This dissertation uses the genre of microhistory to understand the issues of slavery and crime in the British Atlantic by focusing on a criminal trial in the Boston Vice-Admiralty Court in 1736. John Barnes, the captain of a slave ship voyaging from Rhode Island to the Guinea coast of Africa and on to the West Indies, in a violent rage, killed a young slave boy on the high seas. After the voyage, he was charged and tried for murder in Boston. The Court found Barnes guilty of murder and sentenced him to death, the only sentence it could impose for such a verdict. The nine Commissioners who sat with the judge in the trial recommended a respite of sentence for one year to allow Barnes time to apply to the King for a pardon, should he wish to do so.
The story of the voyage and the trial is used to elucidate connections between England and Massachusetts through the focus of law relating to the slave trade and slavery in the 1730s. Themes of centre and periphery, the ethics of the slave trade, and the development of admiralty law regarding crime are explored by way of the people and processes involved in this overlooked event in British imperial and Massachusetts history. The Boston Court by indicting Barnes for murder treated the boy as a subject of the king for purposes of the trial in the Vice-Admiralty Court drawing on legal traditions based in natural law and Biblical authority rather than the newer Lockean Enlightenment idea of constant warfare between master and slave.