Will (1797 ship)

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Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svgUnited Kingdom
Name: Will
Owner: Aspinal & Co.[Note 1]
Builder: Liverpool
Launched: 1797
Fate: Foundered July 1806; disappears from Lloyd's Register after 1807.
General characteristics [1]
Tons burthen: 286 (bm)
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
  • 1797:40
  • 1800:35
  • 1804:40
  • 1797:18 × 6&12-pounder guns
  • 1800:18 × 6&12-pounder guns
  • 1804:16 × 6-pounder guns + 2 × 12-pounder carronades
  • 1806:2 × 9-pounder + 16 × 6-pounder guns[2]

Will was a ship launched at Liverpool in 1797 for Aspinal & Co., who were one of Liverpool's leading slave-trading companies. She made numerous voyages between West Africa and the Caribbean carrying slaves, during which she several times successfully repelled attacks by French privateers. Will apparently foundered in a squall in July 1806, shortly before the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807 abolished the slave trade for British subjects.

Slave trading[edit]

Captain James Locke received a letter of marque for Will on 4 July 1797.[1] A database of slave voyages by Liverpool-based vessels shows Will, James Lake, master, sailing to the Bight of Biafra and the Gulf of Guinea islands. Will sailed from Liverpool on 18 July 1797 and arrived off Africa on 15 September. She gathered slaves at Bonny and sailed for Jamaica on 24 October. She arrived at Kingston on 29 December. She had embarked 420 slaves and disembarked 414, for a loss rate of 1.4%. Will left Kingston on 18 February 1798 and arrived back at Liverpool on 15 April. Two of her 39 crew members had died during the overall voyage. [3][Note 2]

The Lloyd's Register (1798) entry for Will gives her master's name T. Dodson, changing to H. Crow.[5] Crow made four voyages to the Bight of Biafra and Gulf of Guinea islands, and then to Jamaica, in 1798, 1800, 1801, and 1802.[6]

Will, left Liverpool on 30 July 1798 with a crew of 46 men, bound for Angola, but ended up stopping at Bonny River. Crow had three men die on Will. Will embarked 459 slaves and arrived on 29 December at Kingston, Jamaica, with 420 slaves, for a loss rate of 8.5%.[6] In Jamaica, Crow lost 31 crew members—10 died, the Royal Navy pressed 15, and six deserted—forcing him to bring on 13 new crew members. Will left Jamaica on 14 February 1799 and arrived in Liverpool on 9 April, with a crew of 23, apparently having lost two more crew members en route.[7]

For her second slaving voyage, Will left Liverpool on 25 July 1799, with a crew of 42.[7] She again sailed to Bonny. Near Cape Palmas a French privateer schooner fired on Will, but sheered off on meeting resistance. Then after Will had been at Bonny for some three months gathering slaves, Hugh Crow's brother Will, captain of Charlotte, brought the intelligence that there were three French frigates in the area. Next day, three frigates and a schooner came up and anchored some four miles away. They then sent their boats to attack Will. However, the tide was at half-ebb and the boats did not push over the Barleur bank, which stood between them and their target. After a two-hour long-range exchange of fire, Will cut her cables and returned to Bonny. There the nine ships in the harbour organized themselves under the command of Captain Latham of Lottery and sallied forth, anchoring in a line about four miles from the French vessels, which after a week gave up and sailed away.[8]

On 2 February 1800, a French privateer attacked Will. Crow fought back, driving the privateer off, though not without suffering casualties and a great deal of damage. In the engagement, Will had three crewmen wounded, two slaves killed, and ten slaves wounded. Crow estimated that had the French vessel attacked once more he would have been forced to strike.[9]

Will arrived at Kingston on 7 March, with 405 slaves on board; he had embarked 442, for a loss rate of 8.4%.[6] Crow had six crew members die and four desert.[7] When she arrived, boats from eight warships arrived and pressed many of Will's crew. Then on 12 April, during a celebration in honour of Rodney's victory, the crew on board a nearby sloop fired a gun that was still loaded with a double-headed shot. The projectile hit Will's doctor, had been drinking coffee on the quarterdeck, killing him.[10] Will left for Britain on 19 May.[7] He arrived back at Liverpool on 15 July.[6]

