, yet privateers licensed by both nations lay in wait, eager to seize commercial vessels. Danger was also posed by the violence emanating from the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue and the civil wars under way in other French colonies.

(p.37) Fulwar Skipwith witnessed the violence firsthand. A Martinique-based commercial agent employed by the United States Department of State, Skipwith announced in 1793 that he had seen too many violent incidents and informed the secretary of state that he would soon bid “his final adieu to this unhappy island.” One of Skipwith’s fellow agents, David M. Clarkson, was alarmed when he heard that British privateers were stopping all vessels suspected of having French property onboard and that American ship captains were discharging all French products to avoid having their cargoes confiscated.5

Zephaniah Kingsley was not intimidated. He immediately began searching for a commission as captain of another ship engaged in Caribbean trade. He traveled briefly to Savannah, returning to Charleston on November 7 at the helm of the brig Argus. He then booked passage to New York City and returned on November 23 in the company of George Gibbs, the future husband of his sister Elizabeth. The wealthy Charleston merchant Charles Johnston, brother of Kingsley’s mother, still lived in Charleston and was available for advice and introductions. Johnston, a Loyalist, had been banished in 1782 but was pardoned and retained his position among the influential Scot and English merchants in the city.6

Kingsley also utilized a network of Loyalists who settled in Canada and the Caribbean islands after the American Revolution. His deceased father had established commercial relationships that Zephaniah Jr. later revived. This was especially true for Kingston, where merchant associates arranged the sale of slaves owned by Kingsley Sr. after he was banished from Charleston. Kingsley Jr. called on these merchants during his trading ventures in the late 1780s and the 1790s.

Kingsley also associated with another diaspora network of planters and merchants, the French émigrés who fled from Saint-Domingue following the massive slave rebellion that swept across the northern province of that island in August 1791. Thousands of refugees fled and were resettled at Kingston, Charleston, and other cities in the West Indies and the United States. The historian David Geggus found in a study of Kingston that refugees from Saint-Domingue began arriving in that city in September 1791 and that by April of the following year “there were as many French in the capital as British.” The influx of refugees, combined with a surprisingly high (p.38) number of imports of enslaved Africans (23,000 from June 1792 through June 1793), created a booming market for foodstuffs. The French refugee community at Kingston proved highly influential in encouraging an invasion of Saint-Domingue that became, for the British, a five-year occupation with horrendous consequences. It was at Kingston that six hundred British troops boarded ships and departed for Jeremie in the southern province of Saint-Domingue on September 9, 1793.7

Kingsley was in Kingston when preparations for that invasion were under way. Only a few weeks later in Charleston, he encountered a similar community of several hundred exiles who were engaging in lively debates and stirring the pot of political ferment while waiting to reclaim their abandoned properties as soon as the rebellion was contained. The citizens of Charleston were grateful to France for the revered General Lafayette and for military aid during the war for independence. More than one hundred Charleston citizens joined the Republican Society to pledge solidarity with the new government of the French Republic and its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity and to speak out against the efforts by Great Britain and Spain to drive the French out of Saint-Domingue.8

The French Patriotic Society stood in direct opposition to the political goals of the Republican Society. Members of the Patriotic Society came mainly from the ranks of the colonial aristocrats, whose goal was to end their exile and return to their plantations and businesses in Saint-Domingue. A few among them longed for restoration of the monarchy, but most sought either autonomous control of the island’s economy within the French Empire or complete independence. The primary goal was to regain their elite race and class privileges and to reimpose slavery, even if it meant conquest of the island by the British.9

The American Revolution Society was founded in Charleston in 1792 by men the historian Robert J. Alderson Jr. described as “the more Conservative and British-oriented” individuals in the community, who were horrified by the increasing radicalism of the French Revolution. Members of this society were primarily affluent British merchants who missed few opportunities to denounce the French privateers that preyed on British shipping. At meetings at William’s Coffee House in Charleston they loudly proclaimed support for the Royal Navy and clamored for a British invasion of Saint-Domingue.10

(p.39) The leader of the pro-British conservatives in Charleston was the merchant and shipowner Edward Penman, a Scot migrant from Edinburgh who had lost a ship to a French corsair and then armed one of his own vessels as a British privateer. His brother, James Penman, had been one of the leading planters and merchants in British East Florida prior to the American Revolution. Merchant firms like James and Edward Penman and Company, North and Vesey, and Jennings and Woddrop owned numerous commercial ships and routinely searched for dependable ship captains. These firms had established contacts with traders at ports in the southern province of Saint-Domingue, the area that Kingsley would frequent in the years ahead.11

In 1794, Zephaniah and his brother George were both employed as ship captains by Edward Penman and Company, and both were sailing between Charleston and ports in the Caribbean. The Penman and Company Day-book for 1794 lists salaries paid to “Zeph Kingsley” and to “George Kingsley.” Several entries in the daybook provide details of George Kingsley’s voyages to ports in Saint-Domingue as the captain of the schooner Mary and of his return to Charleston with cargoes of coffee and sugar.12

