Daniel Botefeur, a German slave trader (1811)

Although the involvement of German states in the slave trade was quite limited relative to the involvement of the Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, French, or the British, nevertheless many German trading houses had connections to transatlantic commerce and the slave trade. The dynastic connection between Great Britain and Hannover through the eighteenth and early nineteenth century provided a direct route for Germans to participate in human trafficking. One such German was the Hanoverian doctor Daniel Botefeur (a.k.a. Botifeur), and thanks to painstaking research by the scholar Michael Zeuske we can reconstruct his activities. Sometime around 1800 he sold his services to the notorious British slaving fortress at Bunce Island in today’s Sierra Leone and soon was put in charge of subsidiary station of his own. From this start he began to amass the money needed to start financing his own ships and trading missions; he bought slaves from slave merchants in West and Central Africa and transported them to buyers in Cuba, Florida, South Carolina, and beyond. When the British and Americans officially ended their participation in the slave trade in 1807/08 , Botefeur was in a good position to fill in the gap they left behind. He continued financing ships that dodged the Royal Navy’s West African Squadron up until his death in Charleston in 1828.

Botefeur settled down in Havana, where his extraordinary wealth allowed him to marry well above his station into a prominent Cuban aristocratic family. He and his Cuban wife María had five children; Botefeur also had at least six African daughters whom he had earlier sent to missionary schools in West Africa. Like others who financed and profited from slavery around the Atlantic, he re-invested his capital, in his case into two plantations (named “Gratitud” and “Enrique”) feeding the international thirst for coffee after the Napoleonic wars. At his death, he owned 221 men, women, and children who worked on his plantations and eight young people who worked in his richly outfitted mansion.

In this 1811 entry from the diary of Captain Edward H. Columbine, British governor of Sierra Leone, we learn about the difficulties of intercepting slaving vessels, Botefeur’s notorious reputation, and the fortunate escape of some of his victims.

Jeff Bowersox


March 2.

During my absence, six natives had arrived in a ship’s boat, having escaped from that notorious villain & slave-dealer Botefeur; a German who has a sort of factory in the R. Pongo. He also has a brig on the Coast (which we have been in quest of) but he has eluded our search by hiding her in some of the innumerable branches of the Pongo & other rivers. Lately he has moved her near to Bissao, where he means to ship his wretched victims & proceed to the Havanna. Slaves in the usual course of barbarity being scarce, owing to the appearance which I have had the happiness of inflicting on the dealers; Botefeur to supply the deficiency, has thought proper to put all his domestic slaves into the chain, (a villainy which even African law does not admit) & amongst others was conveying these six young men to his brig. But they ran when the two white men in the boat near the Nunez & brought her hither. Allowing the white men to escape. I shall certainly afford the protection of the colony to these poor fellows.

Source: “Journal of Captain Edward H. Columbine,” University of Illinois at Chicago Special Collections, Sierra Leone Collection MSSL__69, box 3, folder 12.

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