The Two Princes of Calabar [Chapter 6] Sparknotes

Chapter 6: “We Go Home to Old Calabar”

  • Feb. 1774, the ship they were to head home on (the Maria) left, but had to come back in to port again because of the weather. They were finally able to leave port on March 12, 1774.
  • Surprise surprise, it was a slave ship, and was very old. The captain was William Flyod, who had been serving on the Indian Queen as second captain at the time of the Massacre. The ship wrecked off the desert island of Boa Vista, “an accident that Ephraim and Ancona blamed on the drunken incompetence of Captain Floyd.” They were rescued by a ship that was passing by, and had to return to Bristol.
  • Ephraim was the more stressed out of the two by the whole situation, while Ancona was pretty chill (according to Elizabeth Johnson, with whom they stayed after returning to Bristol)
  • The kindness of Thomas Jones by this point was “exhausted, or, more likely, the Africans were proving more of an economic liability than an asset.” He vocalized often of how much they owed to him, and Ephraim worried a lot about paying him back.
  • The book tries to explain why the RJs would go back to slave trading (which they did). Long story short, it was engrained into them, as the way we hate slavery is into us.
  • September 1774 – Jones, who is all this time bound by the treaty in court, finds another ship for the RJs to travel home on.
  • October 14, 1774, the RJs set sail on the Cato for OC.
  • It was more than a year before those who had grown close to the RJs in Bristol got word of their safe arrival home.
  • “Evidence suggests that Little Ephraim did engage in the slave trade after his return; he had little choice, as he suggested to Wesley, given the economic importance of the trade to Old Calabar and his position in the family. Oral tradition from Old Calabar relates that Little Ephraim and Ancona were responsible for the spread of Christianity there after their return.”
  • Many missions/missionaries came to the area in the years that followed the ordeal, though sometimes they were sought out more for their ability to teach and less for their desire to evangelize.
  • “It does not appear that the Robin Johns’ efforts to teach Christianity made any lasting impressions on Old Calabar; at least the early missionaries found no trace of Christian worship there.”
  • Many Methodists used the story of the RJs to teach.
  • The book describes the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and how many of the men in the society worked for abolition.

The Two Princes of Calabar [Chapter 5] Sparknotes

Chapter 5: “A Very Blessed Time”

  • The RJs were interested in learning about the Christian God.
  • For a period of time, there was debate as to whether or not baptism freed a slave. Almost always it was ruled that it did not.
  • ARRJ “implied that his faith in Christianity began in Virginia. When he described his suffering at the hands of John Thompson he wrote, ‘I Hop[e] almight[y] great God he observe me from all great Danger so did.’ The ‘great God’ he called upon could have been Abasi, the high god of the Efik, through the fact that he wrote this passage to Charles Wesley strongly suggests that he referred to the Christian God.”
  • “Early missionaries found the Efik to be remarkably inclusive in their worship…”
  • The Efik believed that their God ruled over their land, but that the Christian God ruled everything else.
  • The Efik traders wanted to adhere to English cultures
  • “Methodism attracted African and African American converts in British North America and in England, and the Robin Johns’ experience can be compared with that of other Africans in the eighteenth century…Methodists sought ‘a collective, emancipating sense of divine power’.”
  • “…slaves found in Christianity a language of protest, liberation, and reform, and they appropriated it, melded it with traditional African beliefs, and created their own rich, synthetic religious systems.”
  • The slaves “found a sense of release and spiritual empowerment…’the liberated self–sanctified and redeemed.’ The Robin Johns prayed that ‘God will make we have strength and Knowledge to serve him.'”
  • They used Christian faith to endear themselves
  • Conversion was an act of defiance
  • Bristol was the “cradle of English Methodism”
  • The Robin Johns grew close to the families of John and Charles Wesley, and to Elizabeth Johnson, a woman who was excommunicated by her family because of her faith.
  • Were the RJs religious trophies?
  • Bottom line, John and Charles loved slaves, and detested the slave trade. It is probable that they expressed this to the RJs, who were traders themselves, but they were able to successfully convert and carry on relationships with them anyway.
  • Many different evangelists used the story of the RJs.