Early in 1794, Zephaniah Kingsley maneuvered a Penman and Company vessel, the schooner Rosina, through the Charleston harbor and charted a course for the Caribbean island of Martinique. Before departing, however, he strengthened his claim to neutral status by changing his nationality from British to American. On December 20, 1793, at the Court of Wardens in Charleston, twenty-eight-year-old Zephaniah Kingsley affirmed an oath of loyalty to the United States of America. He had learned through bitter personal experience that sailing a British ship in Caribbean waters while Britain and France were at war represented a major financial risk. In the future he would sail under the flags of neutral nations, although he soon learned that a neutral flag was not a guarantee of safe passage in Caribbean waters during the era of the French Revolution.13

Kingsley was warned before leaving Charleston that British naval vessels and privateers were stopping American ships suspected of trading at French ports. Early in the war the powerful British navy had swept French vessels from Caribbean waters, placing the residents of French colonies in danger of starvation. The French Republic responded by encouraging Americans to bring cargoes of provisions to the French West Indian (p.40) colonies, and hundreds of merchants dispatched ships as quickly as they could load them with foodstuffs.

The British Foreign Office declared that ships of neutral nations delivering provisions to French ports were providing direct aid to an enemy during wartime in violation of the rights of neutrality. The ships involved, along with their cargoes, were subject to confiscation. With this interpretation, Britain was adhering to policies first proclaimed in 1756 at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, barring ships of neutral nations from trading in ports of their enemies if those ports had been closed to neutrals before the war. The U.S. government insisted on the principle of “free ships make free goods” and protested vehemently, but the British Foreign Office paid little attention.14

Hundreds of U.S. vessels were stopped and escorted into British ports for inspection during 1793. Coffee and other products loaded at French colonial ports were condemned as contraband of war and confiscated, a process that resulted in expensive delays and losses of cargo, but the ships were returned to their owners. When the Baltimore schooner Peggy was seized by a British vessel in August 1793, it was escorted to Jamaica and relieved of its cargo of coffee purchased at Saint-Domingue. After a six-week delay, the ship was returned to its owner, John Smith and Company of Baltimore. That same firm’s brigantine John was captured twice in 1793 but released each time.15

David Clarkson, the American commercial agent at St. Eustatius in 1793, reported to the State Department that U.S. vessels were being seized. In 1794 his frustration turned to anger after the British navy implemented the Orders in Council decreed by the Foreign Office on November 6, 1793. The orders had been kept secret for two months to facilitate a planned naval campaign, which resulted in large numbers of American merchant ships trapped in French West Indian ports when the British fleet arrived. In contrast to previous practices, British officials hastily condemned and sold both ships and cargoes. Clarkson witnessed as dozens of American ships were condemned and sold at Montserrat and St. Kitts. Two months later at St. Eustatius, agent Fulwar Skipwith learned that 250 U.S. vessels had been seized by British warships and carried into ports at the Windward Islands. All the ships taken into Dominique, Antigua, Montserrat, and St. Kitts were (p.41) condemned and sold, the captains and crew stranded and in desperate need of passage home.16

Zephaniah Kingsley was the captain of one of forty American ships that entered the harbor of St. Pierre, Martinique, in January 1794, unaware that Britain was about to implement its controversial policy. When a British fleet under command of Admiral John Jervis arrived on February 3, 1794, to begin a siege of the island, egress from the harbor was blocked. Fourteen days later, British troops took possession of the town and seized all vessels in the harbor. In a joint statement written three months later, the still-confined American ship captains charged that British officers boarded their vessels and tore down the flags, forcibly removed the captains and crewmen without permitting them to take along a change of clothing or to secure their personal possessions before being “carried on board a Ship of War, and after undergoing a contemptuous examination … [forced] on board a Prison Ship crowded together to the number of two hundred and fifty Persons in a small ship.” After three days without food, the captains requested permission to go ashore to procure provisions, but the British officer in charge condemned them as “a set of damned Rascals [who] might starve and be damned.” Eventually, the confined sailors were provided provisions and the captains were permitted to live ashore at their own expense. The captains later discovered their ship “Cabbins had been shamefully and wantonly plundered … Trunks and Chests broke open and robbed of everything of value” and personal papers destroyed in acts “of malicious revenge or the frenzy of intoxication.” Some imprisoned American sailors were forced to serve on British warships, while others “died daily on board the prison ship.”17

John Shallcross, another U.S. commercial agent, traveled from the Island of St. Vincent to St. Pierre in early April 1794 and discovered the captured American ships anchored carelessly in the harbor, some moored so closely they slammed together when the tides changed. Four were damaged and sank in the harbor, and two others pulled loose from their moorings and drifted out of the harbor and were lost at sea. Shallcross verified that captains and crew members had been treated brutally and that sailors were still confined in the decrepit prison ship moored in the harbor. British army commander Lieutenant General Charles Grey appointed an unauthorized (p.42) judge and then pressured him to condemn and immediately sell the American ships at St. Pierre and ten others anchored at Fort Royal.18

