George III

Correspondences on the Slave Trade (1778)

 Below are three correspondences which document King George III’s comments on the slave trade. 

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)
Cite this page
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire (October 3, 2022) George III on the Slave Trade. Retrieved from https://slaverylawpower.org/george-iii-slave-trade/.
"George III on the Slave Trade." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - October 3, 2022, https://slaverylawpower.org/george-iii-slave-trade/
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire June 9, 2021 George III on the Slave Trade., viewed October 3, 2022,<https://slaverylawpower.org/george-iii-slave-trade/>
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - George III on the Slave Trade. [Internet]. [Accessed October 3, 2022]. Available from: https://slaverylawpower.org/george-iii-slave-trade/
"George III on the Slave Trade." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - Accessed October 3, 2022. https://slaverylawpower.org/george-iii-slave-trade/
"George III on the Slave Trade." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire [Online]. Available: https://slaverylawpower.org/george-iii-slave-trade/. [Accessed: October 3, 2022]

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.

George III to Lord North, May 1778

No. 2347—The King to Lord North.

Printed. Donne II. 193.

          LORD NORTH—I have acquainted the Lords Suffolk and Weymouth that as soon as the former can attend on me, and is able to appear at a Chapter of the Garter, I shall conferr that badge of Honour on them and on Lord Rochford.

          When I last Year acquainted you with my intentions of conferring the Office of Warden of the Cinque Ports upon you, I flattered myself this fresh mark of my regard would have stimulated you to continue at the head of the Treasury, and I intended therefore to have put it on the foot of the late Duke of Dorset held it, but certainly never to have granted it for life; the having been persuaded to answer a particular object, when quite ignorant of Public Affairs to grant that Office for life to Lord Holdernesse, is not a reason for my conferring it now in that mode.  I daily find the evil of having put so many employments out of the power of the Crown, and for the rest of my life I will not conferr any in that mode, but where constant practice has made it matter of course.

          The many marks I have given you of my friendship must convince you that when I decline conferring the Cinque Ports on you but during pleasure, that I will never give this office but in that mode; if you still persist in retiring though I feel the detriment it will be to my Service, I will conferr the Cinque Ports during pleasure with an additional Salary to make it equal to the Sum received by Lord Holdernesse, it must be termed an additional Salary, that the income may not be increased whenever the Office shall be in other hands.

          Sir Robert Walpole’s Pension during life was natural, he had firmly for twenty Years withstood a strong Opposition, the Crown deserted him, and his enemies came into Office, no other mode therefore would have done; Mr. Grenville got the reversion of the Tellership before he came into the Treasury as a compensation for his resigning his pretensions to the Speaker’s Chair; Lord Northington’s pension for life was a shameful bargain of the idol of the House of Commons to get the Great Seal for Lord Camden.

           I shall not object in addition to the Cinque Ports during pleasure to grant to your family a reversion of a Tellership of the Exchequer, but should much prefer your remaining at the head of the Treasury where many Opportunities will of course arise by which I may benefit your family without fixing a bad precedent.

          I cannot conclude without expressing some surprise that after my numerous letters you have not concluded the Appointment of Mr. Thurlow, you want to retire, and yet will not take the first Step towards enabling me to arrange matters, that I may acquiesce in your request.

Kew.

May 19th 1778.

     Draft, and fair copy in the King’s handwriting.

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].

No. 2430—The King to Lord North.

Printed.  Donne II. 209.

Windsor Castle Oct. 5th 1778

m/10 pt. 9 A.M.610 minutes past 9 a.m.  George III was extremely particular in his correspondence, and included not only the date of the letter, but the time the letter was written.

          It is impossible more highly to approve than I do of the proposition of attacking Goree, the whole success must depend on the strictest Secrecy, therefore, I must insist on no addition being made as yet to the number of those entrusted with the idea; so weakly are we provided with Troops that the only difficulty that occurs is how to furnish the additional Soldiers; but I trust with a little consideration I shall be able to chalk out means of effecting what I look on as so essential a Service.  It will be necessary I again repeat it that no more be added to the present informed of this Secret untill it is necessary to order the Ships to Sail except Lord Amherst7Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, became Commander-in-Chief of British forces in 1778.  to whom I would only mention the different modes that may occurr as to me of furnishing the Soldiers least destructive to the small means we have to draw from.

          I cannot conclude without expressing my thorough satisfaction that the manner in which I have been received by all Ranks of People on my late tour.  I know from Your attachment that this will give You pleasure.

EARLY ACCESS:  Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
Please do not cite or otherwise reproduce without permission.

  • 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.
  • 6
    10 minutes past 9 a.m.  George III was extremely particular in his correspondence, and included not only the date of the letter, but the time the letter was written.
  • 7
    Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, became Commander-in-Chief of British forces in 1778.