This presidential address was delivered at the 136th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Philadelphia on January 6, 2023.

Slave Trading as a Corporate Criminal Conspiracy, from the Calabar Massacre to BLM, 1767–2022

Surely man is the most foolish of all animals, and civilised man the most foolish of all men. Anticipation is his curse; and to prevent the contingency of evil, he makes life itself one continued evil. Health, wisdom, peace of mind, conscience, are all sacrificed to the absurd purpose of heaping up … more than life can employ, under the flimsy pretext of providing for his children, till practice becomes habit, and we labour on till we are obliged to take our departure, as tired of this world as we are unprepared for the rational happiness of the next.—William Roscoe to William Rathbone, Liverpool, 17961

Over the past several years, the movement to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans has gained significant momentum. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests surrounding George Floyd’s death, institutions like Lloyd’s of London and the US branch of the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church have pledged to pay restitution for their involvement in slavery. More recently, the death of Queen Elizabeth prompted renewed calls for the British royal family—and other wealthy English families, like the Draxes—to compensate the descendants of the enslaved across its vast former empire, especially in the Caribbean.2

The idea that the descendants of African slaves are owed a debt by European governments and corporations is not a new one. As early as the 1940s, Eric Williams demonstrated the centrality of slaving in the birth of British industry.3 More recent works on the history of capitalism further elaborate the ways slaving wealth drove banking, insurance, industry, and even state-sponsored warfare.4 While these recent studies make compelling claims, they do so mostly through the prism of nineteenth-century US cotton production, ignoring the longer history of British merchant capitalism fueled by sugar, tobacco, and other colonial commodities.5 Moreover, these new works emphasize macroeconomic trends, largely to the neglect of the politics of everyday life.6 In short, we have very few careful studies of the actual nuts-and-bolts ways individual slave traders built their businesses and capitalized their earnings over time.7

In this article, I dig deeply into the social and economic histories of a single slave-trading British family. The patriarch of this family, Ambrose Lace, was one of the most important slave traders in Liverpool in the second half of the eighteenth century. Lace’s son Joshua used the accumulated capital from slaving to build a legal practice that has evolved into a corporation that today produces nearly $1 billion in revenue yearly. While the story of the Lace family’s capitalization of their slaving profits is a crucial part of the story, so, too, are the ways that the Lace family used extortion, murder, criminal evasion, and corporate cover-up to protect their financial interests. While the British royal family, the Jesuits, and Lloyd’s have been implicated in slaving as a part of broader enterprises, in the case of the Laces, slaving literally underwrote the origin and establishment of a corporation whose legal and ethical structures remain rooted in slavery, arguably to the present day. Hiding this history becomes paramount precisely because the stakes are so much higher.

I tell the story of the Lace family in four parts. Part 1 begins with Ambrose Lace, the slave ship captain, tracing his rise to becoming one of Liverpool’s most prominent merchants. Part 2 charts the rise of Lace’s Liverpool law firm over the course of the nineteenth century, focusing especially on Lace’s son Joshua and his grandson and namesake Ambrose Lace II. Part 3 looks at the ways Ambrose Lace’s great-grandson Charles worked to erase the family’s criminal culpability in the execution of its slaving business. This whitewashing of the past is eventually folded into corporate lore so that slaving itself is removed from the Lace family history. In the conclusion, I bring the Lace story to the present day, demonstrating the ways that the Laces’ corporate heirs reify slavery, even as they project an image of diversity and corporate responsibility.

On August 12, 1767, nine European slave ships worked the waters around Old Calabar (Obutong), the principal port of the Cross River estuary in the Bight of Biafra.8 Among the ships were “seven large vessels” sitting at anchor off Old Town, “each of which expects to purchase 500 slaves.” Ambrose Lace, captain of the Liverpool ship Edgar, wrote that he had “seldom ever known a greater scarcity of slaves than at present, and these chiefly from the low country.”9 In other words, captives were not flowing down from Aro merchants in the northern hinterlands; rather, Old Calabar traders procured them from their neighbors, mostly through nighttime kidnapping raids. To make matters worse, tensions between Old Town and neighboring New Town (Atakpa) had escalated to such a level that neither side was allowing the other’s canoes to pass freely up and down the river.10 Trade was at a standstill, and European slavers were growing impatient. With so many large ships on the river and trade prospects dim, ship commanders searched for any way to break the impasse.

For Ambrose Lace, Old Town merchants were squarely to blame for all that was wrong in Calabar. Describing the deep hostility among the various factions, Lace wrote, “The natives are at variance with each other; and in my opinion, it will never be ended before the destruction of all the people at Old Town, who have taken the lives of many a fine fellow.” According to Lace, the most recent English victim “to suffer under their vile hands” was chief mate of the Liverpool ship John.11 After Orrock Robin John murdered the Sandwich’s first mate in 1764, this now made at least two Liverpool officers killed by the Robin Johns. Perhaps not coincidentally, the captain of the Sandwich, James Briggs, was also in the region commanding the ship Firm at the same time Lace penned his letter in August 1767. Summarizing his antipathy toward the Robin Johns, Lace ominously warned, “I shall be an assistant in revenging the just cause of every poor Englishman that have suffered by them.”12

Within hours of writing this letter, Lace exacted his revenge on Old Town in spectacular fashion.13 Under the pretense of mediating the conflicts between Old Town and New Town, Lace orchestrated a meeting of Old Calabar’s most important merchant families. The Bristol ship captains sent invitations to the Robin Johns to parley on board their ships, promising to broker a truce and assuring the Old Town merchants of their safety. For the first time since 1763, Bristol slavers outnumbered Liverpool slavers on the river.14 In fact, Lace’s ship Edgar was likely the only Liverpool ship trading at that moment.15

Until 1730, Bristol ships controlled nearly all of the British trade at Calabar, building close personal and commercial relationships with the Robin Johns. However, after 1730, Liverpool ships steadily encroached on the trade, preferring to conduct business with the Robin Johns’ New Town rivals. By 1767, the region’s old merchant kings were losing their grip on power. Recognizing an opportunity to reclaim their supremacy, the Robin Johns eagerly accepted the invitation to negotiate with their longtime Bristol allies.

The principal men of Old Town—including King Ephraim Robin John, his son Otto Ephraim, his brothers Little Ephraim and Amboe Robin John, and his nephew Ancona—mustered a flotilla of ten canoes and more than three hundred men to accompany them to the slaving vessels. The Old Town canoes first pulled alongside the Bristol ship Indian Queen, greeting Captain John Lewis and his officers, who “well knew” the Old Town traders, “having several times seen them before.”16 Later that evening, the Robin Johns joined the principal families of New Town and Creek Town aboard Ambrose Lace’s ship Edgar. The rival families “supped together very peaceably,” reveling in the food, drink, and hospitality provided by Captain Lace. Culminating the festivities, Old Town’s King Ephraim Robin John gifted “one of his … favourite women” to Creek Town’s Willy Honesty “for a wife.”17 This powerful gesture of reconciliation symbolized new bonds of kinship, trust, and mutual obligation between the rival families. As the night ended, the principal Robin John merchants returned to the Indian Queen to spend the night; others slept distributed among the English ships.18

The next morning, the parties busily prepared for the day’s peace talks. The Robin Johns awoke early to return to the Edgar, where negotiations with the New Town merchants were to take place.19 The Robin John canoes arrived alongside the Edgar around 7:30 a.m. Lace invited Ephraim Robin John to board his ship and eat breakfast with him.20 Meanwhile, Captain Lace dispatched Little Ephraim, Amboe, and Ancona Robin John to deliver letters to various British captains on the river, including Captain James Bivins on the Bristol ship Duke of York. The three younger Robin Johns boarded Bivins’s ship and descended into the captain’s cabin to hand over the message. Bivins offered them liquor to drink and then excused himself to tend to some business on the ship’s deck. Minutes later, Bivins, his first mate, and several crew members stormed back into the cabin, armed with pistols and cutlasses, threatening to kill the Robin Johns if they showed any resistance. Amboe Robin John attempted to escape, but Bivins and his men hacked him with their swords and beat him bloody. Ephraim and Ancona also attempted to escape out the cabin windows but “were knocked down and greatly hurt by several blows.” Eventually, all three men were subdued and “confined in irons in the cabin.”21

A similar ambush occurred on the London ship Canterbury, where Captain Nonus Parke immediately upon receipt of his letter attacked one of the Old Town people, “cutting him unmercifully with a hangar on all parts of his body, head, arms, &c.”22 The capture and enslavement of Old Town’s people clearly was part of a concerted effort among the British captains. The commander of the Bristol ship Indian Queen had instructed his first mate to “seize all the people of Old Town who were on board … and along-side her in canoes,” but only after the crew of Ambrose Lace’s ship Edgar hoisted the Union Jack. Lieutenant William Floyd awaited the signal, but it never came. Just as Captain Bivins neutralized the Robin Johns belowdecks on the Duke of York, Floyd witnessed, “to his great surprize,” the remaining crew of the Duke of York open fire on the Old Town canoes sitting alongside their ship. Immediately, “all the other ships then in the said river (except the Edgar of Liverpool and the Concord of Bristol) began likewise to fire on all the canoes belonging to Old Town.”23 The Concord, already fully slaved and preparing to depart for Dominica, wanted no part of Lace’s conspiracy.24 Meanwhile, on the Edgar, Lace feigned ignorance and surprise. He was just pouring a cup of coffee around 8:00 a.m. when he heard the gunfire. According to Lace, he and King Ephraim rushed to the main deck, where a frightened Ephraim jumped overboard, leaving behind his son Otto.25 However, a British sailor on board the London ship Canterbury provided a different version of events. Ambrose Lace in fact ordered his crew to seize King Ephraim, but Ephraim battled his way off the Edgar, killing two of Lace’s men in the process. Ephraim jumped overboard and climbed into a one-man canoe. As he attempted to row to safety, he took heavy cannon and musket fire. A six-pound cannonball struck the tiny boat and shattered it into pieces. Miraculously, Ephraim survived and swam to shore, though he suffered “eleven wounds that morning from musket-shot.” If not for the intervention of the surgeon on board the Concord, Ephraim might have died.26

Out on the river, “most of the canoes, belonging to Old Town, were sunk by the firing of the British ships.”27 Dozens were killed; others attempted to swim to shore. Emerging from the mangrove forests along the uninhabited northern shoreline, canoes full of New Town reinforcements seized upon the stricken Old Town people. British sailors joined in the slaughter, using the small boats from their ships to pursue those swimming for safety. Corpses filled the river.

