Excerpt from the Book
The Select Committee on the Slave Trade (1790)
In April 1790 a British Government Select Committee called Charles Berns Wadstrom to testify before them. They published his testimony on 11 May 1790 in a report entitled Minutes of the evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Slave Trade.
In discussing the kidnapping and mass enslavement of Africans, the Select Committee cross examined a number of expert witnesses who had first-hand experience of the enslaving process. Mr Wadstrom, for example, was particularly well informed about its impact on the West African territories today called Senegal, Gambia, and Gorée Island. What follows here is taken from his testimony given on 29 April 1790.
The Select Committee was keen to know about the quality of culture in that part of Africa. They asked Wadstrom: “Have they any manufactures amongst them?”
Mr Wadstrom’s reply was most edifying: “I have been surprised to see with what industry they manufacture their cottons, their indigo, and other dying articles, as well as several sorts of manufacture in wood; they make soap; they tan leather, and work it exceedingly well, and even with good taste … theywork bar iron … into several articles, as for instance, lances, instruments for tillage, poniards, &c.; they work in gold very ingeniously, and so well, that Inever have seen better made articles of that kind in Europe; a great number of articles for ornaments of gold, silver, brass, leather, &c.” (Minutes of the evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Slave Trade, p.32, by Norris et al.)
Wadstrom further stated that: “Their cloth and their leather they manufacture with uncommon neatness; and I have samples with me to shew [sic] in case it should be desired.” (Ibid., p.33.)
From the Wadstrom testimony, additional facts emerged. The King of that region was called Dalmanny. A well educated man, he held the position of Grand Marabout before his election as King. His subjects were very honest and hospitable and showed Wadstrom “all civility and kindness.” In addition, they had “an extraordinary genius for commerce.” Interestingly, they also had a “Materia Medica” of “about 2,000 or nearer 3,000” plants. (Ibid., pp.28-36.)
King Dalmanny “had entirely prohibited the Slave trade throughout his whole Kingdom.” He also banned the sale of alcohol. However, the Senegal Company, a French concern, initially attempted to bribe the King to change his policy on the trade in people, but he refused their presents. Consequently, the Senegal Company resorted to bribing the lighter-skinned Moors to attack and kidnap Dalmanny’s subjects. The Company supplied the Moors with thenecessary arms, gunpowder and ammunition to carry out the raids.
The result of the aggression, according to Wadstrom, was “the chief hindrance to the improvement of the cultivation; in so far as the Negroes never venture to go out into the fields unless very well armed.” (Ibid., p.36.) Significantly, the Select Committee asked: “Do you mean to say, that if the Slave Trade was abolished, they would extend their cultivation and manufactures?”
Wadstrom answered: “Yes; particularly if some good European people had enterprising spirit enough to settle among them in another way than is the case at present.” (Ibid., p.35.)
The testimony of Charles Wadstrom is highly important. How many people know that Africans used to manufacture soap? How many people are aware that Africans manufactured in gold so well that no better made articles of the goldsmith’s craft were to be found in Europe?
This is also evidence that the image of a primitive and backward Africa was NOT believed by the British Government. They knew better. This is noteworthy and ironic since they were the leading players behind the kidnapping and mass enslavement of Africans! Moreover, the Select Committee were shown exquisite items of African manufacture that may STILL be in the possession of the British Government or its kindred institutions.
Other witnesses before the Select Committee mentioned the large number of West Africans who were trilingual - i.e. fluent in English, French and Portuguese - in addition to speaking their own languages Wolof, Mandinga, etc. This high facility with language occurs over and over in African history.