Cover image for The slave ship Fredensborg
The slave ship Fredensborg
Svalesen, Leif.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
243 pages : illustrations (some color), maps (some color) ; 28 cm
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HT1322 .S853 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
HT1322 .S853 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



The Slave Ship Fredensborg
Leif Svalesen

The best documented account to date of a working slave ship, fully illustrated.

"Svalesen has turned up quite an amazing depth of sources on this ship! They allow him to reconstruct the tenor of the voyage in engaging, vivid detail, even to develop aspects of some of the personalities on board. It reads, when the sources are rich enough to bring it alive in these terms, like a dramatic narrative of the sea.... the illustrations are often new, mostly well integrated into the text.... They are a significant attraction in the published book...." _Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia

[second quote still to come]

The Slave Ship Fredensborg presents the richly illustrated story of a typical slave ship and its last voyage on the triangular trade between Denmark_Norway, the Gold Coast in Africa, and the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix. The wreck of the Fredensborg was discovered off the coast of Norway in 1974, more than 200 years after it sank. By examining the wreckage and surviving written sources (including the captain_s log, which was recovered from the sea), Leif Svalesen, diver and author, has reconstructed the Fredensborg_s journey in fascinating detail. He recreates, day-by-day, what life was like for captain, crew, and the newly enslaved. Svalesen documents the ship_s provisioning_from the number of nails to
kegs of water and wine_the litany of illness, the number and type of armaments, the treatment of the slaves, the intricacies of trade, and the goods carried on the return voyage to Denmark. The triangular trade is made specific and personal through records and artifacts salvaged from the Fredensborg, the most meticulously documented slave vessel yet discovered.

The book includes an account of Svalesen_s discovery of the wreck, which led to his desire to learn the Fredensborg_s full story and to retrace its final voyage. The Slave Ship Fredensborg is a marvelous account of history and discovery for scholar and general reader alike.

From the ship_s log upon arrival at St. Croix:

123 male slaves Remaining on the ship for the time being:
19 boy slaves 5 male slaves for work on board
73 female and girl slaves 7 ditto who are sick
4 freight slaves 8 ditto female slaves
1 ditto boy slave
1 freight slave
__________ _________
219 slaves in all 22 slaves in all

A total of 18 male slaves
and 6 female slaves died 24 slaves
Brought ashore 215 slaves
and for Mr. Reimers 4 slaves
Remaining on board 22 slaves
A total of 265 assorted slaves
which is the number we received at the Danish Fort Christiansborg

Leif Svalesen grew up on Tromoya Island off the coast of Arendal in Norway, an area known for its rich shipping traditions. He is a member of the Norwegian Maritime Museum's Council and a Board member of UNESCO's International Scientific Committee for the Slave Routes Project.

240 pages, over 200 illustrations

Author Notes

Leif Svalesen grew up on Tromoya Island off the coast of Arendal, an area known for its rich shipping traditions. His diving skills are matched by a keen interest in marine archeology and the Fredensborg wreck is only one of the many shipwrecks he has charted in conjunction with the Norwegian Maritime Museum. He is a member of the Norwegian Maritime Museum's Council and a Board member of UNESCO's International Scientific Committee for the Slave Routes Project.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This remarkable account of Fredensborg's voyage from Denmark to the Gold Coast of Africa and then to St. Croix in what are now the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1768 was first published in Norway last years. The ship sank off the coast of Norway on the return trip, and in 1974 underwater archaeologist Svalesen was one of the divers who discovered the wreckage. Through accounts of the ship's logs and journals, he reconstructed the final voyage. The author also found African objects at the site of the wreck and talked with descendants of the slaves. Such details as a list of the ship's crew--12 died during the voyage--and their monthly salaries and the supplies of food and drink (rice, horse beans, brandy, beer, tapioca, barley groats, rock candy, fish, cheese, etc.) are included. After 205 days lying at anchor off the Gold Coast, the ship sailed to St. Croix with 26 slaves on board, all of them "burdened by grief and desperation." The captain's daily log re-creates the journey in engrossing detail, bringing to life the shame of slavery. --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

