Modern history

21

If You Want to Learn How to Pray, Go to Sea

Portuguese proverb

“It is perfectly impossible to make a slave voyage a healthy voyage.”

Captain Denman to William Hutt’s committee in the House of Commons, 1848

“Whether it was my ship or any other ship the whole of the officers and crew were employed altogether in endeavouring to keep the slaves in a healthy state and in good spirits.”

Thomas Tobin, a onetime Liverpool slave captain, to the Hutt Committee, 1848

THE CROSSING of what the Spaniards of the fifteenth century spoke of as “the great Ocean Sea” was the characteristic experience of the Atlantic slave trade. Otherwise, the journey to the coast of a captive from his remote origin, in the interior of Africa, among the ruined cities of the Songhai empire, or in the Congo kingdom before the emergence of the ngola, for example, would have been much the same as if the slave was being carried to a Mediterranean port or an American one, to Elmina or to Brazil. It would have been as harsh. But it was the sea, the vast, mysterious, terrifying “green sea of darkness,” which gave the Atlantic slave trade its special drama.

Few slaves, before 1750, left any description of what it was like to see the ocean for the first time after being taken on the long journey from the interior of Africa. But certainly many Africans thought that the Europeans were people who had no country, and who lived in ships. One slave who did tell his story was Olaudah Equiano, a remarkable slave captured by the British and carried to the West Indies in the 1760s. “The first object which saluted my eyes,” he wrote, “was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor. . . . These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled and tossed up, to see if I were sound, by some of the crew, and I was now persuaded that I had got into a world of bad spirits and that they were going to kill me. Their complexions too, differing so much from ours, their long hair and the language they spoke . . . united to confirm me in this belief. Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country.

“When I looked round the ship,” Equiano continued, “and saw a large . . . copper boiling . . . I no longer doubted my fate. . . . I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. When I recovered, I found some black people about me who, I believed, were some of those who had brought me on board, and had been receiving their pay; they talked in order to cheer me, but all in vain. I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men, with horrible looks, red faces and loose hair. They told me I was not, and one of the crew brought me a small portion of spiritous liquor in a wine glass. . . . I took a little down my palate, which . . . threw me into the greatest consternation at the strange feeling it produced, having never tasted any such liquor before. . . .”

Equiano testifies to the widespread suspicion, throughout Africa, that the white (or “red”) people—presumably followers of the Lord of the Dead, Mwene Puto (an Angolan devil)—had seized the slaves in order to eat them. Some Africans were certain that the red wine which the Europeans drank so merrily derived from the blood of the blacks, that the olive oil which they used so carefully came from squeezing black bodies, and even that the strong-smelling cheese of the captain’s table derived from Africans’ brains.

Equiano asked if these people, the crew, had “no country.” Did they live in this “hollow place”? Did they have women and, if so, where were they? How did the ship sail? The answers which he received to these sharp questions were unsatisfactory, and inadequate.1

The crossing of the Atlantic was now due to begin. Ships carrying slaves did not alter much over the generations. Thus, in the seventeenth century, in the era of the Portuguese asiento, an average vessel arriving in Cartagena de Indias would seem to have carried 300 slaves. The typical French slave ship in the eighteenth century was responsible for about 400, and a Portuguese ship 370. The usual load on an English ship was less: about 230 slaves at the end of the eighteenth century. But there were innumerable exceptions: thus the Comte d’Hérouville of Nantes (owned by René Foucault aîné, captained by Jean-François Cadillac) in 1766 carried only one adult slave and one négritte live to Martinique. Many ships sailed for the Indies with fewer slaves than they had been expected to carry; some were more crowded than planned.

If conditions were good, the crossing of the Atlantic took, on Portuguese journeys in the seventeenth century, nearly thirty-five days from Angola to Pernambuco, forty to Bahia, and fifty to Rio. At the end of the eighteenth century, such voyages across the South Atlantic seem, because the vessels were larger, to have been cut to average only thirty days. These journeys were relatively easy, since, in normal circumstances, the captains sailed in a large circle around a mid-Atlantic area of high pressure. In the 1670s, British ships from Guinea would take some forty-four days to reach the Caribbean. But Dutch boats in the West India Company usually took eighty days to reach Curaçao, with the shortest journey twenty-three days, the longest 284. Most French journeys across the Atlantic, like those of the British, lasted two to three months, 70 days being normal for ships from Honfleur, but journeys lasting longer were frequent.

The shorter journeys from West Africa to Portugal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries would, of course, have taken less time: perhaps twenty days to a month, from Arguin to Lisbon; in fine weather, though, from São Tomé, the time could have been as much as three to six months.

In the eighteenth century, a record for a French slave journey across the Atlantic was set in 1754 by the Saint-Philippe of Nantes, 340 tons which, owned by the Jogue brothers, carried 462 Africans from Whydah to Saint-Domingue in only twenty-five days.

The longest French journey in the eighteenth century seems to have been that of the Sainte-Anne, of Nantes, belonging to Louis Mornant which, in 1727, took no less than nine months to travel from Whydah to Cayes Saint-Louis, Saint-Domingue, fifty-five slaves being lost en route.

•  •  •

When the vessel set off, the captain would believe that, with good fortune, the southeast trade winds would almost automatically take the ship, before the wind, across the Atlantic. But before those winds could be picked up, while still in sight of Africa, the male slaves were usually held in chains, in pairs, the right ankle of one connected to the left ankle of the other.

