José Lopez da Moura was a notable figure in the 18th century Luso-African slave trade who operated in the region now known as Sierra Leone. As an Afro-Portuguese, he amassed significant wealth as a slave trader and became the wealthiest man in the region. His business activities involved the buying and selling of enslaved individuals, and his success was a testament to the brutal exploitation of African lives during the era of transatlantic slavery.
Lopez da Moura was born in the late 17th century, the grandson of a Mane king and part of the hybrid Luso-African community that had developed along the lower rivers. This community was the product of the intermarriage between Portuguese traders and local African women. As a result, Lopez da Moura was fluent in both Portuguese and the local Krio language, and he was able to navigate between the different cultures and customs of the region.
As a young man, Lopez da Moura embarked on a career as a slave trader, engaging in the buying and selling of human beings from the interior of West Africa to the European markets. However, he later resorted to raiding villages and enslaving captives for sale to the Europeans. Through these ventures, he was able to amass a considerable fortune, eventually becoming the wealthiest man in the region.
In 1728, motivated by his desire to expand his control over the slave trade in the region and to undermine the influence of European traders, Lopez da Moura led a raid on Bunce Island, which was one of the major centers for the transatlantic slave trade and was controlled by British traders.
He captured the castle and its occupants, destroyed the fortifications, and looted the buildings, effectively ending the early phase of the castle’s history as a hub for British slave traders. After the raid, Bunce Island was abandoned until the mid-1740s.
While José Lopez da Moura was undoubtedly a wealthy and influential figure in the slave trade of Sierra Leone, few records exist that offer insight into his life. The circumstances of his death remain shrouded in mystery, with conflicting sources presenting differing accounts. Some sources suggest that he met his demise during a conflict with a rival trader, while others claim that he passed away due to natural causes.