How much do any of us know about the role of Denmark and Norway in the slave trade? A book published in Norway last year, now available in English, won't quite tell readers all they ever wanted to know about Norwegian slave traders, but it provides a fascinating first glimpse. The Fredensborg ferried slaves and sailors from Denmark and Norway to the Gold Coast, St. Thomas and St. Croix. It sank in 1768, off the coast of Norway, and Svalesen was a member of the team of divers who discovered its remains more than two centuries later. Here he looks at the actual workings of the slave shipDat Danes and Norwegians who married African women; at the "Negro dances" African slaves performed on board the ship; at how, in order to placate the slaves, the slave traders gave them brandy and tobacco on the trip from Africa to the Caribbean. The clunky translation gets in the book's way (the 1700s were "a time when much was differentin comparison to modern criteria"). And Svalesen relies too much on Captain Ferentz's diary, quoting it for pages on end with little interpretation to help the reader. Moreover, though he offers other evocative details of daily life on the slaverDlike the list of clothes the captain brought on boardDhe never tells what we might learn from knowing that a "slightly worn gold-braided hat" and a pair of red slippers made it into Captain Kimnig's suitcase. The result is a book long on antiquarianism but short on history. The subject mighty seem an incongruous one for a gift book, but the volume is heavily and handsomely illustrated (64 b& w and 93 color illus.), and for readers who want an immediate sense of the horrific genesis of African-American history, this is an excellent choice. (Nov. 13) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Svalesen, a diver and freelance author, has written a detailed and fascinating account of the life and final voyage of a Danish slave ship that sank off the coast of Norway in 1768. As part of the team that discovered the sunken ship in 1974, he became interested in its history. Using artifacts found on the vessel, as well as archival documents, he has reconstructed life aboard the Fredensborg as it plied the triangular trade. He also includes details of his personal journey retracing its last voyage. The most complete account of such a ship, this work is unfortunately marred by poor writing and/or faulty translation. Awkward expression and weak transitions abound. Nonetheless, its rich detail and copious illustrations make this a worthwhile book for major libraries.DAnthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The "Cron Prindz Christian" and the Company Trade The 5th of February 1753 was a red-letter day at the shipyard of the Royal Chartered Danish West India & Guinea Company in Copenhagen. The Company's "New Construction No. 2" was ready for launching, all decked out with flags. The Directors were present in all their finery, along with Master Shipwright Ole Gad, who had been in charge of the construction, and Master Smith Møller and Christian Irgens, the Company's Director of Stores. They watched excitedly when the signal was given. The 100-foot long frigate was christened Cron Prindz Christian , after the little prince who would later become King Christian VII, and then she was launched "to the accompaniment of Cannons and Trumpets".     The construction, which had begun in March 1752, had taken about ten-and-a-half months. After the launching followed the time-consuming work with the fittings, rigging and accoutrements. There was a considerable amount of equipment and provisions that had to be stowed away before the frigate was ready to sail. With the crew well on board, and the hold full of provisions and supplies for Fort Christiansborg on the African Gold Coast, they weighed anchor in September 1753. Then the Cron Prindz Christian , which was rechristened the Fredensborg a few years later, set out on her first voyage in the triangular trade.     We do not know very much about this first voyage, which was extra long. The ship's logs have not been preserved and other important documents have later been lost. However, in his book Dansk Vestindiene 1661-1917 (The Danish West Indies 1661-1917) , published in Copenhagen in 1928, Kay Larsen writes that the frigate "suffered a cruel fate" after it sailed from Copenhagen. On the Gold Coast the chief officer and several other members of the crew became sick and died, and soon after leaving the Coast, Captain Ole Reinholdt also died. Christopher Juul, who had signed on in Africa, had to assume command. When the Cron Prindz Christian finally arrived at St. Thomas in the West Indies in 1755, there was a surplus of slaves and the ship was sent further west in search of a better market.     