1500-1799 | Saint Kitts and Nevis | Slavery

As slave ship docks at St. Kitts 33 slaves leap to their deaths

Diagram of a slave ship c. 1790.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

14 March 1737

On 14 March 1737, the Prince of Orange, a small 80 ton Bristol registered vessel crammed with 251 African slaves, arrived at St. Kitts in the West Indies. Japhet Bird, the ship’s captain, hoped to make a handsome profit on his cargo when they were sold at auction to the island’s sugar plantation owners.  Many of the slaves, however, having survived a long Atlantic crossing, chained in the hold with no space to move and little to eat, were determined to escape further imprisonment and misery the only way they could – by leaping into the sea.1 The Captain explained that ‘I thought all our Troubles of this Voyage was over; but on the contrary I might say that Dangers rest on the Borders of Security’, adding that at five o’clock on the day of the ship’s arrival, ‘to our great amazement about a hundred Men Slaves jumped overboard.’ Most of the twenty five strong crew were immediately deployed to rescue them, but thirty three slaves died. According to Bird, they ‘would not endeavour to save themselves but resolved to die, and sank directly down.’2


  1. David Richardson ( Editor ), Bristol, Africa and the Eighteenth Century Slave Trade to America: Volume 2: The Years of Ascendancy, 1730-1745, Bristol Record Society, Bristol, 1987, p. 66 and p. 75 accessed at url https://www.bristol.ac.uk/Depts/History/bristolrecordsociety/publications/brs39.pdf
  2. Captain Japhet Bird cited in James Walvin, Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery, Harper Collins, 1992, London, p. 234.

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