When the killing finally subsided, Captain Bivins ordered his men to prepare one of the small boats so he could visit Captain James Maxwell on the Bristol ship Nancy. Bivins left his chief mate, Mr. Green, in charge of the Duke of York in his absence. After consulting with the other British captains, Bivins sent a message back to his ship, ordering Mr. Green to hand over Amboe Robin John to the men of New Town. Green sent a return message to Captain Bivins on the Nancy, informing him that he would not follow the order. If Bivins wanted to be a party to murder, he would have to come back to the ship and do it himself. Clearly, not all of the Bristol officers supported the massacre of Old Town’s merchant elite.28

Bivins returned to the Duke of York, accompanied by a New Town canoe under the command of Willy Honesty. In exchange for Amboe Robin John, Willy Honesty offered Bivins one of Amboe’s own slaves, a man named Econg, who the New Town residents had fished out of the river. Under the false pretense of exchanging a “pawn” for a “slave,” Bivins agreed to the trade.29 As Bivins’s men hoisted Amboe over the side of the ship down to Willy Honesty’s waiting canoe, Amboe “put his two hands together, and begged that Captain Bevan would not deliver him to the New Town people to be killed.” Bivins ignored Amboe’s cries. When Amboe reached the canoe, “his head was immediately cut off along-side Captain Bevan’s vessel.” Amboe’s kinsmen, Little Ephraim and Ancona, bound in chains on the foredeck of the Duke of York, watched the execution in horror.30

Willy Honesty’s bloodletting had just begun. When the firing on the river ceased, London ship captain Nonus Parke took leave of his command to visit several of his fellow ship captains, much as James Bivins had done on the Duke of York. Later in the day, Parke returned to the Canterbury, accompanied by Willy Honesty, who joined him on board the ship. Parke’s sailors reported that an Old Town trader managed to hide himself behind a medicine chest during the massacre. The ship’s cabin boy discovered the man, who crew members branded with a hot iron and sent into the male slaves’ quarters. Hearing this account, Willy Honesty immediately appealed to Parke: “By God, captain Parke, if you give me that man to cutty head, I’ll give you the best man in my canoe … and you shall be slaved the first ship.” Captain Parke surveyed Willy Honesty’s canoe, chose his man, and delivered the Old Town hostage in return. Parke’s men conducted him “down the ship’s side into the canoe; and immediately taking of him by the hair of his head, one of the black people in the canoe held him over the gunwale of the boat, struck off his head … with one stroke, and then holding his head up there were great shouts in the canoe.”31

By the end of the massacre, the British and their New Town allies had murdered nearly four hundred of Old Town’s traders, soldiers, and slaves. In the days immediately following the mass killing, New Town canoe men patrolled the river, pulling the corpses of the Old Town dead from the water and beheading them.32 Eager to erase all remnants of the Old Town merchant dynasty, New Town’s leaders also insisted that the British should hand over remaining Old Town captives on board their ships. These included Little Ephraim, Ancona, and Otto Ephraim Robin John, among others. Fearing criminal charges back in England, Ambrose Lace convened one final meeting of all the British conspirators on board his ship Edgar. There, he secured promises from his fellow captains that they would not surrender any more Old Town people to the New Town people.33 The British commanders could explain away the murder of one or two “pawns” by New Town traders, but they would not be able to justify the systematic execution of Old Town’s merchant elite.34

With so many Old Town dignitaries on board their ships, the British commanders still faced a dilemma: Return the Old Town people to their village or carry them away as slaves? Captain John Lewis, who hosted the Robin Johns on board his ship Indian Queen the night before the massacre, seized nine captives during the ambush. He eventually returned three “principal men” onshore at Old Town, before sailing to St. Kitts with the remaining six.35 Captain James Bivins transported Little Ephraim and Ancona to the island of Dominica, where they served as slaves to a French doctor, beginning a seven-year saga that would carry them to Virginia, England, and eventually back home to Calabar.36

Ambrose Lace, the ringleader of the massacre, pulled out of the river at Old Calabar in early 1768, bound for Antigua. Lace carried with him Otto Ephraim Robin John, King Ephraim Robin John’s son. Lace failed in his attempt to assassinate the Old Town chief, but he would effectively neutralize Ephraim by holding his son hostage. Rather than send Otto into slavery, Lace carried the young man back to Liverpool, where Lace paid for his upkeep and education. Lace later explained his motivation: “Grandy [King] Epm … has been Guilty of many bad Act[i]ons, no man can say anything in his favour, a History of his life would exceed any of our pirates. I brought young Epm. [Otto] home, and had him at School near two years, he cost me above sixty pounds and when his Fathers gone I hope the son will be a good man.”37 Lace eventually got his wish. After returning to Old Calabar, Otto Ephraim Robin John grew to be an important slave trader, maintaining a vibrant commercial relationship with his father’s former nemesis into the 1780s.38

The 1767 massacre transformed the commercial landscape of the slave trade at Old Calabar. Old Town was decimated, its merchant elite mostly dead or scattered across the Atlantic world. As a result, Bristol’s trade in the region dried up to little more than a trickle in the coming years.39 The three Bristol ship captains who conspired with Ambrose Lace in the massacre could not have anticipated the long-term implications of their actions. The bottleneck in the Old Calabar slave traffic in 1767 was unprecedented, and an unusual number of Bristol ships sat on the river. Lace’s plan seemed to offer the Bristol captains an expedient, short-term solution to filling their ships’ holds with captives. Given Lace’s reaction in the aftermath, it seems that even he did not anticipate the scale of the carnage.

The Robin Johns tried to salvage what they could from their Bristol allies. King Ephraim and Orrock Robin John each wrote letters to Bristol merchant Thomas Jones in the aftermath of the massacre. Both appealed for Jones’s aid in returning Little Ephraim and Ancona to Calabar. King Ephraim implored Jones to find his son Otto in Liverpool, remove him from Ambrose Lace’s custody, and “get him in you House.”40 In addition, Orrock begged Bristol slave ships to send their business to Old Town, swearing upon the safety of their commanders, even Captain Bivins, the man guilty of stealing away Little Ephraim and Ancona. Orrock addressed the rift with New Town directly, appealing to Jones’s loyalty: “Don’t you Lett any Canow Come for Ship sid[e] that belonging to new town.”41 Thomas Jones eventually helped the two princes return to Calabar, but the pleas for rekindling the Bristol trade to Old Town mostly fell on deaf ears.

The collusion between Ambrose Lace and Willy Honesty in the 1767 massacre resulted in a rapid and exponential expansion of profits for all of the parties involved in the New Town/Liverpool trade. From 1760 to 1767, thirty-four Liverpool ships traded at Old Calabar. During the eight-year period after the massacre, Liverpool sent seventy-eight slave ships to Old Calabar, nearly a 130 percent increase. After 1767, Liverpool would control fully two-thirds of Europe’s Old Calabar market.42 Though evidence is fragmentary, New Town merchants—or, to be more precise, Creek Town and New Town merchants—dominated the Old Calabar side of this trade.

All of the documents related to the 1767 massacre refer to “New Town” people, but Creek Town’s Willy Honesty was the undisputed leader in the war against Old Town. Honesty was the object of King Ephraim Robin John’s gift giving on the eve of the massacre. Honesty is the only named leader who negotiated with British ship captains on behalf of “New Town” people. And Honesty personally ordered the executions of at least two principal Old Town merchants, including Amboe Robin John.

Honesty’s emergence in the documentary record, seemingly out of nowhere, was no coincidence. Honesty originally belonged to no Efik lineage or kinship group; he was a “stranger,” an “outsider.” In fact, some oral traditions of the region suggest he may have once been a slave. As a young man, Honesty served his Creek Town patrons as a soldier in wars against their Cross River rivals, earning the reputation as a fierce warrior. Honesty’s battlefield bravery and accomplishments earned him a significant measure of “insider” status, including marriage to an Ambo princess and the establishment of his own ward (Eyo) in Creek Town. Still fighting to consolidate his social and financial legitimacy in the midst of Old Calabar’s instability, Honesty recognized the potential for restoring Creek Town to its former glory as the cradle of Efik politics and tradition. When the opportunity presented itself, Honesty moved decisively against Old Town. Ultimately, Honesty’s ability to unite Creek Town and New Town families against the Old Town Robin Johns, combined with his unyielding ferocity, cemented his leadership in the Ekpe society that governed wealth and trade in the region.43

The detailed trading records of the Liverpool ship Dobson in 1769–70 provide a window into Willy Honesty’s authority in economic affairs after the massacre. Of the fifty-four Old Calabar traders who conducted business with the Dobson over a six-month period, Honesty traded more slaves than any other person, followed by Antera Duke, Gentleman Honesty, and Duke Ephraim.44 Altogether, the captain of the Dobson conducted almost three-quarters of his business with merchants from Creek Town and New Town.45 The remaining trade flowed primarily to merchants from Ecricock and Guinea Company villages, northwest of Calabar. Of the 565 slaves eventually put aboard the Dobson, only one came from an Old Town trader, an indicator of just how insignificant Old Town merchants had become, at least among Liverpool traders.

