By the year 1750, Rhode Island had become the center of the transatlantic slave trade as it surpassed Liverpool — while also angering British shipbuilders as their workmen left for New England and better pay. Boston’s Peter Fanueil made his wealth through slaving, and the famous Redwood Library in Newport was built with land and money from Abraham Redwood, who grew rich in the slave trade. The Brown family of Newport, Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses, who established Brown University, made their fortune in the slave trade.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Boston and Newport Slave Merchants
“British commercial relations with the northern colonies, though important, were less close than with the South and the West Indies. New England had no staple exports to England at all comparable with West Indian sugar or Virginia tobacco. Her fish and lumber were marketed largely elsewhere, chiefly in the West Indies but also in other colonies, in the Azores, and in southern Europe.
From the American point of view the British government ought to have encouraged the trade with the foreign West Indies instead of trying to check it with the Molasses Act. The English authorities were, however, less impressed by [New England arguments] than by the smuggled European goods which came in through this “back door.”
Before, as well as after, the passage of the Molasses Act, sugar and molasses from the foreign West Indies continued to supply the distilleries of New England, whence rum was sent out for use in the Indian trade and in the purchase of African slaves. In this latter trade, Boston and especially Newport merchants competed with those of the mother country.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, Newport became the chief base in North America for the African slave trade. The round of this trade began with the rum manufactured from West Indies molasses. What followed may be illustrated from the correspondence of some of these Newport merchants.
In 1755, for instance, the firm of Wilkinson and Ayrault sent Captain David Lindsay to the African coast, where he was to exchange his cargo for gold and slaves. With his human freight he was to sail to Barbados or St. Christopher, where the slaves were to be sold, provided he could get an average price of twenty-seven pounds for them all, “great and small.” The captain did this business on commission, getting among other things five slaves for his own share.
The profits of this trade, legal and illegal, were building up at Boston, Newport, Salem, and elsewhere a rich merchant class of decidedly cosmopolitan interests.
“[The] Narragansett planters” of Rhode Island had also a reputation for generous living. Indentured servants came in from England and Ireland . . . Prosperous families, especially in the larger towns, often had one or more Negro slaves and there was no general feeling against the practice, though a few protests were heard. Rhode Island had the largest proportion of Negroes and the Narragansett planters used slave labor more than any other part of New England.
Generally speaking, the small farmers of New England could not use Negro slaves to much purpose.”
(The Foundations of American Nationality, Evarts Boutell Greene, American Book Company, 1922, excerpts pp. 246-247; 262-263; 266)