Sources

The documentation related to the activities of Courts of Mixed Commission charged with suppressing the slave trade is mostly held in the British National Archives, London in the collections of the Foreign Office (FO) and Colonial Office (CO). There are of course other collections of documents related to these court cases housed in the archives of the nations who had participated in the suppression of the trans-Atlantic slave trade; hence Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, etc... In addition, there are other records scattered in the places where the courts were once located, such as Sierra Leone, Angola, Cuba, Brazil, Suriname, etc... Pulling together these data is therefore an exhaustive process and requires the collaboration of an international network of researchers and scholars.


In 2012, the British National Archive finished digitizing the FO 84 series and made them openly accessible online. The trials associated with the condemnation of slave ships arriving to Cuba in contravention to the Anglo-Spanish slave trade treaty of 1817 involved a relatively consistent and standard set of record keeping. Much like any court case, each trial in Havana had a unique set of circumstances. Mostly, the judicial process followed a template, but at other times it did not. This website maintains the judicial process. Typically, each case had: 1) a report and decision on the legality of the seizure of a slave vessel, 2) the declaration of the captor (usually the commander of a British ship of War), 3) an abstract of the evidence, 4) the sentence, 5) an expense report related to the cost of the trial, and between 1824 and 1841, 6) a register of Liberated Africans. After 1833, the process becomes more complicated as Great Britain and Spain decided to remove these people from Cuba to British Colonies in the Caribbean.


This website is organized accordingly. There is a page containing summaries and copies of the Anglo-Spanish treaties and other legislation created for expediting the judicial process and treatment of Liberated Africans. There is also a page which displays the hierarchal structure of this court and lists the names of court officials on both the British and Spanish side. The bulk of this website contains a page for each the first 44 successful convictions and provides a summary of the trial with a map. The summary outlines where the voyage began, the port of embarkation in Africa, details and location of the ship's capture, how many people died during the middle passage and trial; and how many people were issued emancipation certificates. Following the trial summary, there are links to pdf copies of the original and key documentation from the FO 84 series, followed by multiple copies of Registers of Liberated Africans and a downloadable copy of an Excel database of for each register.


Registers of Liberated Africans vary in size and composition and between regions, periods and number of copies. For example, the collections made in Sierra Leone, which are sometimes in duplicate and triplicate copies, amount to hundreds of slave ships and over 80,000 individuals. The data therein, depending on the version, include: transliterations of African names, approximate ages, stature in feet and inches, and sometimes, a country of origin. In comparison, Registers of Liberated Africans made in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil do not include African names. Otherwise, the records from Havana are especially unique because they include: African name, Christian name, age, sex, height, a two-to-three line physical description per person, the names of the interpreters used during the registration process. There is also column of data labeled nación (nation), which reflects colonial terms unique to Cuba used to describe an individual place of origin in West Africa. Each page of the cases, provides tables of information related to the demographic of the slave ship, as well as the representation of "nations." Since African names were recorded at Havana, the interpretation of these transliteration provide additional clues regarding likely ethnolinguistic origins, and when possible, another table will exhibit the languages of names represented on each ship whenever possible.


Since there is so much data already available for so many people, each page has a section dedicated to other resources related to the trial and the people. After emancipation, the lives of these people did not end. Many were baptized in Havana's churches, most became apprentices or free laborers in Cuban corporations or for private individuals and many left Cuba for other places in the British Caribbean. The Christian names, which were assigned during the registration process and the name of the ship, are especially useful for following groups of people. The main goal is to have a place where the trials of the Havana Slave Commission and the lives of thousands of individuals can be pieced back together.


Baptism records have become a major source of additional information. Currently, there are several churches in Havana with records of Liberated Africans, often including the Christian name and the ship name. While attempts are made to include some records, links to images are not always complete and the focus has so far been the church of Jesús María y José. In any event, references to the baptism are available and can be accessed via the Ecclesiastical & Secular Sources for Slave Societies website.


In time, this website may incorporate the cases at other Courts of Mixed Commission. After all there are hundreds of other trials that took place elsewhere involving tens of thousands of individuals, each one with a story worth telling.