Jacques Savary, a brilliant Angevin businessman who had been a protégé of Louis XIV’s onetime favorite, Fouquet, and was a theoretician of commerce, wrote, in his Le Parfait Négociant, at the end of the seventeenth century: “From the moment that the slaves are embarked, one must put the sails up. The reason is that these slaves have so great a love for their country that they despair when they see that they are leaving it forever; that makes them die of grief, and I have heard merchants who engage in this commerce say that they die more often before leaving the port than during the voyage. Some throw themselves into the sea, others hit their heads against the ship, others hold their breath to try and smother themselves, others still try to die of hunger from not eating, yet, when they have definitely left their country, they begin to console themselves, particularly when [the captain] regales them with the music of some instrument. . . .”2 Captain Thomas Phillips of London wrote, from personal experience, about the same time: “When we come to sea, we let them out of irons, they never attempt to rebel. . . . The only danger is when we are in sight of their own country. . . . We have some thirty or forty Gold Coast negroes . . . to make guardians and overseers of the Whydah negroes, and sleep among them to keep them from quarrelling.”3 A hundred years later, in 1790, Ecroyde Claxton, a ship’s surgeon, told the House of Commons committee of inquiry that once, he remembered, a slave did manage to throw himself overboard as a protest. A great effort was mounted to recover him. The slave, “perceiving that he was going to be caught, immediately dived under water and, by that means, made his escape, and came up again several yards from the vessel, and made signs which it is impossible for me to describe in words, expressive of the happiness he had in escaping us.”4

As for the character of the ships, the Dutch thought that they had the best-managed ones: “Though the number [of slaves] sometimes amounts to six or seven hundred, yet by . . . careful management . . . they are so regulated that it seems incredible: and, in this particular, our [Dutch] nation exceeds all other Europeans; for the French, Portuguese and English slave ships are always foul and stinking; on the contrary, ours are for the most part clean and neat.”5

Overcrowding was normal. With regard to Portuguese ships, Father Dionigio Carli de Piacenza wrote, in the late seventeenth century, “Women who were pregnant were assembled in the back cabin, the children were huddled together on the first entrepôt, as if they were herrings in a barrel. If anyone wanted to sleep, they lay on top of each other. To satisfy their natural needs, they had bilge places [sentines] over the edge of the sea but, as many feared to lose their place [if they did such a thing], they relieved themselves where they were, above all the men [who were] cruelly pushed together, in such a way that the heat and the smell became intolerable.”6 A hundred years later, James Morley, who had served as a gunner on the slaver Medway, told a House of Commons committee of inquiry that he had seen the slaves “under great difficulty of breathing; the women, particularly, often got upon the beams, where the gratings are often raised with bannisters, about four feet above the combings [the raised borders along the hatches which prevent water from running below] to give air, but they are generally driven down, because they take the air from the rest. He has known rice held in the mouths of sea-sick slaves until they were almost strangled; he has seen the surgeon’s mate force the panniken [bread] between their teeth and throw medicine over them so that not half went into their mouths—the poor fellows wallowing in their blood . . . and this with blows of the cat [o’ nine tails].”7

The Portuguese, it is fair to recognize, tried to lay down rules for the carriage of slaves. Thus the same King Manuel of Portugal who, in the early sixteenth century, had insisted on baptism for these cargoes ordered that the captives—they were then still mostly being carried to Europe, not to America—should have at the least wooden beds, under a roof to give protection against rain and cold. The same monarch tried to establish standards for adequate supplies of food, such as yams—though the provision of sticks to gnaw in order to calm the pangs of hunger, as well as to clean the teeth, scarcely seems to constitute the height of generosity.

Even these tepid suggestions of humanity were rarely put into effect, and each early Portuguese slave ship carried on it the same locks, manacles, chains, and head-rings to secure the slaves which they carried three hundred years later.

The Law of 1684 sought to make a clear provision for the arqueação—that is, the required official measurement of the slave decks on ships, taking into account the need to define the difference between the hold, reserved for cargo, and the decks, for slaves. The regulations did not take into account headroom but, all the same, there were provisions for “comfort” which could be interpreted as requiring it.

As a result of these and other rules, the Portuguese are sometimes supposed to have been the most humane of the European shippers of slaves: Jean Barbot wrote of them as “commendable, in that they bring along with them to the coast a sufficient quantity of coarse thick mats to serve as bedding under the slaves aboard, and shift them every fortnight or three weeks with fresh mats which, besides it is softer for the poor wretches to lie upon than the bare deals or decks, must also be much healthier for them, because the planks or deals contract some dampness more or less, either from the deck being washed so often to keep it clean and sweet, or from the rain that gets in now and then . . . and even from the very sweat of the slaves; which, being so crowded in a low place, is perpetual.”8 The Swedish mineralogist Wadström, who had information about the northern slave harbors, such as Bissau or Cacheu, also wrote, in the 1790s: “The Portuguese slave ships are never overcrowded and the sailors are chiefly . . . negros ladinos, who speak their language and whose business it is to comfort and attend the poor people on the voyage. The consequence is that they have little or no occasion for fetters, so constantly used in the other European slave ships, and that they perform their voyage from Angola etc., to Brazil with very little mortality. . . .”9 By the eighteenth century, good conditions were further assisted on Portuguese ships by allocating to each sailor the care of about fifteen slaves. These men were paid a new crown for every slave delivered alive.

All the same, the Portuguese were perfectly able to balance profit against hardship. Dr. Wadström also testified: “Some slave merchants were sending a few ships to Mozambique for slaves. They told me that, though in the long, cold and stormy voyage round the Cape of Good Hope, many more of the slaves died than even in the passage from the coast of Guinea to the West Indies, yet . . . their cheapness in Mozambique fully compensated for their increased mortality.”10

Thus, though the Portuguese may have approached the whole business of the slave trade more humanely than their Northern European confrères, in practice there was not much difference between them. For example, only in the latter half of the eighteenth century did Northern European attitudes to hygiene, modest as they were, begin to reach Lisbon, Luanda, and Rio. Perhaps the real difference was psychological. The Portuguese, with their slave sailors, had no great sense that a black captive was an unusual person—he was just one more suffering soul in God’s inexplicable scheme—whereas, for the white Protestants of the North, Africans were as exotic as they were alarming.

The slave Equiano wrote of this first stage of the journey across the Atlantic: “The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome that it was dangerous to remain there for any time, and some of us had been permitted to stay on the deck for the fresh air; but now that the whole ship’s cargo were confined together, it became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced constant perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration . . . and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable; and the filth of the tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered a scene of horror almost inconceivable.”11

Zachary Macaulay, the indefatigable abolitionist, traveled as a passenger on one English slave ship about 1795 to discover what such a voyage was like. Macaulay, characteristically, kept his notes in Greek to fool the crew. The captain “told us that a slave ship was a very different thing to what had been reported. He accordingly said a few things to the women [slaves], to which they replied with a cheer. He went forward to the forward deck and said the same things to the men, who made the same reply. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘are you not convinced that Mr Wilberforce has conceived very improperly of slave ships?’ ” Macaulay was shown where to sling his hammock and asked if he would not mind a few slaves’ sleeping under it: the smell, he was told, would be unpleasant for a few days but, “when we got into the trade winds, it would no longer be perceived.”12

