Turtle Bunbury

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HISTORY

HEROES AND VILLAINS

RICHARD BREW: THE SLAVE-TRADER FROM COUNTY CLARE

In many ways Castle Brew was a typical Irish gentleman’s residence – extensive bedrooms and halls furnished with mahogany, an organ and a glass chandelier in the front hall, silverware and china at every turn, a well-stocked library, a wardrobe of exquisitely tailored waistcoats, shirts, breeches and cravats.

What made Castle Brew utterly different to other Irish mansions is that it wasn’t in Ireland. In fact, it was in Anomabu, a West African town on the coast of present-day Ghana.

The 18th century castle was built for Richard Brew, an Irishman widely regarded as the most influential slave trader in West Africa during the 1760s and 1770s. [i]

Brew’s ancestors are thought to have been the Norman family of ‘de Bruwa’ or ‘de Bruth’. By the early 18th century, a branch of the family were in Ennis, County Clare, trading in hides, tallow and butter on the banks of the River Fergus.

Amongst them was Richard Brew, a Protestant vintner, who ran a brewery in Ennis in partnership with Nicholas Bindon, High Sheriff of County Clare. However, the brewery failed in 1743 and the Brew family fortunes went on the slide.

Richard Brew, the slave trader, is believed to have been the first-born son of Richard, the brewer, and his wife Ellinor, nee O’Brien. [ii] He made his first appearance in West Africa in 1745, not long after his father’s business collapsed.[iii] He initially served with the Royal African Company (RAC), a mercantile company established by Charles II in 1660, which focused on the exploitation of African gold, ivory and slaves.

By the mid-18th century, the trans-Atlantic trade on Africa’s Gold Coast was booming. There were nearly 30 European forts along the coast where the British, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Danish and Swedes vied for control. The forts were primarily built to protect merchants and their cargo from pirates or enemy ships.

Slavery was fast becoming the biggest money-maker on the coast. Every year, thousands of captive slaves were herded out from the African interior by African chieftains and sold either to European traders or to African caboceers (middlemen) in exchange for gunpowder, textiles and other goods. These slaves were then shipped out to North America and the West Indies.

By 1751, Brew was commander of Dixcove, a small fortress 50 miles south-west of the British headquarters at Cape Coast Castle. It was during this time that he met Acca, a prosperous Dixcove caboceer. It is thought Brew was instrumental in Acca’s decision to send his youngest son Quamina to live in Ireland. Quamina arrived in Dublin in about 1751 and the young African was to spend seven years under the care of Thomas Allan who had him baptized and educated alongside his own son. [iv]

The RAC had by now been replaced by the African Company of Merchants, known as the Company. Brew was supposed to be one of its more diligent employees, serving first as registrar at Cape Coast Castle and then as chief factor in their fort at Tantumkweri. However, his burning ambition was to make enough money to retire early and live the life of a gentleman. And if achieving that goal meant hoodwinking his employers, so be it.

Brew’s utter disregard for Company regulations ensured that by 1753 his private enterprises as a slave trader were eclipsing those of the Liverpool and Bristol merchants he was supposed to be protecting. Put simply he offered a better price and cornered the market. The Company launched an investigation but Brew spared them the bother, resigned his office and set up as a private trader in nearby Mumford.

In July 1756, the Company swallowed hard and appointed him Governor of Anomabu where a new fort was under construction. He would remain at Anomabu until his death twenty years later, during which time the fort became one of the chief slave-trading centres on the Gold Coast. Indeed, Brew’s wiliness would do much to establish Britain as the predominant commercial power in West Africa.

Brew’s move to Anomabu coincided with the outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) in which the British and French battled for global dominance in North America, Europe and India. On the Gold Coast, the French were endeavouring to woo John Currantee, a shrewd Fante chieftain who had become the region’s chief caboceer.

Brew’s intricate understanding of the Fante mindset, combined with a certain amount of ‘extraordinary expenses’ to line Currantee’s pockets, ensured the Fante chieftain opted for the British over the French. To consolidate the deal, Brew took Currantee’s daughter Effuah Ansah as his country wife. [v] She was the mother of his two daughters, Eleanor and Amba. He also fathered two sons Richard junior and Harry, with an unidentified African woman, or women.[vi]

Brew’s first period of Governorship between 1756 and 1760 was characterized by a boom in private trade at Anomabu, albeit with frequent complaints about his high-handedness and lack of respect for certain traders. He was also accused of trading with the French and selling slaves to the Dutch, both sworn British enemies. [vii] However, while his superiors bemoaned their reliance on a man who was ‘determined to be under no authority’, they realized that without Brew, the security and prosperity of Anomabu could not be guaranteed.