Shallcross assembled a list of the captured ships, the ports where their owners resided, and the names of their captains. Five of the ships were registered at Charleston, including the schooner Rosina, whose captain was identified as “Zephinia Kingsley.” Like the other captains, Kingsley had been confined aboard the prison ship and was later released to live ashore at his own expense. Forced to give testimony at the liable proceedings and to observe deliberations as the ships and cargoes were condemned and sold, Kingsley and the other captains accused the judge of denying them “the benefit of an argument through our attorney, and condemning us all … as Bad men, supplying the wants of Bad Men in a Bad Cause, and were and ought to be considered as Enemies to Great Britain.”19

Sales of the captured ships began on April 10, 1794. In late May, Shallcross wrote: “All the vessels at Martinique were condemned in one breath by the judge. All … [privateers] have been called in since there are no more American vessels bound to the French Islands.” The British fleet had moved from Martinique by then and conquered the Island of St. Lucia. Shallcross advised owners of American vessels to instruct their captains to avoid the French islands, as every British ship in the West Indies carried orders to capture all craft of neutral nations bound for French ports.20

For the residents of the islands, the British conquest and implementation of the Order in Council had serious consequences. Shallcross observed that stores of provisions had dipped “extremely low” in May 1794, prompting officials to warn of possible starvation if American ships were not permitted to return with cargoes of flour, corn, and other provisions. After traveling from island to island to observe conditions and assist American sailors, he concluded that “the residents of these islands cannot live without our vessels bringing provisions.”21

By the end of June 1794, the British campaign had succeeded in capturing most of the French islands in the West Indies. Naval commanders were instructed to stop seizing American ships carrying provisions. In August, Shallcross wrote: “We are allowed to trade with all the islands held by Britain in these seas, and we can take into all the islands, including the French, flour, corn, bread, peas, horses, mules, all livestock and lumber, and we can carry out rum and molasses.”22

(p.43) News that the British navy had stopped seizing American ships had not reached managers at John Smith and Company of Baltimore on September 1, 1794, when they warned a ship captain that “The British privateers and ships of war are capable of anything.” A Smith and Company ship had delivered a cargo of flour to a Saint-Domingue port where the residents “were starving.” The port was occupied by British forces at the time, yet a British privateer captured the ship “almost within the port.”23

The fury provoked in Washington prompted Congress to pass an order of embargo in March 1794 that required all ships in U.S. ports, whether American or European, to remain at anchor for thirty days. The order was extended for another thirty days. American ships that normally supplied desperately needed provisions to West Indian residents remained at their moorings and suffered significant financial losses. President George Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to London in an effort to mitigate the ship seizures and negotiate an end to the infuriating British practice of “impressment”—seizing sailors aboard American ships and forcing them to crew on British naval vessels—and to resolve other vexatious disputes between the two countries. The controversial “Jay’s Treaty” was agreed to in November 1794 and, after extensive and rancorous partisan debate, was ratified by the U.S. Senate in June 1795. Although highly controversial in America, the treaty resolved many of the issues in dispute and averted a war between the two countries, and the British Foreign Office revoked the Order in Council.24

In France the treaty provoked outrage. French officials expected gratitude from Americans for assistance rendered during the war for independence. They now felt betrayed by terms that appeared to grant favorable trading status to Britain. As a consequence, France once again authorized the seizure of American ships. It was Victor Hugues, the commissioner sent to Guadeloupe by the French Republic, who most effectively implemented the new policy. Hugues had arrived off Point-au-Petre in June 1794 with a French army of only fifteen hundred men, yet he quickly purged the French colonials who had welcomed the British invaders after the French National Convention decreed emancipation of slaves in the French West Indian colonies in 1793. Hugues recruited the former slaves of Guadeloupe to augment his army, urging them to solidify claims to freedom and repay the French Republic for emancipation by fighting in (p.44) the army or returning to work at their former plantations. The island’s free people of color and the local whites who supported the French Revolution joined with the thousands of former slaves recruited by Hugues and drove the British from the Island of Grand-Terre.25

Hugues also unleashed a makeshift navy by licensing civilian mariners with “letters of marque” to prey on ships involved in commerce with the British. The historian Laurent Dubois has written that “Hugues turned Guadeloupe into the main hope for French privateers in the eastern Caribbean.” During the four years of his administration, “1,800 enemy and merchant vessels suspected of trading with the British were destroyed or captured by corsairs operating out of Guadeloupe.” Dubois estimates that more than three thousand formerly enslaved men were among the sailors manning these corsairs and that at least fifteen of the ship captains were former slaves. With the currency, merchandise, and produce the privateers brought back to Guadeloupe, and with crops for export from the plantations where the former slaves were working for wages, Hugues was able to maintain a viable economy to fund his military force and stave off British efforts at conquest. For American ship captains and merchant firms, Hugues’s privateer navy meant several years of devastating losses.26

