Reported 280 Years Ago (May 1739): Trickery leads to skirmish off the slave trading coast of Africa

From the Belfast News Letter of April 24 1739 (which is May 5 in the modern calendar):

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th May 2019, 11:13 pm
The Belfast News Letter of April 24 1739 (May 5 in the modern calendar)
The Belfast News Letter of April 24 1739 (May 5 in the modern calendar)

Edinburgh, April 17.

By a Letter from a Gentleman to his Brother in this City, dated aboard the Mary and Ann of Liverpool, Dec. 11. 1738. at Cape Coast on the Gold Coast of Guinea.

— Being in the Latitude of Madera Islands, we saw a Vessel with British Colours up, lying to, under double reef’d Topsails, which she soon unreef’d and stood up to us; we took her for a Friend, and were not undeceived, till she sent aboard of us a Round of her Guns, to make us bring to; several of our Countrymen were willing and ready to return the treacherous Compliment; but it was carried against us, and we crowding Sail, got clear off, else perhaps indeed we should have changed our Course from Africa to Old Spain, and instead of purchasing Slaves, been put to Sale our selves. Formerly British Safety was the Result of the Conduct and Courage of Head and Heart, but now alas! of the Heels. I am, J.F.

Edinburgh, April 16.

We are told that the Hon, Magistrates, upon proper Representations, have resolved to respite for a few Days the inflicting the Sentence of Whipping pronounced upon Colin Rhind Mason, which was to have taken Place next Friday, to avoid giving Scandal to those, who on that Day commemorate the Death and Sufferings of our BLESSED REDEEMER. [There were various dates for Easter, depending on branch of Christianity and calendar, but the Julian calendar orthodox date in 1739 was April 22]

We hear that To-morrow her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales will go to St. James’s Church, for the first time of her going Abroad; when the Bishop of Oxford will Preach before her.

Very early in May their Royal Highnesses will go to Kew, and abide there about a Fortnight. [The Prince of Wales, Frederick, whose wife Princess Augusta had just given birth to their second son, was estranged from his father, King George II. This is not stated explicitly in News Letter reports, but the two are almost never reported in each other’s company.

Prince Frederick would later pre-decease his father, and the throne would pass to his eldest son George, who became the ‘king who lost America.

Like 2019, 1739 papers have much royal news, particularly on young members of the family]

Last Sunday was Se’en-night Sir Abraham Elton, Bart. and Thomas Coster, Esq; Representatives in Parliament for the City of Bristol, waited on his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales from the said City, in Order to congratulate his Royal Highness on the Birth of the Prince; and being introduced by his Grace the Duke of Queensberry, Sir Abraham Elton made their Compliments as follows:

“Permit us, Sir, with Hearts full of Joy, to approach your Royal Highness, for the Mayor, Burgesses, and Commonality of the City of Bristol, humbly to congratulate the Increase of your Family on the Birth of another Prince.

May the Royal Pair, with which Heaven has blessed us, multiply and increase, that the British Throne may always be filled with a Prince from his illustrious Branch.

These are the ardent Wishes of the Citizens of Bristol for the Prince, whose condescending Goodness hat so much honour’d us to be one.”

To which his Royal Highness was pleased to make the following most gracious Answer.


I return you my Thanks for this new Instance of your Duty to the King, and Regard to me. The City of Bristol may always depend upon my hearty good Wishes for their Welfare.

LONDON, April 14.

The Right Hon. Sir Charles Wager hath attended Sir Robert Walpole for several Mornings past, at his House in Downing-Street, Westminster.

The amount of the national Debt, on the 31st of Dec. 1737, was 47,185,869 10s. 1d. Farthing, increased between the 31 of Dec. 1737, to Dec. 1738, 300,000l. paid off within that Time, 1,171,040l. amount of the national Debt on the 31st of Dec. 1738, was 46,314,826l. 10s. 1d. a Farthing

[£46 million back then is equivalent to about £10 billion today, after inflation is taken into account]

We hear from Georgia, that James Oglethorpe, Esq; General in Chief, was in good Health, and intended to return to England the latter End of the Year.

DUBLIN, April 21.

Last Thursday died William Balfour, Esq; a Gentleman of very good Character. By his Death Harry Townsly Esq’ gets an Estate of above 1,200l. per Annum. [£1,200 is about £275,000 in today’s money]