In 1760, Brew announced that he was leaving the coast after 13 years and sailed for home. His departure occasioned military parades and marching bands at the Anomabu waterfront. His first port of call was London where he formed a partnership with Samuel Smith, an influential merchant closely linked to the Irish linen industry, with strong connections in Waterford, Bristol and Liverpool. [vii.a]

Brew then made his way to Dublin where he stayed with Dublin merchants George Carleton and Thomas Jevers who operated from Eustace Street in Temple Bar.[viii]

Although Anomabu did not actually implode without him, the Company were eager for his return. In October 1761, Brew arrived back at the fort, armed with a gold-fringed blue velvet umbrella for John Currantee.

His second period as Governor soon became the source of another controversy when it emerged that he had personally shipped 512 slaves, apparently dipping into the Company coffers to fund the consignment.

In 1764, Brew quit the Company again, re-established himself as a private trader and moved permanently into ‘Castle Brew’, an impressive residence completed that same year and funded, in part, by his friend Samuel Smith. It is said the castle, which boasted its own warehouses and defensive guns was the equal of Anomabu Fort in size, capable of accommodating 300 men within its high brick walls.[ix]

By now he had established a string of outposts along the Slave Coast, including factories at Lagos, Benin and Cape Lopez, while he also operated a small fleet that to’d and fro’d along the coast, carrying slaves, as well as gold, beeswax and Ijebu clothing. Given Samuel Smith’s links to Irish linen, it also seems likely that Irish linen was one of the goods on offer to African caboceers engaged in the slave trade.

Smith’s unexpected spiral into bankruptcy from 1768 threw Brew’s operations off-kilter. New partners came and went but Brew managed to maintain a flourishing façade while he borrowed heavily from creditors both on the African coast and in England.

Amongst his biggest clients were the New England merchants from North America with whom he regularly exchanged slaves for rum and tobacco. In 1776, he devised a plan for his schooner Jenny to sail directly from Cape Lopez to the Caribbean with 120 slaves while another schooner was despatched to Rhode Island to purchase a cargo of rum. Soon afterwards, he wrote to friends in England announcing his plan 'shortly to return with a genteel fortune'.

However, in truth, his business had been in gradual decline for many years and was now on the cusp of collapse. Perhaps owing to the pressure, the Irishman became seriously ill at the end of July 1776. He drifted into unconsciousness and died on 4th August. He was buried in Anomabu later that day.

The revelation that he was bankrupt came as a shock and caused a considerable muddle. Brew had repeatedly assured his African children that his property would be theirs when he died. His 'amazingly numerous' creditors and his Irish relatives were also keen to cash in on what transpired to be an empty purse. [x] A further nightmare for his luckless executors ensued when Americans seized some of Brew’s vessels during the War of Independence.

Nonetheless, Brew’s descendants by his country wife and his mistress or mistresses would prevail in the 19th and 20th centuries and some - including members of the Casely-Hayford family, as well as the Brews - continue to play a prominent role in Ghana to the present day.

FURTHER READING

‘Where the Negroes Are Masters’, Randy J. Sparks (Harvard University Press, 2014 )

Origins of the Brew Name in Ghana.

‘West African Trade & Coast Society: A Family Study’, Margaret Priestley (Oxford University Press, 1969).

Richard Brew: An 18th Century Trader at Anomabu’, M. A. Priestly. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana. Vol. 4, No. 1 (1959), pp. 29-46. Published by: Historical Society of Ghana.

With thanks to Christopher Steed.

FOOTNOTES

[i] Brew’s longevity was remarkable. He was stronger, or luckier, than the vast majority whose time in Africa was cut short by disease, often tropical in nature and fatal in consequence. He was one of the immensely tough and resilient merchants who sought to make their fortune in a world little less dangerous than the present one.

[ii] As well as Margaret Priestly’s convincing arguments for Brew’s connection to Ennis, note this from The Athenaeum: A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, Volume 3, edited by John Aikin (Longmans, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1808): At Ennis, James M Graham, Esq, surgeon of the 31st regiment, to Miss Jevers, daughter of Thomas Jevers Esq.

His will, drawn up on 3 August 1776, also referred to his many relatives in Ireland.

[iii] European settlement in West Africa was fed from many sources. One source was Ireland. A book of wills drawn up on the west coast in the late 18th and early 19th century shows a number of merchants residing in West Africa were of Irish origin. Commercially, the Irish connection with West Africa came via Irish linen, but also because Dublin and Waterford were close to Britain’s main slaving ports at Bristol and Liverpool. Many Irish were recruited into the Royal African Company in the late 17th century.

[iv] I would love to know more of Quamine or Thomas Allen. I note the following report in The London Chronicle of 1861 under a section entitled ‘IRELAND’:
Cork, Jan 15. Tuesday last a melancholy accident happened at a place called Trabulgen, some miles from hence. Mr Thomas Allen of this city, Attorney, being on a visit, was preparing to get into his chair in order to return home, when a Gentleman reaching him a loaded gun, the piece went off and shot him in the groin under which he languished until this morning, when he expired in great torture.’