An examination of the diagram of the Liverpool slave ship Brookes of 1790 (so called since it was owned by a famous family of builders in Liverpool of that name) and of that of the 232-ton Nantes vessel Le Vigilant of 1823 (owned by François Michaud)Isuggests that the British in the 1780s and the French in the 1820s would hold their captives in a space five feet, three inches high by four feet, four inches wide. Dr. Thomas Trotter, an Edinburgh physician (he later wrote a well-known thesis,Drunkenness and Its Effects on the Human Body) who served on the Brookes as surgeon in 1783, was asked about conditions by a committee of the House of Commons. The question was put to him: “Had they [the slaves] room to turn themselves, or in any sort to lie at ease?” Trotter replied: “By no means. The slaves that are out of irons are locked ‘spoonways,’ according to the technical phrase, and closely locked to one another. It is the duty of the first mate to see them stowed in this manner every morning; those which do not get quickly into their places are compelled by the cat and, such was the situation when stowed in this manner, and when the ship had much motion at sea, that they were often miserably bruised against the deck or against each other. . . . I have seen their [the slaves’] breasts heaving and observed them draw their breath, with all those laborious and anxious efforts for life which we observe in expiring animals subjected by experiment to bad air of various kinds.” The Brookes, on the voyage in which Trotter participated, carried over six hundred slaves and lost sixty en route.13

About the same time as Trotter’s statement, Thomas Clarkson, the celebrated opponent of the trade, talked to a witness who told him: “The misery which the slaves endure in consequence of too close a stowage is not easily to be described. I have heard them frequently complaining of heat, and have seen them fainting, almost dying for want of water. Their situation is worst in rainy weather. We do everything for them in our power. In all the vessels in which I have sailed in the slave trade, we never covered the gratings with a tarpawling, but made a tarpawling awning over the booms . . . [but some were still] panting for breath, and in such a situation that the seamen have been obliged to get them immediately onto deck, fearing lest they would otherwise have fainted away and died.”14

From time to time, there were suggestions that the provision of better conditions on board these ships might reduce the losses or, rather, increase the profits: “We find the covetousness of commanders crowding in their slaves above the proportion for the advantage of freight is the only reason for the great loss to the company,” the factors of the RAC wrote home to the directors from Cape Coast in 1681. “If Your Honours would be pleased to beat them down in their number though you gave them five shillings per head extraordinary, Your Honours would be considerable gainers at the year’s end.”15 But the RAC did nothing: in London, it was difficult to conceive of inhumanity in Africa, and “tight-packing” remained the rule.

All the European nations lodged the two sexes of their slaves apart, as usual following Portuguese practice, ordinarily “by means of a strong partition at the main mast, the forepart is for men, the other behind the mast for the women. If it be in large ships carrying five or six hundred slaves, the deck in such ships ought to be at least five and a half or six feet high [being] the more airy and convenient for such a considerable number of human creatures; and consequently far the more healthy for them.” Female slaves were treated better than the men, not being chained. The reason for these arrangements was not only to prevent the male slaves from seducing the women but also that black women were often said to do what they could to urge the men to assert themselves and attack the crew.

These slave decks were usually between the hold and the main deck of the ship. Any lowering of the slave deck, or extending it towards the bow or stern of the ship, in order to allow more room for the slaves, had the effect of reducing the area in which food and water casks could be stored. But, on some ships, a second tier of wood would be set up within the slave deck, so as to allow a second assembly of captives to be carried in two narrower compartments.

Most slavers had portholes, but they were normally too low in the water to be opened except in calm seas. Hatchways opening onto the deck allowed the slaves what air they could expect, without giving them any chance of escape.

Several distinguished scholars have recently shown that, despite the comment of the RAC, cited above, there was no close relation between “tight-packing” and mortality. A meticulous analysis of statistics suggests that tightly packed ships in fact did not have a significantly larger number of deaths than more humanely stored ones: “the number . . . taken on board in itself did not relate to [the] mortality experienced by African slaves” during the crossing. The disadvantage of overpacking was not, it seems, that it in itself led to a greater incidence of disease, but that it was usually accompanied by a reduction in the space available for storing food for the voyage; and that, of course, caused malnutrition. An epidemic would, after all, sweep through even a lightly packed ship; and, if there were no epidemics, and the captain was clever as well as fortunate, he might be able to land most of his cargo even on a tightly packed vessel.16

A windsail, a funnel of sailcloth used to ventilate the ship, was sometimes employed to try and force air through the slave deck, but its effectiveness depended on there being enough wind.

Officers and crew (and passengers, if there were any) also traveled in narrow circumstances on board these ships. The sailors would sleep in hammocks, or perhaps bunks, slung or built into any available corner. On the Brookes, for example, on one deck, the crew’s quarters lay aft the slaves’ compartment, and on the deck above were quarters for the officers, with a good cabin for the captain—on the Brookes this measured nearly fourteen feet long by about five feet broad and six feet high. Sometimes, if the ship was overloaded, these sailors would sleep in the boats, on the deck, or in gangways. The captain and the officers would often make less room for themselves by loading as many personal slaves as they could beneath their bunks, or in their cabins. This was specially noticeable on voyages between Luanda and Rio, about 1800, when at least twelve of these illegal slaves, depending on the size of the crew, would travel. Sometimes, both captains and officers concealed these personal slaves from the officials in Luanda who had inspected the ship for weight and slave per ton; or they would bring in the slaves over the gunwale at night, after the formal inspection, perhaps stopping at one of the bays along the coast below the city to take on the smuggled cargo.