Following a difficult four-month ordeal at Martinique, Kingsley returned to Charleston in late June 1794. He had been one of the fortunate captives: forty Americans died at St. Pierre of diseases contracted aboard the floating prison ship. Many of the other survivors were befriended by John Shallcross and Fulwar Skipwith, the consular agents of the State Department who persuaded American ship captains to transport the stranded and impoverished mariners to ports along the east coast of the United States. Kingsley returned to Charleston in a more triumphant manner, as the master of yet another ship. The “Marine List” of the Charleston City Gazette announced the June 27 arrival of the schooner Polly, under com-mand of Captain Kingsley, terminating a twenty-seven-day voyage from Martinique.27

Two schooners named Polly were condemned and sold at St. Pierre during the months of Kingsley’s confinement. One was likely the ship that Kingsley sailed from Martinique to Charleston in June. Mercantile firms that engaged in the risky Caribbean trade during the era of the French Revolution anticipated incidents of seizure and confiscation by British naval (p.45) vessels or French privateers, and they often arranged letters of credit that enabled their captains to purchase vessels at the admiralty-court auctions. Hundreds of vessels were sold in this manner each year, generally at prices well below their true value. Penman’s “Daybook” entries document the continued use of the Polly in Caribbean trade in 1794; in September and again in November the vessel carried cargoes of rum into Charleston.28

As challenging and dangerous as the seizure and captivity ordeal at St. Pierre must have been for Kingsley, it did not turn him away from the seafarer’s life. Demand for grain and flour was especially acute at Saint-Domingue, and return cargoes of coffee, sugar, and mahogany logs found ready markets in the United States. With the rebellion under way and a continuing threat from privateers, mercantile trade continued to be precarious, but merchant firms countered by maintaining constant communication with their counterparts throughout the region. When John Smith and Company of Baltimore sent Captain Thomas Makool to the Caribbean in March 1795, he was instructed to proceed first to the Danish island of St. Thomas, a neutral port. If he arrived safely, Makool was to consult with local merchants before proceeding to the southern province of Saint-Domingue where the British navy was on patrol. There, he was to exchange his cargo of provisions for coffee or sugar but avoid taking on board incriminating “French letters or passengers.” In the event his ship was captured, Makool was instructed “to be particularly careful in protesting and in having all your papers perfectly regular and in case of being carried to a British port and a condemnation taking place, you will enter an appeal to the courts in Great Britain.”29

In June 1796, Kingsley experienced the third seizure of a ship under his command when a privateer licensed by Victor Hugues stopped him at sea and escorted his vessel to Guadeloupe. He had been at Essequibo (today, part of Guyana) on the Atlantic mainland of South America, a Dutch colony united with Demerara noted for prosperous sugar and coffee plantations. During his stay, a British fleet arrived and accomplished a bloodless occupation of the colony. A British officer administered the oath of loyalty to the Dutch officers governing the colony and left them to continue their administration. Kingsley, apparently caught in the harbor when the fleet arrived, was recognized as a neutral trader and permitted to depart on June 3. Six days later, his ship was seized by a French privateer and escorted to (p.46) Guadeloupe. Kingsley’s ship was detained for only two days, and by June 24 he was back in Charleston.30

Kingsley lived a vagabond existence between 1794 and 1798, when his main commercial activity was purchasing coffee at Saint-Domingue. Like many other ship captains of that era, he lived in the captain’s quarters of his ships while at sea and in rooming houses or hotels at port cities when his ships were in port. Although city directories do not record a Charleston residence for him, the 1797 issues of the Charleston City Gazette provide evidence of his commercial activities. An advertisement printed January 17 announced that Kingsley would be selling a cargo of coffee at William’s Coffee House on March 2. Potential customers were encouraged to contact Kingsley on board his ship, the schooner Apollo. William’s Coffee House was the establishment favored by Charleston’s conservative British merchants. Kingsley departed later that month for the port of Petit-Goâve in Saint-Domingue. He and the Apollo returned to Charleston on September 20 after a twenty-seven-day journey from St. Jago, Cuba.31

Thirty years later, Kingsley reminisced in print on his mercantile experiences in the West Indies. By then he was an American citizen living in northeast Florida and the owner of several plantations worked by enslaved Africans. He revealed he had previously resided in or visited all of the West Indies colonies and had “spent several years also in Cuba and Saint-Domingue as well as the main land of south america.” Between 1794 and 1798 he lived briefly at “the Town of Jeremie,” and then resided for “a long time at petitgoave [Petit-Goâve, Haiti, today] where he often had occasion to travel backwards and forwards on horseback sometimes across [and] all over the western and southern part of the island alone with my saddle bags full of specie.”32

