A Trading Alliance: Sir John Tobin and Duke Ephraim

After 1807, writes A.J.H. Latham, a Liverpool merchant and a Nigerian chieftain both profited from the palm-oil trade.

The abolition of the slave trade caused consternation both in Liverpool and Africa. Merchants who had grown wealthy in the hey-day of the trade were now faced with ruin, and on the Coast, trading chiefs were left with barracoons crowded with slaves, but their anchorages deserted.

Yet this confusion and uncertainty served to cement a friendship and trading alliance between an up-and-coming Liverpool merchant and a rising African chief that was to carry them both to positions of eminence in their respective communities. They were John Tobin of Liverpool and Duke Ephraim of Old Calabar.

John Tobin, eldest son of a merchant in the Isle of Man, went to sea out of Liverpool as a boy and, by 1793, when he was thirty, was master of the privateer Gipsy. That year he captured three French ships: La Hirondelle, carrying 122 slaves, La Cintre with 211 slaves, and La Pourvoyance laden with a cargo of slaves and 500lb. of ivory.

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