A Bad Place Full Of Bad Jerks

HistorySpin: Bullfinch Lambe!

Bullfinch Lambe? Who the hell is Bullfinch Lambe? This asshole doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.

Bullfinch Lambe was an Englishman who worked as a slave trader for the Royal African Company of Britain. He worked mostly with the Whydah kingdom [Whydah is spelled in 200 different ways in English, so take your pick], which, for a time, supposedly exported 80 percent of slaves coming from the African coast. Whydah’s king was a rich fat dude named King Huffon. It was a merchant kingdom whose entire economy was based on the slave trade.


Further down the coast there was another kingdom, the kingdom of Dahomey [this is modern-day Benin, which I realize helps most people contextualize this in absolutely no way whatsoever]. Dahomey was emphatically not a merchant kingdom. They had gone around conquering a bunch of neighboring kingdoms, and now had their eyes on Whydah. At one point, the kingdom of Whydah sent Dahomey’s king Agaja a gift of 40 barrels of gunpowder, 40 muskets, 40 bottles of rum, and 400,000 cowrie shells, which were often used in the slave trade. Reciprocity was expected, and this lavish gift’s whole point was to taunt Agaja by saying, “We are richer than you, and there’s no way you could give us anything comparable.” Agaja’s response was to march the diplomats from Whydah down a path lined with the skulls of his enemies and then give them a measly 40 cowry shells. King Agaja was a bad ass.

Bullfinch Lambe was visiting the small kingdom of Allada, working on a deal to export some slaves, when Dahomian forces sacked and destroyed the kingdom, taking many prisoners of war to be used as slaves. They had never encountered a white guy before, so they took him prisoner and presented him to King Agaja. Agaja was fascinated, and decided to keep Lambe as his personal slave, and a sort of exotic status symbol. Lambe was indignant about this, but was actually treated very well—his official duties consisted of raising a flag on market day and not much else, and Agaja gave him his own house and 40 wives, along with a former African slave and translator named Captain Tom.

Around this time, Dahomey easily conquered Whydah, who had 10 times the number of soldiers as Dahomey. The reason for their defeat was simply that the soldiers from Whydah saw the army of Dahomey, turned, and ran away. Meanwhile, Bullfinch Lambe had been unsuccessfully trying to get the Royal African Company to buy him back from Agaja, but they ran into a problem: Agaja simply already had everything. There was nothing they could offer him that was worth him giving up Lambe. It also helped that Lambe owed the company money already and was apparently pretty lousy at his job, so they weren’t eager to have him back.

Finally, after 2 years in the kingdom, Lambe hatched a plan to escape: he proposed a partnership between Agaja and King George II, which he would broker. Agaja liked this idea, and made Lambe promise to be back within a year. He gave Lambe 80 slaves to give to George as a gift, and off went Lambe and his translator Captain Tom. Now, obviously, Lambe had zero intention of doing any of this. He had 80 slaves he just got for free! So he sold them off [along with Captain Tom, who was understandably upset about this] and settled in the colony of Virginia, where, after only a year, he had gone entirely broke. Bullfinch Lambe was an idiot.


Lambe then hatched upon a brilliant plan: he would go back to England and finally give King George II Agaja’s letter, which promised to make Lambe the official British envoy to Dahomey! He bought back Captain Tom, who was reluctant to work with Lambe again, and headed off for England. Now, Lambe had two problems: One, he was very, very late. Who knows what had happened in Dahomey in the interim? Two, he was rightly seen as incompetent by his superiors, and they did not want him to have such a privileged position in Dahomey. When he finally secured such a meeting, everyone went over his head and eventually decided that none other than Captain Tom should return to Dahomey, and be the envoy. Lambe was forced to stay in England, where he died penniless and in obscurity. A happy ending for all, except for the slaves, because HOLY SHIT THESE PEOPLE WERE BUYING AND SELLING REAL, LIVE HUMAN BEINGS. JESUS CHRIST, THESE PEOPLE WERE MONSTERS.

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