Prior to leaving on his third slaving voyage, "Crowe" received a letter of marque on 28 August.[1] Will sailed again on 6 November,[6] but did not reach Bonny for almost 10 weeks. There she took on the captain and crew of Diana, which had wrecked. Lloyd's List reported that Diana, of Liverpool, Ward, master, had wrecked on the Bonny Bar, but that the crew was saved, and that Will and Lord Stanley had brought them into Jamaica.[11] Will reached Jamaica having lost only a single slave of the 294 she had embarked.[6] On 21 May 1801 she left Port Royal in convoy, under the escort of HMS York. Captain John Ferrier, of York, appointed Crow a senior captain of the convoy, and placed Will at the rear of the convoy as "whipper-in". Will encountered Hector, Blackie, master, of Liverpool, which was not part of the convoy but was in a sinking state. Hector capsized before Crow could get her crew off, but he was still able to save all but one man on her, a passenger who drowned as she capsized and went under.[12] Will arrived back at Liverpool on 19 July, lost only two of her 42 crew members in the overall voyage.[6]

After his return to Liverpool Crow received two pieces of silver. The merchants and underwriters of Liverpool gave him an engraved silver plate worth £200 commemorating him on his feat of driving off three French frigates on 16 December 1799. Also, the Lloyd's underwriters gave him an engraved silver cup commemorating Crow's defeat of the French privater brig on 21 February 1800.[13]

Crow left on his fourth slaving voyage on Will on 11 November 1801.[6] She was delayed for some time at Cape Palmas due to an absence of wind. After collecting a cargo of slaves at Bonny, Crow sailed for the Portuguese island of São Tomé) to resupply. There one of Will's officers fell overboard and was eaten by sharks before the crew could rescue him. Also, there Crow found the master (Wright), crew, and some slaves from the brig John Bull, which had wrecked on the coast of Africa. Crow took them aboard, including some 60 slaves. Disease broke out among the rescued men and after Crow landed them some time later at Barbados, most died. Crow then sailed on to Kingston. Crowe and Will arrived at Kingston on 30 June 1802. He had embarked 327 slaves and landed 294, for a loss rate of 10.1%.[6]

Will and Crow arrived back at Liverpool on 23 October 1802,[6] narrowly missing being shipwrecked on the coast of Wales. He had lost seven of his 35-man crew.[6] Aspinal & Co. had Will repaired and laid up, and Crow moved to a new ship, Ceres.[14][Note 3]

Captain John Brelsford received a letter of marque on 21 June 1804.[1][Note 4] That year he sailed to the Bight of Biafra and Gulf of Guinea islands, and then to Jamaica.[17] Will left Liverpool on 4 July 2004, and arrived at Kingston on 15 December. She had embarked 291 slaves, and disembarked 262 men, for a loss of 10%. She left Kingston 21 April 1805 and arrived at Liverpool on 5 July. She had lost one man of her 42 crew. [17]


For her last slaving voyage, in 1806, Will's captain was Thomas Livesley (or Lievesly). He sailed the same circuit as his predecessors, but apparently without a letter of marque. Will left Liverpool on 20 October 1805, and arrived at Kingston on 31 March 1806. She had embarked 295 slaves and landed 265, for a loss rate of 10.2%. She also had lost seven of her 36 crew men. She left Kingston on 19 June.[17]

Lloyd's List reported that Will, of and for Liverpool, had been upset by a squall after leaving Kingston and that four crew members had drowned.[18]

Notes, citations, and references[edit]


  1. ^ Originally William Aspinal. Later, William, together with James Tobin.
  2. ^ On 2 August 1799, Lake was captain on Trelawney off Cabinda when slaves succeeded in taking over the vessel. However, with the assistance of a nearby ship the revolt was put down after a 90-minute battle.[4]
  3. ^ In 1807 Crow made the last legal slave voyage from Liverpool, sailing in the ship Kitty's Amelia.[15]
  4. ^ Brelsford had been captain of Sarah when he and three other members of her officers and crew were acquitted of the murder of two slaves. The stated motive was Brelsford's need to bring the number of slaves he was carrying down to the maximum number that the Slave Trade Act of 1799 permitted.[16]



  • Crow, Hugh (1830) Memoirs of the late Captain Hugh Crow, of Liverpool; comprising a narrative of his life, together with descriptive sketches of the western coast of Africa; particularly of Bonny ... To which are added, anecdotes and observations illustrative of the Negro character. Compiled chiefly from his own manuscripts, etc. (Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green).
  • Eltis, James, (2009) "Abolition and Identity in the Very Long Run", in Wim Klooster, ed. (2009) Migration, Trade, and Slavery in an Expanding World: Essays in Honor of Pieter Emmer. (BRILL). ISBN 978-9047429647
  • Taylor, Eric Robert (2009) If We Must Die: Shipboard Insurrections in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade. (LSU Press). ISBN 978-0807131817
  • Williams, Gomer (1897; since republished) History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque: With an Account of the Liverpool Slave Trade. (W. Heinemann).