The Two Princes of Calabar Book Review
In 1767 Little Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin Robin John were living as Old Calabar’s ruling class, in a trading port in the Bight of Biafra known as Old Town, modern day Nigeria. Old Calabar was a primary source of African slaves in the Atlantic and West Indies, and the Robin John family contributed significantly to the slave population in the Americas, before ironically contributing two of their own family. Old Calabar was divided into sections, prominently Old Town and New Town, which were ruled different competing slave trading families. In an attempt to ruin Old Town, the King of New Town worked together with English slave traders to orchestrate a brutal assault on the ruling class Old Town, inviting the King of Old Town to celebrate their “peace treaty”. Once the King arrived with his family and their servants, they were betrayed and massacred, resulting in the death and enslavement of the servants and ruling family, including the King’s brother Ancona Robin and his nephew Little Ephraim Robin John.
Author Randy Sparks, who found letters written by the “Two Princes” comprised a story that detailed their experiences in the New World, struggle for freedom, and eventual return back to Old Calabar. The Two Princes endured the Middle Passage to be sold as slaves in the West Indies, where they gained a nuanced African Creole identity and worldview, which Randy Sparks highlights in the prologue as one of the main themes, saying “… in this book I explore the impact of the rise of the Atlantic World on a particular place in time–eighteenth-century Old Calabar–through the lives of two men who were themselves products of that Atlantic World.” (Sparks, xii). The Princes struggled for their freedom just as the rest of their fellow enslaved African brethren, experiencing more betrayal than hope. Years later the two were on their way to Bristol to be sold as slaves when they acquired a comrade, a British merchant