The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory

By Anne Farrow

(Wesleyan University Press, $27.95, 208 pages)

Who is this author?

Anne Farrow, a former editor and reporter for the Cape Cod Times and The Courant and itsNortheast Magazine, where she joined colleagues in publishing the 2005 bestseller Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery, now writes about Connecticut’s history in the 18th and 19th centuries and how trading in ivory and slaves connected the state to Africa. Farrow lives in Haddam.

What is this book about?

In Logbooks, Farrow links two true and seemingly disparate stories: how a famous and wealthy Connecticut family profited for many years from the slave trade and how her mother’s life was destroyed by dementia. The unexpected link is the slippery and elusive quality of memory: Farrow writes that if we cannot remember things – if our understanding of our own history is not complete – then we cannot hope to know who we really are. She chronicles how Saltonstall family ships sailed from Connecticut to Sierra Leone in the mid-1700s to pick up fresh water and slaves, all duly noted in logbooks kept by young Dudley Saltonstall, son of the owner,  that document three such voyages. Citing other writers, historians and psychologists, Farrow explores how it is possible to lose or just ignore recollections, and how that capacity for forgetting worked efficiently to hide memories of Connecticut’s complicity in the slave trade and thereby dull the guilt that should have remained sharp.

Why you’ll like it:

Farrow says: “. . .the 80 handwritten pages of Dudley Saltonstall’s logbooks offer a painful glimpse of a vanished past. They are an emissary from that time, proof of something that really happened. They are a powerful form of evidence.”

She provides plenty of evidence in this painstakingly researched and well-written exploration of history and memory. Here are more of her thoughts, written during the troubles in Ferguson, Mo., for

“Slavery in America was not a footnote, not “the sad chapter” of our history but the cornerstone of our making. Three generations of eminent historians have documented the astonishing scope, duration, economic importance, and savagery of bondage in America, but this key piece of our past still is not prominent in the narrative of our nation.

“In studying a set of 18th-century ships’ logs linking Connecticut and the slave trade, I saw that when we made stolen black labor our national bedrock and created a system where inferiority was identifiable by color, we doomed ourselves to the present day and a nation where justice and parity for black people have not been achieved.

“The best and most educated people owned slaves, promulgated its benefits, and enjoyed the wealth slavery created – the keeper of my Connecticut logbooks was not an obscure mariner but a Saltonstall and the scion of an aristocratic family.

“This comfort level with the omnipresence of human bondage became a cascading series of accepted and pathological untruths: Black people were designed for slavery; they didn’t mind being enslaved; they weren’t really human; and they didn’t recognize degradation and injustice.

“If, as a country, we truly understood the extraordinary human catastrophe we created when we became economically dependent on the oppression of black people, if we took this in all its terrible dimensions into our hearts and then our history, we would not be scratching our heads over Ferguson. We would understand exactly why the legacy of enslavement is raging through our cities and begin to do something about it.”

What others are saying:

For,  Paul von Blum writes:

“This especially engaging book examines the impact of the logbooks she discovered in 2004, written by 18-year-old Dudley Saltonstall, a crewman on three voyages of sailing ships owned by an affluent Connecticut merchant in the mid-18th century. Saltonstall and his fellow crew members were on a mission to West Africa to purchase black people as slaves—as he noted in the logbooks, “to take on slaves, wood, and water”—and to sell them to England’s colonial possessions in the Caribbean.

“Some of the residual human “cargo” returned to New England, where their unwilling abduction and forced labor created the foundation of wealth both in that region and in America. These voyages were an integral part of the broader transatlantic slave trade that has forever despoiled Western history and inextricably links American racial politics of the present and recent past to its historical roots. . . .

“Farrow’s inclusion of her mother’s dementia in her book, however, goes far beyond a personal story alone. It is inextricably linked to the broader theme: memory and history. By addressing her mother’s loss of memory, and thus the loss of her personal identity, the author encourages her readers to move from the micro to the macro. The achingly human consequences of dementia transform memory and history from an abstraction into something powerfully human and concrete. By juxtaposing her mother’s story with the logbooks of Dudley Saltonstall, she underscores her central premise: Americans still fundamentally lack a meaningful memory of a slave labor system that held millions of people in savage bondage.”

“A powerful story, heartbreaking, revealing, and redemptive. The Logbooks invites us to join a voyage of discovery into the ‘triangles’ of the trans-Atlantic slave trade—a deeply personal and empathetic exploration of history, memory, and identity. To lose our grasp on the past, Farrow reminds us, is to become unmoored from our selves,” says John Wood Sweet of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Anne Farrow has been on a remarkable journey over the past several years, and this book is a record of that sojourn. In a sense, it is itself a logbook. Farrow’s strong and passionate voice, her deep, even fierce empathy, comes through powerfully as she leads the reader along the path that she took toward a personal engagement with Connecticut’s involvement with slavery—and the slave trade—challenging the reader to really see this aspect of our history as ‘not a chapter but the book itself,’” says author and historian Robert P. Forbes.

“Anne Farrow’s book is courageous, captivating, and necessary. Once again, Farrow has demonstrated that she is a masterful historian, educator, and storyteller, guiding readers through yesterday’s hard truths and making connections to today,” says Olivia S. White, executive director, The Amistad Center for Art & Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

When is it available?

This important book is widely available in the Hartford Library system and can be borrowed from the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Camp Field, Goodwin, Mark Twain and Park branches.

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