Willy Honesty alone accounted for 16 percent of the Dobson’s business, eventually sending ninety-one captives on board the ship. The value of coppers, textiles, weapons, alcohol, and other trade goods exchanged for these slaves exceeded £500, the equivalent of more than $100,000 today.46 For context, Honesty generated 38 percent more revenue than the second-leading trader, Antera Duke.47 Importantly, these raw trade figures do not include the very lucrative comey and dashes that Honesty commanded as the paramount merchant of Old Calabar. These additional fees and taxes likely boosted Honesty’s income to over £600. Compounded over the roughly ten Liverpool ships that arrived at Old Calabar every year between 1768 and 1775, we can begin to see the enormous wealth Willy Honesty collected in the aftermath of the massacre. Honesty would retain his prominent place as one of Old Calabar’s chief traders and senior Ekpe leaders until the second decade of the nineteenth century, when a new generation of New Town traders usurped the aging warrior-merchant’s power.48

On the Liverpool side, Ambrose Lace was the single most important catalyst that pushed the Calabar trade to new heights. Crucially, Lace never toiled again as a slave ship captain after 1767. His handiwork in the massacre assured that he would quickly rise into the ranks as one of Liverpool’s wealthy and well-connected merchants. Indeed, Lace’s former merchant bosses—now his partners—leveraged his criminal collusion with Willy Honesty into enormous commercial profits. The greatest beneficiaries of the 1767 massacre, merchants Edward Chaffers, William Rowe, and William Davenport, joined with Lace to form a corporate conspiracy that would dominate the Old Calabar trade for the next three decades.

After returning to Liverpool, Lace invested in thirty-nine slaving voyages before his retirement in 1786; thirty-one of these voyages traded primarily at Old Calabar.49 Edward Chaffers, who had never invested in a slave voyage to Old Calabar prior to financing a portion of the Edgar in 1767, partnered with Lace on seventeen voyages after the massacre. Indeed, Chaffers never invested in Old Calabar voyages without Lace as one of his partners.50 The two men also became close neighbors and friends, both living in aristocratic mansions around Liverpool’s newly constructed St. Paul’s Square.51 Like Chaffers, the seasoned slave merchant William Rowe, also a cofinancier of the Edgar in 1767, invested in future Old Calabar voyages only when Ambrose Lace was his partner.52 Finally, Liverpool’s largest slave merchant, William Davenport, was a co-owner with Lace on four slave voyages prior to 1767, all traveling to different parts of Africa.53 After the 1767 massacre, Davenport cofinanced twenty-seven voyages with Lace, twenty-six of which conducted business primarily at Old Calabar. Lace thus became Davenport’s most important trading partner to Calabar, ahead of William Earle, Patrick Black, and others.54

Lace’s role in the 1767 massacre not only elevated the fortunes of his former bosses; it allowed him to help raise at least one other ship captain into the ranks of the merchant elite. Nonus Parke, one of Lace’s accomplices on the Old Calabar River in 1767, returned the slave ship Canterbury to London in February 1769. Just six months later, he was in Liverpool commanding the ship Hector on a return voyage to Old Calabar. Lace, in partnership with William Davenport, offered Parke a share in the Hector and its tender Andromache, the first time Parke had ever enjoyed such a privilege.55 Parke served as commander and shareholder on one more voyage of the Hector for Davenport and Lace, before retiring as a ship’s captain in 1772.56 Still, he continued as an investor in the Hector for two more voyages to Calabar, one in 1775 and the other in 1777.57

Altogether, the 1767 massacre at Old Calabar culminated more than a decade of destabilizing conduct on the part of Liverpool slave traders in the region. To be sure, Old Town merchants had difficulties fulfilling Liverpool’s increasing demands for captives. Disputes over comeys, extensions of credit, pawning, and debt recovery devolved into extortion, hostage taking, and assassinations.58 The Robin Johns’ willingness to fight back against Liverpool’s aggressions escalated animosities, threatening Anglo-Efik regional trade writ large. Old Town’s contemptuous disregard for the commercial well-being of their Creek Town and New Town neighbors only exacerbated already-existing political tensions in the region.59 By the eve of the massacre, personal animus worked hand in hand with commercial concerns to divide the various factions. Ambrose Lace avenged “the just cause of every poor Englishman” who suffered at the hands of the Robin Johns. Meanwhile, Willy Honesty literally cut the heads off of Old Town’s political leadership, restoring Creek Town to its rightful role as the historic homeland of Old Calabar and redistributing the region’s wealth and power. The mafia-style gangland murder of nearly four hundred Old Town residents was mere collateral damage in achieving political retribution and launching two new commercial dynasties.

As Ambrose Lace established himself as one of Liverpool’s most prominent merchants, he worked hard to erase his principal role in the Calabar massacre. However, in 1787, abolitionist Thomas Clarkson traveled to Liverpool to collect evidence in his efforts to abolish the slave trade. One morning, he “met accidentally” with Edward Chaffers, Lace’s neighbor and longtime business associate. Chaffers offered to introduce Clarkson to Lace, who “had been long in the Slave-trade, and could give … very accurate information about it.” Since Lace was “near at hand,” Chaffers could make the introduction in only “a few minutes.” Clarkson agreed, and Chaffers invited his neighbor to join them for breakfast.60

The conversation started out innocently enough, with Clarkson quizzing Lace on the prospects of transforming the slave trade into “legitimate” trade. As Lace described the potentially profitable natural resources along the West African coast, he casually mentioned Calabar’s mahogany trees. No sooner had the word “Calabar” exited Lace’s mouth than Clarkson felt “a kind of horror” wash over him. Clarkson, who had heard tales of the Calabar massacre, “instantly” recognized that Lace “commanded the Edgar, out of Liverpool, when the dreadful massacre … took place.” Impulsively, Clarkson blurted out his first thoughts, accusing Lace of “being concerned” in the massacre. Lace, feeling that he was being ambushed, “looked incensed at captain Chaffers.” However, Chaffers was as shocked as Lace. Neither man understood how Clarkson could know the details of the massacre. And they were “vexed” that he would “mention it in such a manner.” The three men sat tensely; Clarkson admitted that he was “trembling” with anxiety. Eventually, Lace confessed that what happened at Calabar was “a bad business,” but he “never defended himself, nor those concerned in it.” Because of Clarkson’s meddling and accusations, Lace sounded the “alarm” about his mission in Liverpool. As a result, Clarkson soon became the subject of harassment, intimidation, and, eventually, an attempt on his life.61

Given Lace’s actions in Old Calabar, it should come as little surprise that he resorted to intimidation and threats against Clarkson. Hidden behind the facade of financial accomplishment and genteel social respectability was a shrewd corporate criminal. When called to testify before Parliament, Lace denied that he offered any advice to the other ship captains on the river at Old Calabar in 1767. In fact, he blamed Old Town merchants for firing the first shots. He denied any English involvement in the “bustle,” implying that it was solely an African dispute. He further claimed that the English did not “reap any benefit whatever” from the Calabar massacre.62 In short, Lace mastered evasion and lying in order to protect his social and financial interests.

Lace eventually passed along this suspect legacy to his sons, William and Joshua. William continued in his father’s footsteps, working as a privateer and slave ship captain. Building on his father’s knowledge and connections, William traded at Old Calabar on his first two voyages as a slave ship captain in the early 1790s. He eventually commanded a total of ten voyages, the majority to Congo and Angola, before retiring to more polite pursuits.63

William Lace was an “enthusiastic botanist,” even during his years as a slave trader. In 1792, his brother Joshua’s business partner, William Roscoe, wrote to Lace as he prepared to sail for Angola, requesting “seeds of African or West Indian plants as may conveniently fall in your way.” After his retirement from slaving, William Lace became a founder and patron of the Liverpool Botanical Gardens.64

Ambrose Lace’s younger son, Joshua, followed a more genteel path than his slave-trading brother. When Joshua was thirteen years old, Ambrose Lace’s former boy-hostage and African protégé, Otto Ephraim Robin John, sent Joshua the gift of a “Little Boy” from Calabar.65 Presumably, this young child toiled as Joshua’s personal servant in England.66 Joshua eventually attended the elite, fee-paying Royal Institution, where he studied law.67 In 1783, he was admitted as a solicitor and joined the firm of Aspinall and Roscoe.68 Like Lace, Samuel Aspinall was a member of one of Liverpool’s biggest slave-trading families. Together, Lace and Aspinall each owed their social and economic ascension to the wealth accumulated from their families’ involvement in the slave trade.