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After eight days, the ships would usually be out of sight of land, and the slaves would be allowed on deck. Great efforts were then made to maintain good spirits as well as good hygiene. Thus the captives would be organized in groups for the cleaning of the ship and required to sing while doing it. Jean Barbot wrote that, on the French ships from La Rochelle on which he had served, “thrice a week, we perfume betwixt’ decks with a quantity of good vinegar in pails, and red hot bullets in them, to expel the bad air, after the place has been well scrubbed with brooms: after which, the deck is cleaned with cold vinegar.”17 Captain Phillips of the Hannibal recalled that the Gold Coast slaves whom he used as the ship’s noncommissioned officers took care “to make the negroes scrape the decks where they lodge every morning very clean, to eschew any distempers that may engender from filth and dirtiness; when we appoint a guardian we give him a cat o’ nine tails as a badge of his office, which he is not a little proud of.” Female slaves were often asked to work the corn mill, the corn being put, perhaps with rice or peppers, into the bean soup. About “a fortnight after leaving,” recalled Thomas Tobin of Liverpool for the benefit of the House of Commons, to whom he was testifying, “I endeavoured, by keeping them in a good humour, to knock perhaps a dozen out of these irons on a morning; then the next morning the same; the men took it in good heart and they used to draw lots themselves to see who should be let out the next morning, until they were about half out, and then we let them all out.”18

Brutality was neither normal nor inevitable. It was in everyone’s interest to deliver as many live slaves as possible to the Americas. An instruction of the Dutch Middelburgische Kamerse Compagnie in 1762-86 specifically insisted: “Do not permit any Negroes, slaves, or slave women to be defiled or mistreated.”19 That order went on to demand that “care be taken that the doctor and supercargo check the mouths and eyes of the slaves every morning.” Jean Barbot, after his own slave voyages, recommended good treatment of slaves in order to “curb their brutish temper,” but also “to lessen the deep sense of their lamentable condition, which many are sensible enough of, whatever we may think of their stupidity.” He also thought that, generally, on board ship, “all possible care is taken to preserve and subsist them [the slaves] in the interest of the owners.”20

Yet the eighteenth century was a violent age; human life was not held in much respect. One description of a sea passage of a slaver was that, “once off the coast, the ship became half bedlam and half brothel.” Captains often treated their own crews with criminal sadism, too. Captain William Lugen, of Bristol, was tried at Charleston for murder, because one of his female captives had a baby and the woman died. The crew committed the “poor infant to the people of its own colour; but they, like true savages, handed it upon deck, and refused to admit it among them; their reason being that they believed the illness to be infectious. The infant was then left in the broiling heat of the sun and in the agonies of death (the surgeon said that it could not live the day). The captain ordered it to be thrown overboard.” He was later acquitted of murder, as “there could [have been] no premeditated malice.”21 On a French ship in the eighteenth century (probably the 1770s), the captain reported that the second captain, Philippe Liot, had “mistreated a very pretty negress, broke two of her teeth, and put her in such a state of terror that she could only be sold for a very low price in Saint-Domingue, where she died two weeks later.”22

Thomas Tobin, the slaving captain of Liverpool who gave evidence to the House of Commons, on the other hand, recalled how, if the slaves whom he was transporting “had been in a nursery in any private family, they could not have been treated more [kindly].” The whole ship’s company, he said, was “constantly employed . . . making everything [as] comfortable as could possibly be for the slaves. . . . They came up at about eight o’clock in the morning, and people were appointed over the hatchways with cloths, and they were rubbed down by themselves.”23 Captain Thomas Phillips of the Hannibal wrote in 1694: “I have been informed that some commanders have cut off the legs or arms of the most wilful [slaves], to terrify the rest, for they believe that, if they lose a member, they cannot return home again: I was advised by some of my officers to do the same, but I could not be persuaded to entertain the least thought of it, much less to put in practice such barbarity and cruelty to poor creatures who, excepting their want of Christianity and true religion (their misfortune more than fault), are as much the works of God’s hands, and no doubt as dear to him as ourselves.”24

Food en route to the Americas was of course simple, with, as usual, a few national differences: manioc (or cassava) was a staple food on Portuguese boats; maize (already known to the English as “Indian corn”) on English and Dutch ones; while oats, brought from France, on French ones. Rice or millet (grown in Africa) was also often available. To these, kidney beans, plantains (that is, coarse bananas), yams, potatoes, coconuts, limes, and oranges might be added. The food of the slaves was neither much inferior in quantity nor in quality to that of the crew. It was also probably better than what the slaves would have enjoyed during the months of waiting or traveling in Africa.

By the late eighteenth century, a typical ration per day for a slave might be three pounds, ten ounces of yam, ten ounces of biscuit, three and a half ounces of beans, two ounces of flour, and a portion of salted beef. One plantain and one ear of corn might be added three days out of five. A mouthwash of vinegar or lime juice might be given in the mornings, to avoid scurvy (as people had begun to realize was necessary after James Lind’s celebrated treatise of 1754, though the Admiralty did not specify the need for such a juice till 1794; but surgeon Trotter of the Brookes, previously mentioned, was a pioneer in the practice).

Once again, the Portuguese had laid down precise regulations in 1519 about the food for the journey of a slave vessel and, for a time at least, those rules were maintained. The Law of 1684 elaborated them. But captains bound for Rio from Luanda or Benguela in Angola often refused to buy what was needed. They even bribed officials in the port to permit them secretly to use the space which would have been taken up by food to add to the complement of slaves.

Certainly the food was often much less than what was needed. An Irish sailor, Nics Owen, sailing with Captain William Brown from Sierra Leone to Newport, Rhode Island, in 1753, found that the ration for the crew was one ounce of salt meat every twenty-four hours, with just a half-biscuit in addition.

The Dutch fed their slaves “three times a day with indifferent good victuals and”—so the crews insisted—“much better than in their own country.” On the other hand, on French boats, a stew of oats would be cooked daily in a large copper, to which dried turtle meat (such as could be obtained in the Cape Verde Islands) or dried vegetables were added. Fresh vegetables and water were bought whenever the ship touched land. On English ships, meals were usually distributed to the slaves in tens in “a small fat tub, made for that use by our coopers . . . each slave having a little wooden spoon to feed himself handsomely. . . .” Captain Phillips recalled that these meals were held on the main deck and forecastle, so “that we may have them all under command of our arms from the quarterdeck in case of any disturbance; the women eat upon the quarterdeck with us, and the boys and girls upon the poop.” Meals on English ships were usually given twice a day, at ten in the morning and five at night: “The first meal was large beans, boil’d with a certain quantity of Muscovy lard which we have from Holland. . . . The other meal was of pease, or of Indian wheat ‘dabbadabb’ [Indian corn ground in an iron mill], which we take for that purpose, as small as oatmeal, then mixed with water and boiled well in a copper furnace till as thick as pudding, to which salt, palm oil, and malaguetta [pepper] were added to relish.” It was thought that malaguetta pepper would give “our negroes in their messes [something] to keep them from the flux [that is, acute diarrhea] and dry bellyache.”25

The RAC always carried its own dry “bisket,” from England, as well as horsebeans and lard, and would buy maize on the Gold Coast before going to Calabar. In the early eighteenth century, these English ships would also take with them baskets of potatoes, barrels of salt, hogsheads of palm oil, pepper, rice, chests of corn, and sometimes quantities of Suffolk cheese, vinegar, “English spirits” (gin, presumably), and tobacco.