His “residence in Jeremie” was during the years the British occupied the town. Kingsley also mentioned residing “in the south or west of St. Domingo, under the government of Touissant, or Rigaud” for “nearly a year, at one period.” While in Saint-Domingue he rode “on horseback, from Leogane to the Cayes, and from Petit-Goave to Jacquemel, through woods and over mountains, with my saddle bags loaded with specie to buy coffee; and though I frequently met large groups of armed negroes in the woods, I neither received insult or hinderance, but was always treated with kindness and civility.”33


“My Saddle Bags Loaded with Specie”Caribbean Commerce in the Age of Revolution

Figure 2. The island of Hispaniola, showing Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Towns identified on the map of Haiti locate places visited by Zephaniah Kingsley while purchasing coffee in the 1790s. Locations identified on the map of the Dominican Republic, with the exception of Santiago and Santo Domingo, are properties Kingsley acquired in the 1830s as a refuge to protect his mixed-race family from racial discrimination in the United States. Map drawn by Jerome Humery of Cranberry Point Computers, Corea, Maine.

Based on Kingsley’s own recollections, it is clear that between 1794 and 1798 his principal commercial activity in the West Indies was buying and selling coffee and that he lived in temporary quarters in Saint-Domingue when he was not at sea. The trade was undoubtedly lucrative, but it was also fraught with peril, being conducted while the most explosive slave rebellion ever experienced in the Western world was under way. Between 1791 and 1804, tens of thousands of French colonials and French and British soldiers died in a decade of incredibly violent warfare. David Geggus has calculated that 37,000 British troops sent to the Caribbean between 1793 and 1798 died there, primarily of yellow fever and other diseases. The number of black and free colored men and women that died during those years is not possible to estimate accurately. Torture, mass murder, burning at the stake, and severed human heads impaled on stakes in city plazas and along the roadsides were commonplace. Warfare at Saint-Domingue became so dehumanized that one of the island’s French planters could advocate a plan calling for “an immense slaughter of the Negroes,” possibly killing 200,000 (p.48) or more in order to bring the rest of the enslaved population back “under proper subjection.” The planter casually estimated that in the aftermath of the slaughter it would require two or three years and renewed imports of enslaved Africans to restore the island’s plantations to prosperity. General Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc, sent to Saint-Domingue in 1802 by Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte to reinstitute slavery, called for mass murders of blacks, sparing only children under the age of thirteen, and replacing the lost laborers by importing fresh supplies of Africans.34

Given the shocking violence committed by all of the armies during the revolution at Saint-Domingue, it is disconcerting to read Kingsley’s reminiscences of traveling alone over the mountains on horseback and being “always treated with kindness and civility” by the armed bands of black men that he met. More than a few readers of Kingsley’s Treatise on the Patriarchal have wondered if his account was fictional. However, recent monographs focusing on the southern province of Saint-Domingue during the British occupation have clarified that conditions in that section of the island were compatible with the activities Kingsley described.

The preeminent historian of the British occupation of Saint-Domingue, David Geggus, has written that “the isolated, coffee-growing region of la Grand’ Anse, at the tip of the southern peninsula, the sole area that had not submitted to the [French] Commissioners,” remained stable and operated independent of the colonial administration. The majority of slaves continued to produce coffee for export throughout the British occupation, and hundreds of British, Dutch, and American merchant ships continued to trade at port cities of the region. Privateers were a continuing menace to shipping, but for captains who completed their missions profits were high enough to risk another journey.35

It was in the northern province of Saint-Domingue that the slave insurrection exploded in August 1791. The free population of the colony, approximately 30,000 whites and 28,000 free people of color (mixed-race and black), had been distracted by the rebellious activities of white colonials who were themselves enraged by reforms passed by the National Assembly in Paris. Anticipating that the principles inherent in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen passed in August 1789 would lead to emancipation in Saint-Domingue, radical whites demanded local autonomy. The free people of color were often wealthy and educated land and slave owners (p.49) who also opposed emancipation, yet the white colonial elites refused to concede the rights of citizenship granted to free people of color by the French National Assembly in May 1791. The result was a brief civil war pitting whites against free people of color in June and July.36

In August, slaves in the northern provinces took advantage of the turmoil and launched a massive rebellion. More than fourteen hundred sugar and coffee estates were put to the torch in the first two weeks of the insurrection, hundreds of whites were killed, and several thousand more fled to refugee centers outside the colony. The initial slave rebels became an army of twenty thousand.

Spain, already at war with France in Europe, saw an opportunity to drive the French away and expand the border of Spanish Santo Domingo westward to incorporate the entire island. The Spanish governor negotiated with the rebel leaders, Georges Biassou, Jean-François, and Toussaint Louverture, all free men born on the island, and commissioned them generals in the Spanish army. Slaves who soldiered for the Spanish were promised freedom, but Spanish officials intended to reenslave the black population when the island was under their control.