It took a long time before anything was heard from the vessel, but in February 1756 there came a report from St. Thomas that the long overdue Company ship had arrived at St. Louis under suspicious circumstances. This city was situated on the northern coast of the French colony of Saint-Dominique. It was decided to send a royal squadron to investigate the matter. When the squadron sailed into the harbour of St. Louis they found the Cron Prindz Christian riding at anchor with the Danish flag waving in the stern.     It turned out that the sale of the slaves had brought in only 26,000 rixdaler, which was far less than had been anticipated. Upon their arrival only 200 of the original "slave cargo" of 600 had survived, and these were in a deplorable state of health. Captain Juul had been so upset by all the adversity that he died, and for the young chief officer who had assumed command, the situation was completely out of hand: "Every man on board helped himself to the provisions, the money and the supplies," writes Kay Larsen.     Commander Fisher, who was in charge of the squadron, called for an investigation. As a result, four of the mutineers "were placed as prisoners on board the naval vessels" and replaced by sailors. The Cron Prindz Christian was "then sent to St. Thomas to fetch a cargo of sugar and sailed with this for Copenhagen."     This account of the first voyage of the Cron Prindz Christian is the only reference we have. The period of waiting for the Company and the families of the crew must have been long. They must certainly have believed the worst had happened: a shipwreck, a hijacking or complete mutiny. Not until November 1756 did the Cron Prindz Christian come back to Copenhagen with its load of sugar, under the command of Captain Michael Jacob Rønne. The chief officer was named Giønge, and it is his testimony during the maritime inquiry on which Kay Larsen bases his account. This appears to be reliable, and individual details may be documented. But 600 slaves seems to be a very large number for a ship the size of the Cron Prindz Christian . Since only 200 slaves were sold, the loss in this case amounted to 400, which constituted two-thirds of the slave cargo. From Christiansborg on the Gold Coast there is documentation of the purchase of 125 slaves, but we know nothing about the loading further down along the coast. Nonetheless, the first voyage in the triangular trade must have been a nightmare for the slaves as well as for the crew on board.     When the Cron Prindz Christian returned from her dramatic maiden voyage after three years, several changes had taken place in Copenhagen. The West India and Guinea Company had been taken over by the Crown as early as 1754, and the Cron Prindz Christian was now put into the West Indian trade. There was a constant demand for supplies from the three Danish-Norwegian possessions, St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. Jan, while important colonial products were to go back to Copenhagen. The first direct voyage to the West Indies -- with Rønne still as captain -- lasted from December 1757 until September 1758. The return cargo consisted largely of sugar. The following March, Captain Rønne set out on a new voyage to the West Indies, where he was replaced by Captain Cordt Gylve Orm. On the homeward journey, the West Indiaman came into Mandal in mid-December, and remained there until spring. In April they were finally back home in Copenhagen after a voyage that had lasted for more than a year. The third voyage to the West Indies, which was begun in August 1760, took even longer. On the return trip, with the hold full of sugar, they came to Arendal in December of the following year. Here they were laid-up for the winter, and did not arrive in Copenhagen until May 1762.     Captain Orm must have enjoyed staying in Arendal. In December he was back again, this time on the outward voyage. It was hazardous to set sail in northerly waters in December, and the Cron Prindz Christian remained at anchor throughout the winter at the outport of Merdø, outside of Arendal. Not until April did Captain Orm find the wind conditions favourable enough for him to set sail for the West Indies. In December 1763 he delivered yet another load of sugar in Copenhagen. On the frigate's fifth voyage to the West Indies, from August 1764 until July 1765, Captain Orm was relieved of having to spend the winter in Norway. After coming home the Cron Prindz Christian was handed over to Master Shipwright Ole Gad. He made the necessary repairs, including sheathing and caulking, and prepared the ship for new duties. During the five voyages to the West Indies we see that the Cron Prindz Christian spent three winters in Norway. This gives an idea of the significance of the Norwegian outports and coastal cities to the sailing ship trade.     