James T. Campbell, Navigating the Past: Brown University and the Voyage of the Slave Ship Sally, 1764-65

ForeseeableFutures #7

Position Papers from Imagining America

“What happens if we see our past whole?, How might we take full ownership of our history, not only of the aspects that are gracious and honorable but also of those that are grievous and horrifying?, What responsibilities, if any, rest upon us in the present as inheritors of this mixed legacy? Brown’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice represents one institution’s attempt to answer this question.”

In this essay, originally given as the keynote address for Imagining America’s 2007 conference, James Campbell examines the university’s historical implication in slavery and injustice. Campbell details the reliance on the slave trade of both the Brown family, for whom the university is named, and of the entire Providence business community. Slave ships departing from that port required the services of riggers, caulkers, iron weights, distillers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, apothecaries, surgeons, and more. In his description of the preparations for the middle passage, Campbell draws scrupulously on historical documents to narrate the suffering, deaths, and insurrections on board one particular voyage of the Sally, in 1764-65, commissioned by the Brown family.