English Seamen and Traders in Guinea 1553-1565. The New Evidence of Their Wills

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The first English voyages solely to Guinea were previously known mainly through accounts in Eden and Hakluyt. They can now be seen through a newly-discovered source, the wills of ninety men who died on the voyages. These wills depict in detail the shipboard life of Tudor sailors, and provide the earliest records of any English long-distance seafaring. Of the 1,000 or so men serving on these voyages, some 400 are named in the wills. The wills are printed in full, with extensive annotation. A lengthy introduction deals with the Guinea voyages, 16th-century will-making, and the shipboard life of seamen - terms of service, manning, provenances, possessions aboard (especially clothing), indebtedness and the shipboard economy, evidences of social networks. Apart from throwing further light on the earliest contacts between England and Black Africa, the volume contributes to both the marine and social history of Tudor England.


". . . it is a very different and refreshing personal history of the actual crew members that we have here. . . . With these wills now more accessible than in London libraries, researchers can investigate micro-level issues such as ship board life, living conditions, and economy, as well as the concerns and fears of these English seamen. The size and structure of ship crews at this period is also nicely reconstructed. . . . presents data which relate to a critical phase in European trade and exploration in West Africa in the 16th century. . . . a new source of primary data which will be of interest to researchers of this time and place, as well as maritime historians in general." - Portuguese Studies Review

"The surviving wills appear to constitute the largest body of biographical evidence for any of the voyages of exploration or trade during the Tudor period. . . . The wills, reflective of the interdependence and sense of community which developed between shipmates during long periods at sea, provide a useful counterbalance to references to internal disputes and violence found in High Court of Admiralty cases. This volume, then, in addition to new material on the history of the specific Guinea voyages, has much to offer the more general reader interested in shipboard life in the sixteenth century." -- The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord)

"Hair's editions have tackled a whole range of sources. His monographs have not only opened hitherto inaccessible texts to anglophone readers, but they also offer a fresh base for assessments of these initial contacts with Africa. . . . This new volume shifts the focus back towards the interlopers from England and France. A careful introduction makes a strong case for the role of these voyages in undercutting the wafer-thin margins that had sustained the Portuguese trading stations along the west African coast. . . . Hair's nuanced assessment of a key turning point for trade around the whole Atlantic rim should sustain conviction because it is so closely tied to the primary sources that he has made available. . . . It is, nevertheless, the ships' African destination, and the light that Hair and Alsop['s close reading of this material sheds on the early development of European trade with Africa, that will ensure the volume's sales. . . . specialists will find it valuable." -- Sixteenth Century Journal

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