Denmark-Norway started early with long and demanding voyages. Two great companies found in Copenhagen based their navigation on two different sailing systems which utilized the monsoon and trade winds. A highly-developed shipbuilding technique and an abundant supply of ship's timber kept the shipyards busy in both Denmark and Norway. And, as a rule, there were plenty of experienced seamen to man the ships.     As early as 1616 an East India Company had been established which acquired the rights to the trade in the Orient. The Company's major shareholder was King Christian IV, who invested 16,000 rixdaler in the enterprise. The first expedition to the Orient in 1618 was headed by the royal chancellor's secretary, nobleman Ove Gjedde, who was only 24 years old.     Despite the fact that extremely large numbers of the crew died, they succeeded in reaching an agreement with the "Naik" of Tanjore in India. Fort Dansborg was built in the coastal town of Tarangambadi, which was called "Trankebar". The site is 20 miles south of today's Madras. For some 200 years the fort on the Coromandel coast was a Danish-Norwegian possession and an outpost for trading in the East. From a commercial point of view there were both good and bad years; the bad years were the result of shipwrecks and other problems. In 1643 the old company ceased its activities, but in 1688, after several inactive years, a new company was in operation. At this time Admiral Cort Adeler was a prominent figure, and he organized regular voyages to Trankebar, where a Danish-Norwegian governor still remained. The outbreak of the great Nordic war, combined with shipwrecks and a lack of capital, curtailed the activities and once again, in 1729, the trading was discontinued.     However, the voyages to the East were not abandoned. The first Danish--Norwegian expedition to China took place in 1730, in a little Swedish frigate that had been captured by Tordenskjold at Marstrand. As early as 1732 Frederik IV gave a charter to a newly established company, and the Asiatic Company was given the exclusive rights to carry on trade with both India and China. They took over the city of Trankebar and Fort Dansborg and started regular voyages to the Orient. This was a long journey, a total of 30,000 nautical miles round trip. The voyage ended in Canton in China, the only place where the Emperor accepted the Europeans who in China were called fan-kwae --"the sea devils". As a rule the ships set out from Denmark around New Year's. This time of departure was adapted to the southwest monsoon in the Indian Ocean which could be crossed in three months. The homeward journey, after a stay of about three months in China, was adapted to the northwest monsoon, which provided fair winds back to the Cape of Good Hope. From there to home they largely followed the same route as on the outward voyage.     The death-rate on board was considerable. An average of eight percent of the crew died, while even more became seriously ill. Even so, this was regarded as a relatively good result for the overseas trade. In spite of everything, the travellers to China were gone for a year-and-a-half or more, and some of the provisions crossed the equator four times! They mostly brought silver Spanish coins that could be traded with the Chinese, who had little use for European goods. On the homeward voyage the cargo consisted largely of tea, in addition to porcelain, silk, lacquerwork and spices. The ships of the Asiatic Company were large and the captains enjoyed a high social status. The ships required large crews and most of the seamen came from Jutland and Norway.     The other great Danish-Norwegian company was the Royal Chartered West India and Guinea Company, also with headquarters in Copenhagen. In 1671 a West India Company was established which later, in 1674, was given a monopoly on all Danish-Norwegian trade and shipping to the West Indies and Guinea. St. Thomas was colonized in 1672, and in 1718 they took possession of the neighbouring island of St. Jan.     In 1733 France sold St. Croix to the kingdom of Denmark-Norway. As the largest of the three colonial islands, and with a favourable topography, it was extra well-suited to the operation of plantations. Now the triangular trade really gained momentum because of the growing need for slaves on the plantations. In Copenhagen the Company was managed from a representative office building on Strandgaden, in Christianshavn, and there was increased activity both here and in the "sugar refinery". When a separate warehouse was built by the harbour, the flow of goods was even greater. But even after a reorganization, and a later increase in share capital, the operations of the West India and Guinea Company were unsatisfactory. While the Cron Prindz Christian was on her maiden voyage in the triangular trade, the Crown redeemed all the company shares. The shipyard in Copenhagen passed into private hands, while the sugar refinery in the same city was retained. This was later sold to the Minister of Finance, Heinrich Carl Schimmelmann, along with several plantations in the West Indies.     