Until Mungo Park’s 1795 expedition into the African interior, there is little ‘true’ storyline about Africa available to Britons.1 Instead, there are episodes of coastal contact in the early narratives, first for gold, ivory and decorative woods and later for slaves; many of these episodes yield confusion about the land and the inhabitants rather than clarification. Below, I will draw on several African travel narratives of the 1720s and 1730s, especially William Snelgrave’s A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea and the Slave-Trade (1734).2 I am particularly interested in juxtaposing an examination of these eyewitness accounts with a study of Daniel Defoe’s Captain
Singleton (1720), an early novel which depicts twenty-seven European men living on Madagascar and then journeying from Mozambique, across central Africa, to Angola with sixty African men whom they enslave to carry their baggage. Together these texts indicate the ideological limits of English writing about Africa and Africans during the first three decades of the eighteenth century. In these accounts, concepts of the ‘European’ and ‘African’ are still in formation and not solidified by racist ideology more typical of nineteenth-century colonial narratives.3 Revealing the contradictions generated by previous frames of reference Englishmen brought with them versus the contemporary reality of Africa and trade, this set of narratives thus permits an analysis of the modes of othering and the simultaneous fracture of them through the pressure of trading situations.