I am a screenwriter. Currently started developing a screenplay for a feature film with the story happening in Western Africa and Britain in 1770 (+/-).

I know that in Atlantic slave trade scheme ships were coming to Africa from Britain with goods, then slaves were taken and ships were going to America and coming back to Britain with goods from plantations.

My character is taken in Gold Coast, becomes a slave, but I would be happy to find any excuse for her not to be shipped to America, but to be taken straight to Britain.

I have found some links to trading ships, but all of them are going from Africa to America. I still try to find any evidence of any ships going from Africa to Britain directly.

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    But of course many ships went from Africa to the UK directly; just probably not slave trading ships, which I presume is what you meant. So all it would take is for a careless master to buy her in Africa, and then bring her with him to Britain, perhaps on a last "minute" business trip or for a personal visit. You have endless room for creativity here. I say careless because of course, "the air of England is too pure for any slave to breathe" - although that hadn't become the universal interpretation yet.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 23, 2018 at 22:40
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    Let the slaver go wreck and a military ship on urgent mission back home pick up some survivors, too hastily under way to drop them off elsewhere. Feb 23, 2018 at 22:47
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    @Semaphore - As late as 1778 slaveowners in Britian were suing in British courts for their rights of "perpetual servitude", so it seems like in the years under consideration there was still a feeling among some in those domains that it was legal there.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 23, 2018 at 23:17
  • @T.E.D. I did say it wasn't universal, but at the risk of derailing the thread, Wedderburn did try to argue that "perpetual servitude" was somehow not slavery - and went on to lose the case anyway when the Court ruled he had no right to enslave Knight.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 24, 2018 at 2:23
  • @Semaphore As I understand it, any slave who turned up in Britain, and managed to get in front of a judge or a magistrate would immediately be free; there being nothing in the Common Law of England which recognised that a human being could be property. However I am unclear how it was that the West Indian and American courts could find differently - since I assume they were all operating Common Law. Presumably statutes had been enacted. If anyone knows the answer to this I would be very interested.
    – WS2
    Feb 24, 2018 at 23:40

2 Answers 2


There is an easy solution to this. Assume you aim for a certain degree of historical accuracy or at least believability. You let your character get captured in Africa, sold to a British slave trader who intends nothing else but fill a ship full of people to be sold in America. All still conforming to the popular school knowledge of triangle trade, the Amistad like ship sets sail in Africa headed West but then has a mishap at sea.

Usually, seaman in distress are rescued if anyone in the vicinity notices what has happened. If the survivors get picked up by another slaver heading in the same direction that might be some tough luck. But there are other examples:

From your desired year, List of shipwrecks in 1770:

  • Expedition: Great Britain – African slave trade: The ship foundered in the Atlantic Ocean abouth 35 leagues (105 nautical miles (194 km) off the coast of Senegal. Her crew and a passenger were rescued by James ( Great Britain), but not the 110 slaves on board. (Jan, 16)

  • Expedition: Great Britain – African slave trade: The sloop was discovered at sea crewless by Giegson of the River ( Great Britain). Her 110 slaves were taken on board and Expedition was sunk. She was on a voyage from Senegal to the West Indies. (Unknown date)

  • Fly: Great Britain – The ship was wrecked on the coast of Gold Coast, Africa. (unknnown date)

These dates are taken from the register of an insurance company. That the Expedition is listed twice with exact numbers of slaves gives any author the perfect excuse to use the other one as reference when accused of inaccuracies.

These incidents were not entirely uncommon. Traders, military ships went all over the place, also directly from Africa to Britain. The higher the urgency of the voyage for the rescuer the less likely it would be to drop any survivors from the wrecked ship off somewhere else. Perishable goods, military matters, your choice.

Whether plot-wise this is a problem or an opportunity, it should be considered that concerning the exact year:

The Somersett Case in 1772, in which a fugitive slave was freed in England with the judgement that slavery did not exist under English common law and was thus prohibited in England, helped launch the British movement to abolish slavery.

  • Thanks a lot! That can be a good excuse. Will check the links and come up with the story! )
    – Enni
    Feb 26, 2018 at 21:17

If it is the early 1760s, you have a good reason. That is, the Seven Years' War between Britain and France, which lasted until 1763.

Your slave was captured by a French slave trader bound for the French West Indies. This ship, in turn, was captured by a British warship and taken to Britain as a prize of war, along with its "cargo."

  • Thanks! That's an interesting version! Will think of it more!
    – Enni
    Feb 26, 2018 at 21:17

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