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“Carried Thence for Trafficke of the West Indies Five Hundred Negroes”: Job Hortop and the British Enter the Slave Trade, 1567

Great Britain recognized the lucrative possibilities of the Atlantic slave trade long before it permanently colonized North America. By the mid-sixteenth century, British ships followed Spanish and Portuguese vessels along the West African coast and familiarized themselves with the trade between the Portuguese and Africans. John Hawkins, an admiral with royal backing, inaugurated the British slave trade with three expeditions. On his 1562 voyage, he purchased slaves from the Portuguese in West Africa and sold them to the Spanish in Hispaniola at great profit, despite Spanish prohibitions. In 1567, he seized 500 Africans in Sierre Leone and set off across the ocean, but the Spanish fleet captured him in a Mexican port and destroyed many of his ships. Although he escaped, 100 of his men were left in the Bay of Mexico; only three eventually returned England. One of those was 17-year-old Job Hortop, who wrote this narrative after 23 years in Spanish captivity.

It is not unknowne unto many that I, I.H. pouder-maker was borne at Bourne, a Towne in Lincolnshire, from my age of twelve yeeres brought up in Redriffe neere London, with M. Frauncis Lee, who was the Queenes Maiesties powder-maker, whome I served, untill I was prest to goe on the voiage to the West Indies, with the Right worshipful Sir Iohn Haukins, who appointed mee to be one of the Gunners in her Maiesties shippe called the Iesus of Libbicke, who set saile from Plimmouth in the moneth of October 1567. having with him an other shippe of her Maiesties, called the Minion, and foure shippes of his owne namely, the Angell, the Swallow, the Iudith, and the William and Iohn. He directed his Vizeadmirall, that if foule weather did separate them, to meete at the Iland of Tennerif. After which by the space of seven daies and seven nights, we had such storms at Sea, that we lost our long boates and a pinnisse, with some men comming to the Tennerif: there our Generall heard that his vizeadmirall with the Swallow, and the William and Iohn, were at the Iland called the Gomero, where finding his vizeadmirall hee ancored, tooke in fresh water and set saile for Cape Blanke, where in the way we tooke a Portugall Carvilll, laden with fish called Mullets: from thence to Cape de Verde. In our course thither we met a Frenchman of Rochell called Captaine Bland, who had taken a Portugall Carvill, whome our vizeadmirall chased and tooke. Sir Frauncis Drake was made Master and Captaine of the Carvill, and so wee kept our way till wee came to Cape de Verde, and there we ancored, tooke our boates, and set soldiers on shore. Our Generall was the first that leapt on land, & with him Captain Dudley there we tooke certain Negros, but not without damage to our selves for our General, Captaine Dudley, and eight other of our company were hurt with poysoned arrowes, about nine daies after the eight that were wounded died. Our Generall was taught by a Negro, to draw the poyson out of his wound with a clove of garlicke, whereby he was cured. Frő thence we went to Surrolean, where be monstrous fishes called Sharkes, which wil devoure men, I amongst others was sent in the Angell with two pinnaces into the river called the Calouses, that were there trading with the Negros, we tooke one of them with the Negroes, & brought them away. In this river in the night time we had one of our pinnaces bulged by a sea-horse, so that our men swimming about the river, were all taken into the other pinnaces, except two that tooke holde one of another, and were carried awaie by the sea horse, who hath the iust proportion of a horse, saving that his legs be short, his teeth verie great and a span in length, he useth on the night to go on land into the woodes, seeking at unawares to devour the Negros in their cabbins, whom they by their vigilancie prevent, and kill them in this manner. The Negros keepe watch, and diligently attend their comming, and when they are gone into the woodes, they forthwith laie a great tree overthwart the waie, so that at their returne, for that their legs be so short, they cannot go over it: then the Negros set uppon them with their bowes, arrowes and darts, and so destroy them.

From thence we entered the river called the Causterus, where there were other Carvelles trading with the Negros, and them we tooke. In this Iland betwixt the river and the maine, Trees grow with their rootes upwards, and Oisters upon them. There grow Palmita trees, which be as high as a ships maine mast, & on their tops grow nuts, wine and oyle, which they call Palmita wine and Palmita oyle. The Plantine trees also grow in that countrie, the tree is as big as a mans thigh, and as high as a firre pole, the leaves thereof be long & broade, and on the top grow the fruit which is called Plantaines, they are crooked and a cubite long, and as big as a mans wrist, they grow on clusters: when they be ripe they be verie good and daintie to eate, Suger is not more delicate in tast than they be. In this land bee Elyphants, which the Negros kill in this manner: they seke out their hants where they rest in the night, which is against a tree, that they saw three partes in sunder, so that when the Elephant leaneth and stretch himselfe against it, the tree falleth, & he with it, then he roareth, wherby the Negros know he is fallen, then they come upon him and kill him.

From thence with the Angell, the Iudith and the pinnaces, wee sailed to Surreleon [Sierra Leone], where our Generall at that time was, who with the Captaines and souldiers went up into the river called the Faggarine, to take a towne of the Negroes, where he found three kings of that Countrie with fiftie thousand Negroes beseeging the same towne, which they could not take in many yeeres before that they had warred with it. Our Generall made a breach, entered, and valiantlie tooke the towne, wherein were founde five Portugals, which yeelded themselves to his mercie, and hee saved their lives, we tooke and carried thence for trafficke of the West Indies five hundred Negroes. The three kings drove seven thousand Negros into the sea at low water, at the point of the land, where they were all drowned in the oze, for that they could not take their canowes to save themselves. Wee retourned backe againe in our pinnaces to the shippes, and there tooke in fresh water, and made readie sayle towards Reogrande. At our comming thether we entred with the Angel, the Iudith, and the two pinnasses, we found there seven Portugall Carvils, which made great fight with us. In the end by Gods helpe wee won the victory, and drove them to the shore, from whence with the Negroes they fled, we fetcht the carvils from the shore into the river. The next morning sir Frances Drake with his Carvell, the Swallow, the William and Iohn came into the river, with Captaine Dudley and his soldiers, who landed being but a hundred souldiers, and fought with seaven thousande Negroes, burned the towne, and returned to our Generall with the losse of one man.

In that place there be many muske cats, which breed in hollow trees, the Negroes take them in a net and put them in a cage, and nourish them verie daintily, & take the muske from them with a spoone.

Heere we left the Ethyope land, And tooke the Indian voiage in hand.

Heere by the way died Captaine Dudley.

Source: I.H. [Job Hortop], The Travailes of an English Man, Containing His Sundrie Calamiities Indured by the Space of Twentie and Odd Yeres in his Absnece from his Native Countrie (London: William Wright, 1591), 5–9.