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The Strange Tale of Whitehaven's
Slave Trade Goblet


IT is just ten inches high and carries ancient enamelling that commemorates Whitehaven's links to the slave trade. Yet this piece of glassware is not only valued at almost £100,000, but has a vivid link to the founding father of the United States Navy, John Paul Jones. It was also the centre of an openly admitted pay-off to the underworld in 1995.

Looking westward to sea the small fishing village at Whitehaven had blossomed from a cluster of 50 cottages to a port of 2,000 during the lifetime of it then owner, Sir James Lowther (1642-1705) The impetus for this growth was easily dug coal that could be profitably shipped across the Irish Sea to feed the domestic grates of Dublin. Sea walls and ship-building naturally followed. Then the bold ship-owners and their captains realised the money making possibilities of the New World.
Virginia, named after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth 1 became the frequent destination for Whitehaven ships. The money making trade started with tobacco (narcotics being a huge moneyspinner then, just as today) The trade grew however and the West Indies attracted Cumbrian investment in plantations.
Sugar was the driving force to this trade, as was the rum that was distilled from it. It was the need for labour to service this sugar and rum business that Whitehaven joined with London, Bristol and Liverpool merchants in the triangular trade taking tools and fancy goods to bribe arab slave traders in West Africa. These traders supplied negro slaves to be shipped to the Caribbean. The same ships then loaded up with sugar and rum before returning to Britain.
Hugh Thomas in his history, The Slave Trade describes how the English Slave trade was handled by the Royal Africa Company, but interlopers were always running slave ships following the creation of the trade by the Portugese. In 1698 independent traders were allowd to compete as long as they paid 10% to the RAC for the provision of forts on the West African coast. One such 'Ten percenter' was Isaac Milner from Whitehaven. He moved his base to London but between 1698 and 1712 sent 24 expeditions to ship slaves from Africa to the West Indes and Virginia. Milner was also involved in the wine trade from Madeira.
For at least ten years Whitehaven was involved in this human trade until 1769 when the town appeared to swing behind the growing movement for abolition of slavery. In the Virginia archives Copeland museum collections officer Gillian Findley found typical references as follows: 'Early Virginia Immigrants' and 'Maryland and Virginia Colonials' with plenty of evidence of the importance of 18th century Whitehaven as a gateway for both southern Scots and northern English bound for the Americas. There are mention too of familiar-sounding Whitehaven vessels and folk including the following entries: January 17-24, 1775
Passengers from Whitehaven to Virginia by the Mary and Ann, Mr Joseph Bell: George Stevens of Virginia, planter, aged 40, returning home; George Craik of Whitehaven, (Cumberland),schoolmaster, aged 28, to follow his occupation; Sarah Cherry of Whitehaven, aged 22, indentured servant.
Similar mention is made of other 'Cumberland' working people, many in their 20s, off to make a new life in Virginia, 'following their trade' ? saddlers, a courier, a shoemaker and block maker. But not all left home of their own accord: 1775
Convicts to be transported from Whitehaven to Virginia by the Hero (including) three of Carlisle*
Feb 28-March 7, 1774
To go from Whitehaven to Virginia by the Caesar*a mulatto woman of Cumberland, convict, aged 23. And:
May 17-24, 1774
Passengers from Whitehaven to Virginia by the Norfolk, Mr Jonathan Grindall: Peter Simpson of Hensingham, (Cumberland), waggoner, aged 50, transported: Mary Bragg of Hensingham, aged 50, transported; Ann Bragg of Hensingham, aged 20, to settle: Betty Tennant of Whitehaven, (Cumberland), aged 16, to settle.
See more on Whitehaven's USA connections.

The Beilby Goblet was decorated in Newcastle on Tyne by William Beilby in 1763. It carries the Royal coat of arms of King George 3rd and on the other side a hand painting of a sailing ship and the words "Success to the African Trade of Whitehaven". The goblet had been made to commemorate the 1763 launch of the slave ship 'King George'. On that ship's maiden voyage the Third Mate was none other than one John Paul Jones. Jones was to later speak of his dislike of "this abominable trade.''

Events now move to 1985 when Whitehaven's museum curator Harry Fancy realised the Bielby goblet was for sale and likely to follow in Paul Jone's footsteps across the Atlantic. The Corning Glass Museum was bidding for the Bielby Goblet. The Victoria and Albert Museum moved swiftly and tried to halt the export. Harry said of the bid to keep the goblet in England "It was a David and Goliath situation.'' But the decision of the Export Licence Review Committee was helpful. They gave Whitehaven four months to match the US bid of £62,000. Copeland Council and other grant donations won the day and the goblet was saved for Whitehaven.
After the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 2002 it was announced that she had made a donation with the condition that it was to remain amount of the donation should remain anonymous until after her death. This collection of funding allowed the Whitehaven Museum to purchase the goblet so that it could remain in its rightful home of Whitehaven.