Different observers left contrasting impressions of slaves’ desires. Jean Barbot found that slaves had “a much better stomach for beans . . . than Indian wheat, mandioca [manioc] or yams.” Thomas Phillips also recalled, “These beans, the negroes extremely love . . . beating their breasts eating them and crying ‘Pram, pram,’ which is very good.” On the other hand, Barbot said, about 1700, “a ship that takes in five hundred slaves must provide above 100,000 yams, which is very difficult, because it is hard to store them, by reason that they take up so much room; and yet no less ought to be provided, the slave being of such a constitution that no other food will keep them: Indian corn, beans and mandioca disagreeing with their stomachs.” A hundred years later, Thomas Tobin said much the same, save that he usually needed only ten to fifteen thousand yams.26

Sometimes it was necessary to force slaves to eat to prevent them from committing suicide by self-starvation. Barbot, who was, so he said, “naturally compassionate,” had nevertheless “been necessitated sometimes to cause the teeth of those wretches to be broken because they would not open their mouths.” Wilberforce instanced a captain who had ordered his mate to offer a recalcitrant slave a piece of yam in one hand and a “piece of fire” in the other. For those recalcitrants, a special pair of scissors, or speculum oris, was carried. The blades were forced between the teeth of the rebel, and then the attached thumbscrew was turned in order to force the jaws apart.27, II

The hour of meals was the most dangerous time for the crews: four o’clock in the afternoon was “the aptest time to mutiny [the slaves] being all on deck. . . . Therefore, all that time what of our men who are not employed in distributing victuals to them . . . stand to their arms; and some with loaded matches at the great guns that yawn upon them, loaden with cartridge, till they have done. . . .”28

Dinner being ended, reported Jean Barbot, “we made the men go down between decks, for the women were almost entirely at their own discretion, to be on deck as long as they pleased, nay, even many of the males had the same liberty by turns . . . few or none being fettered [that is, when at sea]. . . . Besides, we allow’d each of them, between their meals, a handful of Indian wheat and mandioca and now and then short pipes and tobacco to smoke upon deck by turns and some cocoa nuts . . . and the women [put] a piece of coarse cloth to cover them and the same to many of the men, which we took care they did wash from time to time to prevent vermin. Towards evening, they diverted themselves on the decks as they thought fit, some conversing together, others dancing, singing and sporting after their manner, which pleased them highly and often made us pastime, especially the female sex who, being apart from the males on the quarterdeck, and many of them young sprightly maidens, full of jollity, and good humour, afforded us abundance of recreation.” Both sexes were indeed “encouraged to sing and dance as much as possible,” the captain of a French vessel declared; “for this purpose, two drums might be made available. Slaves who danced well might be given a small ration ofeau de vie, as well as a little piece of meat or a biscuit. This gave them something to look forward to. They were never given pipes (for fear of fire), but a little tobacco in powder is all right for the same purpose.” Sometimes, these dances were executed under the menace of a whip. Thomas Phillips recalled, “We often at sea in the evening would let the slaves come up into the sun to air themselves, and make them jump and dance for an hour or two to our bagpipes, harp and fiddle.”29

It was asserted in the 1790s by an English slave captain, Captain Sherwood, that on slave ships there was as a rule adequate water. That was sometimes true, usually not. An average man may be supposed to require, in one form or another, a quart of water to drink every day, and a quart and a half in food. Africans were accustomed to drink more than Europeans. The Portuguese in 1519 laid down that adequate water should be provided on these vessels, and their law of 1684 specified what that meant: enough water should be carried to give each slave a daily canada (1.5 pints), which was, however, only half the ration established as necessary earlier in the century. Liverpool ships would often carry enough water to provide two pints a day, and ships from Nantes 3 pints or even slightly over a full gallon.

The space needed to provide adequate water was considerable: a Portuguese ship carrying three hundred slaves would have to ship thirty-five barrels (pipas) by law. Jean Barbot said that at “each meal we allowed each slave a full coconut shell of water and, from time to time, a dram of brandy.” In fact, a double supply of water was often shipped. Thus the ship Brookes in the 1780s carried 34,000 gallons of water for its six hundred slaves and forty-five sailors. Yet a ration of three pints of water per slave per day would have required only 12,000 gallons.

These voyages were often very hot as well as very crowded. Many slaves suffered from dysentery and, therefore, lost liquid at a rate which made even the ration of water prescribed by Portuguese law inadequate. Dehydration in conditions of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit below-decks was not at all unusual.

The RAC, during the early years of the eighteenth century, tried to provide machines “to make salt-water fresh . . . to render the voyage much the shorter and . . . lessen the mortality of the Negroes.” But they were quite unsuccessful.

Water was also often carried in most unhealthy ways. For example, on the voyage between Angola and Brazil, it was frequently stored in the same barrels which had been used to bring over Rio’s special cane brandy, gerebita, on the outward journey, a preparation which fouled any liquid unless the barrels were thoroughly cleaned. Water in Luanda and Benguela was anyway notoriously bad, as well as in short supply.

Despite the efforts of provident captains, illness was rife on slave ships. The enlightened Dominican Tomás de Mercado, whose treatise of 1569, Tratos y contratos de Mercaderes, included, as we have seen, one of the earliest criticisms of the slave trade,IIIrecalled a Portuguese ship which lost a hundred slaves out of five hundred in a single night from an unrecorded disease.30 Later, if the surgeons found any slaves indisposed, they would cause them “to be carried to the lazaretto, under the forecastle, . . . a sort of hospital. . . . Being out of the crowd, the surgeons had more conveniency and time to administer proper remedies; which they cannot do properly between decks, because of the great heat that is there continually, which is sometimes so excessive that the surgeons would faint away and the candles would not burn; besides that, in such a crowd of brutish people, there are always some very apt to annoy and hurt others, and all in general so greedy, that they will snatch from the sick slaves the fresh meat or liquour that is given to them.” Thus Jean Barbot, who added, “It is in no way advisable to put sick slaves in the long boat upon deck, as was imprudently done on the Albion, for they being exposed in the open air, and coming out of the excessive hot hold, and lying there in the cool of the nights for some time, just under the fall of the wind from the sails, were soon taken so ill of violent cholics and bloody fluxes that, in a few days, they died. . . .”31

An English surgeon in 1790 thought that two-thirds of the deaths on a slave journey were due to “banzo,” a mortal melancholy, as it was described in a Brazilian dictionary, or “involuntary suicide.”

