Archives de William DAVENPORT-I

             On lève timidement le voile sur les archives de certaines familles qui furent engagées sur les côtes africaines.


                                           ARCHIVES OF WILLIAM DAVENPORT (1725-1797) 

William Davenport (1725-1797) was an important Liverpool merchant and shipowner involved in the slave trade, as well as trading in beads, ivory, sugar, coffee and tobacco.

William Davenport was born in London in October 1725, the third son of Davies Davenport and Penelope Ward. The Davenports were a Cheshire gentry family and Davies was heir to the family estates as well as a member of Gray's Inn and the Inner Temple. Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire was added to the family's property when Davies married Penelope Ward. Penelope and Davies had ten children, seven of them boys. The eldest of them, John, died early leaving the second son, Davies, to follow a legal career and he later inherited the family estates in Cheshire. Very little is known of William's early life but in 1741 he was apprenticed to William Whaley, a Liverpool merchant and slave trader.1

It was through his apprenticeship with Whaley that William Davenport became involved in overseas trade, especially the slave trade in which he was to specialise for his entire career. William Davenport was also engaged in the Mediterranean trade in partnership with members of the Earle family, a leading Liverpool merchant family. In 1766 he was trading beads in partnership with the brothers Ralph, Thomas and William Earle, together with Peter Holme, Thomas Hodgson and John Copeland.2 In the 18th century, Venice was the main supply centre for beads, especially for English slave-traders, and William Davenport's bead book, which has been analysed by David Richardson, shows that he sold beads to the value of approximately £39,000 between July 1766 and July 1770, with almost all of the beads being sold for use in the African trade.3

William Davenport was also in partnership with William and Ralph Earle, in ships trading to Africa, for example, the Chesterfield, for a voyage to Old Calabar in July 1757 and the Friendship, a prize taken from the French and used by the partnership for trading to Old Calabar and America in the 1760s.4

During his career, Davenport invested in about 160 slaving voyages in about 70 vessels. Details of several of these voyages can be found in the account books, wages books and correspondence in this collection.

William Davenport never married and died a bachelor in 1797. According to his obituary in Billinge's Liverpool Advertiser of 28 August 1797, he left his fortune to his brother Richard of Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire and his nephew Davies Davenport of Capesthorne. He was buried at St. Nicholas' Church, Prescot.5

Although nothing is known for certain, it is probable that at his death, his papers were taken to the family estate at Capesthorne. It is known that they were found in a barn somewhere in Cheshire over 50 years ago, where they were rescued from being burnt on a bonfire.

The Davenport collection comprises 13 volumes and 13 bundles of correspondence and documents, relating to his involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. They have been described as unique in terms of their coverage of voyages of a private trader operating from one of the major provincial ports of Britain. The collection is of central importance to the maritime and mercantile history of Liverpool. The collection was purchased in 2001 with the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Unfortunately, many items in the Davenport collection are fragile and require conservation treatment before they can be made available to the public, and at certain times, items may be withdrawn from public access to undergo conservation work. In order to preserve their original order, wherever possible, the contents of the bundles have been retained as they were found, with sorting being limited to date order. In the main, the bundles all relate to one subject, but occasionally had mixed contents, and this is reflected in the list.



Letter from captain POTTER on Badgers at Cameroons to WILLIAM DAVENPORT &CO

                                                                                                                   Camaroons Octr ye 15th 1776

            Messrs. Wm. Davenport & Co.