But life for the 233 year old piece of glassware took a further bizarre twist. In 1994 the woefully poor security at Whitehaven museum was breached when theives smashed a glass case and fled down a rear fire escape with the goblet. Customs kept watch, but the valuable and so easily damaged goblet had vanished. That is until covert calls were made to police from the underworld. Possible as result of a high reward being offered the thieves had made contact. The goblet could be returned, unharmed, but in return for hard cash. The insurers were brought into secret talks. The culmination of this was a meeting in a Cumbrian car park as Detective Inspector Terry O'Connell had the unenviable task of handing over a briefcase containing £10,000 in untracable bank notes. He and curator, Harry Fancy were then handed in return a plain cardboard box. Inside layers of tissue paper were lifted to reveal the deep greeny glass and its gleaming enamelling.
Informed sources said Zurich insurance paid £6,500, Copeland Council £2,500 and the Friends of the Museum made up the extra. Detective O'Connell said he suspected the goblet had passed through several hands, as it was so 'hot' and easily tracable.
Detailed notes on the Goblet by former Whitehaven Museum Curator Mr Harry Fancy.

In 2006 Copeland Council decided to issue a formal apology for slavery, made on behalf of the people of Copeland, to mark the Wilberforce bi-centenary next year in 2007.
The 2007 event will mark 200 years since the historic Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, introduced into parliament by Hull MP William Wilberforce.
For at least ten years Whitehaven was involved in this human trade until 1769 when the town swung behind the growing movement for abolition of slavery.
ONE of the first times a black slave was permitted to share a white person’s burial plot in England happened in Whitehaven in 1700. And the Whitehaven burial in St Nicholas’ churchyard, of the slave called Jane, was in defiance of the then law stating that no African could be buried in a churchyard. The burial was that of the slave servant of Mildred Gale, grandmother of the first US president, George Washington.

Amateur researcher Jean McInally, who hails from Kells but now lives in Scotland, has spotted the unique nature of the slave burial in English history. She said: “I have been asked why I think the burial of Mildred Gale, her baby daughter and her African slave in St Nicholas’s Churchyard, Whitehaven, is so important. “It was very important as in 1665 New Amsterdam was taken by the British from the Dutch and renamed New York. The British then brought in very harsh laws against the African slave population. “America was, at this time and at the time of Mildred Gale’s burial, a colony of Britain.

“Even before the laws in New York, all Africans were buried in mass or communal graves. They weren’t allowed to marry without permission, travel or meet in groups and in 1695 the British brought in a law stating that no African could be buried in a churchyard! “Whitehaven would know all about this at the time as ships were going back and forward from the old port on a regular basis. “No way would a white woman have shared a burial plot with an African slave in America or Britain at this time.”

But Muriel Cinnamon, who wrote a book on the Gale family, told The News this week: “I think the family had Jane baptised either in London or on the way to Whitehaven. They probably knew she was ailing and the baptism would have enabled her to be buried alongside her mistress. Jane is referred to in the parish register as a ‘negro servant’ rather than slave.”

Mrs McInally said: “From all accounts passed down to me, Mildred Gale had this slave girl educated and had her dressed as well as herself. They were great friends. “Mildred Gale was 300 years ahead of her time – as was Whitehaven regarding this burial. Cumbria was more advanced than the rest of the country by about 100 years! “William Wilberforce, the son of a wealthy Hull merchant born 1759, became an MP at age 20, and fought for over 50 years to stop the slave trade. Before he died in 1833 he knew his bill was going through Parliament and it was passed just after he died, The Abolition of the Slave Trade. He had friends in Cumbria. “American gave them their freedom in 1863. A civil war was fought over it and it was the 1960s, 1970s, before the colour bar started to fall. “Mildred Gale’s short life was certainly amazing. America would be a wild place as she was growing up in the 1670s. Pirates raiding the coastal settlements. Britain, France and Spain all fighting over the sugar, tobacco and rum trade. American Indians fighting to keep their land and way of life and the terrible slave ships and auctions. “Her burial is exactly opposite the fish restaurant on Duke Street, the tall dark headstone about 5ft high, about 10ft from the back wall, looked on to Duke Street, with just enough room for the burial in front.”

“Whitehaven proclaimed it to all the world on the headstone. It read: d 1700, Mildred Gale nee Warner of Warner Hall Virginia, wife of George Gale merchant of Whitehaven, Here also lie with her, her baby daughter and her African slave Jane.

