On this day in 1689 in London, Gabriel Powell gave Thomas Bowrey his receipt for £8/10/0. Bowrey had been given the money due to Powell at St Hellena on his journey home on the Bengall Merchant by Captain Thomas Peach. It was for the black boy Powell had sold to Peach. Goods from the Bengall Merchant were auctioned in London the previous month and it is likely that Bowrey had been back in England for just a couple of months.
This simple receipt highlights some of my difficulties in writing Bowrey’s biography. He believed the trade in human beings was acceptable, escaped from his ship with the other Europeans deserting his lascar crew to the fate of pirates attacking them, and spoke disparagingly of much of the indigenous population of the East Indies. However much I abhor such attitudes, they were the norm for Bowrey’s time and he showed a great deal of compassion on other occasions. He lived at a time when belief was absolute. Those who held beliefs different from your own were simply wrong.
Like anyone, Bowrey had his faults. At times, he tried his friendships to their limits. These incidents are easy to write about but can a man be condemned for believing what the majority of his peers believed? Even today, what is or is not acceptable changes rapidly. As I write, the attitudes that were prevalent in Hollywood into this century are rightly being condemned. Should, therefore, Bowrey be condemned for his attitudes?