When we look at the map it is easy to understand why the route followed by the Cron Prindz Christian and the other company ships was called "the triangular trade". From a sailing point of view, this was an ingenious route which made the most of the winds and currents. The beginning and end of the journey -- in and out of the Kattegat, the Skagerrak and the North Sea -- were normally the most dangerous when it came to accidents and shipwrecks. In the first part of the triangular trade, the ships took advantage of the favourable currents at Portugal and the Canary Islands. The Portuguese northerly wind also helped along the way. When the ships rounded West Africa on their way into the Gulf of Guinea they followed the Guinea current until they could drop anchor off one of the many fortified trading stations along the Guinea coast. Here the provisions and all the important supplies were brought ashore and stored in the storehouses of the fort.     After a sojourn along the Gold Coast they could embark on the so-called "middle passage", with a cargo of slaves, ivory and gold in the hold. This was a difficult part of the voyage. Normally, many of the crew member's died of tropical diseases during their stay in Africa, and with a load of slaves who had to be fed and guarded, there was a great deal of extra hard work for those who were left. The fear of a rebellion on board was always present. The slave captains utilized the tail end of the Guinea current before they turned west at São Tomé. Now they had to rely on the southerly equatorial current and the trade winds. There was always great rejoicing when the dreaded "Doldrums" had been passed, and after two or three months at sea they were able to drop anchor in the West Indies and rid themselves of the troublesome cargo.     After the slaves had been sold and the hold had been emptied and cleaned, colonial products that were the result of slave labour on the plantations were taken on board. The cargo in the last part of the triangular trade consisted largely of sugar, rum, dyewood and cotton. After they set their course for Europe, once again with a full hold, they had to take advantage of the Gulf Stream and the westerlies. The colonial products were greatly in demand in Europe and good prices were obtained. This was of considerable importance to the economic developmental in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The great nations taking part in the transatlantic slave trade were England, France, the Netherlands and Portugal. But Denmark-Norway also had a hand in this very special form of shipping and profited greatly by human transport and slave labour.     The products that were brought home by the Asiatic Company and the West India Guinea Company turned Copenhagen into one of the most important trading centres in Northern Europe. Like the other countries that were engaged in the same traffic, this led to a great increase in prosperity. Chapter Two The "Fredensborg" Is Fitted Out for the Slave Trade While the frigate Cron Prindz Christian was being repaired by Shipwright Ole Gad, after her last voyage to the West Indies, the West India Guinea Company was undergoing considerable change. The economy of the Danish-Norwegian kingdom was in a terrible state, and the expenses in trading and shipping on the Gold Coast and in the West Indies had been greatly reduced. It was during this period that the successful merchant Henning Frederik Bargum submitted his plans that would enable the monarchy to dispose of the Guinea trade. Bargum was a partner in one of Copenhagen's great business firms, which was owned by a Widow Gustmeyer. As the widow's nephew, the well-travelled Bargum was in an advantageous position. He had a monopoly on the operations of a hat factory and a whalebone factory, and in 1760 had managed the extraordinary feat of acquiring complete control of the tobacco trade in Denmark. He was given the title "Tobacco Director-General", and had to pay a barrel of gold every year in duties to the State. Thus, by the eighteenth century the tobacco trade was already worth its weight in gold!     