In truth, dysentery, or “the flux,” was the worst of the diseases on the ships: a third of deaths were probably so caused, or from dehydration induced by it. Smallpox was probably the second-most-common cause of death, and, earlier on, it was probably even more destructive than the flux: “The negroes are so incident to the smallpox,” wrote Captain Phillips at the end of the seventeenth century, “that few ships that carry them escape without it and, sometimes, it makes vast havoc and destruction among them; but, though we had a hundred at a time sick of it, and . . . it went through the ship, yet we lost not a dozen by it . . . though it will never seize a white man.”32 That latter immunity, it should be said, was something which Europeans had become accustomed to after the epidemic which had been so destructive in Mexico in the days of Hernán Cortés. Scurvy (known as mal de Loanda on Portuguese ships) was also to be found regularly, as well as skin diseases. Several kinds of ophthalmia occasionally also had devastating effects.

Losses aboard slave ships were usually recorded, though most of the early “death books” for the Portuguese and Spanish deliveries of slaves during the first two centuries have long been lost. Fairly low figures, naturally, are recorded in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for Portuguese ships going direct to Lisbon: say, 5 percent maximum if the ship was coming from Arguin. But the average was far higher in the journey from São Tomé, in the unhealthy Bight of Benin: perhaps as high as 30 to 40 percent. Tomás de Mercado, in 1569, thought that the average mortality on a slave voyage was 20 percent. Brazilian historians have suggested losses of 15 to 20 percent in the sixteenth century for the trade to Brazil and 10 percent in the nineteenth. But there were sometimes much bigger losses. In 1625, for instance, five ships sent to Brazil by the governor of Angola, João Correa de Sousa, carried 1,211 “pieces” and lost 583; another sixty-eight slaves died soon after the disembarcation. That was a loss of over 50 percent.

When the Northern Protestants entered the slave trade in the seventeenth century, figures of deaths were better recorded. The RAC is known to have lost 14,388 slaves (24 percent out of the sixty thousand or so shipped) on voyages carried out by 194 ships between 1680 and 1688. Early in the eighteenth century, that figure had diminished to 10 percent. By the 1780s, the death rates on English vessels had declined further to about 5.65 percent. The statistics between 1715 and 1775 in Nantes suggest that the highest loss was 32 percent in 1732, the smallest 5 percent in 1746 and 1774. Ships from Honfleur in the late eighteenth century lost 8.7 percent. William Wilberforce, however, in his speech in 1788 beginning the long series of parliamentary debates on the question of the slave trade, talked of 12.5 percent as normal, a figure which derived from an inquiry into the deaths on British ships examined by the British Privy Council. In 1791, the House of Lords estimated a loss of 8.7 percent in 1791 and 17 percent in 1792. But Thomas Tobin, a slave captain himself, giving evidence to a House of Commons committee many years later, thought that 3-percent mortality was the average on his own ten voyages in the 1790s. A rate of 9 percent may, however, be a reasonable estimate for the eighteenth century, with the Dutch having the lowest mortality among European slave traders.

As is natural, ships making the longest journey (for example, from East Africa) had the highest rates. Thus the captain of the South Sea Company’s ship George, which lost all but ninety-eight of her 594 slaves in 1717, attributed the disaster to the “length of the voyage,” as well as to “the badness of the weather.”

Many deaths on slave journeys across the Atlantic derived from violence, brawls, and, above all, rebellions. There was probably at least one insurrection every eight to ten journeys. On French ships, though, there seems to have been only about one every twenty-five voyages. Most such risings of slaves occurred when the ship was still off the coast of Africa or close to it, at the time of embarcation; or between embarcation and sailing. But there were still some in the open sea.

Every trading nation experienced these attacks. Usually they were mastered by the crew without serious losses to themselves. There were few examples of successful slave risings. But there were some. For example, in 1532, on the Portuguese ship Misericordia, commanded by Captain Estevão Carreiro, with 109 slaves being shipped from São Tomé to Elmina, the slaves rose and murdered all the crew except for the pilot and two seamen. Those three survivors escaped in a longboat and reached Elmina, but theMisericordiawas never heard of again. The slaves did not know how to sail and, as occurred in most such instances, the ship was almost certainly lost. In 1650, a ship sailing from Panama for Lima was wrecked off Cape San Francisco, in what is now Ecuador. The captives killed the surviving Spaniards, and their leader, a determined slave who had taken the name Alonso de Illescas, established himself as the lord of the Indians in the region of Esmeraldas. Then, in 1742, the galley Mary, with Captain Robert as master, belonging to Samuel Wragg of London and Charleston, was driven ashore, plundered, and destroyed in the river Gambia, by the local people. The slaves on board rose, murdered most of the crew, and kept the captain and mate prisoners in the cabin for twenty-seven days. They eventually escaped to the French fort on the river Sénégal.

A rebellion with a curious ending occurred on the Marlborough of Bristol in 1752. This ship was owned by Walter Lougher and Co. The captain shipped about four hundred slaves, some from Bonny and some from the Gold Coast. About twenty-eight of the latter were on the deck. The sailors were below, washing the slave decks. The slaves seized some arms and shot most of the crew of thirty-five, except for the boatswain and seven others. These were ordered to sail the ship back to Bonny, which they did. There, the Bristol slaver Hawk tried to capture the ship, but failed, for the ex-captives were by then well able to use firearms. A fight broke out between the Gold Coasters and the men from Bonny. The former emerged on top, after a hundred captives had died. The Gold Coasters set off for Elmina, guided by the Bristol survivors. None was seen again. The remaining slaves from Bonny lived to tell the tale.

