John Kimber was a British captain in the late 18th century who gained notoriety for his brutal treatment of enslaved individuals. In particular, he was responsible for the torture and eventual death of an enslaved teenage girl, which brought his heinous actions to the attention of the British public and helped to fuel the growing abolitionist movement in the country
John Kimber was born around the 1750s in England and began his career as a seaman before becoming involved in the transatlantic slave trade. As a captain of slave ships, he made numerous voyages, transporting enslaved Africans from the west coast of Africa to the British colonies in the Caribbean.
Slaves were often kept in cramped and unsanitary conditions on slave ships during the journey from Africa to the Americas. Many slaves died from disease, malnutrition, and dehydration during the voyage. To prevent deaths and maintain the health of the slaves, John Kimber, like other slave traders of the time, would often practice what was known as “dancing the slaves.” This cruel practice involved forcing slaves to dance for hours on end as a form of exercise and entertainment, without regard for their physical limits or well-being.
The dance was often accompanied by drums or other instruments, and those who refused to dance or couldn’t keep up were punished with beatings, whippings, or other forms of physical abuse.
In 1791, John Kimber was on the slave ship “Recovery”, which was transporting approximately 300 slaves from New Calabar in West Africa to be sold in the Caribbean. Among the enslaved individuals on board was a young teenage girl. When Kimber ordered her to dance for exercise on the ship, she refused. In response, Kimber suspended her from a rope tied to the ship’s rigging and repeatedly flogged her, causing her death. This inhumane treatment was part of a larger system of violence and exploitation that characterized the transatlantic slave trade, in which enslaved individuals were treated as commodities rather than human beings with inherent dignity and worth. After her death, Kimber ordered his crew to throw her overboard.
By the time they reached their destination in Grenada, 27 of the approximately 300 enslaved Africans on board had died.
On April 2nd, 1792, William Wilberforce, a British politician and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, brought to light John Kimber’s heinous crime during a speech to Parliament at the end of a debate on the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce emphasized the innocence of the teenage girl that Kimber had brutally tortured to death, sparking public outrage and condemnation of Kimber’s actions.
The incident was reported in several newspapers, further fueling the growing public outcry against Kimber.
In response to the public pressure, Kimber was brought to trial for the murder in 1792. However, he was acquitted of the charge due to a lack of evidence. Nevertheless, his reputation had been irreparably damaged by the trial, and he was forced to retire from the slave trade.
Kimber’s actions were not unique in the brutal and inhumane world of the transatlantic slave trade, but they did serve as a stark reminder of the cruelty and violence that were commonplace in the industry. The case of the brutally tortured teenager also played an important role in raising public awareness of the horrors of the slave trade, and helped to fuel the growing abolitionist movement in Britain.