Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John

Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin Robin John were former slaves and members of the elite ruling family of Old Town, Calabur.[1] Both were captured and sold into slavery by English traders while the King of Old Town, Grandy King George, Little Ephraim's brother and Ancona's uncle, was negotiating trade with the Duke of New Town. The Robin Johns were deceived twice by ship captains promising to bring them home to Africa. Upon the second time the two were in England, where they petitioned the court system for their freedom.[2]

The two men belonged to an ethnic group called the Efik and were seen as valuable assets because of their intelligence: they spoke multiple languages (including English), were literate, could negotiate, and had a strong knowledge of the inner workings of the slave trade.[3]

Attack and captureEdit

By the mid 1700s a bitter rivalry had formed between Old Town and New Town in Old Calabar. In 1767 trade negotiations between Grandy King George and Duke Ephraim of New Town turned bitter, which stalled the typical slave-trading operation.[3] New Town's slave traders then recruited the help of British ship captains to ambush those involved in the slave trade in Old Town, during which hundreds of men were slaughtered and hundreds of men enslaved.[4] While the city was focused on the ambush, a British captain was able to capture Little Ephraim and Ancona.[5][6]



Once captured, their odyssey began on Captain Bivins ship the Duke of York which set sail for Dominica in the Caribbean. The pair were sold together to a French physician, which scholar Randy Sparks states was extremely uncommon. After being on the island less than a year, Captain William Sharp of Liverpool on one of his regular trips to the island discovered the two Robin Johns. He promised to return both Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin Robin John back to Africa if they could make it to his ship before he left. In one of the letters that the Robin Johns sent the pair stated that they were "determined to get home".[7] Escaping at night, both Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin Robin John were able to make it to Captain William Sharp's ship. Once there, they discovered that they had been tricked, as Captain William Smith had no intention of sailing to Africa. He instead sailed up the coast of North America and docked in Virginia where the Robin Johns were once again sold.


Once in Virginia, Captain William Sharp sold Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin Robin John to John Thompson of Williamsburg, Virginia.[3] John Thompson was a trader and often took the Robin Johns to sea with him. He was a man with a temper and often beat the Robin Johns.[7] In March 1772, John Thompson died. Shortly after Thompson's death, Captain Terence O'Neil sailed the Greyhound into Virginia. O'Neil had previously sailed from England to Old Calabar, where he picked up 132 slaves to transport to South Carolina. After delivering the slaves O'Neil sailed to Virginia where two of his sailors, who were from Old Town, recognized the Robin Johns.[7] Aware of the details of the ambush where they were captured, these sailors urged Captain O'Neil to take action. Captain O'Neil offered the Robin Johns a trip home if they could escape at night and board his ship. Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin Robin John were able to escape and board the Greyhound, which was headed to Bristol, England, a major slave-trading post.


Upon arriving in England O'Neil transferred the Robin Johns to another ship that was headed back to Virginia, with plans to sell them again. The Robin Johns spent two weeks locked in a ship before they sent a letter to the prominent slave trader Thomas Jones, who knew the Robin Johns personally, as he had made many trips to Old Calabar in the 1760s. Jones had formed close relationships with the ruling family of Old Town. Immediately after the ambush Grandy King George had written to Thomas Jones, asking for his help with bringing his brother and nephew home.[7]

Court case in EnglandEdit

Through Thomas Jones, the Robin Johns petitioned for their freedom. Jones used the 1772 ruling on the James Somerset case, attempting to use Habeas Corpus to free the Robin Johns. A judge ruled that the Robin Johns were free and could not be returned to America to be sold again.[2] After being declared free, the two traveled back to Calabur.[2]

Later lifeEdit

While in Bristol the Robin Johns interacted with Charles Wesley and converted to Methodism.[2][8]


  1. ^ Roark, James L.; Johnson, Michael P.; Cohen, Patricia Cline; Stage, Sarah; Hartmann, Susan M. (2012-03-01). The American Promise, Volume A: A History of the United States: To 1800. Macmillan Higher Education. pp. 123–124. ISBN 9781457626524.
  2. ^ a b c d Childs, Matt (2004). "Captors to Captives to Christians to Calabar: Navigating the Boundaries of Slavery and Freedom in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade". Common-place. 5: 1–4.
  3. ^ a b c "Ancona Robin John and Little Ephraim Robin John | Slavery and Remembrance". Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  4. ^ "Robin, John, Little Ephraim and Ancona - Oxford Reference". doi:10.1093/acref/9780195382075.001.0001/acref-9780195382075-e-1760. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  5. ^ Clarkson, Thomas (1789). The Substance of the Evidence of Sundry Persons on the Slave-trade: Collected in the Course of a Tour Made in the Autumn of the Year 1788. James Phillips.
  6. ^ Kupperman, Karen Ordahl (2012-08-08). The Atlantic in World History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199986552.
  7. ^ a b c d Sparks, Randy J. (2008). The two princes of Calabar : an eighteenth-century Atlantic odyssey. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674032057. OCLC 221175566.
  8. ^ Cruickshank, Johanna. "CHARLES WESLEY, THE MEN OF OLD CALABAR, AND THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY" (PDF). Aldersgate Papers V7.