But usually the rebellions were quelled, and brutally. Thus Willem Bosman recalled how, in the late seventeenth century, the anchor of an English ship was being carried onto his Dutch vessel and placed where the male slaves were kept. But the slaves “possessed themselves of a hammer; with which, in a short time, they broke all their fetters in pieces upon the anchor; after which, they came up on deck, and fell upon our men, some of whom they grievously wounded, and would certainly have mastered the ship if a French and English vessel had not very fortunately happened to lie by us; who, perceiving by our firing a distressed gun that something was in disorder aboard, immediately came to our assistance with chalopsIV and men, and drove the slaves below deck. . . . Some twenty of them were killed.”33

There was also an important rebellion on the Robert of Bristol, Captain Harding in command. The ringleader of the slaves was that Tomba who may be remembered as having been harshly treated before setting out from Africa.V “Tomba . . . combined with three or four of the stoutest of his countrymen to kill the ship’s company, and attempt their escapes, while they had a shore to fly to, and had near effected it by means of a woman-slave who, being more at large, was to watch the proper opportunity. She brought him word one night that there were no more than five white men upon the deck, and they asleep, bringing him a hammer at the same time (all the weapons that she could find) to execute the treachery. He encouraged the accomplices what he could . . . but could now at the push engage only one more and the woman to follow him upon the deck. He found three sailors sleeping on the forecastle, two of whom he presently despatched, with single strokes upon the temples; the other rousing with the noise, his companions seized; Tomba coming soon to their assistance and murdering him in the same manner. Going aft to finish their work, they found, very luckily for the rest of the company, that the other two of the watch were, with the confusion, already made awake, and upon their guard; and their defence soon awakened their master underneath them who, running up and finding his men contending for their lives, took a hand-spike, the first thing he met with in the surprise, and redoubling his strokes home upon Tomba, laid him at length flat upon the deck, securing them all in Irons. . . .

“Captain Harding, weighing the stoutness and worth of the two slaves, did, as in other countries they do to rogues of dignity, whipped and scarified them only; while three other, abettors, but not actors, nor of strength for it, he sentenced to cruel deaths; making them first eat the heart and liver of one of them killed. The woman he hoisted up by the thumbs, whipped and slashed her with knives, before the other slaves, till she died. . . .”34

In 1727, William Smith described how one night, “the moon shining very bright . . . we heard . . . two or three Muskets fired aboard the [adjacent ship] Elizabeth. Upon that, I ordered all our boats manned and, having secured everything in our ship, to prevent our own slaves from mutinying, I went myself in our pinnace (the other boats following me) on board the Elizabeth. In our way, we saw two negroes swimming from her but, before we could reach them with our boats, some sharks rose from the bottom and tore them in pieces. We came presently along the side of the ship, where we found two men-negroes holding by a rope, their heads just above water; they were afraid, it seems, to swim from the ship’s side, having seen their companions devoured just before by the sharks. These two slaves we took into our boat, and then went into the ship where we found the negroes very quiet, all under deck; but the ship’s company was on deck, in a great confusion, saying that the cooper, who had been placed sentry at the forehatch-way, over the men-negroes, was, they believed, killed. . . . We found the cooper lying on his back quite dead, his skull being cleft asunder by a hatchet which lay by him.

“At the sight of this I called for the linguist and bid him ask the negroes . . . Who had killed the white man? . . . One of the two men negroes we had taken up along the ship-side impeached his companion, and he readily confessed he had kill’d the cooper with no other view but that he and his countrymen might escape undiscovered, by swimming on shore. . . . We acquainted the negro that he was to die in an hour’s time for murdering the white man. He answered: he must confess it was a rash action in him to kill him, but he desired me to consider that, if I put him to death, I should lose all the money I [sic] had paid for him.

“To this, I bid the interpreter reply that, though I knew it was customary in his country to commute for murder by a sum of money, yet it was not so with us; and he should find that I had no regard to my profit in this respect; for, as soon as an hour glass, just then turned, was run out, he should be put to death. . . . The hour glass being run out, the murderer was carried onto the ship’s forecastle, where he had a rope fastened under his arms, in order to be hoisted up to the foreyard arm, to be shot to death. . . . As soon as he was hoisted up, ten white men who were placed behind the barricado on the quarter deck fired their musquets and instantly killed him. This struck a damp upon our negro men who thought, on account of the profit, I would not have executed him. The body being cut down upon the deck, the head was cut off and thrown overboard . . . for many of the blacks believe that, if they are put to death and not dismembered, they shall return again to their own country after they are thrown overboard.”35

An insurrection off Accra was experienced by Captain Peleg Clarke of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1776. That captain wrote to John Fletcher, the ship’s owner in London: “I am sorry that I have so disagreeable a story now to tell which is [that], about the 8th of last month, our slaves rose on board and a large number of them jumped overboard, out of which twenty-eight men and two women were drowned. Six men were taken up by the Moree town people which [sic] Mr Klark, the [Dutch] governor of the fort at that place, took out of their hands, and has them in his fort. I endeavoured to get them, but the townspeople ask eleven ounces [of gold] per head for taking them up, so I could not settle it with them, and, being obliged to return to Accra again in order to settle, I have begged the favour of Mr Mill [one of the famous mercantile family of Guinea and the West Indies] to settle it for me. . . .”36

Slave rebellions were often reported in the press, once that medium took shape. The Newport Mercury reported in 1765: “By letters from Capt. [Esek] Hopkins in the brig Sally belonging to Providence [the ship belonged to Nicholas Brown & Co.] arrived here from Antigua from the coast of Africa, we learn that, soon after he left the coast, the number of his men being reduced by sickness, he was obliged to permit some of the slaves to come upon deck to assist the people: these slaves contrived to release the others, and the whole rose upon the people and endeavoured to get possession of the vessel; but was happily prevented by the captain, who killed, wounded, and forced overboard eighty of them which obliged the rest to submit.”37

The most brutal punishment for a slave rising seems to have been the treatment meted out to the ringleader of a revolt on the Danish vessel Friedericius Quartus in 1709. This individual had his right hand cut off and shown to every slave. Next day, his left hand was cut off, and that, too, exhibited. On the third day, the man’s head was cut off, and the torso hoisted onto the mainsail yard, where it was displayed for two days. All the others who had taken part in the rebellion were whipped, and ashes, salt, and malaguetta pepper were rubbed into their wounds.38 Here is an account by one of the executioners on the Affriquain of Nantes, whose journey to numerous ports in Africa has been noted:VI “Yesterday, at eight o’clock, we tied up the most guilty blacks, that is the blacks who led the revolt, by their arms and feet and, lying them on their backs, we whipped them. As well as that, we put hot plasters on their wounds to make them feel their faults the more.” The captain left the slaves to die of their wounds.39 A Dutch captain suspended the Ashanti rebel Esserjee from a crossbar by his arms (his hands had been already cut off); here he was abused by the crew till he died. Captain John Newton recalled that, after rebellions, he had seen slaves sentenced to “unmerciful whippings, continued till the poor creatures have not had power to groan under their misery, and hardly a sign of life has remained. I have seen them agonising for hours, I believe for days together, under the torture of thumb screws.”40

•  •  •

Other perils for the slave ship came from storms, calms, and pirates.

