Bunce Island and Carriacou

The story begins with Bunce Island, a British slave castle in Sierra Leone operated by the London-based firm of Grant, Oswald & Company. John Mill, one of the firm’s associates, bought a large plantation on Carriacou after British naval forces seized the island from the French in 1762. Mill then convinced several other British investors, all affiliated in various ways with Grant, Oswald & Company, to buy plantations there as well. Mill likely arranged advantageous terms for these investors in return for their buying African captives from Bunce Island, which is located in the Temne region of Sierra Leone. Mill and his investor friends were taking advantage of the fact that with the French planters were leaving, and they could buy up much of the island. Martin found that by the 1770s, these investors owned more than half of Carriacou. He also found Grenadian newspaper advertisements of that period announcing the sale of slaves coming directly from Bunce Island, the use of that name strongly suggesting that that specific origin of the captives was important to the buyers.

The researchers, thus, solved the mystery of why people living on a tiny island in the Caribbean still remember a small tribe in West Africa. We can see now that for several decades these two islands -- Bunce Island and Carriacou -- were strongly connected through the slave trade. Grant, Oswald and Company’s associates owned plantations on other islands, but because Carriacou is so small, and because the firm’s associates controlled so much of it, the Temne slaves they sent to their plantations on Carriacou had a much greater impact there than on the other, much larger islands with much bigger slave populations. Thus, Bunce Island and Carriacou were bound together by the slave castle’s location in the Temne area of Sierra Leone and by the relatively large number of captives it sent to Carriacou.

But some of the Temne captives sent to Carriacou may actually have been free. When Richard Oswald, a senior partner in the London firm that owned Bunce Island, purchased new lands in Florida in the 1760s, he sent some of the castle’s free African workers – mostly Temnes – to help establish his new plantations. Bunce Island’s African workers were highly trained craftsmen, and Oswald needed their skills for the initial building. If John Mill ̶ also a part-owner of Bunce Island ̶ used the same strategy on Carriacou, then some of the Temnes he sent from Sierra Leone would have had highly developed skills and some degree of personal freedom. That would have generated a strong impression of the Temne people, both free and enslaved, among the other plantation slaves already living on Carriacou.