Some Historical Account of Guinea

“The most ancient account we have of the country of the Negroes, particulary that part situate on an between the two great rivers of Senegal and Gambia, is from the writings of two ancient authors, one an Arabian, and the other a Moor. The first wrote in Arabic, about the twelth century. His works, printed in that language at Rome, were afterwards translated into Latin, and printed at Paris, under the patronage of the famous Thuanus, chancellor of France, with the title Geograophica Nubienses, containing containing an account of all the nations lying on the Senegal and Gambia.”

“The other written by John Leo, a Moor, born at Granada, in Spain, before the Moors were totally expelled from that kingdom. He resided in Africa; but being on a voyage from Tripoli to Tunis, was taken by some Italian Corairs, who finding him possess of Several Arabian books, besides his own manuscripts, apprehended him to be a man of learening, and as such presented him to Pope Leo the Tenth.”

“This Pope encouraging him, he embraced the Romish religion, and his description of Africa was published in Italian. From these writings we gather, that after the Mahometan religion had extended to the Kingdom of Morocco, some of the promoters of it crossing the sandy deserts of Numidia, which separate that country from Guinea, found it inhabited by men, who, though under no regular government, and destitute of that knowledge the Arabians were favored with, lived in content and peace.”

“The first author particularly remarks, “That they never made war, or traveled abroad, but employed themselves in tending their herds, or laboring in the ground.” J. Leo says, page 65, “That they lived in common, having no property in land, no tyrant nor superior lord, but supported themselves in anequal state, upon the natural produce of the country, which afforded plenty of roots, game, and honey. That ambition or avarice never drove them into foreign countries to subdue or cheat their neighbours. Thus, they lived without toil or superfluities.”



“The ancient inhabitants of Morocco, who wore coats of mail, and used swords and spears headed with iron, coming among those harmless and nake people, soon brought them under subjection, and divided that part of Guinea which lies on the rivers Senegal and Gambia into fifteen parts; those were the fifteen kingdoms of the Negroes, over which the Moors presided, and the common people were Negroes.

“These Moors taught the Negroes the Mahometan religion, and arts of life, particularly the use of iron, before unknown to them. About the 14th century, a native Negroe, called Heli Ischia, expelled the Moorish conquerors; but though the Negroes threw off the yoke of a foreign nation, they only changed a Libyan for a Negroe master. Heli-Ischia himself becoming King led the Negroes on to foreign wars and established himself in power over a very large extent of country.”



“Since Leo’s time, the Europeans have had very little knowledge of those parts of Africa, nor do they know what became of this great empire. It is highly probable that it broke into pieces, and that the natives again resumed many of their ancient customs; for in the account published by Francis Moor, in his travels on the river Gambia, we find a mixture of the Moorish and Mahaometann customs, joined with the original simplicity of the Negroes.”

“It appears by accounts of ancient voyages, collected by Hackluit, Purchas, and others, that it was about fifty years before the discovery of America, that the Portuguese attempted to sail around Cape Bajador, which lies between their country and Guinea; this, after divers repulses occasioned by the violent currents, they effected; when landing on the western coast of Africa, they soon began to make incursions into the country, and to seize and carry off the native inhabitants.”

“As early as the year 1434, Alonzo Gonzales, the first who is recorded to have met with the natives, on that coast, pursued and attacked a number of them, when some were wounded, as was also one of the Portuguese; which the author records as the first blood spilled by Christians in those parts.”

“Six years after, and took Gonzales, the same Gonzales again attacked the natives, and took twelve prisoners, with whom he returned to his vessels; he afterward put a woman on shore, in order to induce the natives to redeem the prisoners; but the next day 150 of the inhabitants appeared on horses and camels provoking the Portuguese to land; which they not daring to venture, the natives discharged a volley of stones at them, and went off, after this, the Portuguese still continued to send vessels on the coast of Africa; particularly we read of their falling on a village, whence the inhabitants fled, and being pursued, twenty-five were taken: “He that ran best,” says the author, “taking the most.”“In their way home, they killed some of the natives and took fifty-five more prisoners.”

