Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Next Meeting: November 15, 2023

Our next meeting on November 15 will feature a presentation by Bob Thompson on "Revolutionary Roads: Searching for the War that Made America Independent... and All the Places It Could Have Gone Terribly Wrong." Be sure to mark your calendars now!

We will be returning to the Westhampton Room in the Heilman Dining Center. Regular dining service will be available beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the meeting will follow at 6:30 p.m.

University of Richmond campus map:


Meeting Notes: September 20, 2023

Meeting was held September 20, 2023, in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Dining Center, University of Richmond

 Meeting attendance is increasing. Bethany Sullivan, Director of The James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage ( attended the meeting and spoke about the 18th, 19th and 20th century cultural heritage and artifacts located at the Museum, of Orange County and the Piedmont region of Virginia.

 The evening’s presentation was “The Unintended Consequences of Interrupting Britian’s Slave-trading Economy.” The speaker was Christian McBurney, author of Dark Voyage: An American Privateer’s War on Britain’s African Slave Trade. His books are available from his publisher (

 An armada of more than 2,000 so-called “privateers” were legally commissioned, by both the Continental Congress and individual states, to seize enemy shipping on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of collecting court-awarded vessels as prizes whereby seized ships and contents could then be sold. The ship’s owners, crews and investors profited by selling the captured vessels and contents. This severely disrupted Great Britain’s global commerce and turned British public opinion against the war as British officials complained they could not guarantee the safety of civilian trade. Privateering advanced America’s War of Independence objectives by diminishing the importation of British goods into the United Colonies and the exportation of natural resources to Great Britain. Privateers became “our cheapest and best navy.” Seized merchant ships were later sold to American traders and syndicates (and others masking as American) who repurposed the ships expanding commercial capacity for the slave trade.

 Christian McBurney’s presentation “followed the money” of ships and investors from Portugal, Spain, the Dutch Republic, France, and Britain leading up to slave-trading throughout the Americas. This occurred when the demand for enslaved labor rose sharply with the growth of sugar cane agriculture in the Caribbean and tobacco plantations in the Chesapeake region. He described how European naval commerce developed as triangular trade ventures proved profitable: in which arms, textiles, and wine were shipped from Europe to Africa; enslaved people were transported from Africa to Brazil, the Caribbean islands, and North America; and sugar, and its derivatives rum and molasses, and coffee were shipped from the Americas to Europe.

 At the start of the American War of Independence, Britain dominated Atlantic commerce and was the leading slave-trading nation in the world. In 1776, American privateers began to prey on British merchantmen exploiting opportunities for immediate profits. Privateers began to capture British slave ships with African captives on board just before they arrived at their Caribbean Island destinations, and North American coasts, returning the seized ships to port to declare and await award their prizes. Privateers later expanded their roaming to the western coast of Africa.

 Based on a little-known contemporary primary source, The Journal of the Good Ship Marlborough, one privateer was given an extraordinary task: to sail across the Atlantic to attack British slave trading posts and ships on the coast of West Africa. The story of this remarkable voyage is told in McBurnie’s book. He attributes the work of the Marlborough and other American privateers as so disruptive that it led to an unintended consequence: virtually halting the British slave trade. British slave merchants, alarmed at losing money from their ships being captured, invested in fewer slave voyages. As a result, tens of thousands of Africans were not forced onto slave ships, then transported to the New World, and consigned to a lifetime of slavery or an early death.