Aspinall, Roscoe, and Lace conducted business in Liverpool for nearly thirteen years between 1783 and 1796. During that time, William Roscoe, the author of the epigraph for this article, grew increasingly disenchanted with his work, evolving into one of Britain’s most ardent abolitionists.69 In the late 1780s and early 1790s, he published several poems and pamphlets critical of the African slave trade.70 It is unclear the extent to which Roscoe’s partnership with two scions of the Liverpool slave trade influenced his abolitionism; however, it seems apparent that his close proximity to the trade shaped his radical views. In the same letter in which he requested the seeds of African or Caribbean plants, Roscoe gently chided Joshua Lace’s slave-trading brother, William, for his “hastiness of temper,” reminding him that he should treat Africans with “coolness, vigilance, compassion, [and] attention to the necessities of all.”71

Roscoe frequently complained about the “business” of his law practice. Some of these complaints seemed to be thinly veiled critiques of slavery, especially when seen through the contemporaneous optic of his abolitionist writings. For example, in one letter to his wife, Roscoe wrote that the legal profession “preys upon my happiness, and disgusts me with myself and mankind.” Similar letters described his revulsion in facilitating “the folly and villany of mankind.”72

During this time, the law firm represented some of Liverpool’s most prominent slave traders. For example, in 1791, Aspinall, Roscoe, and Lace defended infamous slaver Archibald Dalzel in a personal bankruptcy proceeding.73 Just three years earlier, Dalzel staunchly defended the slave trade before Liverpool’s Privy Council, claiming that Africans on board slave ships were well housed, well fed, and well treated. Despite Dalzel’s history of financial mismanagement, just months after his bankruptcy, the Crown appointed him governor of the Gold Coast. During his time as governor, Dalzel published his History of Dahomey, a work that justified the slave trade as the redemption of Africans from human sacrifice. Dalzel eventually served two terms as Gold Coast governor (1792–1802). After returning to England in 1802, he continued working as a slave merchant until the abolition of the trade in 1808.74

The tensions between Roscoe’s personal beliefs and his professional obligations eventually became too much to bear. Not only was he a partner in a firm whose financial foundations rested on the slave trade; his daily routines dictated a defense of the very institution he most abhorred. Roscoe wrote that “it is my fixed resolve to withdraw myself from so hateful an employment.” He followed through on this resolution, abandoning the legal profession in 1796 at the age of forty-three. In the wake of Roscoe’s retirement, the firm closed its doors.72

Despite the dissolution of Aspinall, Roscoe, and Lace, Joshua Lace maintained his close relationship with the Aspinall family deep into the nineteenth century. John Bridge Aspinall invested in more than a hundred slaving voyages from the late eighteenth century to the end of the slave trade in 1807, resulting in the enslavement of more than thirty thousand Africans.42 John Bridge Aspinall named Joshua Lace as one of his executors when he penned his last will and testament in 1819. In addition to substantial real estate, Aspinall left roughly £30,000 in cash and annuities to his wife and children when he died in 1830.75

After the collapse of Aspinall, Roscoe, and Lace, Joshua Lace established his own Liverpool law firm with offices at 13 Castle Street in Union Hall; the family business would remain at this location for the next thirty years.76 Lace quickly emerged as Liverpool’s most eminent attorney, serving a range of clients, including a number of prominent slave traders.77 Lace also served as an advocate for Caribbean slaveholders. In 1812, for example, he represented the owners in the auction of the Grand Sable sugar plantation in St. Vincent. The property, described as “one of the finest estates of its size in the West India islands,” produced five hundred hogsheads of sugar per year. Among other buildings and chattels, the estate consisted of 1,700 acres of land and “between 600 and 700 Negroes.”78 Altogether, Joshua Lace worked alongside colleagues and represented clients involved in every aspect of slave trading, from Britain, to Africa, to the Caribbean. Slaving had suffused his life, from the time he was a child all the way through his adult professional life. Lace eventually went on to become the founding president of the Liverpool Law Society. He was also a founding member of the Liverpool Athenaeum, a private club consisting of a “library and newsroom,” aimed at providing merchants with the most up-to-date commercial and political information.79 By the time of his death in 1841, Lace was widely considered to be the founding father of the legal profession in Liverpool.

Joshua Lace’s son, named after his grandfather Ambrose Lace, joined him in the family law firm during the second decade of the nineteenth century.80 Ambrose Lace II worked at the firm for more than fifty years, serving as general counsel for a number of corporate entities, including major shipping, banking, insurance, telegraph, and railway companies—all industries that thrust Great Britain to the fore of the global economy.81 A staunch political conservative, Lace championed free-trade and Protestant Loyalist causes.82 He also continued to represent slaving interests.

For example, as late as the 1860s and 1870s, Lace, Banner & Co. argued cases on behalf of Pernambuco (Brazil) cotton traders and their agents in Liverpool.83 During the American Civil War, poor Brazilian farmers responded to rising cotton prices by abandoning subsistence farming to cultivate slave-grown cotton for the world market. As a result, Brazilian cotton exports surged more than fivefold between 1860 and 1870.84 In this way, Lace’s law firm helped to sustain Britain’s booming slave-based cotton industry through the lean years of the American Civil War. Ambrose Lace II was still representing his global clientele until he passed away in 1870 at the age of seventy-seven. In summarizing his career, one newspaper wrote that “Mr. Lace was emphatically the father of his profession in Liverpool, and that he passed away honoured and beloved by all.”85

By the turn of the twentieth century, the Lace name was firmly etched in Liverpool’s mercantile, legal, and civic lore; however, the family’s associations with the slave trade gnawed at their legacy and reputation. Ambrose Lace II’s son, custodian of the family’s substantial archive, discovered a convenient avenue for scrubbing away the rumors and innuendo that threatened to sully his great-grandfather’s good name. In 1897, Liverpool journalist Gomer Williams published his History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque: With an Account of the Liverpool Slave Trade. Williams’s account of Liverpool’s privateers and slave traders was the first to detail the history “upon which the greatness of the ‘good old town’ was suckled.”86 In order to produce his history, Williams gained access to the private papers and archives of some of Liverpool’s most prominent commercial families, including the Laces. Many of the documents cited or reproduced by Williams remain in private hands today. Thus, Williams’s work remains influential, even 125 years later.

Williams became the first author to detail publicly the events that unfolded at Calabar in 1767, devoting one full chapter of his book to “The Massacre at Old Calabar.” Included in the chapter are a number of documents shared by Liverpool wine and spirit merchant Charles K. Lace, Ambrose Lace II’s son. Given Williams’s dependence on Ambrose Lace’s great-grandson in the consultation of “rare” family documents, it is not surprising that he employed discretion and care in his depiction of Lace.86 By the 1890s, Williams could be unsparing in his criticism of slavery as an institution, but he assiduously avoided casting aspersions on the individuals involved in the trade. As the book’s preface puts it, “In dealing with the delicate subject of the Liverpool Slave Trade … the author … has directed his indignation at the system, or national sin, rather than against individuals, for many of the slave-merchants or slave-captains of old Liverpool claim our regard as patriots or worthies of no common order.”87 The ultimate result was an apology for the slave merchant and architect of the Calabar massacre, Ambrose Lace.

Read carefully and critically against other evidence, one can see Williams straining to make an argument against Ambrose Lace’s principal role in the massacre, mostly through omission of evidence that was available to him. As if this were not enough, Williams’s publication of documents provided by Charles Lace leaves the impression that the people of Calabar were responsible for their own demise, a classic case of “blaming the victims.” Williams reconstructs events of the massacre mostly from the depositions taken by Thomas Clarkson, the same depositions that placed inordinate blame on Ambrose Lace aboard the ship Edgar. However, Williams erases from his account of the massacre any mention of Ambrose Lace and the other British ship captains by name. In summarizing the events, Williams acknowledges the ship captains’ complicity in the massacre, but then he shifts into a bizarre defense of Ambrose Lace, without ever naming him:

The action of the captains has never been defended; but we must not forget that they were dealing with a shifty, greedy, and treacherous lot of rascals, who made a practice of selling their own countrymen into slavery … The following copies of papers belonging to the commander of the Edgar, show that the chiefs were in his debt, and that they exonerated him from the charge of kidnapping a boy named Assogua. Moreover, certain letters from the chiefs of Old Town, Calabar, addressed to the captain, proved that they held him and his family in the highest esteem, notwithstanding the fact that the Edgar was present in the unfortunate tragedy of 1767. Whether this is to be attributed to the innocence of the captain, who was at all events a worthy citizen of Liverpool, or to the abnormal development of Christian charity and forgiveness in the African chiefs and man-stealers of Old Calabar, let the reader determine for himself.88

Williams’s defensive posture is inexplicable in the absence of an accusation—an accusation that is never articulated or acknowledged. What follows Williams’s defense is a select group of nine transcribed documents, provided to Williams by Charles K. Lace.89 Taken at face value, they seem to provide a generous view of Ambrose Lace—ledgers indicating that he extended credit to Calabar merchants and received nothing in return, statements from Calabar merchants justifying the departure of British slave ships with pawns on board, personal letters offering regards to Lace’s wife and sons, and so on.

Williams leaves the impression that the documents relate directly to the massacre; however, they actually spread across eighteen years. The only document from 1767 is the ledger that indicates various Old Town merchants accepted goods on credit that were never repaid. But those debts went unpaid because Lace orchestrated the ambush-style murders of five of the nine men listed in the ledger.90 The ship Duke of York carried [Ancona] Robin John to the Caribbean as a slave. Another of the debtors, King Ephraim, barely escaped with his life, and Lace took his son Otto Ephraim as a hostage. The only other Robin John debtor on the list, Orrock Robin John, accused Lace of kidnapping one of his dependents, a man named Assogua.