         Gentn. I take this my first opportunity to aquaint you of my safe Arrival at the Cape ye 9th. July, after a Passage of 62 days: we had been from Liverpool 33 Days when in the Latt. 9.47 N, Long. 25.8 W on ye tenth day of June at Eleven O'Clock at Night there came on all of a suddin a very heavy squall and tho we had all hour small sails stay sails & all handed yet before we could get the Top Sails down the Foremast gave way Eight feet below the Top, the Top fell in the fore chains right between the small bower anchor & the gunwale, the foreyard Top Mast Fore & Main Top Gallt. Masts & Fore Top Gallt. yard all broke by the fall Lucky it was that ye Main Top Mast did not go along with the rest after we had got what sails Handed we had yet left standing I layd. her too under the Mizzn. stay sail & then began to think what was best to be don with the wreck but through the Darkness of the Night which was so Excessive that we could not find beginning or ending as it all Lay in such a mangled condition & most or all over the side in the Water except ye Fore Mast & as the Squall soon Abated & no grate swell going I let all be till day Light when we began & before night we got all safe on board again, I not suffering any body to cutt even the smallest Rope belonging thereto; the next thing we had to doe was to get up a Jury Mast which took us three Days in completing; on the 14th. we made Sail again: at my Arrival here I found Capt. Smale with about sixty slaves on board. Capt. Richardson left the River eight Days before I Arrivd. with 250 slaves & 7,800 lb. of Ivory. Capt. Hurst is not arrived yet nor have (2) we heard anything of him. the Trade is at present very Slack I have only 81 slaves paid for and 3943 lb. of Ivory I might indeed have had more Slaves had it not been on Acct. of getting a new Mast which lost me a deal of time Besides expense & trouble tho' the latter I reacon no thing. When I first arrived I bought a Tree from Aqua at Prn.Town, this took us ten Days in Makeing & when it was finishd we slung it to both boats and brought it alongside it being in the afternoon & ye Sea Breezes blowing pretty frish with a strong ebb tide we had much adoe to keep the Boats Gunwale above water we got a Strop on ye head of the Mast with a Cable(?) from the sheers head to Light it up a little out of the Water that we might get to lash our Purchase; when unfortunately the strap altho' new Lanyard Stuff broke; when the Mast being a great weight it sunk like a stone and first the steel(?) being Slung to ye punt luckily slipt through or else the punt with 4 White & 4 Black whould have gone down along with it, the punt being almost full when it slipt loose; this was another bad misfortune; after all our trouble Time & Expense, ye next Day we swept for it & for 5 or 6 days after but never could get hold of it again so I was oblig.d to buy another tree this after we had cut it down prov.d to be quite hollow from End to End this was another Loss & I was some time before I could light on another to my liking but however found one at last about a Mile on the back of Peters Town, this I also bought from Aqua this took us eight Days in getting it down to ye water side & I was Oblig.d to hire 20 black people to help us & then most times cable(?) upon cable(?) however it has made us a 

good Mast & although it was a great weight yet we got it in very (3) well so that now I have everything in Repair again. the Whole Experience attending the Mast came to 15.5 Bars. Capt. Small assisted me greatly with his Carpenter as mine was Sickly & not able to do much, we have been very agreeable Neighbours. I rec'd yrs & Capt. Dwyers of the 10th. June & have note ye contents; it gives me great Satisfaction to hear that there will be nobody on the back of me, for this River is not fit for two vessels, as times now are I am sadly afraid I shall not be able to make the purchase Mr. Davenport expects as the Letter as the Gent.n knows I shall be short of small articles such as Glasses, Flaggons, Hatts, Caps Kirs(?) all these things I have to buy in as they were only laid in for 350 slaves & no Allowance made for Dashes: yet I might make a Shift if my Salt will but hold out this I am more afraid of than anything as I cannot buy a slave under 19 or 20 Barrs; however the Gentle.n may be fully assured of my doing all that lies in my in making as much of everything as possible. I have hereto only given 75 pints & change 20 makes 95 but now I have put on 5 more makes 100 ye rest of the Articles are as usual excepting ye Salt as above mentioned; I have had the misfortune to part with three Slaves (that is: two died the other was one of ye Doctors' Guests, which had just recovered a fit of sickness & as we let them up in the morning he ran immediately to the Gangway & jumpt Streight overboard & tho' we were instantly in both Boats after him yet before either could reach him he went down & we saw him no more, the Rest of the slaves are all very well. I have buried Six White People as the Death List the rest of us are all very well. I cannot satisfy the Gentns curiosity so pleasingly as I would wish in Regard to the ship's sailing, wether it was (4) owing to her being heavy laden or what I cannot tell but I never get above seven & half knots out of her when before the wind in sailing large or with the wind a point abaft the beam eight & half close five & half & six She is one of the easiest vessels by the Wind that ever was known & one of the compleatest Guineamen of the Times. I think she will sail much better when she is lighter which I shall not fail acquainting the Gent.n with at my Arrival in the West Indies please God I live; I am not so happy in Mr. Anderson as I could wish. Whatever he might have been when Master he makes but an indifferent Mate, my Doctor is a very cleaver sober young Man and behaves Exceeding well as does my second Mate Mr. Evans. I expect I shall be leaving the River about the middle of January if all goes well, in the maintime I remain wishing you a happy sight of your ship Badger which I hope will be after a Prosperous Voyage & I am Gentn. your very humble Servt.

                                                                                             Peter Potter




Death List

Steph.n Nash Died Augst. 10th

John Codners Died Augst. 17th

James Curry Died August 7th

James Answorth Died Sept. 16th

Benjeman Burton Died Sept. 12th

John Wood Died August 20th