Monday, 15 September 2014

Sir George Carteret and the Byways of History

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the Statue of George Carteret in St Peter's Parish, Jersey. There's a nice well produced booklet. Constable John Refault was kind enough to give me a copy of it.
One sentence reads that:
"He [de Carteret] was promoted to Vice Admiral when 27 years old and was sent to destroy the Moroccan stronghold at Sallee and rescue 270 Englishmen from the slave trade"
The Island Wiki has this to say, and expands on the details:
"In 1637 he was given the Antelope and made Vice-Admiral of the expedition against the North African Pirate stronghold of Sallee. The ships proved too large to enter the harbour, but they blockaded it for three months, sending in boats at night to burn the pirate vessels. In this work Carteret gained a great reputation. Almost every ship in the port was sunk, and at last the King of Morocco made peace by the surrender of his European captives. Carteret returned in September with 270 Englishmen whom he had rescued and a number of Dutch and Spanish sailors."
This is taken verbatim from "A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey" by G.R. Bailleine, 1948.
But there is another account by Balleine from the 1957 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise
"In July, before the pinnaces arrived, Sallee surrendered, and Carteret returned to England with 300 rescued slaves. But he had not seen the last of Sallee."
The JEP account follows Bailleine's first account:
"After a blockade of the port and a series of raids, Carteret - who by this time had dropped the de from his surname - returned to England with 270 Englishmen and a number of Dutchmen and Spaniards who had been freed from slavery."
But there is also another account in Doug Ford's article "A Respectable Trade or Against Human Dignity?", and there figure here is 230:
"In 1637 Charles I sent an expedition under Captain William Rainsborough to the port of Salé, where it was said that over 1,200 Christian sailors were being held in slavery. The six English warships surprised more than 50 galleys which were preparing to raid the coasts of England and Newfoundland. Amongst Rainsborough's captains was a Jerseyman, George Carteret - captain of the 600-ton ship Antelope. Unfortunately, most of the captive English seamen had been sent to the slave markets of Algiers and Tunis, but there were 328 Englishmen and 11 women held as slaves in the kasbah of the old city, of whom 230 were released and successfully returned to England. While most came from the West Country - 37 from Plymouth - others were from London, Hull, Cardiff and Jersey."
So how many slaves were released - 270 from Balleine's 1948 article, or 300, according to his 1957 article, or - more probably 230 as Doug Ford's article based on better recent research suggests. It shows how numbers can be drawn from one source, and remain in stone, whereas in fact there can be considerable doubt about their accuracy.
One of the ironies of history is that George Carteret later went on to become involved in the slave trade. As Doug Ford notes:
"In 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles I, the Company of Royal Adventurers into Africa was set up to One of the founders of this company was Jerseyman George Carteret and because he was one of the few men in Charles II's court ever to have set foot in Africa, he was employed as a consultant to the company on £300 per year and with an apartment in Africa House"
In 1672 the company went bankrupt because of disruption of wars with the Duch. But this was not the end of the story:
"A New Royal African Company was set up and Carteret continued in his role as consultant. This company did not raid for slaves but traded for them in West Africa before shipping them to the West Indies, where in the 1660s the average price realised was £17 per head. It enjoyed a monopoly until 1698 and continued dealing in slaves until 1731."
"The Speedwell, commanded by James Carteret, Sir George's son, undertook one of the early voyages of the company. Leaving London in January 1663, he picked up 302 slaves in the port of Offra in the Bight of Benin and transported them to the West Indies - twenty died on the passage. In February 1664 he sold some of his cargo in Barbados and then the following month he sold the rest of the slaves in St Kitts. By the time he left in March 1664, Carteret had sold 155 men, 105 women and 22 boys to the eager planters."
In perspective, we have to remember that the philosopher of freedom, John Locke (1632-1704) also invested in the slave trade:
"Against Filmer's belief in the absolute, God-given power of the monarch, Locke maintains the natural liberty of human beings; all people are born free, and the attempt to enslave any person creates a state of war (as opposed to the state of nature). Yet Locke himself had invested in the slave trade and drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), which granted absolute power over slaves"
George Carteret was certainly a man of his time, more so than Locke, for whom there was a contradiction between what was said and done. That Sir George participated in the slave trade is reprehensible, but not unexpected.
Certainly there are ground for celebrating him as a famous Jerseyman, not least because of his connection with New Jersey. An adventurer? Yes. But a hero? I think not.

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