The transatlantic slave journey is littered with untold stories of the dead, and near dead, who were taken by force, across the ocean. Captains and crews were brutal. Terrified Africans, men, women and children, became instant chattel. Lives of those bound for slavery in the French, Dutch, Spanish and British colonies, were valuable but expendable.
In early 1792, something happened on a ship. We do not now what. We know that the ship was a French-Guinea man (man-of-war). A man-of-war was a British term for a powerful warship used in battle from the 16th to the 19th century. We know that the French-Guinea man-of-war was sailing through the southern Atlantic Ocean, near Cuba. On its journey, it did the unthinkable, It abandoned a group of men, leaving them to certain death on a deserted cay. In 1792 it was called ‘Key Romano’. Cayo Romano is an island on the northern coast of Cuba, in the present province of Camagüey. It is the largest cay of the Jardines del Rey archipelago comprising 777 square kilometres (300 sq mi). Today, Cayo Romano remains undeveloped. From the south, Bay of Jiguey separates Caya Romano from the main island of Cuba. To the north it is bordered by the Old Bahamas Channel of the Atlantic Ocean.
We can only speculate on the circumstances of 1792. Maybe, the man-of war was being chased by pirates or privateers. Maybe, it was on its way to battle. We know that on the island of Hispaniola, on the French side of Saint-Dominque, slaves and some free people of colour, had begun waging a rebellion against French authority. In the years to come it would turn into a total revolution. Maybe, some of the human cargo on the man-of-war, were sickly or unwell in some way. The ship no longer wanted to carry them. Maybe the group of nine negroes were left in the hopes of return. Maybe they had attempted to take control of the ship and were left on the cay to die as severe punishment. It seems rather counterproductive to leave valuable Africans on a deserted cay to die in the height of the colonial slave trade. They could have easily been sold for high profit. There is no way of knowing for certain.
All we have is a short article in a Nassau newspaper in March 1792.
What we learn is that a rather irate man John Baptist has put a notice in the Bahama Gazette to warn all against attempting to purchase his property. He notes, in a rather angry tone, that he found nine “new” negroes, starving on a deserted cay, Key Romano. By “new” we can infer that they have been recently brought over from Africa and had not yet been sold into slavery on any colony. He notes that after bringing them to Nassau, his boat and found property were seized by the Searcher of Customs, Harry Webb, as property seized as contraband. John Baptist, the good samaritan, undoubtedly would like possession of his property in order to sell them. In 1792, nine negroes, in terms of monetary value, would have been the equivalent of having a small gold mine.
Negroes FOUND STARVING ON KEY ROMANO
NASSAU March 29, 1792
The Bahama Gazette
The Subscriber gives Notice, That the Nine New Negroes, found by him starving on Key Romano, supposed to have been landed from a French Guinea Man, stranded there, and of which he gave immediate Notice in a former Gazette, have since been seized, together with the Boat in which he brought them here, by Harry Webb, Esquire, Searcher of His Majesty’s Customs for the Port of the Bahama’s and libelled in the Court of Vice Admiralty by His Majesty’s Attorney, Advocate and Soliciter Generals, as being Goods, Wares and Merchandise, imported contrary to the Free Port Act, and other British Statutes.
The Absurdity of considering Human Creatures, snatched from the Jaws of Death, as Contraband Goods, is so apparent, that he need not caution the Public against purchasing any of the said Negroes that may be condemned under the Decree of a Court, which cannot possibly posses any such Power or Jurisdiction.
Nassau, March 29, 1792