1500-1799 | Slavery

The First Liverpool slave ship sets sail

William Jackson, ‘A Liverpool Slave Ship,’
Oil on Canvas. Merseyside Maritime Museum.

3 October 1699

On 3 October 1699, the first slave ship set sail from Liverpool. The Liverpool Merchant, under the command of Captain William Webster, sailed down the Mersey headed for the coast of West Africa where she picked up her captive human cargo. In September the following year, Webster sold the 220 Africans who had survived the journey for £4,239, equivalent to approximately one million pounds today.

Most are likely to have been forced to work long hours under harsh conditions on the island’s sugar plantations.  Sir Thomas Johnson, one of the co-owners of the ship, is still held in high regard today as the ‘founder of modern Liverpool’ with one of the city’s streets, ‘Sir Thomas Street,’ named after him.  In contrast, none of the names of the enslaved Africans are known, and they were probably accorded only numbers in the ship’s log book.1 Liverpool’s role in the international slave trade grew steadily through the eighteenth century. By the 1730s, there were about 15 slave ships leaving the port each year, by 1752, 88 ships that traded 25,820 slaves and by 1771, 106 ships that bought, carried and sold 28,200 slaves.2  By the end of the eighteenth century, Liverpool’s slave ships alone had transported approximately 1.5 million Africans into slavery.

Sir Thomas Hotel on the corner of Sir Thomas Street.
Richard Hoare – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Geograph.


  1. ‘Liverpool and the transatlantic slave trade’ accessed online at http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/srd/liverpool.aspx and Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Pluto Press London, 2010, p. 35.
  2. Peter Fryer, op cit., p. 36.

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