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A Treatise upon the Trade from Great-Britain to Africa;

humbly recommended to the Attention of Government. By an African Merchant.

London: R. Baldwin, 1772 Stock Code: 140948
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A defence of the slave trade - with an intriguing Maine provenance

Rare first edition of this important work, being an early defence of the West African slave trade and part of a "high-profile campaign" against the African Committee, the ruling body of the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa operating in the Gold Coast of modern Ghana (Sparks, p. 98).

The Treatise is customarily ascribed to John Peter Demarin, a former collector of customs at Senegambia, although the prominent London slaver Richard Brew has also been suggested (see James A. Rawley, London, Metropolis of the Slave Trade, 2003). Brew and Demarin certainly worked hand-in-hand. Randy J. Sparks, Professor of History at Tulane University, remarks, "Brew's career reached its high point during the 1760s, when he was the largest exporter of slaves on the Gold Coast, when his business prospered, and when his diplomatic efforts brought peace to two of the bitterest enemies along the coast. By the 1770s, however, he was facing financial difficulties, which he blamed in large part on the illegal trade activities pursued by the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa officials on the coast. In the 1770s Brew launched a high-profile campaign against the African Committee and the conduct of its officers on the Gold Coast. His published attack on the committee offers insight into his own business dealings during the period his often hostile relationships with others Englishmen on the coast" (Where the Negroes Are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade, Harvard, 2014). Brew's letters account for thirty of the book's 124 pages and Demarin sums up by saying that the Treatise "is not the reverie of any one single person but the joint sentiments of the best writers upon the trade, and the result of the united opinions of the most capital merchants to Africa, drawn from their long experiences and perfect knowledge of the subject".

Provenance: ownership inscription to title page verso, "Meshack Purintons Book of Windham, 1816". The Purinton family, of Welsh descent, were natives of Gorham, Maine. Meshack, or Meshach, Purinton was born in 1770 and his inscription identifies him as being a resident of Windham, some 5 miles due east of Gorham. It may be he who made the rather fine pen-and-wash drawing of a three-masted ship with a thrusting figurehead that adorns the front pastedown (accompanied by a similar pencil sketch). Interestingly, in the 1830s and 40s an anti-slavery society based in Lynn, Massachusetts, numbered several Purintons among its members. Maine itself had a conflicted relationship with the slave trade, as, following the act of Congress that abolished slavery in 1820, dozens of Maine vessels continued to engage in the trade illegally. As an example of this ambiguity, "the owner of the Bangor Gazette in Maine preached abolition in his newspapers, while he was also apparently engaged in building slave ships in pretty ports in Maine such as Bath or Damariscotta" (Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870, 1997, p. 678).

Although well represented institutionally, we have traced only a handful of copies on the market between 1910 and 1953, the last appearance at auction being at a Charles Heartman sale - "original boards, broken" - in 1948.

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Quarto (260 x 205 mm). Contemporary calf rebacked, dark red morocco label, free endpapers front and back renewed.


Boards slightly splayed, old ink trials to back cover just perceptible, some old ink smudges and pale marginal tidemarks to a few leaves, title page a little soiled, show-through to same from ownership inscription on verso, yet overall a very good copy.


ESTC T51666; Goldsmiths' 10871; Higgs 5449; Hogg 1103; Kress 6909; Sabin 96753.


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