A second document, curiously dated August 22, 1776, follows directly after the ledger in Gomer Williams’s assemblage. The 1776 letter, signed in Calabar by four of Old Town’s principal merchants and witnessed by two Englishmen, releases Lace from culpability in the kidnapping of Assogua. The affidavit instead asserts that Orrock Robin John put Assogua on board his ship as a pawn, and Lace took him away only when Orrock failed to pay his debt. Included with the sworn statement is a copy of the ledger and debts owed to Lace by the Old Town merchants.

Some scholars have logically concluded that the 1776 letter was misdated and was actually authored in 1767.91 If the 1776 letter was written on August 22, 1767, this was only a week after the massacre. Orrock Robin John would not have had time even to lodge a kidnapping allegation, let alone withdraw it. King Ephraim, who also signed his mark on the letter, had been gravely wounded in the massacre. Finally, the only handwritten signature on the document is that of Otto Ephraim Robin John, the young man Lace held hostage on board his ship. It seems highly unlikely that the young Otto could have signed the document with his own name in 1767, before ever arriving in Liverpool for his “education.”

If the 1776 letter is accurately dated, as I believe it is, the only explanation for its existence is that Ambrose Lace was trying to cover up evidence that he kidnapped Assogua, nearly ten years after the fact. In June 1777, less than a year after King Ephraim, John Robin John, and Orrock Robin John released Lace from culpability in Assogua’s seizure, Assogua returned to Calabar from Liverpool. The timing of these two events seems more than mere coincidence. Lace apparently promised the Robin Johns that he would release Assogua on the condition that they accept blame for his enslavement. The Robin Johns, desperate to reunite with their kinsman, acquiesced to Lace’s coercion and blackmail. Once Lace was assured that evidence of his wrongdoing in the 1767 massacre had been erased, he finally agreed to free Assogua after years of holding him hostage.92

One of Lace’s partners in the Assogua subterfuge was a grown-up Otto Ephraim Robin John, the young man he stole away during the massacre. By 1776, Otto had returned to Old Calabar and could read and write English sufficiently well to sign the document, alongside the marks of his elders.93 Otto, who had grown close to Lace and his family during his time in Liverpool, had motive to support his patron. As evidenced by the remaining seven documents in the Gomer Williams chapter on the Calabar massacre, Otto Ephraim eventually emerged as one of Lace’s principal trading partners. More than half of these correspondences are from Otto, all painting Lace in a favorable light.

Altogether, the letters and other documents in Gomer Williams’s chapter on the 1767 massacre depict Lace as a patient, generous friend of venal Calabar merchants. In knitting together these nine documents, Charles K. Lace guided Gomer Williams in composing a history of the massacre based largely on the occlusion and deception started by Ambrose Lace over a hundred years earlier. Despite Williams’s professed antislavery position, he ultimately conspired with Charles Lace to whitewash Ambrose Lace’s crimes.94

Gomer Williams’s efforts to protect, even burnish, the Lace reputation have had long-standing consequences. By the end of the nineteenth century, Williams’s book, The History of the Liverpool Privateers, helped cement the legacy of slave trader Ambrose Lace as a “patriot…of no common order.” Williams’s history of the massacre remained the definitive account of the Calabar massacre until late in the twentieth century, and it continues to carry undue influence among many scholars.

At the same time as the Lace family’s role in the slave trade was being whitewashed, their wealth and social prestige continued to grow. Thanks in large part to the long and distinguished careers of Joshua and Ambrose II, the Lace legacy continued in Liverpool’s legal community across the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first. Indeed, the Lace name remained on one of the city’s largest law firms until 2014.

Meanwhile, the corporate heirs to this legacy conveniently, and predictably, continued to erase the history of slaving upon which their economic foundations rested. In 2006, on the occasion of his retirement, a senior partner of the firm Berrymans Lace Mawer reflected on the company’s past, asking, “What are our traditions?” His answer is worth quoting in full:

Laces was founded in the late 18th Century by a truly remarkable man, Joshua Lace. The Lace family, central to the thriving city of Liverpool, were seamen and merchant adventurers. Joshua became their lawyer and then built the dominant Liverpool legal practice of the 18th and 19th Century. But he worked on a broader canvas—he was not only a key figure in founding the Liverpool Law Society, but was politically active (he bravely opposed the slave trade) and supported the Arts and Sciences. We know little of him personally but his firm was professional, respected and tough. It still is.95

One might dismiss such stories as corporate boosterism. In reality, they repeat the dangerous, deceptive lies of the past. Ambrose Lace and his son William are remembered not as slavers but as “merchant adventurers.” Son Joshua is depicted as the family’s primary legal counsel as they helped build the “thriving city of Liverpool.” Finally, in the coup de grâce, Joshua is remembered as a brave abolitionist, a claim that is patently false. To be clear, this is not simply revisionist history. It is a continuation of the subterfuge executed by Ambrose Lace in the aftermath of the Calabar massacre, as well as his great-grandson Charles’s intentional misrepresentations of the massacre in the late nineteenth century, layering the deceptions and erasures across generations.

If Ambrose Lace was an “ordinary” slave trader, some apologists might characterize him as a “man of his times,” someone who simply capitalized on the legal opportunities of his day. Regardless of one’s thoughts about the past morality of the slave trade, organizing the mass execution of four hundred people was a crime that could have landed Lace in prison, even in his day. Lace clearly understood this to be the case and went out of his way to ensure the cover up, even as he parlayed the massacre into a financial empire that has spanned generations.

Fast-forward to the present day. No scholars have presented Ambrose Lace the way I have here. Thus, it stands to reason that Lace’s corporate heirs would perpetuate his original act of erasure. However, there is ample evidence in public archives, and even online, that Ambrose Lace earned his living primarily as a slave trader. So what would compel a law firm like Berrymans Lace Mawer to characterize the Lace family as “merchant adventurers”? And why would they proudly claim the family’s abolitionist legacy when the truth is actually the opposite? The answer seems fairly clear. Slavery is now widely viewed as a crime against humanity. Corporations, fearing liability, seek to erase their criminal legacies in much the same way Ambrose Lace did over 250 years ago.

In 2014, the Liverpool law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer merged with Scottish firm HBM Sayers, creating one of the largest commercial law and insurance risk companies in Great Britain. The combined firm generated more than £100 million of revenue yearly. As reported at the time of the merger, the new company’s business model hinged on the defense of corporate interests over those of vulnerable, often poor, individuals: “If an employee has an accident in work or a customer slips on a supermarket floor, and then they decide to sue for compensation, it is [the lawyers of this new firm] who will defend the corporate or its insurer.”96 The new firm’s emphasis on protecting corporations over common, working people was stunningly predictable for a business built on earnings from the slave trade.

However, the story only gets more bizarre. At precisely the moment that the Black Lives Matter movement crystallized around the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in the United States, this newly merged, multimillion-pound British law firm transformed the Berrymans Lace Mawer name, rebranding the new company “BLM.” Hauntingly, the words “Lace” and “Lives” are interchangeable in the BLM homonym, linking the lives of the four hundred Africans taken by Ambrose Lace at Calabar in 1767 to those of Freddie Gray, Tony Robinson, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and dozens of others who died at the hands of police violence since 2014. It is almost as if the ghosts of Lace’s victims called out across the generations, anticipating the calls of “Black lives matter” and demanding restitution from a legal system birthed in corruption.

BLM quietly continued to conduct business through the apex of the Black Lives Matters protests in 2020. Even as demonstrations spread across England, culminating in the toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol in June 2020, the law firm escaped notice. But the BLM law firm was ultimately short lived. In March 2022, BLM merged with Clyde & Co, which has offices stretching from the United States to Asia, and even Africa. Not surprisingly, the new law firm uses the Clyde & Co. name, effectively erasing the last vestiges of nearly 250 years of Lace family branding in the legal profession. Experts estimate that the combined Clyde/BLM law firm will generate annual revenue of more than £700 million.97 One would be hard pressed to find a riper target for economic reparations for slavery.

Despite the obvious and egregious example provided by the Lace family’s corporate legacy, calls for reparations would be incomplete, absent a deeper reckoning with the histories of slavery, capitalism, and the law. It bears remembering that Calabar’s Willy Honesty conspired with Ambrose Lace in the 1767 massacre and subsequently earned enormous personal power. Likewise, Lace’s young protégé, Otto Ephraim Robin John, eventually grew up to become one of Lace and Company’s most dedicated trading partners in Calabar. Africans enriched themselves in partnership with Lace; however, they did not accumulate capital and pass it on generationally, let alone in the guise of multinational corporations. Rather, they distributed their wealth to patrons, clients, and family across Calabar and its hinterlands.98 The key to empowerment was reciprocity and social responsibility in one’s lifetime. Individual “heaping up” was not only frowned upon; it was dangerous.99 As the Robin Johns learned forcefully in 1767, failure to account for the well-being of tributaries, dependents, and other kin could lead to disastrous consequences.

To be fair, the modern-day iteration of Lace’s law firm, BLM, projected a deep commitment to social responsibility. In 2020, they were ranked a Top 50 UK employer for inclusivity, and they openly promoted gender pay equity, ethnic diversity in hiring, and an LGBTQ-friendly workplace environment.100 Yet their diversity and equity commitments, like the vast majority of those in the international corporate world, were divorced from the specific corporate histories that make these initiatives necessary. Indeed, BLM shamelessly obfuscated its direct links to the slave trade, even as it moved in lockstep with international norms and standards of corporate “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). And why not? As both marketing tool and business strategy, the commitment to DEI generates income and wealth for companies competing in an increasingly diverse marketplace.

