Sunday, March 6, 2011

By Two and Two with Fetters on Their Feet

From the newly published Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Eltis and Richardson):
[The Africans are] so crowded, in such disgusting conditions, as the very ones who transport them assure me, that they come by six and six, with collars around their necks, and those same ones by two and two with fetters on their feet, in such a way that they come imprisoned from head to feet, below the deck, locked in from outside, where they see neither sun nor moon, [and] that there is no Spaniard who dares to stick his head in the hatch without becoming ill, nor to remain inside for an hour without the risk of great sickness. So great is the stench, the crowding and the misery of that place. And the [only] refuge and consolation that they have in it is [that] to each [is given] once a day no more than half a bowl of uncooked corn flour or millet, which is like our rice, and with it a small jug of water and nothing else, except for much beating, much lashing, and bad words. This is that which commonly happens with the men and I well think that some of the shippers treat them with more kindness and mildness, principally in these times...[Nevertheless, most] arrive turned into skeletons.
"Description of Africans on a Slave Ship (1627)," in W. D. Phillips, Jr. Slavery from Roman Times to the Early Transatlantic Trade (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).
The Atlas is a remarkable volume, everything a reference book should be: Focused and detailed with informative and ideally designed graphics and maps that explicate its six parts: Nations Transporting Slaves from Africa, 1501-1867; Ports Outfitting Voyages in the Transatlantic Slave Trade; The African Coastal Origins of Slaves and the Links between Africa and the Atlantic World; The Experience of the Middle Passage; The Destinations of Slaves in the Americas and Their Links with the Atlantic World; and Abolition and Suppression of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

One map shows that the direction of sea currents and prevailing winds caused slavers to take a longer but easier voyage from central Africa as opposed to points further north. Another details the flow of slaves from specific African ports (and the number of slaves from each) to their destination ports in the New World. Still another breaks down the demographics of age and gender of captives on typical voyages.

Each page is the turn of a screw, slowly revealing until undeniable the official complicity of European nations in the deliberate design and perpetration of a horror that lasted for over three-and-a-half centuries. For the captives who survived the Middle Passage to be sold into slavery, the horror had only begun, and would be passed down from generation to generation.

The slavers and their investors, though, pocketed their profits and began preparations for more voyages to the central African coast. This included taking out insurance that protected "The Insurers from any loss or damage from the Insurrection of Negroes" but that otherwise specified a precise value for human life "computed on the nett Amount of the Ship Outsett & Cargo -- Negroes valued at Thirty Pounds p Head." Of course, to the slavers and slaveowners, these were not human lives: They were nothing more than commodities of labor valued at 30 pounds per unit.


Roy said...

History like this makes the usurpation of Western economic leadership of the world by China and India look like a textbook example of "just deserts". In India they'd call it "karma".

K. said...

The chickens come home to roost eventually. I call the plethora of casinos in Washington "Native-American Revenge."

Foxessa said...

You see why we use this book as a central teaching aid in our classes; also, often, at academic presentations.

Love, c.

mommapolitico said...

Would love for this info to be incorporated into history textbooks. Texas, of course, would never allow such a thing...
Thanks for the tip on a fascinating read, K. There's so little that's made known about this shameful part of our history. Great post, friend!