[v] Formal relationships between Europeans and African or mixed race women were respected with the latter becoming ‘country wife’, or ‘wench’ as they were often known.

[vi] Richard Brew junior and Harry Brew were educated in England before returning in 1768 to take up work as clerks in their fathers business in Annamaboe. The younger Richard subsequently quarrelled with his father and became a gunner at Annamboe Fort. He later worked at Cape Coast Castle as writer accountant and personal secretary to the governor. When forced out of Cape Coast Castle, he sought refuge with the Dutch at Elmina where he died in 1782.

Harry married Abba Kaybah, a cousin in the female line of Philip Quaque, the first African Anglican missionary. After his fathers’ death, Harry moved to Cape Coast where he became a prominent linguist at the fort, and died of smallpox in 1796. Harry’s son Samuel Kante Brew became a prominent slave trader, continuing to run a business long after the British abolished slavery. He was implicated in an ambush in which XX British soldiers were ambushed and killed. Arrested and sent to Sierra Leone to stand trial, he died under mysterious circumstances en route, allegedly of suicide.

[vii] The Dutch had their headquarters were at Elmina Castle, a medieval style fortress near Cape Coast captured from the Portuguese in 1737. The Dutch West Indies Company knew of Brew as ‘Irish by birth’ and described him as 'notorious' and ‘unscrupulous and hard-headed'.

He was extraordinarily competitive against both the Dutch and his own British rivals. Nobody failed to notice him, even if he left them with a poor impression.

As a private trader, his main business was buying slaves on the coast and shipping them to the West Indies and America. Although his main area was the Gold Coast, he also had factories at Lagos and Cape Lopez, just south of the equator. In exchange for slaves, he traded textiles (especially East Indian origin), tobacco, both hugely popular commodities which he acquired by bartering with other Europeans. If need be, he would buy and sell Dutch merchandise also which, as the goods of the enemy, was greatly frowned upon.

He did not act alone but was the dominant head of a group of traders, many former Company employees, as well as key players in Liverpool and Bristol. Cargo came in from London, Rotterdam and Liverpool - and was carried on Brew's own ships, such as the 'Albany' and the 'Brew'.

Typically he then denounced the Company and its officers as being utterly unfit for purpose and failing to protect good private traders like himself. In 1770 and 1771 he wrote long epistles to the merchants of Liverpool castigating the Company for the very crimes he had so successfully committed while Governor of Anomabu.

[vii.a] In private correspondence with me in August 2014, Fiona Lewis suggests that Samuel Smith may have been Captain Samuel Delacherois Smith, one of two sons born to a Mr Smyth and his wife Judith Delacherois. Judith was one of just four from 14 siblings to survived childhood. Her father Samuel Delacherois was a son of Nicholas Delacherois and Marie Madelaine Crommelin. And to make the linen connection relevant, Marie Madeleine's brother Louis Crommelin was the official overseer of the Irish linen Industry from 1698 onwards. The Crommelin Delacherois grave is in Lisburn Cathedral graveyard near the Linen Museum.

[viii] George Carleton may have been the same man who sat on the jury with Thomas Bunbury during the Trial of Neale and Vera Molloy in 1763.

[ix] Amongst his library collection were three volumes of a History of Ireland by an unnamed author.

He was closely involved with an episode of Fante history when tensions with the Ashanti were particularly high following a brief incursion into the area in 1765 by the Ashanti, albeit as ostensible allies of the Fante, and the subsequent capture of several well-to-do Ashanti as hostage. Rumours of revenge attacks and further invasions abounded throughout the 1760s. Brew became one of the key mediators in the hostage crisis dispute, alongside the British Governor at Cape Clear Castle and the Dutch Director-General at Elmina. Brew fetched up with custody of several of the hostages which appealed to his ego as a peacemaker. The Governor whole-heartedly denounced Brew as 'shamefully abusive in his language, domineering in his behavior and the object of everyone's hostility.' (Preistly, p. 40). The hostage crisis ran on until 1768. Brew was clearly seeking to boost his influence with the Ashanti and to this end he invested heavily in sending cloth, silk, liquor and other goods to the Fante to loosen them up. The hostages were handed over to him and he looked after them but tried to extract payment for their looking after them from their Ashanti cousins. The crisis absorbed a lot of his time and his failure to focus on trade appears to be another reason why his business went into decline.

[x] When he died on 5 August 1776, three years after the hostage crisis was finally resolved, the Governor of Cape Coast Castle noted that the event 'occasioned no small Revolution' at Anomabu. Two officers from the Company of Merchants were assigned to clear up his estate, a veritable mess. 'Never did two persons take charge of an Estate with greater reluctance', they opined to the Committee back in London. The settlement took until 1778 and included sending ships to collect Brew's property at Lagos and Cape Lopez. He owed 'very small' quantities of money to a group of creditors they described as 'amazingly numerous'. In his will he left twelve house slaves to his wife and their female children whom he named as his heirs.

 

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