1787 the French slave ship Licorne cruised the ports of the Mozam-
bican coast in search of slaves—slaves for the colony of St. Domingue in
the Antilles. The ship’s captain, Brugevin, who was experienced in the
business, found this particular commission a frustrating one (Debien
n.d.). He had been here, on this coast before, but this time everywhere he
went, from the island of Ibo, to Cape Delgado, he found other ships, with
commissions for the French Mascarene islands of Île Bourbon and Île de
France. Filling the hold with the requisite five hundred slaves was not an
easy task—competition had forced prices up and supply could not, ap-
parently, keep pace with demand. When, eventually, he set sail on the
long voyage to St. Domingue via the Cape, with his hold full, he faced a
revolt by Makua slaves on board. The revolt was crushed; its leader threw
himself overboard. Disease and death were not so easily defeated, how-
ever, as Brugevin made clear. Mortality among slaves from this part of
Africa was, he contended, higher than among those from the West Coast.
The central cause of death was everywhere the same—a form of dysen-
tery, which the French called chéringose, and which, when it became, in
his words, ‘‘putrid,’’ was almost always fatal. Those su√ering from it died
an agonizing death. Opening up the bodies for cursory postmortems
revealed that they were internally gangrenous, rotting from within.
Like all whose livelihoods rested on the business of slavery, Brugevin
was centrally concerned with mortality. Death stalked the slave and vexed
the slave trader and the slave owner. Most slave ships’ logs from this
period read as the bald and brutal statistics of morbidity and mortality.
Brugevin’s account is di√erent. No doubt this is because it is addressed to
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