The Two Princes of Calabar [Chapter 1] Sparknotes

Chapter 1: “A Very Bloody Transaction”

  • Ruler of OT: Grandy King George. His brothers were Amboe Robin John and Ephraim Robin Robin John. Ancona Robin Robin John was his nephew.
  • Grandy King George – formerly known as Ephraim Robin John; obsessed with matching the English monarch’s images by taking in many different aspects of the culture. This included that “the king and his sons relieved themselves in English pewter piss pots, washed in large imported brass basins, and shaved with English razors they had imported through the English slave traders.”
  • OT’s “lesser gentry” – principal slave traders
  • In this particular meeting of slave traders of OT and of England, there were about 400 men from OT headed out to trade.
  • New Town = Duke Town
  • “comey”/”coomey” = “a custom’s duty based on the ship’s tonnage, to the king of the town with which [Europeans] planned to trade…”
  • OT was probably established in the mid to late 1600s “on a high hill overlooking a ten-mile stretch of the Calabar River, an advantageous position to capitalize on the arrival of European slave traders in Old Calabar.”
  • OC was one of the major slave exporting areas of Western Africa. This made OT one of the primary sellers in their area (The Bight of Biafra), which made the Robin Johns the object of envy of other local slave trading families.
  • “Sometime between the late seventeenth century and the mid-eighteenth, one of those families, the Dukes, originally from Creek town, established a new trading center farther down the Calabar River at Atakpa (also known as New Town and later as Duke Town), and a long and bitter struggle ensued between Old Town and New Town for preeminence in the slave trade.”
  • The long going rivalry had gone on to the point that they were keeping each other from capturing slaves.
  • The captains of the Euro. ships offered to be mediators between OT & NT, and GKG was eager to end the feud’s consequences. He presented one of his favorite women to NT’s leader Duke Ephraim as a wife.
  • While GKG is preparing for a party and a treaty, DE is preparing for battle. He set up an ambush plan with the English captains in order to finally put an end the the rule of the Robin John’s.
  • DE had kept up an alliance with another nearby (and in decline) town called Creek Town.
  • Creek Town was lead by Eyo Nsa, also known as Eyo Honesty I or Willy Honesty by the Europeans [due to his honorable trades]
  • Eyo Nsa was “not of noble birth, and may even have been born a slave,  but through marriage, hard work, intelligence, courage, and ruthlessness, he rose to the chief position in Creek Town…Eyo Nsa was celebrated for his bravery and feared for his cruelty.”
  • Eyo Nsa wanted the Robin Johns done with as much as DE did.
  • The plan against the Robin Johns looks very much like EN’s creation.
  • Why would the English help with this plan? To resume commerce, or maybe because the rivalry threatened the status quo.
  • Plus, Cpt. James Berry of Liverpool had a bone to pick with the Robin Johns. They “refused to meet his terms, so Berry forced them to trade by simply waiting on his ship for fifteen days until he wore them down to his price.” This made them upset, so A.) Ephraim Robin John (GKG) refused to give Berry his son for a pledge, as was customary” and B.) they held went out and kidnapped Berry off of his ship and held him hostage for 29 days until he payed them what they wanted. Then they the forced him “‘to give severall Books and one [account book] to clear him of all palaver with me.'”
  • Berry, however, did get along very well with the Dukes. He was also a bit of a baby about the whole thing, swearing vengeance.
  • 1764 Cpt. James Briggs had a violent encounter with the Robin Johns, of which the details do not survive.
  • English captains were getting real tired of the crap between OT & NT, so they had tactics to try and force trade. One such tactic was called rowing guard: “English captains but boats into the river to stop Efik caones. They captured the traders [Efiks], and then held them hostage until they agreed to sell slaves at a reasonable price. They also cut the Efik off from their supply of slaves by barring their passage upriver.”
  • At one time, the aforementioned Briggs sent his chief mate and some men to perform the rowing guard against Orrock Robin John, who subsequently put a musket shot through the head of the first mate when chased into the bush.
  • Captains James Bivins, Ambrose Lace, John Lewis, James Maxwell, and Nonus Parke each brought members of the Robin John family onboard of their ships to stay for the duration of the treaty that would never happen.
  • GKG, his sons Otto Ephraim, his brothers Amboe and Little Ephraim Robin John, and his nephew Ancona Robin Robin John all spent the first night on the ship of Cpt. John Lewis, the Indian Queen.
  • The next morning, they split up. Amboe, Little Ephraim, Ancona went to the ship of Cpt. Ambrose Lace, the Edgar to deliver a letter to Lace. From there they went about the other ships delivering other letters. Finally, they boarded the Duke of York, the ship of Cpt. James Bivins, where they were captured [on signal from Cpt. Lace]. Then, the ships opened fire on OT and on the boats of men from OT.
  • Amboe tried to escape and was captured and beaten up pretty badly, LERJ & ARRJ tried to escape a different route and were captured and restrained.
  • The captains of the Hector (Cpt. John Washington) and of the Concord (Cpt. William Bishop) would not join in on the ambush of OT.
  • Canoes of men from both NT & Creek Town joined in on the attack, and “The river literally ran red with blood”.
  • Eyo Nsa came up to the Duke of York and asked for Amboe in exchange for one of his men and the first slaving ship. Bivins handed him over, and Eyo Nsa succinctly chopped off his head.
  • Eyo Nsa wanted LERJ & ARRJ as well, but Bivins said he wouldn’t hand them over until the slaves had been agreed upon. Good thing for them his was a lying skeeze.
  • GKG escaped the Edgar by the skin of his teeth. There are two different stories of his escape: 1.) That he told his nephew and son to stay behind as he leapt overboard, and 2.) That he fought and killed two of the English attackers in the path to his freedom. Either way, he jumped overboard into a canoe and made it to shore, miraculously surviving artillery that destroyed the canoe he was in. Stories say he had 11 wounds, but that he was rescued and treated by one of the Englishmen from a ship that did not take part in the ambush.
  • The Robin Johns set to letter writing, begging for their family to be sent home. Lace kept Otto Ephraim i=with him, sending hime to England for schooling. LERJ & ARRJ’s whereabouts stayed unknown.
  • What became to be known as The  Massacre of 1767 devastated OT, and it was never as prosperous.
  • Years on down the road, Cpt. Lace denied that any of the English there that day had anything to do with the massacre. However, there isn’t hardly any evidence that supports this claim, and plenty that supports the contrary.
  • The Englishmen’s participation in the massacre went against the Acts of Parliament for Regulating the Slave Trade.
  • 400 of the men of OT were killed/enslaved that day.

2 responses

  1. Maggie, I found this very interesting, I have just come back from Calabar old town and found reference to Grandy Robin John whilst I was there, so your article gave me some background info. Many thanks, where did you find it?

    • I actually wrote this myself! I had to read a book called The Two Princes of Calabar for a history class last semester, and noticed that there were no reading guides/Sparknotes for it anywhere online, so naturally I decided to help other students out by writing it and publishing it with the keyword Sparknotes in the title so that they would be able to find it easily with a Google search. I’m glad it helped!

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