African Slave Trade. The Spanish and Portuguese had enslaved Africans to work in the sugar plantations on the islands off the coast of Africa. As the rich lands of the Americas fell into their hands they extended the practice westward by transporting slaves across the Atlantic.
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When the French, British and Dutch developed their own
Sugar Plantations they followed this example.
As the major European powers, Portugal, Britain, France and the
Netherlands looked for ways to exploit the fertile lands of the
New World. They looked to Africa for a steady supply of labor.
Soon enslaved Africans had become absolutely vital to the
Cultivation of sugar, tobacco, cotton, and rice plantations.
As European demand for sugar began to increase plantations
Began to spring up throughout Brazil and the Caribbean. Sugar
Cultivation created a huge demand for slave labor from Africa
Many plantations produced additional crops such as indigo,
Rice, tobacco and coffee.
merchants as well as by their own people. Stronger
African tribes would capture weaker tribes and sell them into slavery.
The journey from the interior to the factories might be as far as
1,000 miles. Shackled and underfed, only half the people survived
These death marches. Those to sick to make it were killed or
Left for dead. Those who reached the factories were put in jails for
As long as a year before they were boarded on ships.
A slave boat captain could buy a slave for around
$20.00 and could be sold for up to $125.00 depending
on the physical appearance.
Men, Women and Children were all captured and
sold into slavery.
The Factor, or owner of the factory would sell the African to
Slave ship captains. In order to get a better price the ships
Captain would often offer a dash or bribe to the factor.
The factor would try anything to get a better price for slaves.
Slaves heads were shaved, bodies oiled, and even drugs were
Given to make their bodies bloat. A healthier slave would bring
A better price.
Ship Captains became know for their reputations as
“Tight Packers” or “Loose Packers” this referred to
the amount of slaves a captain was willing to put on
his ship. Most vessels at this time could hold up
To 400 persons. It was not uncommon to put 600-
700 slaves on a ship.
During periods of good weather, the slaves would be brought up on
the deck in the morning. At this time the men would be shackled
together with iron chains, while the women and children roamed
free. At about 9:00 am they were given their first meal, usually some
type of beans in a sauce. Sometimes a few lumps of raw meat would
be added to their food to keep them healthy. It was also at this time
the slaves would be given their ration of a half-pint of water in a
small pan called a pannikin.
The slavers needed to keep the slaves in acceptable physical shape so
each morning after breakfast they were “danced” on the deck for
exercise. Still shackled together, the men were forced to jump up
and down until often the flesh of their ankles were raw and bleeding.
The slaves were otherwise kept miserably in the tween decks.
The slaves were often beaten or whipped with a device called the
cat-o-nine-tails. This consisted of nine cords coated with tar, each
with a not at the end. The Cat-O-Nine-Tails could lash the skin
of a slaves back to ribbons with only a few lashings.
Men were often chained in pairs, shackled wrist to wrist or ankle
to ankle. In such cramped quarters, disease such as smallpox and
yellow fever spread like wildfire. The diseased were usually
thrown overboard to prevent the entire cargo from getting the
Trouble making slaves were often placed in an iron muzzle.
Slaves were often whipped and beaten, sometimes to the death
The conditions were so poor that it was not uncommon for a
slave to try to escape by jumping overboard. Many would
risk a watery death or being eaten by sharks rather than endure
Eventually, after a 3,700 mile voyage, the slave ship would reach
North America. In order to strengthen them before sale, the slaves
were normally fed better in the days directly before their arrival.
Before they could be sold, the slaves would be oiled again, and any
imperfections, such as scars from whipping, would be filled with
hot tar in order to improve appearance and get the best market
Slavers would insure their cargo, however insurance could not
bought against disease. On its way to Jamaica in 1781, the ship
Zong was nearing the end of its voyage. It had been 12 weeks
since it had sailed from West African coast with its cargo of 417
slaves. Water was running out. Then compounding the problem,
there was an outbreak of disease. The ships captain, wanting to
minimize the owners losses threw any slave who was diseased
overboard. The voyage was insured, but the insurance would not
pay for sick slaves or even those killed by illness. However, it
would cover slaves lost by drowning.
The captain gave the order; 54 Africans were chained to-
gether, then thrown overboard. Another 78 were drowned over
the next two days. By the time the ship had reached Jamaica
132 persons had been murdered.
The buying and selling of slaves was made illegal in the
late 1800’s. It was enforced by military ships patrolling the
waters. This didn’t end slavery. Because slaves were much
harder to come by, the price for a slave sky-rocketed and
made slave ship captains more willing to take a chance on