From: Chris McAtee
Time: 12:56:36 AM
Remote Name: 188.8.131.52
Chris McAtee Prof. William Cutler History 67 7 February 2000
Week 4: Primary Source Assignment #2 (“Olaudah Equiano describes the horrors of the Middle Passage”, and “Alexander Falconbridge describes conditions on an English slaver”)
How were slaves brought into captivity and sold into slavery? Black slave traders in their own country initially captured slaves in Africa. These traders would gather large numbers of Africans from across great distances, then trade them by the thousand before bringing them to the coast to sell them to the Europeans. The Europeans exchanged unspecified “merchandise” to the traders for the slaves. One can only speculate that they were certainly given guns, possibly gold or other items of monetary value. African men and women, young and old were sold day in and day out, the new cargo being placed directly onto the ships. Health defects and other concerns were not considered problems in the selling of slaves; only the prices were adjusting accordingly. The European buyers would scrutinize the slaves for health problems and other defects that might prevent them from laboring; buying every single one that met their standards. The buyers were also allowed to return slaves on the day following purchase if they found a problem, but not after that.
Describe the routine of a slave ship. What strikes you as most important about this experience? The single most disturbing characteristic of the cross-Atlantic voyage is the horrific conditions the slaves had to endure until they reached their destination. Firstly, they were packed in great numbers, not unlike sardines, into the bowels of the ship. A ship could hold up to 500 slaves, each stowed in tiny compartments with only enough room to lie on their sides, and there was hardly any room to stand. The compartments also contained a few buckets to act as waste receptacles, but these were too few in number and too small in size to be adequate, often resulting in the most deplorable of conditions within the compartments. Many slaves were so distressed at their situation that they relieved themselves where they lie, causing serious health problems, ultimately death. In fair weather the slaves were permitted above decks, but a barrier was erected to separate the sexes and they were guarded at whips end. Slaves would generally eat two meals per day consisting of beans, corn, rice, yams, and occasionally beef of pork. They were also given a half pint of water at each meal. Slaves who refused to eat were assaulted and threatened until they complied. Slaves were regularly exercised on the deck in an attempt to maintain their health. Here again, those who did not comply were beaten until they submitted to the captors’ wishes. Not to sound crude, but I was extremely surprised and interested to see that the female slaves were given beads, as I quote from the text, “for the purpose of affording them some diversion.” No need to elaborate on that point here, I only though it was quite a strange provision for such a voyage. Common sailors were allowed to copulate with female slaves who would agree to it. Officers of the ship had no limits on the liberties they took with female slaves. This sometimes led to very disturbing and awful ends. The deadliest aspect of the voyage for the slaves was the lack of fresh air available below decks. Because of the sheer numbers in the compartments, oxygen was not available and temperatures rose dangerously high. In these conditions, many slaves would become violently ill, furthering the severity of the ordeal and resulting in several deaths.