The voyage of the Sally was an example of what eighteenth-century New Englanders called "the triangle trade." Rum-laden Rhode Island ships sailed to Africa and acquired cargoes of Africans, who were carried to the plantation colonies of the Caribbean and sold. The ships returned home with holds filled with sugar and molasses, which was distilled into rum – Newport alone possessed nearly two dozen rum distilleries – and shipped to Africa to produce more slaves, more sugar, and more rum. In the century before 1807, roughly 100,000 Africans were carried into New World slavery on Rhode Island ships, most to the Caribbean.
The Sally's voyage stands out for several reasons. Not only is it the best-documented Rhode Island slaving venture, but it was also one of the deadliest. The timing of the voyage was also significant. The year 1764 marked the beginning of the imperial crisis between Great Britain and its thirteen mainland North American colonies, a crisis prompted by Parliament's attempt to collect a duty on Caribbean sugar. It also saw the founding of the College of Rhode Island, a venture in which the four Brown brothers were deeply involved. In 1804, the College would change its name to Brown University in honor of a gift from Nicholas Brown, Jr., the son of one of the Sally's owners.
The short narratives below offer accounts of different aspects of the Sally's journey, accompanied by links to relevant documents. Transcriptions of and bibliographic information for these documents appear elsewhere on this website.