The Two Princes of Calabar Book Review

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Max Bruckner History 203 Makimura Book Review #2 The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth Century Atlantic Odyssey by Randy Sparks The largest forced migration in human history, the African Slave Trade, has left little documentation records for historians to work from. Given the long lasting historical repercussions of the estimated eleven million African captives forced to cross the Atlantic from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, we know amazingly little about the individual experiences of the horrific middle passage. Randy Sparks’s book corrects this silence. It tells the remarkable story of two African princes enslaved at Old Calabar in the Bight of Biafra, taken first to the Caribbean and then shipped to Virginia. They then escaped to England where they sued for their freedom, and finally made their way back to Old Calabar. The account of these two princes comes from many different sources coupled together by Sparks. Letters written by Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John, brothers native of Old Calabar, are principal sources for the Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth century. These letters provide insight to the transatlantic slave trade centered on the lives of two individuals. In Sparks’s writing, the Robin Johns’ story allows us "to translate those statistics (of the slave trade) into people" (5). The Robin Johns’ enslavement and liberation resulted from their active roles as slave traders at the West African region of Old Calabar. Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John were members of the elite Efik slave traders of Old Calabar and participated in the Ekpe secret society that governed the commercial relations with Atlantic traders. As Old Calabar grew from a small town in the late seventeenth century to one of the most important slave trading regions of the eighteenth century, Efik traders such as the Robin Johns came to
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