REPORT FOR Mr. PIERRE LESENS, ship Captain, presently in the city of Les Cayes, called before the Judge of the Admiralty Court of said city, on the date of the 7th of last February.

Pierre Lesens was called before the Admiralty Court of Les Cayes in 1788 to testify on his own behalf. A ship captain, Lesens faced charges of commercial negligence in this civil suit brought forth by the owner of the ship La Furieuse. Sir Gringuet, representing the Plaintiff, Guillaume-Robert Bunel, argued that Lesens was responsible for losing a significant amount of revenue because he sold slaves on credit, and many slaves perished in transit from Africa to the Caribbean.

Apart from the civil case, this report chronicles portions of the Middle Passage where captives were transported as slaves to various trading posts only to finally land in the colony of Saint-Domingue. While highlighting the “august character” of Pierre Lesens by recounting the “Facts” of his 1785 voyage, this court case provides a window into maritime slave revolts. In the excerpt below, Lesens’s lawyer highlights two slave revolts, one of which is not detailed. This was not uncommon, as the written traces of slave resistance and revolt were often silenced in an effort to preserve the status quo.

(Mémoire pour le sieur Pierre Lesens, capitaine de navire, de présent en la ville des Cayes….)

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Since the end of 1785, Sir Lesens experienced quite a bit of suffering. He left for the coast of Africa and landed there with quite some difficulty. Upon arrival, he underwent torturous work to hasten his trade, and only managed to complete it after some time.[1] When he was ready to load his captives, a terrible storm sent his anchors and cannons into the river of Zinquenchor,[2] where he was going to procure sustenance. After having partially repaired the damage, he went back to Gorée[3] to recover the captives left at the island’s slave market. There, he encountered a mild epidemic, which forced him to stay. It is important to note that before all of this he had lost over three quarters of his crew, including his officers, in the river of Salam.[4] Once back at sea, he experienced many other misfortunes. Terrible weather slowed his path and often put his life in danger. To make matters worse, a second revolt took place on board that was much more violent than the first, of which we shall not speak. At the same time that he was obliged to defend himself against the terrible agitations of the sea, he had an internal war to fight on board against a number of men fighting for their freedom. It is not difficult for one to portray Sir Lesens’s harsh situation.

His prudence, intelligence, toughness, and random luck restored the peace on board his ship. But an epidemic followed, taking with it a large portion of his captives!

He was ordered to go to Les Cayes upon the request of the Sirs Guillaume Papillon, Gombault & Company. He went to his destination.

Here was the scene where everyone attacked his character. More than twenty years of honest and reputable existence could not spare him this unpleasantness. What is the cause of this hate, of this slander, and of these accusations of which he is, to this day, unfortunately the victim? The misfortune of having been forced to pursue an august notable in the little city where he sold his slaves, the desire to recoup the money he was owed, and to quickly return to France to settle the affair with his employer.

Sir Lesens admits it. He had to repent for having sold [slaves] on credit and for having solicited payment from a powerful individual [Sir Gringuet who represents Bunel] and who was his primary adversary. Since then he has not ceased to be the victim of this same adversary, he who stokes the flames that consume M. Lesens. When one knows the people and the tiny locales, it is not difficult to understand this truth. One knows how exigent people are, and they are even more so the more precarious their authority is!

[1] Trade refers to the business of the slave trade. In the French, the use of this word is intentional and would be universally recognized as the trade for human cargo.

[2] The name of a city in Senegal.

[3] Gorée, or Ile de Gorée, is an island off the coast of Senegal. Its primary function at the time was as a slave depot where slaves were held pending departure for the Americas.

[4] Part of the Senegal river basin.