Introduction

The following are three correspondences which document George III’s comments on the slave trade.

  • April 1778 letter: from Lord Chief Justice William Murray to George III: asking for advance to peerage for him or his family.
  • May 1778 letter: George III to Lord North; discussing the continued appointment of Lord North to the treasury and refusing to put him in charge of the Cinque Ports
  • October 1778 letter: exchange between George II and Lord North; discussing an attempt on the island of Goree.

Particularly, in the October correspondence, Lord North (Prime Minister of Great Britain) and King George III discuss the possibility of capturing the island of Gorée off the West African coast (now Senegal). The theater of the American Revolutionary War expanded with the entrance of the French into the conflict in 1778, and North and George saw an opportunity to regain territory captured from the French during the Seven Years War (1754-1763) and ceded back to them in the peace treaty.

Capturing Gorée again was an enticing prospect, as it opened up another trading location off the West African coast—trade that included enslaved persons. While there is some dispute between historians over how important Gorée was in the slave trade, it nevertheless was a place where enslaved persons were traded and, most crucially, was viewed as a location worth controlling by the heads of the British and French empires. 

In May 1779, the British Navy captured Gorée and held the island until the Treaty of Paris (1783) ceded the island back to the French. As you read the correspondence between the king and his chief minister, consider how their discussion of this island fits within the criticisms outlined in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence draft.

Lauren Michalak

Further Reading
  • Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
  • Ana Lucia Araujo, Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage, and Slavery
  • James Searing, West African Slavery and Atlantic Commerce: The Senegal River Valley, 1700-1860
Sources
  • Sir John Fortescue, ed., The Correspondence of King George the Third From 1760 to December 1783, vol. 4 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1928), 111, 145-146, 201-203.
    • Original manuscript held by the Georgian Papers Programme, Royal Archives, Windsor Castle  (Lord North letter: GEO/MAIN/3087-3088 (Not yet digitized) & George III letter)
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Section 2

Section 3

Section 4

Section 5

Lord Chief Justice to George III, April 1778

No. 2300—The Lord Chief Justice1Lord Mansfield to the King

MEMORANDUM

To express the Chief Justice’s profound submission to His Majesty’s Royal Pleasure and His Sentiments of Gratitude for His Majesty’s great Goodness to Him and His Family: and that He does repose Himself with so much Security and Confidence in His Majesty’s gracious declaration; that He cannot hesitate a moment to assure His Majesty of his perfect reliance on His Royal Intention to advance to an English Peerage Him or His Family among the next promotion after the present.

April 15, 1778.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

     Endorsed by the King, Memorandum delivered by Mr. de Grey.

     Copy in the King’s handwriting.

Summary

Lord Chief Justice William Murray writes to George III asking for an advance to peerage (the title of a peer) for him or his family.

Lord North to George III, October 1778

No. 2429—Lord North to the King.

          Lord North has the honour of submitting to his Majesty’s consideration an idea, which he has mention’d to Lord Sandwich2John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich, and First Lord of the Admiralty. & Mr. Robinson, & to them only.

          It would not be difficult, or expensive to make an attempt this winter on the Island of Goree & it may be carried into execution without weakening us much at home, & in a manner that is less liable to discovery than any other expedition that can be plan’d.

          Goree was taken in the last War by a small force, & without much difficulty, & Lord North has been inform’d that the French have done nothing to strengthen it since the Peace of Paris3Peace of Paris (1763) resolved the conflict of the Seven Years War and returned Gorée to French control..  If taken it will afford a very useful protection to our African Traders, & contribute to support our very weak establishments on that Continent.

          Sir Edward Hughes is to set out in about a month’s time to convoy the East India Fleet, & is to take with him for that purpose the Superbe of 74 guns, & the Burford of 64.  About the same time it will be right to send a 44 gun ship, and two or three strong frigates to protect the Trade on the Coast of Africa; The Directors of the India Company most earnestly press for another ship of the Line, & Lord Sandwich thinks he can spare the Yarmouth for his service.  This whole fleet (with the addition of two Bomb Vessells, which are ready) might sail together with the Indiamen & would be supposed by every body to be destined for India.  It is but little out of their course to stop at Goree in their way.

The whole force would consist of:

The Superbe              74 Guns

Burford            64
Yarmouth        64

1 Ship                          44
1 Frigate                     32
2 dos.                          28
2 Bomb Ketches        —

          The Land force would be Lord McLeod’s Regt. about 800 recruits that are going to India, & the Marines on board the fleet.  To this should be added another Batallion to accompany them to Goree, & after leaving 4 or 500 men in the Garrison, to return with the rest to Europe.  This Batallion may likewise be supposed to be given to the E. India Company in consequences of their pressing solicitations.

          The destination of this expedition may be perfectly conceal’d with ease, & it will take from this country very little more force than we should be obliged to send to Africa & India without having any such design.  Add to this that the French, who seem to have employ’d their whole force in assembling a great fleet in Europe, & in equipping Mr. D’Estaing4Charles Henri Hector d’Estaing, French Admiral who led the French fleet sent to aid the Americans during the American Revolutionary War., appear, for the present moment at least, to have abandon’d their trade, & their distant settlements to our mercy, so that there is much reason to imagine that Goree will not be able long to resist that armament which we shall send against it & which I dare say, might be still further augmented by a 50 gun ship, which might, when the business is done, return directly to England as convoy to the troops.

          Lord North has the honour of inclosing a state of the force employ’d against Goree under Mr. Keppell5Augustus Keppel, 1st Viscount Keppel, was a Royal Navy officer who led the capture of Gorée during the Seven Years War., who took the place almost without resistance.

          Lord North begs leave to add another List of eight ships of the Line which would sail immediately if they had there complement of men.  That there are seamen enough in the nation is evident from the wonderful facility with which the Privateers man their vessels.  Lord Sandwich says, that the admiralty cannot press on shore without great difficulty, that they have not tenders enough to avail themselves properly of the sailors which arrive in the homeward-bound fleets, & that it would be of no service to press from protections.  It is a pity that some method can not be devised to expedite the manning of the fleet.  If we could carry on that business with more dispatch, Lord North would not despair of having a fleet in the Spring equal to the combined fleets of France & Spain, especially, if Lord Howe returns victorious from America.

          Lord North thought it right just to throw out these ideas for his Majesty’s consideration before he has the honour of paying his duty at St. James’s on Wednesday.

     Bushy Park, Oct. 4 [1778].

Summary

Lord North writes to George III, discussing an attempt on the island of Goree.

Island of Goree

North lists his reasoning for capturing the island of Gorée off the West African coast (now Senegal). His reasons center on ease and inexpensiveness.

  • 1
    Lord Mansfield
  • 2
    John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich, and First Lord of the Admiralty.
  • 3
    Peace of Paris (1763) resolved the conflict of the Seven Years War and returned Gorée to French control.
  • 4
    Charles Henri Hector d’Estaing, French Admiral who led the French fleet sent to aid the Americans during the American Revolutionary War.
  • 5
    Augustus Keppel, 1st Viscount Keppel, was a Royal Navy officer who led the capture of Gorée during the Seven Years War.