0%

Capture

A Narrow Escape: From Enslavement to Emancipation on the Orion

Even though laws passed in 1807 and 1833 outlawed trading and owning enslaved people throughout the British Empire, this did not stop merchants and planters from attempting to continue the practice. The illegal trade of enslaved people led to initiatives by the British government to intercept shipments on the seas. These actions helped liberate some of those captured. 

This is exactly what took place on 30 November, 1859. The HMS Pluto, a British ship used to apprehend ships carrying enslaved people, stopped the delivery of 874 people to Cuba by the vessel Orion. The Orion had departed from New York, taken on a cargo of enslaved people from Cabinda in Angola and was bound for St. Helena, before intending to sell the enslaved in Cuba.

The Orion tried to evade capture. Sighted at 'six or eight miles distant', as the Illustrated London News reported, a chase, which lasted about an hour and a half, resulted in members from the Pluto managing to board the Orion. The article goes on to tell us: 'On seeing the naval officers look down the main hatch, the liberated slaves sent up a most hearty cheer, which can never be forgotten by those who heard it.' 

The piece provides evidence that, although enslavement was still an ongoing practice at this time, measures were being taken to try and curb the illicit trade of enslaved people.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Capture

Captured Children

Of the 12.5 million African people who were forced into enslavement between the 16th and 19th centuries, it is estimated that around 26% were children.

The young found themselves in enslavement in different ways. Often they were victims of capture following wars between nations. With one or both parents killed, children were vulnerable and taken by victorious armies to be traded with caravans of merchants who sat in wait. Children, especially in parts of West Africa, would also be kidnapped, whilst working or playing. Children would also sometimes be sold into enslavement by desperate parents, because the child was sickly or because they were believed to be harbouring evil spirits. 

Once they had been enslaved, children were potentially sold many times over before they reached the west coast of Africa. Some did not make it to the coast. They either remained enslaved on the African continent or did not survive the journey.

Within the castles or trading posts, children were prepared for transport with the rest of the enslaved. It was common for their heads to be shaved, they would be stripped and rubbed with palm oil and they were often branded with the mark of the trading company.

Though some enslavers opted for children because laws on transporting the enslaved were regulated by weight, generally they were an unattractive choice because of being susceptible to disease, they could not work as hard as men and were too young to reproduce. That is until the spectre of abolition generated concern amongst the plantocracy, who then saw children as a long-term investment that would help extend the longevity of their free workforce.

 

Capture

The History of Cowrie Shells

Cowrie shells are most widely known for their use as “shell money”. However, the shells don’t actually originate in Africa but in the Indian Ocean. So, how did they come to be connected West African trade and transatlantic human trafficking? 

Arab traders are thought to be the first to introduce the cowrie shell into West Africa, as early as the 8th century. The shells have been integrated in spiritual practices and incorporated into clothing and jewellery. Symbolically, they were often associated with notions of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth.

By the 15th century, the shells circulated as currency, especially in the empire of Mali. But it is only with the beginning of Portuguese, French, British and Dutch voyages to the continent, that huge numbers of these shells were introduced in Africa. The Europeans, recognising the fondness that certain African tribes had for the shells, helped to make them the main currency for trading in many goods, but predominantly gold and enslaved people. Between 1700 and 1850, an estimated 16 billion cowrie shells were brought from Asia to Africa to support the trade in human beings for enslaved labour.

'Dutch traders reported that African merchants in Dahomey [present-day Benin] who were unfamiliar with paper and writing were highly suspicious of the European promissory notes, checking them frequently to make sure that the writing hadn’t disappeared, leaving them a worthless scrap of paper. Similarly, European traders were at first wary of trading their manufactured goods for shells until they saw that cowries were widely accepted as money throughout the region.' - Willie F. Page & R. Hunt Davis, Jr. 2001

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Capture

The Capture of Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano was born in Igbo region of the Kingdom of Benin, now known as southern Nigeria. One day when he was 11 years old, he was in his house with his sister whilst his parents were out at work. Without their knowledge, two men had jumped over the wall to their yard. 

