(Calabar, Nigeria): 1842-1845.
A small archive of manuscript documents consisting of four Autograph Letters Signed by Eyo Honesty II, one Autograph Note Signed and a Signed ledger sheet written by Eyamba V, and one contemporary hand-colored engraving (of two African rulers and/or traders, each flanked by an African woman). Also included are two contemporary clippings, one of which has an engraved map of Old Calabar. Light creasing from the original folds, three letters have wax seal remnants, faint staining and scattered small tears to the corners of a few letters, overall very good or better.
A very scarce cache of letters from the two most important Old Calabar towns involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Between 1720 and 1830 over one million slaves were embarked from Calabar, mostly on British ships. Although the British had banned the slave trade in 1808, slavery was not banned in all British territories until 1833, and traders from other nations continued to purchase slaves at Calabar until 1842. The letters date from the historically important moment when the two most prominent Efik kings at Calabar, Eyo Honesty II and Eyamaba V, had given-up their trading monopoly over the supply of slaves captured in the interior, and were replacing it with a plantation system for the cultivation of palm oil. By the 1840s Calabar had become the center for the export of palm oil to industrial Britain.
In 1841 Eyo Honesty and Eyamba sent a letter to Queen Victoria, via a Liverpool-based palm oil trader, asking about new agricultural techniques, European weaponry, and the Bible. This Liverpool-based trader most likely was Captain William Turner, who had developed a close working and personal relationship with both rulers. The archive includes three letters from Eyo Honesty to Captain Turner (and one to another English Captain), and Eyamba’s note also references Turner.
The letters document various aspects of the trading partnership and the friendship between Turner and the Old Calabar kings. In particular, they document the informal “trust trade” system derived from the slave trading days, whereby Turner and other European traders advanced manufactured goods (rum in particular) to Eyo Honesty and other rulers in exchange for palm oil, sugar, etc. Here are two representative excerpts from Eyo Honesty’s letters to Turner. The first letter is not dated:
“Captain Turner / I have send John Eyo Down as you say. But about trade you know what oil I owe you be more than what cask I got from you … Now you stop me from send market … .” He describes difficulties with another English trader and concludes: “I will now take cask for [other] ship – they will want oil that no be my palaver – only you think I got other men to do more good than your[s] – I tell you all I think you no believe – I think all [ ? ] ship want to give me bad name and change my name Honest … .”
The second excerpt is taken from a lengthy three-page letter from 1845, addressed to Turner at Liverpool: “Old Calabar 23 February the 1845”:
“Captain Turner / My old friend & brother for Egbo ... After next year I am very glad to see you for first ship – I think river will come up good. Every body glad to see you & all men very well from Creek Town. Only Tom Eyo King Ebonys been sick long time – And I loose my first Captain – your Queen … send his compliment to you and all your family … I think my pocket a little big this time – And you try best you can to make one Calabar merchant send me out 2 long Egbo Dance cane … I hope you do that as good friend. Dont forget me – also I have write you by plenty men – I dont know if you got my letter or not.
"I Remain your old Friend / King Eyo Honesty head Trader / King Brass Egbo / And Eyamba Brass Egbo z Brother”
The Autograph Note Signed by King Eyamba V dates from 1842: it appears to be a record of an agreement, or “palaver” with Turner. An undated ledger sheet, also written and Signed by Eyamba, appears to be a list of goods advanced to several Old Calabar chiefs, including among others: Duke Ephraim, Henshaw Duke, Mr. Young, Egbo Jack, John Duke, and Tom Eyo.
Also during this period, in response to Eyo Honesty and Eyamba’s 1841 letter to Queen Victoria, Turner served as intermediary between both rulers and leaders of the United Secession Church (a Scottish Presbyterian denomination), and helped the church to establish a West African mission at Calabar in 1842-43. They were the first Europeans permitted to settle ashore in Calabar on lands allocated by Eyamba in Duke Town and by Eyo Honesty in Creek Town.
A historically important cache of letters documenting Eyo Honesty II’s efforts to compensate for the loss of the slave trade by inviting Europeans into his lands to set up industries such as cotton, coffee, and sugar cane that would diversify the economy, in addition to expanding Old Calabar’s production of palm oil.
A detailed list and description of the letters is available upon request.