Collaboration with Sauratown Project on Unique 18th Century Conditions of enslaved Africans and African Americans

Historian Charles Rodenbough has joined with the Cobb Research Laboratory to investigate a set of unique conditions present in the Sauratown, North Carolina 18th Century archaeological site he has studied for decades. This project provides a set of very rare research topics within the study of the Transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans. These unusual conditions include:

Condition 1. In the case of the enslaved peoples of Sauratown, they were brought from Africa to Antigua and after a period of time re-transported to America to the Dan River in North Carolina. They came in the form of a group, using a transit point on the James River. They may not have been from a single origin in Africa but had lived together as a group in Antigua. They arrived in the US retaining some of their African names and some of their familial African connections, for at least some time. There was no apparent rush to break the connection to their former conditions.

Condition 2. With the enslaved peoples of Sauratown, the group was brought from Africa to Antigua  where they were placed in the sugar industry, which was perhaps the most physically difficult form of agricultural labor. It was so difficult that the average life expectancy of an adult slave on Antigua was seven years requiring a constant influx of slaves to match the mortality rate.  Therefore, when they were transported in 1773 a second time to the Dan River in North Carolina, they were coming from the harsh conditions of sugar production to a tobacco plantation, roughly equivalent to the conditions in Africa but still without their freedom. This pattern, of transitioning from free/subsistence agriculture, to extremely harsh sugar production/slavery, to tolerable tobacco plantation slavery was rare. To find an identifiable group of slaves following this same pattern together is rare.  The impact on the individual would have been from security to terror transport, to deadly labor, to uncertain transport, to a literal Land of Eden setting of slavery. 

Condition 3. The original list in 1773 of the enslaved of Sauratown numbered about 80 people of all ages and both sexes.  There are subsequent lists made for different purposes in 1784, 1790, 1799, and 1807, a period of almost 30 years which is rare in itself, for a single group for so long. With a base of 80 people, both sexes and all ages, coming from a mortality limits of seven years duration in Antigua, the combination of the numbers never exceeds 80 but instead decreases. This is even adjusted for the single sale of some slaves by Rev. John Dunbar. What should have been the normal population of the slaves on those years taking into account birth and death rates but improved living and working circumstances? Why do the changing conditions of the labor seem to be unreflective in the numbers?

Condition 4. The Sauratown slaves were allowed access by Moravian missionaries on Antigua and some became Christian converts from Islam or from African tribal religions. That meant that the group contained three faith traditions: Islam, African Tribal, and Christian. Because they had no direct access to any purveyors of any of the faiths, what faith tradition do they assume for themselves? Why did the Moravians, only 50 miles away from Sauratown, make no effort to minister to the enslaved Africans/African Americans particularly since they and the Moravians knew each other were nearby. 

Condition 5. Francis and James Parke Farley, the owners of the enslaved Africans/African Americans, appear to have made advance preparation prior to the transfer from Antigua to the Dan River, by providing instruction in newly accommodated agricultural practices of English farming, i.e., crop rotation. What impact would that have had on a tobacco plantation where the enslaved were introduced to the new horticulture practices as they were forced to transition from sugar cane production to tobacco production? 

In each of these conditions connected with the story of the enslaved of Sauratown there are variables that are not commonly observable elsewhere.  It is the combination of conditions that makes the Sauratown case so interesting. The Cobb Research Laboratory is requesting that researchers interested in collaborating on this unique project contact us to set up a meeting with Charles Rodenbough who will be visiting the lab in mid-August.  Please send an e-mail to: sherese.taylor@howard.edu to set up an appointment with Mr. Rodenbough or contact Mr. Rodenbough directly at: rodenboughc@bellsouth.com