slavery lobotomised

Lobotomised and sold into slavery

This is such an unusual story that I’d certainly love to get more information from any of you. Recently, I was researching court cases from the 18th century and came across the most horrific example of people being forced into slavery. A London man called John Smith had kidnapped two youngsters, ‘trepanned’ them, and then shipped the unfortunates off into slavery. Lobotomised in other words and sent across the Atlantic.

I had to read the court account several times to see if I’d got the wrong end of the stick. But sure enough, there it was in black and white. Young men zombified in some terrible procedure and then sent out of their wits to a life of hell in the New World.

On 15 January 1700, the central criminal court in London – better known as the Old Bailey – heard the case against London labourer John Smith. There were two main crimes under consideration.

Firstly, he was accused of kidnapping a Jewish man from Ceuta in Morocco who had come to England to visit friends. His name was Joseph Portall. He’d arrived in the country about two days before and Smith bumped into him at the Exchange, a commercial marketplace in the old City of London.

Lobotomised into slavery down a backstreet

Presumably Smith befriended Portall after which he was lured back to an “office” near St. Mary-Hill. That’s a small street by an ancient church still standing though rebuilt be Sir Christopher Wren after the 1666 Great Fire of London.

There Portall became Smith’s prisoner and at some point, was trepanned. Now this is the word that is used in the court case and there’s only definition I have for being trepanned. That is a person’s head being bored into with an instrument in a similar manner to a lobotomy. If anybody has another definition for this term – I’m all ears.

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The same fate befell a 16-year-old “Christian youth” called Samuel Cooper who was also sent off into slavery after being trepanned. Cooper’s parents had sent the young man off to church on a Sunday morning and never saw him again. The court heard that he was taken on to a ship with Portall bound for the British American colony of Maryland. This would have meant forced labour on a plantation in the New World.

Potentially hundreds lobotomised into slavery

Most disturbingly, it seemed that Smith had illegally transported potentially hundreds of people to the colonies from his office. Whether they were all trepanned or sent against their will wasn’t entirely clear in the trial. Smith tried to argue that they consented to what happened to them. Highly unlikely of course.

Smith was only apprehended because he was turned over to the authorities by a certain Jacob Kysor. In court, Smith couldn’t contain his rage towards Kysor and declared “he wisht he had his Heart Broyled on Coals, for he would Eat it, and Drink his Blood after it”. Original spelling from the court transcript by the way. That comment was good enough for the jury to find him guilty.

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What shocks me is that he wasn’t condemned to death. Given how easily it was to be hanged for any number of crimes in 1700. But especially as he’d committed such an appalling crime. But instead, he was fined and put in the pillory to be pelted by the public. He may also have been whipped at the same time.

I would love to know your insights into this story. By all means have a look at the court case. Were these people actually lobotomised into slavery or is there another way of reading this story? Because if it’s true as reported at the time, then this for me is a new and sick perspective on the dreadful history of slavery.

Soviet AIDS

AIDS and the Soviet disinformation campaign

In the 1980s, something called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) emerged. A sexually transmitted disease that eventually developed into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) bringing down the body’s natural barriers to infection and cancer. As with Covid, there were wild guesses about its origin at the outset. And into this uncertainty, the Soviet Union’s disinformation efforts exploited fear and ignorance with disastrous consequences.

HIV/AIDS came to public prominence initially because of its impact on LGBT communities in the west. But this 1980s pandemic also ripped through Africa infecting millions of heterosexual men and women. In developing countries, as with Covid, conspiracy theories flourished pointing an accusing finger at rich western countries. Soviet intelligence stoked the flames of fear and suspicion.

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The Soviet Union developed an information warfare tool in the 1950s it termed ‘active measures‘. We would now call this disinformation or fake news. This involved pushing the story that HIV had escaped from a US military laboratory in Maryland. The KGB and the Stasi – the East German secret police – collaborated to seed this story among journalists using the Soviet press agency, Novosti, and a network of useful idiots and media outlets – sometimes secretly owned by the Russians.

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This kind of tactic is still employed by Putin’s Russia today. Conspiracy theories are often floated as an alternative or radical or counter-cultural way of looking at things. What Lenin called ‘useful idiots’ – anti-establishment critics hungry for material – are fed narratives that sow disillusionment or mistrust in western institutions including democracy itself. These useful idiots are frequently sourced in academia or among the Twitterati.

The Soviet AIDS theory diverted attention away from animal infection in Africa to American military activity. This found a willing audience among some who felt Africa was being blamed for AIDS. And the Soviets played up on this anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist sentiment. Even more toxic, Soviets pushed the line that the virus had been developed by the US military to deliberately infect minority populations – including within the United States.

Documents now available since the collapse of the Soviet Union are shocking. In one message from the KGB to their Bulgarian secret service counterparts, the objective of the campaign is made very clear:

We are carrying out a complex of [active] measures in connection with the appearance in recent years of a new dangerous disease in the USA, “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome—AIDS”… and its subsequent, rampant spread to other countries, including Western Europe. The goal of the measures is to create a favorable opinion for us abroad—namely, that this disease is the result of secret experiments by the USA’s secret services and the Pentagon with new types of biological weapons that have spun out of control.

This cynical disinformation campaign by the Soviet Union around HIV and AIDS was only stopped when the virus began to impact people in the USSR. Realising they needed scientific expertise from the west, the Kremlin pulled the plug on the campaign. But it was too late. Infections were already rising rapidly. Even today, Russia has a high rate of HIV infection and while I don’t want to use the word ‘karma’, there is a sad irony that the country which originated so much misinformation – and still does on other topics – is hoist on its own petard, so to speak.

It’s worth noting that Russian disinformation pre-dates the Soviet Union. It was the Tsarist secret police that forged the notorious anti-Semitic document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, written around 1903. This purported to be a manifesto from Jewish leaders outlining their intent to take over the world. It was plagiarised from a number of sources including Machiavelli and was circulated by the Black Hundreds, a violent, pro-tsarist and ultra-nationalist body of thugs. It was also given an extensive print run in the United States courtesy of a useful idiot by the name of Henry Ford (yep – that Henry Ford!). The document was completely bogus – but is still widely believed today.