The Two Princes of Calabar [Chapter 4] Sparknotes

Chapter 4: “We Were Free People”

  • You thought they were finally gonna make it home? PSYCH. Turns out O’Neil was – you guessed it! – a skeeze. He put them on the Brickdale, commanded by William Wood and ownded by Henry Lippincott, and told them it was headed to Africa. It wasn’t, it was headed straight back to Virginia.
  • Bristol, the port where they were put on the Brickdale, was one of the busiest trading ports.
  • Slave traders/Bristol merchants often formed ad hoc partnerships because ventures were so expensive.
  • After 2 weeks in the harbor, the RJs wrote to Thomas and James Jones to ask for help. It took 3 letters for Jones to assist, and even then he shuffled about it. He tried to employ the help of Lace, but Lace wasn’t much inclined to be of much help. Jones brought the RJ’s case to trial to get them freed.
  • There is a lot about the 1772 Somerset case. Google it.
  • Lippincott and William Jones refused to free the RJs unless they were paid 80 pounds for each of them.
  • They were kept in a “‘Lock-up House and afterwards to the House of Correction'”
  • O’Neil had them arrested for not paying for their ship over.
  • LRRJ appealed to Lord Mansfield, who resided over the Somerset case. The similarities caught his attention, and he took their case.
  • “On November 6, 1773, the defendants asked for a ten-day delay, and a week later they announced a compromise.” James Bivins had to pay the “alleged” Virginian owners 120 pounds, O’Neil had to go without being paid, and the RJs went free.

The Two Princes of Calabar [Chapter 3] Sparknotes

Chapter 3: “The Deplorable Condition”

  • “It is important to note that the involvement of Africans in the trade did not end on the coast of Africa, but continued during the Middle Passage, where Africans worked as sailors and interpreters on the slave ships. Some of those Africans were enslaved, but many were hired on the coast of Africa. In addition, sailors often relied on assistants from among the captives as they supervised their cargoes.”
  • The Robin Johns, unlike their fellow captives, were completely aware of their situation, which probably lead to a less terrifying experience. “…they had no fear of the white sailors on board the Duke of York; in fact, they may have known some of them already…”
  • second mate John Ashley Hall recalled that he felt at ease and safe with the captives, and that all of them could speak English. “…he believed the slave trade to be ‘perfectly illegal, and founded in blood.'”
  • The RJ’s ability to use and understand English was helpful to them.
  • “John Barbot noted that ‘all the slaves…believe that we buy them to eat them…'”; many refused to eat or drink out of depression.
  • Cpt. Bivins packed his ship too tight by slave traders’ standards, and his mortality rate was a startling 19% as opposed to the average of 14.9%.
  • Captives on his ship had less than 5 sq. ft. of space.
  • Sharks trailed the ships.
  • Many slave traders attempted to feed their captives food from their native lands, but would beat the ones who wouldn’t eat until they either ate or died.
  • John Barbot had the gall to call himself “naturally compassionate” and then go into detail about how he tortured his captives until they ate or died.
  • Traders made the slaves exercise on deck, and would beat them if they did not “dance”.
  • Trip was about 7 weeks of sailing if the weather was good.
  • Disease and violence were common.
  • The Robin Johns were lucky. They were sold together, and were sold to a French physician who treated them well (all things considered) in Dominica
  • After 7 months in Dominica, a trader named Cpt. William Sharp sailed his ship, the Peggy, into port. He found the RJs and promised to smuggle them back home to OT; however, he was a skeeze and just turned around after smuggling them out and sold them to a man in Virginia, Cpt. John Thompson.
  • Thompson was a very cruel man who beat the RJs whenever he pleased.
  • In 1772, Thompson died, and the RJs were able to escape at last on the ship Greyhound, sailed by Cpt. Terence O’Neil. He took them back to Bristol with him at the bidding of two of his sailors who were slaves fro OC.