Before they knew what was happening, the men had grabbed the two children and covered their mouths, so they were unable to scream for help. They picked them up and ran into woods, where they tied up their hands and carried them as far as they could. 

At night, the captors stopped for food and allowed Olaudah and his sister to rest and eat. The next day the captors made the siblings walk for hours, through the woods. Eventually they came to a road, and Olaudah saw some people in the distance. He cried out to get their attention, but they went unheard. To stop them doing this again, the kidnappers tied their hands tighter, gagged them and bundled them into sacks. 

That night, terrified, Olaudah and his sister cried together until they fell asleep in each other’s arms. 

The next morning the unimaginable happened. The captors grabbed Olaudah sister from his arms. They tried to cling to each other, fought and pleaded with all their strength to fight away the captors, but it was no use. The captors tore her from him and immediately carried her away. 

Olaudah was then shipped to the Caribbean and sold into slavery to a Royal Navy officer. He was sold twice more before being bought by Robert King, who took great interest in him, teaching him English and to read and write.

Eventually, Olaudah purchased his freedom and settled in London where he became involved in the abolitionist movement. He wrote an autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, which detailed his life, which is why we know so much about his capture.  

 

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-life-of-olaudah-equinao

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-life-of-olaudah-equinao

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Capture

The Shocking Story of Ottobah Cugoano's Capture

Ottobah Cugoano was born in West Africa, in an area now known as Ghana. At age 13, he went to stay with his uncle and made friends with local children. One day a group of 18 or 20 of them went to play in the local fields and woods; he had been teased by one of the boys because he was nervous to venture far from his house. 

They hadn’t been gone more than two hours when a group of men appeared and told the young group that they had committed a sin against the lord and needed to follow them to repent. Some of the children tried to run away, which is when the men pulled out guns and cutlasses and told them if they didn’t obey, they would be killed on the spot. 

The group was divided and made to walk for days. Ottobah asked many times when they would be going home and where his friends had been taken. The captors refused to tell him, so Ottobah stopped eating and drinking out of fear. He was told that he needed to travel with them the next day to the seaside where he would be reunited with his family. 

When they reached the coast, Ottobah saw white people for the first time and was petrified, as he believed they would eat him. Arriving at a castle he saw his countrymen in chains and handcuffed together, and heard the sounds of people moaning in agony and being whipped. He was imprisoned in the castle for three days before being taken to a ship, sold into slavery, and forced to work on a plantation on Lesser Antilles. 

Not many first-hand accounts of enslaved peoples experiences exist. We only know of Ottobah’s story because he was one of the very few people who was able to secure his freedom and educate himself, whilst employed as a servant in London. He wrote of his experience in his book Narrative of the Enslavement of a Native of Africa which became instrumental in the abolitionist movement. 

 

https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/bhm-firsts/ottobah-cugoano/


 

https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/bhm-firsts/ottobah-cugoano/


 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

Elmina Castle and the Abuse of Captured Women

In the women's dungeon of Elmina Castle, attic stairs lead to the castle administrator's quarters. Enslaved women who were selected by administrators would be escorted up these stairs, raped by the administrator before being chained back in the dungeons.

Ato Ashun, author of Elmina: The Castles & the Slave Trade and the curator for the 43 forts and castles along the Ghanaian coast explains, “Women and children were chained together for months with no other place to menstruate or use the toilet. In the life of a captive, life never got better.”

Despite their situation women did resist rape. Their refusal had them taken to the courtyard where, surrounded by the imposing structure of the castle – white walls opening into dark, dismal, haunting dungeons – women were chained to cannonballs and left in the sun. This was a way to make an example of female resistance against sexual abuse.

Women were repeatedly raped. Some fell pregnant. Their children were raised and educated in the castle, where they were taught to become interpreters. Eventually, stone houses were built for the mistresses of administrators and their children. 

Today, in Elmina, many Ghanaian families have surnames such as Vroom, DaCosta, Yankson, and Pieterson – names they inherited from their European administrator forefathers.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

The History Of The Pineapple And Its Jagged Edges

For centuries, the pineapple has been synonymous with exotic, tropical escapism, but there is much more to the history of one of the world’s most popular fruits.