“Afterwards, Dinisanes Dagrama, with two other vessels, landed on the island of Arguin, where they took fifty-four Moors; then running along with the coast eighty leagues father, they at several times took fifty slaves, but here seven of the Portuguese were killed.”

“Then being joined by several other vessels, Dinisanes proposed to destroy the island to revenge the lost of the seven Portuguese; of which the Moors being apprised, fled, so that no more than twelve were found, whereof only four could be taken, the rest being killed, as also one of the Portuguese. Many more captures of this kind of the coast of Barbary and Guinea, are recorded to have been made in the year 1481, the Portuguese erected their first fort D’Elmina on that coast from whence they soon opened a trade for slaves with the inland parts of Guinea.”

“From the foregoing accounts, it is undoubted, that the practice of making slaves of the Negroes, owes its origin to the early incursions of the Portuguese on the coast of Africa, solely from an inordinate desire of gain. This is clearly evidenced from their own historians, particularly Cada Mofto, about the year 1455, who writes, “That before the trade was settled for purchasing slaves from the Moors at Arguin sometimes four, and sometimes more Portuguese vessels were used to come to that gulf, well armed; and landing by night, would surprise some fither men’s villages; that they even entered into the country, and carried away Arabs of both sexes, whom they sold in Portugal.”

“And also, “That the Portuguese and Spaniards, settled on four of the Canary Islands, would go to the other island by night, and seize some of the natives of both sexes, whom they sent to be sold in Spain.” After the settlement of America, those devastations, and the captivating the miserable Africans, greatly increased.”

“Anderson, in his history of trade and commerce, at page 336, speaking of what passed in the year 1508, writes, “That the Spaniards had by this time found that the miserable Indian natives, whom they have made to work in their mines and fields, were not for robust and proper for those purposes as Negroes brought from Africa; wherefore they, about that time began to import Negroes for that end in Hispaniola, from the Portuguese settlements on the Guinea coast: and also afterward for their sugar works.”

“This oppression of the Indians had, even before this time, rouzed the zeal, as well as it did the comparison, of some of the truly pious of that day; particularly that of Bartholomew De las Casas, bishop of Chapia; whom a desire of being instrumental towards the conversion of the Indians, had invited into America.”

“In the History of the Piratical States of Barbary, printed in 1750, said to be written by a person who resided at Algiers, in a public character, at page 265 the author says, ” The word exclaims against the Algerines for their cruel treatment of their slaves, and their employing even tortures to convert them to Mahometism; but this is a vulgar error, artfully propagated for selfish views. So far are their slaves from being ill-used, that they must have committed some very great fault to suffer any punishment?”

“Neither are they forced to work beyond their strength, but rather spared, lest they should fall sick. Some are so pleased with their situation, that they will not purchase their ransom, though they are able. It is the same generally through Mahometan countries, except in some particular instances, like that of Muley Ishmael, late Emperor of Morocco, who is naturally barbarous, frequently used both his subjects and slaves with cruelty.”

“Yet even under him, the usage the slaves met with was, in general, much more tolerable than that of the Negroe slaves in the West Indies. Captain Braithwaite, an author of credit, who accompanied consul general Ruffiel in a congratulatory embassy to Muley Ishamel’s successor, upon his accession to the throne, says, “The situation of the Christian slaves in Morocco was not near so bad as represented.”

“That it was true they were kept at labor by the late Emperor, but not harder than our daily laborers go through. Masters of ships were never obliged to work, nor such as had but a small matter of money to give the Alcaide. When sick, they had a religious house appointed for them to go to, where they were well attended: and whatever money in charity was sent them by their friends in Europe, was their own.” Braithwaite’s revolutions of Morocco.”

“Lady Montague, wife of the English ambassador at Constantinople, in her letters, vol. 3. page 20, writes, “I know you expect I should say something particular of the slaves, and you will imagine me half a Turk, when I do not speak of it with the same horror other Christians have done before me; but I cannot forebear applauding the humanity of the Turks to these creatures; they are not ill-used; and their slavery, in my opinion, is no worse than servitude all over the world. It is true they have no wages, but they give them yearly cloaths to a higher value than our salaries to our ordinary servants.” 

Source: Some Historical Account of Guinea: With an Inquiry Into the Rise and …By Anthony Benezet