Meanwhile, admission of a firm’s strong ties to Britain’s slave-trading past threatens bad publicity, boycotts, or even lawsuits, all outcomes that would negatively impact the company’s bottom line. Corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders; they will not put themselves at financial risk for the sake of altruism, even in the name of restorative “justice.” Crucially, any attempts to seek damages for slavery would have to run through the same legal system that owes a significant measure of its existence to the slave trade. If the Lace family helped spawn Great Britain’s modern legal profession, why would that same profession turn on itself and repudiate slavery, especially with such high financial stakes?

History has demonstrated time and again that the legal system protects “corporate” interests at the expense of the enslaved and their descendants, whether in civil or criminal proceedings.101 Though reparations might provide a palliative for the descendants of the enslaved, financial payoffs simply cannot undo slave trade–era structural inequalities that have produced corporations like Clyde & Co. The heirs of the enslaved might accept a capital exchange as “compensation” for past wrongs, but such an exchange only reifies the very systems that continue to oppress so many, particularly the descendants of the enslaved.

Law firms like BLM, whose very existence depended on the slave trade, preyed on the weak and vulnerable throughout their corporate history. They continue to do so today, defending corporations that maim their employees, commit medical malpractice, reap environmental devastation, and engage in predatory lending practices. BLM, and now Clyde and Company, thrive on the profits generated by the corporate extraction of wealth and labor from poor, vulnerable people, far too many of whom continue to be Black and Brown. In this way, the accumulation of capital goes hand-in-hand with an accumulation of socially-corrosive ethical legacies, or as William Roscoe put it, “the folly and villany of mankind.” Accepting ill-gotten financial reparations from these companies would be a tacit endorsement of enterprises that operate according to some of the same exploitative principals as their slave trading predecessors.

Calling to account men like Ambrose Lace represents a victory in the fight against the legacies of a singular “bad” man. But that resistance largely ignores our collective complicity as the stewards of Lace’s corporate inheritance, as well as the harmful corporate legacies of so many other slave traders. Paradoxically, real “reparation” would require dismantling the systems that raised the need for repair in the first place. If we agree that these systems were morally bankrupt from the start, then we must also agree that justice requires new beginnings.102

James H. Sweet is Vilas-Jartz Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of Mutiny on the Black Prince: Slavery, Piracy, and the Limits of Liberty in the Revolutionary Atlantic World (Oxford Univ. Press, forthcoming 2024).

The author wishes to thank Stephen D. Behrendt and David Richardson for their generous assistance with the early research for this article. Simon Balto, Neil Kodesh, Paul E. Lovejoy, Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué, Simon Newman, Nicholas Radburn, and Jim Sidbury read drafts and provided invaluable advice. The research for this article was supported by the Graduate School at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.