Originally from South America, the pineapple was encountered by Christopher Columbus in Guadeloupe in 1493. The beauty and vibrancy of the fruit enchanted the European elite, who used it to show status and wealth. The pineapple became hugely expensive, and was even rented out, to be placed on mantelpieces, windows or outside houses. The pineapple became so revered that King Charles II commissioned his official portrait with a pineapple to celebrate his status as a worldly king. 

The pineapple was also used as a decorative piece to symbolise hospitality across the Americas, and as a marker to let the public know that goods from the Caribbean and South America had arrived for purchase. 

Despite these connotations of wealth and hospitality, the pineapple didn’t always signal good news to those who laid their eyes on it. In Assin Manso, one of Ghana’s largest slave migration points, captured Africans were made to walk hundreds of miles to this trading post; paths lined with pineapples. There, they would be washed, lathered in shea butter to make their skin look healthier and then bartered for by traders. 

The weak were left for dead, and the survivors had to walk a further 400 miles to get to the coast, to then be forced to travel the brutal Middle Passage across the Atlantic.

It’s not known how the pineapple made its way to Assin Manso but these miles and miles of pineapples marking the pathway to the trading port made it easier for the captors, and signalled a dark destiny to the enslaved people forced to walk the pineapple path.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

A Perilous Journey

Before being imprisoned in the enslavement castles along the west coast of Africa, many enslaved people were forced to undertake gruelling journeys on foot. Driven in coffles (a line of enslaved people bound together) across countless miles, in "neck-sticks" (a way of securing people to one another by a forked stick around the neck), some did not make the distance.

One account by Verney Lovett Cameron, around 1874, tells of a coffle of enslaved people, which was 'two or three score', which is about 40-60 people. In Cameron's words, describing the difficult conditions they endured, the 'wretched women [were] all tied together by knotted ropes, all heavily laden and driven on by the whip.' 

The image presented was developed from a sketch by David Livingstone (1813-1873). Livingstone, a Scottish physician, came upon a dead enslaved man, whilst on an exhibition. After exploring the area, more bodies were found. The men still living could barely speak from exhaustion and hunger. They had been abandoned. Considered better left for dead that to be taken on or even let go.

In further reports by Livingstone, it was not uncommon for those who could not keep up with the "slave gang" to be killed by enslavers. In recounting a particular incident, Livingstone tells us a woman was killed by Arab traders, who did not want her to be recaptured and sold if she managed to recuperate from the journey. She had not been able to keep pace with the rest of the party. 

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

Bunce Island: The Headquarters for Trafficking in “Rice Slaves”

Bunce Island was Britain’s largest enslavement castle in the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa. This region was known as the “Rice Coast” or “Windward Coast” and stretched from Senegal to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Britain's relationship with the island began in 1670 and lasted 138 years, ending in 1808 when the legal trafficking of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean ceased. The British leased the island from an African king named Bai Sama, who was paid rent and taxes from the profits of the trade of enslaved people.

Africans from this region had been growing and harvesting rice for hundreds of years. Rice became a much sought-after “commodity” when the rice industry began to boom in colonial America. Special brokers were allocated by the colonies to advertise for “rice slaves” at higher prices. These brokers would receive a percentage of the sale price for skilled Africans who knew how to sow, farm and gather rice. Their skills would be transferred to rice plantations in areas of North America, South America and in the Caribbean. 

Enslavement ships would wait for weeks or months until the kidnappers and traffickers arrived with their “catches” at Bunce Island. John Newton, who famously wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace", was one British trafficker who made several visits to Bunce. The Royal African Company – originally established by the British monarchy in 1660 – was deeply intertwined in the business of trafficking in Africans, and was one of the principal companies operating on Bunce. 

During its heyday in the late 1700s, Bunce Island employed more than 600 African workers and leased all the harbour islands for its commercial activities. In fact, Bunce Island became so lucrative for the British that it was a source of envy amongst other people-trafficking European countries – so much so that it was attacked by the French in 1779.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

Chains, Locks and Devices

Until the 19th century, the chains which shackled more than 12.5 million enslaved people would have had to have been made by individual blacksmiths, since the process had not yet been mechanised. Along with the manacles and leg shackles, some of the contraptions blacksmiths were asked to craft had been designed specifically to capture, keep and torture enslaved people.

