Slavery: In 1808, after fifty-plus years of soul-searching, Parliament, largely through the efforts of William Wilberforce, outlawed the owning of slaves. Which is not to say the practice ceased. In the novel, Whitaker Caldwell is typical of those slave smugglers forced underground.
Abolition Movement: The fictitious abolitionist, Gardner Cole, follows in the footsteps of history’s great English Abolitionists: Wilberforce, Clark, Fox, and Buxton.
But in a quid pro quo, Cole’s laissez faire attitude toward slave-smuggling ensures that his slave-trader friend, Caldwell, periodically donates a portion of his ill-gotten gains to Cole’s LONDON MISSIONARY SOCIETY. The men understand each other.
Competition for Commercial Markets: Many French and English explorers died trying to unlock Africa’s secrets.
Timbuctoo. Was this fabled place really a ‘golden city,’ a market for trade? The Frenchman Rene Caillie provided answer by becoming the first European to visit and return safely from there. Advantage, France.
The Niger River. Explorers had seen it. But did the river lose itself in Saharan sand? Empty into the Atlantic? Finding its delta would open a natural avenue to markets in Africa’s remote interior. Britain found the delta.
Naval Might: England’s Royal Navy stopped, searched, and confiscated all slave-running vessels, including French. France, still smarting from the defeat of Napoleon’s fleet in 1798 by Lord Nelson, determined to even the score.
France Invades Algiers. July 1830: France’s establishing of a base on the Mediterranean’s southern shore threatened English merchant shipping, but also helped quash the rapacious attacks of the Barbary corsairs – the terrorists of their day!
British West Indies sugar-planting aristocracy: In the 1820s, sugar was to the world economy what oil is to today’s. The fictitious Edwin Dunhill-Keyes, owner of thousands of plantation slaves on Caribbean islands, controlled a strong lobby in Parliament and had a close friend in the respected – albeit suspected – slave smuggler Whitaker Caldwell.
Africa’s Intramural Wars: Slavery was endemic in Africa before Westerners came, its victims sold to Arabs in the Barbary, to Muslims in the Levant, and to the Sultan in Istanbul’s Topkapi.
Interesting sidebar: Two Western women became immersed in Eastern culture during this period: Lady Hester Stanhope, niece to William Pitt; and Frenchwoman, Aimee du Buc du Rivery. Enamored of Eastern culture, both became – oddly enough – minor potentates in the Levant.
As one of the many examples in the novel of the melding of history with fiction, these ladies are the subject of a conversation.