“Mildred Gale was the widow of Major Laurence Washington and mother of their three children: John, Augustine and Mildred.” “Her grandson, Major George Washington, showed great courage in 1781 when he promised slaves their freedom if they would fight for him against the British. “A lot of them did and he won the battle of Yorktown 1781. “He was the first president of America, eight years later in 1789.” The exact location of the gravestone is now unclear after hundreds were laid face down during a "tidying up" exercise in the churchyard in the 1970s.

In 2010:Using the magic of video-conferencing technology, the Beacon centre at Whitehavebn were beamed live to a class of fifth grade students in St Louis Virtual Learning Center, Missouri. The Beacon has over 3 years experience in delivering activity sessions across Britain by video conference, but this is the first time that they have had the opportunity to work with a school in the United States.

The subject of the video vonference was The Abolition of the British Slave Trade. This is an interactive session where children get to meet a costumed character from the 19th century, abolitionist George Barton, who explains the transatlantic slave trade and recalls life before and after the Abolition Act in 1807. As part of the session, the children explored the products that were traded, the conditions in which slaves lived both on board ship and in the plantations and helped George Barton to write an abolition speech. The class of 30 ten and eleven year olds were shown both genuine and replica artefacts and documents to demonstrate the role of Whitehaven and Cumbria in the slave trade.

The Video Conference fits into the school’s social studies curriculum and prior to the session, the children had been prepared with background information and activities in the classroom. The schools Technology Integration Specialist, Susan Petroff said “Thank you for helping to arrange a powerful learning opportunity for fifth grade students in St. Louis, Missouri.  The videoconference on the abolition of the British slave trade was outstanding! The students were captivated by the character George Barton, and after the videoconference the students continued to discuss their learning for another 30 minutes in the classroom.  We appreciate the excellent way you enhanced our learning”

“It’s fantastic that with modern technology The Beacon is able to engage with school children over in America”, said Alan Gillon, the museum’s Learning Officer. “Video Conferencing allows the museum to deliver its sessions to classrooms all over the world letting the children experience Copeland’s rich and diverse past”. The Beacon offers Video Conferences to schools on four subjects; The Abolition of the British Slave Trade, Victorians, World War II Home Front and What Is History? For further information please contact Alan Gillon, Beacon Learning Officer on 01946 592302. Sessions can be booked through Cumbria & Lancashire Education Online at www.cleo.net.uk.
In 2012 Bloomberg.com reported based on the work of Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman:
A major financial crisis in 1837 revealed the interdependence of cotton
planters, manufacturers and investors, and their collective dependence on
the labor of slaves. Leveraged cotton -- pledged but not yet picked -- led
overseers to whip their slaves to pick more, and prodded auctioneers to
liquidate slave families to cover the debts of the overextended.
The plantation didn't just produce the commodities that fueled the broader
economy, it also generated innovative business practices that would come
to typify modern management. As some of the most heavily capitalized
enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of
time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells. Seeking
ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized
their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical
reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for
the labor of those below. The perverse reality of a capitalized labor force led to new accounting
methods that incorporated (human) property depreciation in the bottom line
as slaves aged, as well as new actuarial techniques to indemnify
slaveholders from loss or damage to the men and women they owned. Property
rights in human beings also created a lengthy set of judicial opinions
that would influence the broader sanctity of private property in U.S. law.

So important was slavery to the American economy that on the eve of the
Civil War, many commentators predicted that the North would kill "its
golden goose." That prediction didn't come to pass, and as a result,
slavery's importance to American economic development has been obscured.
But as scholars delve deeper into corporate archives and think more
critically about coerced labor and capitalism -- perhaps informed by the
current scale of human trafficking -- the importance of slavery to
American economic history will become inescapable.
(Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, historians at Harvard University and Brown
University respectively, are co-editing "Slavery's Capitalism: A New
History of American Economic Development," to be published by University
of Pennsylvania Press in 2013.

Modern Slavery continues...There has been publicity this year (2001) Over the use of child slave labour in the cocoa plantations of West Africa. An outcry turned into a mystery about the fate of dozens of children reported to be in a suspected slave ship in west African waters when the vessel docked in Cotonou, Benin, in April 2001 with none of the suspected victims on board. The government of Benin and UN officials had claimed that about 180 children destined to work as slaves on plantations in Gabon were in the Nigerian-registered MV Etireno. UN officials in Cotonou speculated that the other children might have been put ashore elsewhere after the publicity about the ship and its cargo or, at worst, dumped at sea. To add to the confusion, there were reports of a ship carrying a large number of children trying to dock in Equatorial Guinea.


More information on the Virginia Slave Trade connection at this research web site.


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