Catharine Richardson, a free born negro woman from New York, was sold into slavery, in Nassau, in 1809. Then, but, no more than sixteen or seventeen years old, Catharine was sold under false pretence, by her lover, a white man, who told her that his wife in America wouldn’t countenance him keeping a sweetheart.

Catharine spent two years in slavery in Nassau. She was beaten. She was sent to the workhouse. On the orders of her new mistress, Catharine Richardson was whipped to make her fully understand that she was now the property of a Mrs. Yallowley of Nassau.


Everyone knows that love, can sometimes, lead anyone to do really strange and silly things even in the modern day. But, in the days of slavery, relationships between negroes and whites were downright dangerous – for the negro that is.

Nothing was more perilous than a free-born negro woman, thinking her white master, a married man, was going to forsake all for her. Countless negro women and their children were sold off to hide the indiscretions of white men.

Free-woman, made slave, in Nassau, Catharine Richardson’s case for liberty went to the Admiralty Court in 1811.

In the newspapers from England, the circumstances of Catharine Richardson’s plight, were likened to a comic play called Inkle and Yarico performed in London in 1787.

Inkle and Yarico, was adapted from a book about real life in the slave colony Barbados: Richard Ligon’s book A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657).

1787 – Real Life Imitates Art, Or Art Tells Of Real Life


Inkle and Yarico is a comic opera first staged in London, England, in August 1787, with music by Samuel Arnold and a libretto by George Colman the Younger.

Inkle, an English trader, is shipwrecked in the West Indies, and survives with the help of Yarico, an Indian maiden. They fall in love, but when Inkle returns to his civilization, he plans to sell Yarico into slavery to recover his financial losses while he marries a woman, Narcissa, who will give him the social standing he wants. In the end, Narcissa marries another, and Inkle remains with Yarico.

The supposedly true story first appeared in Richard Ligon’s book A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657).

INKLE AND YARICO. Comic Opera first staged in London in 1787 – WIKIPEDIA


Despite testimony, of a credible person, stating they knew Catharine Richardson from an infant, as a free born negro, she could not be freed outright. Her slave mistress had a signed receipt for her purchase.

In the end, the Attorney-General, in Nassau had to raise a curious prosecution against Catharine Richardson, as the only way to help her regain freedom once again.

Catharine Richardson and the faux boyfriend Mr. Charles Johnson, who pretended to favour her, only to sell her into slavery, were jointly prosecuted for transporting a negro, to the British colony of the Bahama Islands, for the purposes of slavery.

Prosecuting her, also freed her, as the sweetheart who sold her into slavery did not come back to Nassau to answer charges. As Johnson did not return, the case was concluded.




Hon. A. Murray, Collector of Customs, qui tam, &c. versus Catharine Richardson.

Catharine Richardson, the subject of this prosecution, is a young negro woman of about 20 years of age. The following is the history which she gives of herself; and it has not been contradicted.

She says, she is a free-born native of New York; that her parents are still alive, and that, when she left America, they were living in Staten Island. That when very young, she was bound as an apprentice to a Mr Gerardus Smith, saltmaker, No. 16, Weaver’s Street, New York.

That, after having lived several years in Smith’s family, her articles were signed to a Mr Charles Johnson, a ship-master, whose father also resided in New York.

That Johnson soon took a liking to her, and prevailed on her to come to this island, where she arrived with him, in a vessel of his own, called the Augusta, in the month of June, 1809.

That she lived with Johnson while his vessel lay in port; and that, when about to sail, he told her he could not will carry her back to New York, on account of the jealousy of his wife, but that he had a sister in this place with whom he would leave her, and who would treat her with much kindness.

That she was placed in this way with Mrs. Yallowley, but soon discovered that she had been trepanned* and then Mrs. Yallowley having treated her with great harshness, she remonstrated – upon which Mrs. Yallowley informed her, she was her slave, and to convince her she was in earnest, sent her to the public work-house, and had her whipped.

That she stated her case too many persons in Nassau – but, as her story ways upon on her unsupported assertion, is obtained her little credit, and she lived in a state of slavery with Mrs Yallowley way until lately, when the rigours of her situation induced her to make another effort to a recover her liberty, and she laid her case before the Attorney-General; and, having fortunately discovered a person here, who had known her from her infancy, the Attorney-General took her case in hand, and being of a opinion that she was liable to condemnation, as having been brought on this island, and held in slavery, contrary to the act for the abolition of the slave trade, this prosecution was instituted as the most effectual means of restoring her liberty.

It is alleged, the Johnson, without the knowledge of Catherine Richardson, received from Mrs Yallowley, in exchange for her, a negro named Dublin; but, previous to his departure, he delivered to Miss Yallowley a receipt, in the following words, viz:

Received, Nassau , July 15, 1809, of Eliza Mary Ann Esther Yallowley the sum of three hundred and fifty dollars, for a negro girl named Catharine.


That receipt was produced by Miss Yallowley to the Attorney- General, for the purpose of satisfying him that Catherine was your property; but it had not the effect that was expected and the prosecution went on.

Johnson, (who has for some years past been in the practice of trading to the sport, but who had not been here since July 1809,) happened to arrive here just about the time of the return of the last monition, and having signified an intention to contest this matter, judgement was not taken, and the case was allowed to lie open, and expectation of a claim.

Johnson, however, thought it prudent, without giving any trouble to the customhouse, to slip out of port, on the night of the 26th inst. and carried off with him both his sister and niece; which probably propose from an apprehension, that the pecuniary penalties given by the act of parliament might also be sued for.

Judgement was there a point taken by default; and however it may sound as a contradiction in terms, the fact is, that the condemnation of this young woman has had the effect of restoring her to liberty. –


(The Liverpool Mercury, England, Friday, 06 December, 1811)

*Another meaning for trepanning comes from  “trepan” an archaic verb to entice, ensnare, swindle or trap. And a noun: a trickster or a swindler.

So, both types of trepanning require getting inside somebody’s head; the first literally, the second metaphorically.