The Two Princes of Calabar [Chapter 2] Sparknotes

Chapter 2: “Nothing But Sivellety and Fare Trade”

  • The Efik were a branch of the Ibibio-speaking peoples
  • The Efik were a highly adaptable bunch, quickly evolving to the new societal norms that the slave trade brought to them.
  • Efik is derived from the Ibibio verb “to opress”, fik.
  • The Efik decided to accept this negative name, but also called themselves Iboku, from the two Ibo words that meant “those who quarrel with the Ibo”.
  • This suggests that originally the Efik didn’t get along well with their neighbors, but by the 1600s they were civil.
  • Creek Town = Ikot Etundo
  • Creek Town consisted of three “houses” – Eyo Ema, Atai Ema, and Effiom Ekpo. It grew until the conflict between Eyo Ema and Atai Ema created Obutong (OT) by men of Atai Ema, ancestors of the Robin Johns.
  • English trader John Barbot “found that slaves were essentially ‘a form of money among these Africans.'” He wrote that slaves were either those who had no means of sustaining themselves, were captives of war, were sold by their parents who had too many mouths to feed, or were condemned by their own fines. Mostly they were war captives.
  • “Slaves referred to their owners as ‘father’ and ‘mother’.”
  • Sometimes, slaves sold themselves into slavery to escape what they perceived to be an even worse fate, such as famine, war, or even to jump at the chance of possibly improving their circumstances.
  • “James Morley, a sailor…knew of persons who were sold because they committed adultery or theft.”
  • “a common maxim in OC was that a person could easily fall into slavery, but could seldom recover his freedom.”
  • Slaves couldn’t buy their own freedom, and many times being freed by a master was seen as a slight, so the only way in which a slave could better him/herself was by buying his/her own slaves. However, if a concubine of a master had his child, then both she and the child became free.
  • After the expansion of the slave trade, the head of the house was whoever was richest (Etubom, father of the canoe)
  • David Northrup outlined the 3 major factors of canoe houses: 1.) “the canoe houses expanded rapidly with the growth of the slave trade and the addition of slaves from the interior” 2.) “the leaders of the canoe houses were ‘men of talent promoted rigorously from among slave and fee members alike who demonstrated the necessary abilities'” 3.) “canoe houses ‘formed a single economic unit, a sort of trading company'”.
  • The Efik would entertain the Europeans on land, and the Europeans the Efik on their ships, as was customary before negotiations could begin.
  • Trade was best from May to September.
  • The book talks about the layout of slave ships, same as every history book you’ve ever read.
  • The Robin Johns spoke a hybrid English-creole language
  • The African traders all spoke English
  • In some cases, traders from Africa would send there sons back to England on the ships for education
  • The Efik would try to make their homeland as European as possible to nurture relationships with the traders
  • Traders would often send “pawns” (usually sons or daughters) onto the slave ships until the debts were settled as a type of security
  • OC traders didn’t keep slaves on hand, they went and captured/recruited them after deals had been made.
  • They would go in the day asking for volunteers, then plunder by night, taking whomever they pleased.
  • Canoes carried around 120 people, were up to 80 feet in length. Took 40-50 “canoe boys”, 20-30 traders, other armed men. Each had a 3-4 lb. cannon on the bow.
  • Expeditions for slaves usually were 10 days to 3 weeks in length.
  • The Aro people were skilled when it came to firearms, and “employed mercenary soldiers who acquired slaves, but their trade relied primarily on judicial activity and kidnapping of individuals rather than all-out war.”
  • Once returned to the town of the slave traders, captured slaves were taken into the traders’ houses to be made presentable.
  • Male slaves: 40-48 coppers
  • Women slaves: 28-36 coppers
  • Boy slaves: 20-40 coppers
  • Girl slaves: 17-30 coppers
  • 40 baskets of plantains: 60 coppers
  • Captains sometimes made agreements to keep the price of slaves down.
  • Household slaves in OC were treated well, and were never sold as that was a sign of disgrace and poverty
  • As a result of the slave trade, the Efik culture became “increasingly commodified.”
  • Ekpe – Efik word for leopard, Egbo to Europeans; a complex secret society that essentially governed all of OC. Not indigenous to OC; any man could be a member, but each higher title was bought; two prestigious titles eyamba and ebunko; caused a unification of the people.
  • “blowing Ekpe was one of the most severe Ekpe sanctions because it stopped all trade with them until the dispute was settled.”
  • Last day of the Efik’s 8 day week was sacred to Ekpe; marked by feasts and drink. “On that day the feared Ekpe runners scoured the town, masked and dressed in elaborate leopard costumes. The runners carried long whips, and nonmembers of the society remained hidden indoors or suffered lashings at the runners’ hands.”
  • Efik worshiped on god, Abasi/Etenyin Abasi/”our father God”
  • Believed every person had a ukpon (soul) that was connected with one specific bush soul (a wild animal). If something befell one, it befell the other.
  • Day 2 of the week was prayer day (Auqabibio); on prayer day  men poured water into “God’s dish” and prayed to their ancestors. In order to find sanctuary, an Efik runaway slave could break one of these basins.
  • Ndem – supernatural powers
  • Anansa – ndem/protector of OT
  • Ekpe brought the Efik towns together

