New documents online

Alongside the images on display in the exhibition, the Prize Papers Project has published the complete records of two captured French ships involved in the slave trade: L'Abraham of Nantes (HCA 32/97/1) and the Postillon of Nantes (HCA 32/143/19). The documents found on board these ships are numerous and extremely valuable in providing us with information about the Atlantic slave trade. These papers were previously unknown to the public. 

The data was collected by Lisa Magnin for the Abraham and by Cindy Hazelton for the Postillon.

Go to the Prize Papers Portal 

The Prize Papers is a vast, varied, and largely unexplored archive, with enormous potential to deepen and enrich scholarly and public understandings of the history of slavery. The documents and objects contained within the Prize Papers reveal, often in granular detail, the operation of the transatlantic trade in enslaved people and the diverse group of the people who were involved in it. Of particular importance, is the potential to bring to the surface textured histories of enslaved people. There are fleeting, fragmentary, glimpses into the lives of enslaved individuals, such as "Dick" who resisted his enslavement by running from his enslaver, or "Wilhemina", a formerly enslaved women who petitioned for the freedom of her son. Further research into this important and unparalleled archive promises to shed even more light on the many ways that individuals experienced, and challenged, slavery in the early modern Atlantic world. 

Dr Misha Ewen, is a Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Bristol and author of ”The Virginia Venture: American Colonization and English Society, 1580-1660” (Penn, 2022)

The Abraham was a French merchant ship that was captured by English privateers between Martinique and Nantes on 4 June 1745. It had left Nantes in November 1743 and spent more than six months on the coast of Guinea with the main aim of acquiring men, women and children to be used as slave labour in Martinique, where the ship then went. The privateers confiscated hundreds of documents from the ship: ship papers, mail in transit, accounting documents and the personal archives of some of the crew members, which provide us with very detailed information about the slave trade. Working on this ship was emotionally challenging, given the vast number of documents produced by the slavers and recounting human tragedies in a cold and mercantile manner, but the meticulous reading of the crew members' mail in particular also shed light on the little-documented period of detention of enslaved people before the Atlantic crossing, bringing to light their (attempted) escape and rebellion.

Lisa Magnin, University of Fribourg and University of Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne

Working on this project is the most consequential thing I have ever done. Of course, I had read about the Atlantic slave trade, but seeing the actual documents and letters found on the Postillon de Nantes made the history come to life for me.   As did visiting the city of Nantes and standing on the dock from which the slave ships left for Africa and the Caribbean.

This project will open the historical record to researchers and historians for many years to come. Its importance is incalculable.

Cynthia L. Hazelton, volunteer in the Prize Papers Project, Cleveland, Ohio, USA