On 9 January 1792, John Clarkson, a 27-year-old lieutenant on leave of absence from the Royal Navy, set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia, as ‘commodore’ of what is surely the most peculiar fleet ever to have crossed the Atlantic. The flotilla was made up of fifteen small ships – altogether not more than 2,000 tonnes – and carried 1,196 people. The crews were mainly white. The passengers were black, all former slaves from Britain’s lost American colonies.
The fleet was bound for Sierra Leone. One of the voyagers was a blind woman aged 104 who as a child had been sold into slavery in Sierra Leone and was now on the final leg of her tragic round trip. Despite seven storm-tossed weeks and multiple near-calamities, all fifteen