Great Britain also sensed that Saint-Domingue was vulnerable to conquest. An invasion was launched from Jamaica in September 1793 that succeeded in capturing the coastal towns of the southern peninsula. The towns of Jérémie and Petit-Goâve, where Kingsley resided during the British occupation, were among those captured. British troops expanded their occupation to port cities in the west and north, but the offensive faltered and the troops were generally confined to a narrow coastal zone.

Faced with what seemed like insurmountable opposition, commissioners from Paris played the only trump card they held. In the fall of 1793 they announced the emancipation of the enslaved population of Saint-Domingue and stepped up recruiting of the liberated black men to serve in the army of the French Republic. The emancipation decree convinced General Toussaint Louverture to abandon the Spanish and ally his legions of former slaves with the French Republic.37

Spain’s leaders negotiated peace with France and relocated Biassou and Jean-François away from Saint-Domingue. By 1796 Touissant’s army controlled the north and west of the island in the name of the French Republic. The British occupation in the northern and western provinces was limited (p.50) to control of military garrisons at port cities, while the hinterland remained, according to David Geggus, “places under siege, cut off from the surrounding countryside and ringed with fortifications. Hemmed in by mountains, crowded, claustrophobic, and tense, they awoke with the morning gun and fell silent at curfew.”38

Circumstances were different in the four parishes of the southern province, where Kingsley resided and traveled. The British occupation was successful here in its first three years, and local white and free colored planters retained control of their estates and workers. The British invasion had occurred at the urging of local white planters, who remained on their estates between 1791 and 1793 under protection of armed bands of former slaves recruited into military service with offers of freedom. The free colored planters of the southern parishes offered freedom to trusted slaves in exchange for loyal military service. Although the local white and free colored planters faced a divide caused by persistent race discrimination, their mutual desire to hold onto their extensive property in land and slaves helped forge an uneasy alliance.39

The result was semi-autonomous local control and continued production of coffee. With British troops in control of several port cities, merchants were able to supply the neutral American, Dutch, and Danish ships, even after emancipation was implemented in October 1793. The plantation owners in the south adapted pragmatically and convinced the freed laborers to continue working for wages. In a careful examination of Acquin Parish, historian John Garrigus has argued that Commissioner Polvérol implemented the policies of a prominent free man of color, Julien Raimond, who called for a ban on capital punishment and a promise to provide workers with garden plots to feed their families. Each worker was to be guaranteed a share of profits and the opportunity to purchase small plots of land. Raimond warned the former slaves they would have to work if they wanted to feed their families, and he advised them that without income from exports of coffee Saint-Domingue would be conquered by foreign enemies and slavery would be reimposed.40

In June 1794 governance of the region was passed to General André Rigaud, commander of the army of the French Republic in the southern province. Rigaud, a wealthy free man of color born in the south of Saint-Domingue, directed a campaign that forced the British to withdraw in 1798. (p.51) He also ordered his soldiers to use force when needed to keep reluctant freedmen at work. Rigaud’s procedures paid dividends: laborers remained at work, the volume of exports remained high, and the southern province was stabilized under armed units of the French Republic.

The revolution as experienced in the southern province differed dramatically from the overwhelmingly violent and unstable conditions elsewhere. As a result of the insightful research of Professors Garrigus, Geggus, and Dubois, it is now possible to judge as factual the claims by Zephaniah Kingsley that he resided at Jeremie and at Petit-Goâve and traveled by horseback “through woods and over mountains” to purchase coffee, and that he encountered “large groups of armed negroes in the woods” without being insulted or hindered. These activities occurred in the south of Saint-Domingue. The port cities where Kingsley resided were under British control for much of the period; the “groups of armed negroes” he encountered were not slaves in rebellion, but freedmen and soldiers armed by local planters or the army of the French Republic under command of General Rigaud. Several American merchants resided at ports in the south of Saint-Domingue at the time, and most of the coffee they exported went to the United States.41

By the end of 1798, however, the revolution in Saint-Domingue had reached a dramatic turning point, with major consequences for Kingsley. American ships stopped frequenting the southern ports, and coffee exported from the Aquin ports was routed through the neutral ports of the Dutch at Curaçao and the Danes at St. Thomas. The stability of previous years had disintegrated into chaos and violence. After suffering horrendous manpower losses to disease and warfare, British general Thomas Maitland ordered a complete withdrawal of British forces. Increasing conflict between Generals Louverture and Rigaud sparked a brutal two-year civil war fought relentlessly in the south by more than fifty thousand soldiers. With Louverture’s army, under command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, pursuing Rigaud’s army across the peninsula, travel to the interior estates to purchase coffee became impossible. When Rigaud’s men began plundering American ships at Petit-Goâve and Jacmel, the coastal towns were no longer safe for Kingsley’s vessels.42

