Primary Source

American and Zanzibari Trade Contract, 1841

Text of contract in English and Arabic. Explanation in source annotation.


This contract, one of few bilingual agreements that survive, illustrates the practical commercial system that Indian, Arab, and American traders developed on Zanzibar. The document outlines the quantity, quality, and price of the cloves being sold as well as their expected delivery date. In many similar contracts, Richard Waters agreed to make part or all of the payment upfront, a testament to his confidence in his trading partners as well as the broader system. This contract depicts a careful combination of American and Zanzibari practices. Clove are listed by the frasilah, a common unit of weight in the Western Indian Ocean, that amounts to roughly thirty-five pounds. While the document does not mention a specific currency, the $ almost certainly refers to Maria Theresa thalers, although American silver may well have been substituted to make the actual payment. These contracts differed from comparable agreements between Zanzibari merchants in a few notable ways. Most Zanzibari contracts used the leasing of land, resources, and crop yields for payment instead of cash. By promising less liquid assets, sometimes without setting an end date, Indian Ocean actors tied themselves to their lenders. For both parties, the obligatory relationship was often as important as the monetary yield. Association with a prominent local figure helped less established men, and women, attain a firmer social standing. 

This source is part of the teaching module on American and Zanzibari trade in the 19th century


Zanzibar August 17th 1841
It is agreed between Syed Silliman bin Hamed on part and Richard P. Waters on the other part that the said Syed Silliman agrees to furnish the said Mr. Waters or his order two hundred frasilla of good dry cloves within three and a half months from this day At $4.25 four dollars and one quarter per frasilla.


Richard Waters Papers, B2 F7, MH 14, Peabody Essex Museum

How to Cite This Source

"American and Zanzibari Trade Contract, 1841," in World History Commons, [accessed June 13, 2024]