  1. Henry Roscoe, The Life of William Roscoe, by His Son, Henry Roscoe, vol. 1 of 2 (London, 1833), 208–9. []
  2. Paul Lashmar and Jonathan Smith, “Barbados Plans to Make Tory MP Pay Reparations for Family’s Slave Past,” Guardian, November 26, 2022,; Joshua Nevett, “Richard Drax: Jamaica Eyes Slavery Reparations from Tory MP,” BBC News, November 30, 2022, []
  3. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill, NC, 1944). []
  4. Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York, 2014); Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York, 2014); Calvin Schermerhorn, The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815–1860 (New Haven, CT, 2015); Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development (Philadelphia, 2016). []
  5. For further critique of the “new” history of capitalism, see Trevor Burnard and Giorgio Riello, “Slavery and the New History of Capitalism,” Journal of Global History 15, no. 2 (2020): 225–44. []
  6. The Legacies of British Slavery database identifies British slaveholders at the time of abolition and has been tracing ownership of estates backward in time. The database is already demonstrating the family histories of slave ownership in Caribbean. University College of London, Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery, []
  7. The best book-length work on the strategies of eighteenth-century British merchants is David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735–1785 (Cambridge, 1995). For recent studies of slave traders, see Kenneth Morgan, “James Rogers and the Bristol Slave Trade,” Historical Research 76, no. 192 (2003): 189–216; David Pope, “The Wealth and Social Aspirations of Liverpool’s Slave Merchants of the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century,” in Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery, ed. David Richardson, Anthony Tibbles, and Suzanne Schwarz (Liverpool, 2007), 164–226; Nicholas Radburn, “William Davenport, the Slave Trade, and Merchant Enterprise in Eighteenth-Century Liverpool” (MA thesis, Victoria University, Wellington, NZ, 2009); Peter Earle, The Earles of Liverpool: A Georgian Merchant Dynasty (Liverpool, 2015); Matthew David Mitchell, The Prince of Slavers: Humphry Morice and the Transformation of Britain’s Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1698–1732 (London, 2020); Katie Donington, The Bonds of Family: Slavery, Commerce and Culture in the British Atlantic World (Manchester, 2020); and Nicholas Radburn, Traders in Men: Merchants and the Transformation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New Haven, CT, 2023). []
  8. Testimony of Ambrose Lace, March 12, 1790, in Sheila Lambert, ed., House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 72 of 147 (Wilmington, DE, 1975), 633. When asked how many “English ships were then lying at Calabar,” Lace answered, “Nine.” In fact, there were nine European ships total. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (TSTD), the nine ships at Old Calabar were Concord (voyage 17643), Duke of York (voyage 17668), Indian Queen (voyage 17671), and Nancy (voyage 17679), all of Bristol; Edgar (voyage 91367), Dobson (voyage 91360), and Firm (voyage 91376), of Liverpool; Canterbury (voyage 77918), of London; and Rose Julie (voyage 30865), of Nantes. []
  9. Extract of a letter from Ambrose Lace, Old Calabar, August 12, 1767, republished in John Corry, The History of Liverpool: From the Earliest Authenticated Period down to the Present Time (Liverpool, 1810), 143–44. The authorship of this letter has been the cause of some confusion among historians. The earliest published source for the letter, Corry’s History of Liverpool, does not name the author, and most historians have attributed it to “Anonymous.” Stephen D. Behrendt, A. J. H. Latham, and David Northrup mistakenly claim that the letter first appeared in the February 11, 1768, edition of the Liverpool Chronicle attributed to Lace. See Stephen D. Behrendt, A. J. H. Latham, and David Northrup, The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader (New York, 2010), 246n33. In fact, no such letter appears in the newspaper. Nevertheless, one can deduce Lace as the author of the letter in the following way: The letter begins, “We had a tolerable good passage of three weeks and five days.” The data in the TSTD indicates that the Firm’s passage from Liverpool to Calabar took two months, from May 27 to July 27, 1767. Thus, this would exclude James Briggs as the author. TSTD (voyage 91376). The Dobson, the only other Liverpool ship in the area of the Calabar River, was under the command of Francis Lowndes, who had never traded at Old Calabar previously (and would never again). Since the author of the letter clearly had experience trading at Old Calabar and knew the intricacies of the region’s politics, Lowndes could not have authored the letter either. Thus, Lace is the only person who could have penned the letter. As we will see, Lace had good reason to demand anonymity. []
  10. Testimony of John Ashley Hall, March 1, 1790, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:515. []
  11. TSTD (voyage 91227). []
  12. Extract of a letter from Ambrose Lace, Old Calabar, August 12, 1767, republished in Corry, The History of Liverpool, 143–44. []
  13. The foregoing events occurred sometime between the penning of Lace’s letter on August 12 and August 17, when the ship Concord departed Old Calabar for Dominica. TSTD (voyage 17643). A number of sources erroneously date the Old Calabar massacre to June 1767, including Randy J. Sparks, The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey (Cambridge, MA, 2004), 10. I want to thank Stephen D. Behrendt for his assistance in helping confirm the timeline of events at Old Calabar. Personal email correspondence, September 3, 2020. []
  14. TSTD; see note 7. Scholars have disagreed on the exact ships at Old Calabar during these events. For example, Sparks erroneously places the Liverpool ship Hector on the river. Sparks, The Two Princes of Calabar, 19–24. The TSTD shows this could not have been the case. In addition, Ambrose Lace states flatly that “there was no such ship as the Hector while I was at Callebarr.” Ambrose Lace to Thomas Jones, Liverpool, November 11, 1773, in Gomer Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque: With an Account of the Liverpool Slave Trade, 1744–1812 (Liverpool, 1897), 542. []
  15. The Liverpool ships Dobson and Firm were in the vicinity of Old Calabar; however, they are not mentioned in any of the foregoing accounts of events that unfolded there. Henry Ellison, a crew member on the Firm, describes a disturbing episode in Fernando Po involving the Dobson’s crew. Ellison traveled in the Firm’s boat to procure provisions from the island. When he approached, the people onshore “peep[ed] through the bushes” but refused to come down to the boat. Eventually, they rushed the boat, surrounding it and threatening to kill Ellison with darts. An elder intimated that members of the ship Dobson had kidnapped two of their people, a man and a woman, carrying them back to Calabar. When Ellison arrived back in Calabar, he informed the Firm’s captain, who then passed along an ultimatum to the Dobson’s novice captain, Francis Lowndes: if the two people were not returned to Fernando Po, there would be no future trade there. According to Ellison, Lowndes relinquished the man and woman, and Ellison carried them back to the island in the small boat. As the boat approached Fernando Po, the “natives” saw their compatriots, and “they brought down yams, goats, fowls, honey, and palm wine, and loaded the boat as full as she could stow, and would not take the least article for it.” Having secured a full cargo of provisions, the British released their hostages, who the islanders “took in their arms, and never sat them down on the ground” until Ellison’s boat sailed out of sight. Testimony of Henry Ellison, June 7, 1790, in Sheila Lambert, ed., House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 73 of 147 (Wilmington, DE, 1975), 364–65. Ellison’s silence on the events at Old Calabar suggest that the Firm and the Dobson were not present on the river during the second week of August 1767. []
  16. BNA, KB1/19/3, Mich. 1773, the king against Henry Lippincott and others. Deposition of William Floyd, of the City of Bristol, in England, Mariner, September 30, 1773, reprinted in Thomas Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence of Sundry Persons on the Slave-Trade, Collected in the Course of a Tour Made in the Autumn of the Year 1788 (London, 1789), 4. []
  17. Deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, of Old Town, Old Calabar, on the coast of Africa, Bristol, November 9, 1773, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 10. Clarkson records 1783 as the year of the deposition, but this must be an error. Also see the testimony of John Ashley Hall, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:517. Using Hall’s vague, secondhand testimony, Sparks erroneously claims that Robin John made the gift to Duke Ephraim of Duke Town. Sparks, The Two Princes of Calabar, 14. []
  18. This description of the events at Old Calabar in August 1767 comes from an aggregate set of sources, including the depositions of William Floyd and Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 4–11; testimony of Captain John Ashley Hall, in Sheila Lambert, ed., House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 69 of 147 (Wilmington, DE, 1975), 19–20; testimony of Captain John Ashley Hall, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:515–17, 527–30, 537–39, 556–60; testimony of Ambrose Lace, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:633–36; testimony of Isaac Parker, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 73:123–25, 128–36; and testimony of George Millar, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 73:385–89. Also see Paul E. Lovejoy, David Imbua, and Randy J. Sparks, eds., The Notorious Massacre at Calabar in 1767 (Trenton, forthcoming). []
  19. Ambrose Lace: “The principal people from Old Town came on board my ship, where the duke … was to have met them.” Testimony of Ambrose Lace, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:633–34. []
  20. Testimony of Ambrose Lace, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:634. []
  21. Deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 6–7. []
  22. Testimony of George Millar, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 73:386. []
  23. Deposition of William Floyd, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 5. []
  24. TSTD (voyage 17643). []
  25. Testimony of Ambrose Lace, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:633–35. []
  26. Testimony of John Ashley Hall, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:515–17, 557. []
  27. Deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 7. []
  28. Deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 7. Green later urged Captain Bivins to release Ephraim and Ancona back to Old Calabar, but Bivins ignored his first officer’s advice, carrying the Robin Johns to Dominica as slaves. Deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 10. []
  29. Pawnship was a form of human collateral utilized as loan security for goods or merchandise extended on credit. British traders at Old Calabar frequently took on board their ships the family members of prominent Old Calabar traders. These pawns were then redeemed in exchange for slaves. For a general introduction to pawnship, see Toyin Falola and Paul E. Lovejoy, “Pawnship in Historical Perspective,” in Pawnship, Slavery, and Colonialism in Africa, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy and Toyin Falola (Trenton, 2003), 1–26. Also see Paul E. Lovejoy, “Pawnship, Debt, and ‘Freedom’ in Atlantic Africa during the Era of the Slave Trade: A Reassessment,” Journal of African History 55, no. 1 (2014): 55–78. []
  30. All quotes from deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 8. []
  31. Testimony of George Millar, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 73:385–86. []
  32. Deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 8. []
  33. Deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 10. []
  34. On the legal issues surrounding the Calabar massacre, see Ruth Paley, “After Somerset: Mansfield, Slavery and the Law in England, 1772–1830,” in Law, Crime and English Society, 1660–1830, ed. Norma Landau (Cambridge, 2002), 165–84. []
  35. Deposition of William Floyd and deposition of Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, in Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence, 5, 10. Floyd notes that crew members on the Duke of York captured nine people and carried six to St. Kitts. The Robin Johns explain further that Lewis dropped the three others onshore. []
  36. For the story of Ephraim and Ancona’s travels to Dominica, Virginia, England, and back to Calabar, see Sparks, The Two Princes of Calabar. []
  37. Ambrose Lace to Thomas Jones, November 11, 1773, in Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 541–42. []
  38. See, for example, Otto’s letters to Lace, July 19, 1773; August 23, 1776; and March 20, 1783, in Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 547–49. []
  39. TSTD. Between 1768 and 1786, Bristol averaged just over one ship per year trading at Calabar. []
  40. BNA, KB1/19, Mich. 1773, Ephraim Robin John to Thomas Jones, June 16, 1769, reprinted in Paul E. Lovejoy and David Richardson, “Letters of the Old Calabar Slave Trade, 1760–1798,” in Genius in Bondage: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic, ed. Vincent Carretta and Philip Gould (Lexington, 2001), 89–115, here 103. []
  41. BNA, KB1/19, Mich. 1773, Orrock Robin John to Thomas Jones, undated [ca. 1769], reprinted in Lovejoy and Richardson, “Letters of the Old Calabar Slave Trade, 1760–1798,” 102–3. []
  42. TSTD. [] []
  43. A. J. H. Latham, Old Calabar, 1600–1891; The Impact of the International Economy upon a Traditional Society (Oxford, 1973), 32, 36, 46, 47. Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, 16. []
  44. Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, 62. []
  45. More specifically, these include traders from Creek Town, Duke Town, and Henshaw Town. Duke Town and Henshaw Town are often lumped together as New Town. Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, 24. []