The president of the United States, John Adams, thought of Louverture as an independent head of state rather than a subordinate of the French (p.52) Republic, and supported his initiatives. Adams ordered an American blockade of the ports in the southern peninsula to prevent arms from reaching Rigaud, who maintained a firm alliance with the French government. Adams was influenced by outrage among Americans over the seizure of hundreds of American commercial vessels by French warships and privateers out of Guadeloupe. American merchants were clamoring for increased trade access in Saint-Domingue, and for naval protection against the predatory French privateers infesting Caribbean waters and boldly patrolling the Atlantic coastline near America’s port cities. After unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with France, the U.S. Congress authorized President Adams to reconstitute the U.S. Navy, which had been without a warship since 1785. On July 7, 1798, Congress rescinded all treaties with France, and for the next two years the United States and France fought an undeclared war at sea.43

For a ship captain like Kingsley, flying an American flag in Caribbean waters had become untenable. For years, British warships had routinely stopped American vessels and forcibly removed sailors to fill manpower shortages on their own ships. In 1796 and 1797, American commercial agent Silas Talbot traveled repeatedly to Jamaica, Martinique, Antigua, St. Christopher, Nevis, and Saint-Domingue, attempting to rescue American seamen impressed by British ship commanders. He seldom succeeded, but his letters to the State Department alarmed American officials. In addition, the threat from the French navy and the privateers operating under Victor Hugues at Guadeloupe posed great danger for American shipping. With the ports in the southern peninsula no longer in British hands, and the bloody civil war being fought between the armies of Rigaud and Louverture disrupting the stability that had previously prevailed, Kingsley was forced to either drop out of Caribbean trade or make major changes in the way he conducted it.44

By October 9, 1798, the practical advantages of neutral status as an American citizen had become minimal for Kingsley. On that day, at the port of Charlotte Amalie on the Danish island of St. Thomas, Kingsley pledged an oath of loyalty to the king of Denmark. For the next five years he continued to fly a neutral flag above his ships, but it was the “Dannebrog” of Denmark rather than the “Stars and Stripes” of the United States.45


(1) . City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, February 23, 1791, and October 21, 1793, and Georgia Gazette, February 23, March 29, 1792.

(2) . M. H. Jackson, Privateers in Charleston, 17, 26, 118, 128–29. See also City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, October 21, 1793; Alderson, The Bright Era, 126–28; P.C. Coker, Charleston’s Maritime Heritage, 131–35.

(3) . See the excellent introductory essay in Dubois and Garrigus, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean.

(5) . Fulwar Skipwith to Secretary of State, May, 1, October 1, 1793, St. Pierre, Martinique, and July 6, 1793, Fort Republic, Martinique, T431, Vol. 1, Roll 1, June 26–October 24, 1831, Martinique, and David M. Clarkson to Secretary of State, May 11, June 14, 1793, January 15, March 7, April 30, 1794, Christiansand, St. Eustatius, T236, Vol. 1, Roll 1, May 11–March 23, 1828, St. Eustatius, RG 59, Consular Despatches, Department of State, NARA-CP.

(6) . City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, November 7, 23, 1793. Charleston city directories list Johnston as a merchant and/or planter with residences at White Point in 1782, Lamboll’s Lane in 1790, No. 3 Lamboll Street in 1794, 1796, and 1800. His children resided on South Bay Street as late as 1855. See Hagy, City Directories for Charleston.

(8) . See Alderson, The Bright Era, 54–73.

(9) . Ibid., 54–57.

(11) . See City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, February 27, 1797. For Penman see also Jervey, “Items from a South Carolina Almanac”; and Dobson, Directory of Scots in the Carolinas, 262.

(12) . J & E Penman & Company Daybook, 1794, 45, 73–74, 82, 89, 93, 101, 175, SCL.

(15) . See the 1793 entries in the John Smith and Company Letter Books, Volume III, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore.

(16) . St. Eustatius, April 30, June 14, 1793, U.S. Consular Despatches, RG 59, T236, Roll 1, NARA-CP. See also David M. Clarkson to Secretary of State, January 15, 1794, and Fulwar Skipwith to Secretary of State, March 7, 1794, ibid. See also Sherman, “Orders in Council”; Fewster, “The Jay Treaty”; Smelser, “The Passage of the Naval Act of 1794”; and Keith, “Relaxations in British Restrictions.”

(17) . See “Statement by 40 Owners,” GRE/A/382b, Grey Volumes, Earl Grey Papers, 1st Earl [Grey], Department of Paleography and Diplomatic, Archives and Special Collections, Palace Green Library, Durham University Library, U.K. Courtesy of Michael R. Harkness, archivist.

(p.266) (18) . Shallcross to Secretary of State, April 9, 1794, St. Vincent, T327, Vol. 1, Roll 1, April 9, 1830–November 3, 1830, Antigua, RG 59, Consular Despatches, Department of State, NARA-CP. See also Fewster, “The Jay Treaty.”