In the case of storms, slaves were often called on to help an overworked or exhausted crew. Thus we hear how, “in the midst of these distresses, the vessel, after being three weeks at sea, became so extremely leaky, as to require constant exertion at the pumps. It was found necessary, therefore, to take some of the ablest negroes out of the irons and employ them at this labour, in which they were often worked beyond their strength.”41

The most disgraceful slave voyage was occasioned by a storm. In 1738, the Dutch vessel Leuden was stranded by weather on rocks off the Surinam coast, at the mouth of the river Marowijne (now the border between Surinam and French Guiana). The crew closed the hatches of the slave decks to avoid pandemonium and then escaped with fourteen slaves who had been helping them; 702 slaves were left to drown. Even more costly, though less shameful, was the case of the Danish Kron-Printzen, which was lost in 1706 in a storm with no fewer than 820 slaves on board.

Whatever the outcome, a storm was, of course, always a much-feared eventuality. Off Mozambique, a Portuguese captain reported: “Suddenly, the weather closes in, and the sea rises so high and forcefully that the ships obey the waves without course or control, at the mercy of the winds. It is then that the din from the slaves, chained to one another, becomes horrible. The clanking of the irons, the moans, the weeping, the cries, the waves breaking over one side of the ship and then the other, the shouting of the sailors, the whistling of the winds, and the continuous roar of the waves . . . Some of the food supplies are pushed overboard. . . . Many slaves break their legs and their arms, while others die of suffocation. One ship will break apart from the fury of the storm and sink. . . . The other drifts on, dismasted, ruined by the force of the ocean . . . on the verge of capsizing.”42

As for calms, the Capuchin friar Carli described being on a boat from Benin to Bahia in the late seventeenth century when the boat remained still for days. Everyone was afraid. The seamen prayed to Saint Anthony on their knees, having fixed his statue to the deck.

There was also much evildoing by Europeans against Europeans, even while the slavers were still in Africa. For example, Matthew and John Stronge of Liverpool reported in 1752 how they sent their snow Clayton to the river Bonny, how it took on board 324 slaves, and how, two days after leaving, it was seized by “nine Englishmen, who had before robbed their own captain, and another ship; after cruelly wounding the said captain, they turned him adrift in their boat and ordered the mate . . . to steer the vessel to Pernambuco in Brazil. But soon after their arrival [there], he, getting on shore, discovered the matter to captain John de Costa Britto, commander of the Nazarone, a Portuguese man of war.”43 Captain Britto sold the slaves, now reduced to two hundred by sickness, and gave the money forthcoming to the Portuguese treasury. The brothers Stronge spent many years trying unsuccessfully to be reimbursed by the king of Portugal.

Captain John Jones, master of the John and Mary of Virginia, and bound there with a cargo of 175 slaves, was in 1724 at anchor about six miles off Cape Charles, at the end of Chesapeake Bay, when a “ship bearing British colours bore down on him, he [being] . . . not at all apprehensive of any pirate . . . did not offer to make sail, but was surprised to find himself attacked, with a command to strike his colours and come on board in his boat and, at the same time, to see about seventy small arms pointed at his ship, threatening to fire into her if he did not immediately do so.

“At his going on board in his boat, he, with four of his men, [was] immediately secured, [and] was carried into the great cabin to a person called the Captain, who ordered about fourteen men, mostly Spanish, to take possession of the John and Mary, to get under sail and to follow him. . . . About eleven in the forenoon of the same day, they met the Brigantine Prudent Hannah, of Boston. . . . The Spanish ship gave chase to her and, coming up with her, commanded the Master, Captain Mounsell, to come on board. He came in his boat, with only his cabin boy, and his boat was immediately sent back with five Spaniards to take possession. . . . On the six of June, the Spaniard, with his prize standing off E.N.E. from the capes of Virginia about eight leagues, made a sail which proved to be the Godolphin of Topsham, bound for the Rappahannock River in Virginia.VII The Spaniards hoisted an English ensign, and put out a pendant and a Union Jack and stood off to intercept that ship and, under these colours, fired a great gun for theGodolphin to bring to, which she did, and the master (Theodore Bane) being commanded off in his boat, the Spaniards . . . took possession. . . .

“The three captive captains . . . received the following information from several English and Irish men of that [sixty-strong] crew: viz, that ‘the said ship belonged to the Governor . . . of Cuba, that she was called the San Francisco de la Vela, that the captain is Don Benito . . . that he is a knight of one of the Spanish orders, that the ship is a Bristol-built galley, first taken by the Sallee Orders [the Moroccan pirates], retaken from them by a Spanish man of war, sold at Cales [Cádiz?] by some merchants and by them freighted to the West Indies . . . and hired to Benito . . .’ Captain Jones, it appears, lost ‘his scripture, about £350 sterling in gold dust, 1000 gallons of rum, about £200 worth of the remains of the Guinea cargo, together with 38 of his choicest slaves. . . .’ ”44

Occasionally slavers themselves turned pirate. In 1723, for example, the RAC noted, “Our merchants have advice that the ship Baylor, Capt. [William] Verney, having been slaving on the coast of Guinea, and thence set sail for Virginia, turned pirate, the negroes being thrown overboard.”45

This long voyage, known to history as “the Middle Passage,” with its innumerable tragedies, did, however, in the end reach its term.


IThe Vigilant sailed for Bonny, picked up 344 slaves, and was intercepted by the British naval vessels Iphigenia and Myrmidon on her way to Cuba.

IIThere is a reproduction of one of these, with other such things, in Thomas Clarkson’s History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

IIISee page 146.

IVA chalop, or shallop, was a small open boat propelled by oars or sails and used in shallow waters.

VSee page 341.

VISee page 392.

VIIThat river’s estuary was important in the slave trade to Virginia.

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