  46. Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, 62–64. The total value of all goods exchanged for 499 slaves was £2,929, for an average of £5 18s. per slave. Multiplying by Honesty’s 91 captives brings a total of just over £534, roughly £78,300 in 2021. At an exchange rate of $1.38 per pound, Honesty would have earned the equivalent of $108,054 from his trade in slaves alone. []
  47. Duke sold a total of fifty-six slaves. A detailed analysis of Duke’s accounts can be found in Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, 63. []
  48. Other clues to Honesty’s power and leadership can be found in Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, especially in the frequency of Honesty’s appearance in Duke’s diary to collect British and French comeys, organize meetings of important men, and so forth. Honesty lost his power when jealous upstarts subjected him to an exorbitant Ekpe fine in the 1810s. Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, 35. Also see Sparks, The Two Princes of Calabar, 64–65. []
  49. TSTD. Prior to 1767, Lace was a shareholder in fifteen slaving voyages, eight of which traded primarily at Old Calabar. []
  50. TSTD. Chaffers invested in only three total voyages prior to the Edgar in 1767; these voyages went to New Calabar and Bonny. []
  51. On Lace and Chaffers as neighbors, see Richard Brooke, Liverpool as It Was during the Last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century, 1775–1800 (Liverpool, 1853), 467. Also see Sir James Allanson Picton, The Architectural History of Liverpool (Liverpool, 1858), 38. []
  52. TSTD. Rowe invested in a total of forty-eight slave voyages between 1748 and 1776. After Lace returned the Edgar to Liverpool in April 1768, Rowe invested in ten voyages to Old Calabar, all with Lace. []
  53. TSTD (voyages 90873, 90874, 91218, and 91219). Lace invested in Davenport’s ships Eadith and Dalrymple, each twice. The ships traded at Bassa, Gambia, New Calabar, and Old Calabar. []
  54. TSTD. Also see Radburn, “William Davenport, the Slave Trade, and Merchant Enterprise in Eighteenth-Century Liverpool,” 61. []
  55. TSTD (voyages 91573 and 91594). []
  56. TSTD (voyage 91574). Parke was again an investor in the tender Andromache (voyage 91595). []
  57. TSTD. Voyages of the Hector (voyages 91575 and 91576). I suspect that contemporaries’ confusion over the role of the Hector in the 1767 massacre relates to this later partnership between Lace and Parke on the ship Hector. Sparks claims that “Parke and Lace … were partners on several voyages to Old Calabar before … the massacre.” I can find no evidence to support this assertion. Sparks, The Two Princes of Calabar, 153n10. []
  58. Lovejoy, “Pawnship, Debt, and ‘Freedom’ in Atlantic Africa during the Era of the Slave Trade.” []
  59. Paul E. Lovejoy and David Richardson, “Anglo-Efik Relations and Protection against Illegal Enslavement at Old Calabar, 1740–1807,” in Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, ed. Sylviane A. Diouf (Athens, OH, 2003), 101–18. []
  60. Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, vol. 1 of 2 (London, 1808), 383. Also see Ambrose Lace’s testimony in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:633–36. []
  61. Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, 1:383–410. []
  62. Testimony of Ambrose Lace, in Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, 72:633–36. []
  63. According to the TSTD, William Lace commanded ten slaving voyages between 1791 and 1804. []
  64. Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 615–16. Though Lace and Roscoe shared a passion for botany, they had diametrically opposed views on the slave trade. In the same letter that Roscoe requested plant seeds, he implored Lace to treat his African charges with compassion and humanity. On Roscoe’s thoughts about the slave trade and the legal profession, see Roscoe, The Life of William Roscoe, by His Son, Henry Roscoe, 1:205–6. []
  65. Robin John Otto Ephraim to Ambrose Lace, July 19, 1773, in Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 547. []
  66. It is unclear whether the boy actually arrived in Liverpool; however, Otto Ephraim claims that this was his second attempt to send a servant for Joshua. Several years earlier, Otto had shipped another boy by Captain Fairweather, but Fairweather sold him in the West Indies. []
  67. “Founding Fathers,” Liverpool Law, March 2015, 30. []
  68. H. A. Ormerod, “Extracts from the Private Ledger of Arthur Heywood of Liverpool Merchant and Banker,” Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 103 (1951): 103–11, here 105. []
  69. For Roscoe’s early abolitionism, see Roscoe, The Life of William Roscoe, by His Son, Henry Roscoe, 1:75–97. []
  70. These include the poem The Wrongs of Africa (1787) and the pamphlets A General View of the African Slave Traffic (1788); A Scriptural Refutation of a Pamphlet lately published by the Rev. Raymond Harris, entitled “Scriptural Researches on the Licitness of the Slave Trade,” in Four Letters from the Author to a Friend (1788); and An Inquiry into the Causes of the Insurrection of the Negroes in the Island of St. Domingo; to which are added, Observations of M. Garran-Coulon on the same subject, read in his absence by Guadet, before the National Assembly, February, 29, 1792 (1792). []
  71. Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 615. []
  72. Roscoe, The Life of William Roscoe, by His Son, Henry Roscoe, 1:205–6. [] []
  73. World (London), July 11, 1791, 2. “Archibald Dalzel, formerly of Lisbon, late of London, and now at Liverpool, Merchant, to surrender August 4, 20, at ten, at the Globe Tavern, John-street, Liverpool. Attornies, Messrs. Aspinwall, Roscoe and Lace, Liverpool.” []
  74. I. A. Akinjogbin, “Archibald Dalzel: Slave Trader and Historian of Dahomey,” Journal of African History 7, no. 1 (1966): 67–78; James A. Rawley, “Dalzel [Formerly Dalziel], Archibald,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, January 8, 2009, []
  75. Aspinall left £6,000 to each of his four daughters and £1,000 to his son. In addition to leaving his wife their house and all its possessions, he promised a £350 yearly stipend for the remainder of her life. The modern equivalent of his cash bequests was roughly $3.5 million. “Last Will and Testament of John Bridge Aspinwall,” January 9, 1819, as reprinted in Henry Oswald Aspinall, Aspinall and Aspinwall Families of Lancashire, A.D. 1189–1923: A Collection of Family Records Brought Together (Exeter, 1923), 94–100. []
  76. Lace’s partner in 1800 was Thomas Hassall. By 1818, the firm included Joshua’s son Ambrose II and William Spurston Miller. See Gores’ Liverpool Directory (Liverpool, 1800), 227, and Gores’ Directory of Liverpool and Its Environs (Liverpool, 1829), 173. []
  77. Among others, Lace represented slave traders Duncan McViccar, William Neilson, John Tarleton, and Hugh McCorquodale. See Derby Mercury, June 17, 1813, 4; Morning Post (London), December 2, 1816, 4; The London Gazette, vol. 1 (1819), 490, 494, 1138-39; and Morning Post (London), May 30, 1821, 3. []
  78. Morning Chronicle (London), April 8, 1812, 1. []
  79. J. McCreery, Laws and Regulations of the Athenaeum in Liverpool (Liverpool, 1799). []
  80. Gores’ Directory of Liverpool and Its Environs (Liverpool, 1818), 182; Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 549; John Hughes, Liverpool Banks and Bankers, 1760–1837 (Liverpool, 1906), 69–70. []
  81. A perusal of British corporate directories of the nineteenth century provides some clues as to the extent of Lace, Banner, and Lace’s legal reach. See, for example, Charles Barker and Sons, The Joint Stock Companies’ Directory for 1867 (London, 1867). In this directory alone, the Lace firm is listed as general counsel for the railroad company Newry, Warrenpoint, and Rostrevor (119); Albion Marine Insurance Company (223); Liverpool and London Globe Insurance Company (264); National Bank of Liverpool (385); North Western Bank (389); Liverpool Marine Credit Company (425); Isle of Man Ship-Building Company (461); Liverpool Ship-Building Company (462); and Alexandra Theatre and Opera House Company (686). Other examples include the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company (Bradshaw’s Railway Manual, Shareholders’ Guide, and Official Directory for 1866 28 [1866]: 450); the Channel Steam Ship Company and the Red Hematite Iron Ore Company (Shareholder’s Guardian 1, no. 44 [1865]: 738); and the Maritime Credit Company (Money Market Review 10 [1865]). []
  82. In 1837, Lace sat at the center table of the Liverpool Operative Conservative Association’s annual dinner, joining others in “giving three cheers for the Protestant Constitution of Church and State, while the band struck up “The Boyne Water.”” Morning Post (London), October 23, 1837, 2. Frank Neal claims that Lace was a member of Liverpool’s Orange Order, though I can find no evidence to support this claim. See, “Sectarian Violence in Nineteenth Century Liverpool: A Study of the Origins, Nature and Scale of the Catholic-Protestant Conflict in Working Class Liverpool, 1819-1914,” (PhD dissertation, Department of Business and Management, University of Salford, Manchester, UK, 1987) volume 1 of 2, 160. []
  83. See, for example, Johnston and others versus Kershaw, in James Redfoord Bulwer, ed., The Law Reports: Court of Exchequer, vol. 2 of 10 (London, 1867), 82–87, and Shepherd versus Harrison and another, in James P. Aspinall, Reports of Cases Relating to Maritime Law, vol. 1 of 19 (London, 1873), 66–67. For the evolution of slaveholding in cotton-growing regions of Brazil’s northeast, see Thales Augusto Zamberlan Pereira, “Poor Man’s Crop? Slavery in Brazilian Cotton Regions (1800–1850),” Estudos Econômicos 48, no. 4 (2018): 623–55. []
  84. Gavin Wright, “Cotton Competition and the Post-bellum Recovery of the American South,” Journal of Economic History 34, no. 3 (1974): 610–35. The growth in cotton export figures comes from p. 611. Also see Beckert, Empire of Cotton, 256–57. []
  85. Liverpool Mercury, February 1, 1870, 5; B. Guinness Orchard, Liverpool’s Legion of Honour (Liverpool, 1893), 435–36. []
  86. Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, ix. [] []
  87. Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, x. []
  88. Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 538–39. []
  89. Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 539–49. []
  90. The names on the ledger of those killed in the massacre include Archibong, Amboe, John, and Otto Robin John, as well as Tom Robin. Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup, The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, 23. The Otto Robin John on the ledger should not be confused with King Ephraim’s son, Otto Ephraim Robin John. []
  91. See, for example, Lovejoy and Richardson, “Letters of the Old Calabar Trade, 1760–1798,” 100. []
  92. Assogua applied for a passport to return to Calabar in June 1777. Lace apparently fabricated a story that Assogua had recently arrived “voluntarily” on one of his ships. He also asserted that Assogua lived in Liverpool “enjoying his Freedom in as ample and beneficial manner in all Intents and purposes whatsoever as any Free Subject of this Realm.” The passport document went up for private auction in England in 2020. A description of the document can be found at []
  93. After spending two years in Liverpool, Otto returned to Calabar in either 1770 or 1771. []
  94. Williams’s complicity is further underscored in his chapter on abolition. There, he recounts Lace’s 1787 encounter with Thomas Clarkson, but he blocks out Lace’s name (i.e. Captain L——) in order to protect his anonymity. See Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 576–77. []
  95. Paul Taylor, “Looking Forward: A New Legal Landscape,” Disclosure, 7th ed. (March 2006), 1, accessed February 4, 2021. []
  96. Tony McDonough, “Historic Liverpool Law Practice Set to Enter into £100 Million Merger,” Liverpool Echo, April 24, 2014, []
  97. Sara Merken, “Clyde & Co to Form 2,600-Lawyer Shop in Merger with UK Law Firm BLM,” Reuters, March 28, 2022, []
  98. For more on the distinction between European capital accumulation and Africans’ broad distribution of wealth, see Toby Green, A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution (London, 2018). []
  99. For “heaping up,” see William Roscoe’s quote in the epigraph. []
  100., accessed April 18, 2022. []
  101. It is not a mere coincidence that corporate interests (business) so often articulate themselves according to white (racial) corporate interests in modern capitalist societies. For more on the law’s historical impacts on Black people in banking, insurance, and housing, see Bonnie Martin, “Slavery’s Invisible Engine: Mortgaging Human Property,” Journal of Southern History 76, no. 4 (2010): 817–66; N. D. B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago, 2014); Peter James Hudson, Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean (Chicago, 2017); Michael Ralph, “The Price of Life: From Slavery to Corporate Life Insurance,” Dissent 64, no. 2 (2017): 63–67; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (Chapel Hill, NC, 2019); and Sharon Ann Murphy, Banking on Slavery: Financing Southern Expansion in the Antebellum United States (Chicago, 2023). []
  102. Recent works call for reframing reparations as a “construction project” that builds toward a more just and equitable global future for all. See Olúfẹ’mi O. Táíwò, Reconsidering Reparations (Oxford, 2022), and Andrew Delbanco, “Reparations for Black Americans can work. Here’s how,” Washington Post, November 21, 2022, In many respects, the arguments of Táíwò and Delbanco follow on earlier ones that dismissed race-based reparations as politically impractical, calling instead for multiracial, working-class coalitions that would demand affordable housing, universal health care, quality education, fair lending practices, and equal justice before the law for all people. Adolph Reed Jr., “The Case against Reparations,” Progressive, December 2000, 15–17. The prospects for building political coalitions around reparations aimed strictly at the descendants of enslaved people remain dim in the United States. A recent Pew Research poll indicates that 77 percent of Black Americans support reparations for the descendants of enslaved people, while just 18 percent of white Americans support reparations. Carrie Blazina and Kiana Cox, “Black and White Americans Are Far Apart in Their Views of Reparations for Slavery,” Pew Research Center, November 28, 2022, []