(19) . Shallcross to Secretary of State, April 7, 1794; and “Statement by 40 Owners.”

(20) . Shallcross to Secretary of State, May 20, 1794, T327, Vol. 1, Roll 1, April 9, 1830–November 3, 1830, Antigua, RG 59, Consular Despatches, Department of State, NARA-CP. See also March 28, June 28, 1794.

(21) . Shallcross to Secretary of State, May 20, 1794, Antigua. On July 4, 1794, Shallcross sent a gossipy report: “the traitor [Benedict] Arnold came out to Guadeloupe to speculate in the plunder. He was taken by the French on their landing, has been confined three weeks but made his escape in a hen coop” on the deck of a ship.

(22) . Shallcross to Secretary of State, June 20, August 14, 1794, ibid.

(23) . September 1, 1794, Letter Book Entry, John Smith and Company Letter Books.

(27) . City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, June 28, 1794. For schooner Polly see Penman & Co. Daybook, 1794, 89 & 99, SCL. For George Kingsley see City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, June 4, September 24, 1794. Charles Johnston owned a one-half interest in “a schooner Polly” at his death in 1804. See Inventory of Charles Johnston, Esquire, May 16, 1804, Inventories and Appraisement Book, 1783–1851, Charleston County, South Carolina, L10136, Microfilm Roll CH 007, page 260 DZ 194638, SCDAH. See also City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, November 5, 1795.

(28) . The two schooners named Polly captured at St. Pierre were out of Providence, Rhode Island, and Newburyport, Massachusetts. See “Statement by 40 Owners.”

(29) . John Smith and Co. Letter Book, Volume III, March 26, 1795.

(30) . The Georgia Gazette (Savannah), June 30, 1796, reprinting news from Charleston. Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice are now British Guyana. See R. T. Smith, British Guiana, chapter 2. See also da Costa, Crowns of Glory, 46; de Vries, “The Dutch Atlantic Economies”; Berka, “Citizens of St. Eustatius, 1781”; and especially Drescher, “The Long Goodbye.”

The Columbian Museum (Savannah) issue of September 30, 1796, reprints a favorable account of Hugues by a ship captain from Boston who was brought into Point-au-Petre by a privateer from Guadeloupe.

(31) . City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, January 17, 31, February 27, March 29, September 25, 1797.

(33) . Ibid., 39–75.

(p.267) (34) . For troop losses see Geggus, “Slavery, War, and Revolution,” 24–25. See also “Unidentified Citizen of Saint Domingue, Extracts of Minutes of a General Meeting of West Indies Planters and Merchants at a London Tavern,” November 8, 1791, Folio 109, Additional Manuscripts 38351, British Library, London. For a differing opinion see Major General G. Forbes’s comments on the necessity to recruit thousands of former slaves to fight for the British by offering freedom after five years of military service. Forbes had become convinced that “blacks in this climate must be conquered by blacks.” Forbes to Lt. General Ralph Abercromby, December 10, 1795, February 23, 1796, Additional Manuscripts 39,824, Letterbook of Major General G. Forbes, 1795–1796, British Library. For General Leclerc’s comments see Dubois, Avengers of the New World.

(36) . Carolyn E. Fick writes that the free people of color “owned one-third of the colony’s plantations, one-quarter (over 100,000) of the slaves, and one-quarter of the real estate” and “may even have exceeded … [the numbers] of whites.” See Fick, “The French Revolution in Saint Domingue,” 56, 71 n. 13.

(37) . Dubois and Garrigus, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 30. To grasp the complex and enormously difficult steps leading Sonthonax and Polverel to the general emancipation decree, see the comprehensively researched study by Popkin, You Are All Free, 257–88.

(40) . Garrigus, Before Haiti, 269–72, 283–87.

(41) . Ibid., 284–85.

(43) . For the undeclared war see Ellis, Passionate Sage, 28–29, 76, and DeConde, The Quasi-War. For American vessels seized by French vessels see G. H. Williams, The French Assault on American Shipping. See also M. Palmer, Stoddert’s War.

(44) . Silas Talbot to Timothy Pickering, February 5, September 27, October 4, 11, 12, 17, November 7, 19, 1796, January 21, May 7, 1797, Dispatches from United States Consuls in Kingston, Jamaica, 1796–1906, RG 59, T31, Roll 1, NARA-W; Joseph Blakely to Secretary of State, May 13, 1799, RG 59, T55, Roll 1, Volume 1, Dispatches, Santiago de Cuba, May 31, 1799–December 27, 1836. Blakely said French privateers lurked just outside the harbor and in the bays on the south shore of Cuba.

(45) . Kingsley’s Danish “Burger Brief” at St. Thomas, DNA, RA, GTK, Udskrift af St. Jan og St. Thomas, Søpasprotokoller, 1788–1807.