The “Sukey” Sails For Africa
“She lay alongside Captain Jim DeWolfe’s wharf that
day in 1802, a smart, trim topsail schooner, nearly ready for sea.
On her stern was lettered her name, “Sukey,” and below
it, Bristol, Rhode Island.
As usual, the Bristol waterfront
buzzed with feverish activity that day, especially on Captain
Jim’s wharf. Heavy ox carts laden with last minute cargo
lumbered slowly across the cobblestones of Thames Street that
edged the wharf, and then onto it.
Captain Jim and some of his brothers owned the carts and oxen,
the distillery on Thames Street from which most of the Sukey’s
outward cargo had come, and the countinghouse that was the headquarters
for their business. In the West Indies, or Sugar Islands as they
were often called in those days, the deWolfes owned plantations
to provide the cargo the Sukey would bring back to Bristol on
the homeward part of her long voyage. And they owned the Sukey
and other ships that sailed in the evil trade in which they were
The Sukey…had no trouble getting her clearance papers after
an inspection by the Bristol surveyor. (Although the Rhode Island
State Assembly had forbid he slave trade), Her trade and that
of many another Bristol vessel brought too much prosperity to
too many people. There were the Bristol sailmakers and carpenters,
the caulkers who sealed the ships’ joints with oakum and
tar, the ship chandlers who sold provisions and an endless variety
of wares needed aboard a vessel, and the owners and workers of
the ropes that made cordage---the great number of ropes used in
holding, hoisting, lowering and controlling the sails of a ship.
And there were many people who depended upon the Bristol ship
owners for profit and wages.
If a vessel (returning) from the Sugar Islands was discharging
her cargo, there would be (boys who) most Bristol wharf owners
would let have their taste of the sweet molasses. But on deWolfe’s
wharf that day, when you came close enough to the schooner, there
was another smell---a smell that seemed to make your very insides
curl up. It was a smell so vile and horrible that you wondered
how the Sukey’s crew could possibly stand it.
“You can smell a slaver five miles downwind,” they
say on the Guinea Coast. And the Sukey was a slaver.
Probably a fair-sized crowd of the crew’s family and friends
were gathered on deWolfe’s wharf as the Sukey sheered gently
away…people on the wharf cried “huzza!” and
waved their hats. The Sukey was off on her voyage. In West Africa,
she would work her way down the Guinea Coast, probably finding
it necessary to stop at port after port as she exchanged her trade
goods and precious rum for even more precious black slaves, and
perhaps also for gold dust, ivory, ebony and other African products.
At last she would head west, crossing the Atlantic over the infamous
Middle Passage to the West Indies. In the islands the slaves would
be landed and sold. Then Captain Almy would fill the Sukey chockablock
with hogsheads of molasses to be distilled into more rum at Bristol.
This was the evil, cruel business known as the Triangular, or
Three-Cornered Trade. It was the cornerstone of much of New England’s
prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries. It made many men rich,
but it was part of what was to bring disgrace upon white (British
and New England) men, misery and oppression upon black people,
and untold trouble upon the world.”
(Rum, Slaves and Molasses, Clifford L. Alderman, Crowell-Collier
Press, 1972, pp. 1-12)