During his travels in England, France and the Netherlands Bargum had observed that the trade in slaves and sugar could yield good returns. On 18 March 1765 he was granted a royal charter for a new company, with the right to carry on trade for twenty years in Guinea and the West Indies. Later that year he also received a royal charter for the Christiansborg and Fredensborg forts, as well as for the smaller trading stations along the Gold Coast. This new company was given the name "The Royal Chartered Danish Guinea Company", but was better known as "The Bargum Trading Society" or "The Slave Trade Society". When the annual meeting was held on 19 February 1766, Henning Bargum was elected director. The other three members of the Board were Merchant Johan Frederich Reindorph, Chamberlain Carl Engmann and Sea Captain Jesper With. The Company had been granted special privileges, including exemption from a considerable number of duties, but it had to accept responsibility for the maintenance of the forts and trading stations in Guinea. Even though the share capital was not as great as had been desired, the Company acquired a sugar refinery in Copenhagen.     In "The Yellow Palace", in Amaliegade in Copenhagen, plans were underway for lucrative voyages in the triangular trade with the sloop Elonora , and the frigates Christiansborg and Cron Prindz Christian . On 9 April 1767 Christian Tychsen, who was born in Tønder County, was appointed governor and chief merchant at a monthly wage of 66 rixdaler. Then he was off to Guinea on the Christiansborg . Here he found conditions in a sorry state, and he had his hands full in his new office. The Elonora , under the command of Captain Thadsen, was the second ship to sail for the Company. The Cron Prindz Christian , which was still being repaired, was rechristened the Fredensborg after the Company's fort in Guinea.     The Fredensborg had been bought at an auction for 5,225 rixdaler in 1766 and a royal deed of conveyance was made out for the ship. When the year was over, and Shipwright Ole Gad's bill for various repairs had been settled, the value of the ship had risen to 6,829 rixdaler. But there was still a great deal that remained to be done.     Throughout the winter and spring of 1767 there was feverish activity on board the Fredensborg . As the only member of the Board with seafaring experience, Captain Jesper With was busily equipping the ship in the best possible way. He had many years of experience behind him on sea-going vessels, and a total of five voyages as a "China Captain". It was this experience that earned him election to the Board as a co-director. The stalwart captain could hardly have been too pleased with the designation "Slave Trade Society". If anything, this had an unpleasant ring, even in those days. While Ole Gad's men were busy with their work, others were pouring up and down the gangplank. Some came on board to take measurements. Others delivered their wares. The purchases were made from private individuals as well as firms in Copenhagen. Jacobine Brandt sewed red curtains for the captain's cabin, while Bookbinder Graue delivered 12 prayerbooks and a book of family sermons that had been rebound. Adjuster of Weights and Measures Nørgaard brought new, 4-pound weights for the "Bismer" balance (or steelyard). Butcher Klyse drove up with a horse-drawn cart loaded with meat. Baker Ulstrup delivered bread, while Candlemaker Niels Larsen delivered 300 pounds of candles.     Since the Fredensborg was to carry slaves from Africa to the West Indies, a great deal of special equipment was needed. A "slave stove" was purchased for 175 rixdaler, and an extra amount of medicine was delivered from Mr. Place the apothecary. Quantities of surgical instruments arrived from Monsieur Schienck, along with a large supply of linen cloth for bandages. There were barrels of cheap clay "slave or Negro pipes", while the Tobacco Shop delivered tobacco. In order to keep the cargo of slaves under control they purchased foot irons and bolts. Pewterer Friderichsen was fortunate enough to receive an order for an enema syringe with two tubes. Four half-pound cannons, called "swivel guns", were purchased from Skipper Dahlstrøm for the slave bulkheads, while a Mr. Hartmann repaired the ship's drum and put on a new drumhead. (Continues...) Copyright (c) 2000 H. Aschehoug & Co. (W. Nygaard).

Table of Contents

Part I The Slave Ship Fredensborg
Chapter 1 Cron Prinz William and the company trade
Chapter 2 The Fredensborg prepares for the slave trade
Chapter 3 To Africa via Southern Norway
Chapter 4 Slaves, ivory and gold
Chapter 5 The black vessel
Chapter 6 Slaves and colonies
Chapter 7 Journey home and shipwreck
Chapter 8 After the shipwreck
Part II To the depths of the story
Chapter 9 Objects in the deep
Chapter 10 From Tromoy to St. Croix
Chapter 11 A trip to the Gold Coast
Appendix: definitions
(Over 200 illustrations)