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.

The Two Princes of Calabar [Prologue] Sparknotes. You’re Welcome, Internet.

I’ve got to read The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey by Randy Sparks for one of my classes, so naturally the first thing I did was see if there was a sparknotes version.

There isn’t.

So, I decided to do my good deed of the year and make a my own sparknotes knock-off.

You’re welcome, internet.


Here’s the map inserted in the front of the book:


  • 1767
  • Little Ephraim Robin John & Ancona Robin Robin John are the two princes in the title.
  • Robin John is the “last name”
  • Old Calabar is the whole section of land, split into New Town and Old Town. All of this land was ruled by slave trading families. NT & OT were constantly at odds.
  • LERJ & ARRJ were in the slave trading family of OT.
  • Grandy King George, ruler of OT, LERJ’s brother, ARRJ’s uncle
  • “Prince” was not a title of OC, English brought it over.
  • The account of LERJ & ARRJ was found in a firsthand, handwritten account.
  • Letters were written from LERJ & ARRJ to Charles Wesley, the brother of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.
  • “But in this book I explore the impact of the rise of the Atlantic World on a particular place in time–eighteenth-century Old Calabar–through the lives of two men who were themselves products of that Atlantic World.”
  • The Robin Johns are most easily categorized as Atlantic creoles.
  • Over the course of the Atlantic slave trade, about 11 million African people were taken for slaves.
  • Guineamen – slave ships
  • Efik – ethnic group of African peoples to which the people of OC belonged
  • NT decided to persuade the English traders to help them entrap and murder hundreds of the people of OT
  • “During the bloody battle, a British captain captured two members of the ruling family of Old Town, [LERJ & ARRJ]. The captain carried the men to the Caribbean island of Dominica, where they were sold to a French physician. After several months, a ship’s captain offered to help the young men escape to freedom.”
  • Said Captain Skeeze lied. He just helped them to escape to turn around and sell them to a Virginian merchant, there making profit.
  • Five years later, the same thing happened. But this time, the captain was trying to sell them in Bristol, where Thomas Jones, a British merchant/slave trader who helped them escape the ship. They stayed in the jail there until their case was heard by the Lord Chief Justice Mansfield William Murrany, who freed them.
  • “Their case was the first dealing with slavery in Britain following the landmark Somerset case” of 1772.
  • Became close with Charles Wesley and family.
  • They tried to sail back to OC after several months in England, but were shipwrecked on a desert island off the coast of Africa for 16 days. After rescue, they had to return to England. They stayed for several more months, then finally were able to return to OC.
  • Went back to being slave traders.