Just before the American Revolution, a woman whose name I may never know disembarked a ship in the harbour of Charleston, South Carolina, destined for a rice field. She was a member of the Mende people of Sierra Leone. Her back bore the letters "R.A.C.E." – Royal African Company of England – seared into her flesh with a brand. The ship on which she was brought started its journey in Liverpool or London and made its way south along the upper Guinea Coast. It waited at Bunce Island in the Sierra Leone estuary, bobbing in the water, waiting for supplies and a cargo of "choice healthy slaves" that would be sold at auction by scramble on the deck or by the wharf when it landed at its final destination: the swampy, moss-draped Carolina Lowcountry.