One of these devices, the weighty neck collar, was made with long spikes and hooks so that if an enslaved person tried to escape through the woods, they would be hindered by the protrusions. Enslavers were also wise to the benefits of it being very difficult to lie down in the collar, making it an ideal punishment for rebellious captors.

A second, the iron mask, had a flat piece of iron which stuck into the mouth of the enslaved person, not allowing them to swallow. Holes were made in the mask to let saliva drain. When worn for a long time, the mask would become so hot, that when it was removed, the skin went with it.

British blacksmiths would have produced a great deal of these chains. locks and devices of confinement. However, for many, being a blacksmith was not a prosperous profession. Even those who took an abolitionist stance would probably have had to think twice before turning down precious work.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

Enlisting Bloodhounds in Enslavement

In order to keep enslaved people under control, enslavers used a variety of deterrents and methods of capture. One strategy they would use, which achieved both objectives, was enlisting the use of dogs. The dogs would chase and savage any enslaved people who dared to try and liberate themselves from their situation.

'As they [the dogs] approached maturity, their keepers procured a figure roughly formed as a negro in wicker work, in the body of which were contained the blood and entrails of beasts. This was exhibited before an upper part of the cage, and the food occasionally exposed as a temptation, which attracted the attention of the dogs to it as a source of the food they wanted.

'This was repeated often, so that the animals with redoubled ferocity struggled against their confinement while in proportion to their impatience the figures was brought nearer, though yet out of their reach, and their food decreased till, at the last extremity of desperation, the keeper resigned the figure, well charged with the nauseous food before described, to their wishes.

'While they gorged themselves with the dreadful meat, he and his colleagues caressed and encouraged them. By these means, the whites ingratiate themselves so much with the animals, as to produce an effect directly opposite to that perceivable in them towards the Black figure; and, when they were employed in the pursuit for which they were intended, afforded the protection so necessary to their employers.'

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

Castle Dungeons - Hell on Earth

A powerful stench remains in Cape Coast Castle. The castle was built on the Ghanaian coast as a trading post by the Portuguese in 1555. Later, it was controlled by the Swedish, Danish, Dutch and finally, the British in 1664. At any one time, up to 1,000 male and 500 female enslaved people were shackled and crammed into the castle’s dank, suffocating dungeons. There was no space to lie down and very little light. The floor of the dungeon was littered with human waste. Without water or sanitation, many captives fell seriously ill. If someone died in the dungeon their body would be left amongst the living.

According to Ato Ashun, author of Elmina: The Castles & The Slave Trade, captives spent an average of two months chained in these dungeons. People excreted, bled, urinated and sweat whilst cramped together in these poorly ventilated, dark pits. In the female areas, rapes, assaults, and vicious beatings by European soldiers were commonplace. In the male holding areas, men and boys were chained together.  

Resistance was not tolerated and examples were made of the stubborn. Beatings were not the only punishment. The castle had confinement cells — small pitch-black spaces for those who revolted. Here, the rebellious were kept, alone in a dark cell with just a sliver of light for weeks.

Under these dreadful conditions, enslaved people spent up to three months in captivity before being shipped off to the New World.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Confinement

Doors of No Return - portals to trauma and tragedy

You may have heard of the famous Door of No Return that many go to visit at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana … Did you know that there are more than one of these doors in West Africa? At Elmina, Cape Coast, Ouidah and Gorée Island. Why are they so important?

There was always a significant door in the forts, castles and other installations built by Europeans on West African soil to house captive men, women and children. Until these people could be loaded, like the cargo they were considered to be, onto ships headed west over the Atlantic Ocean, they were held in conditions worse than animals would be kept. 

Most doors were actually like tiny gates, facing the ocean, barely large enough for the average person today to squeeze through. 

The weeks trekking from their homes in various villages and the months waiting miserably in the dungeons had wickedly weakened the enslaved people. Those who made it here were so gaunt and reduced that they could pass through the gates easily. Captives to be enslaved and sold in the Caribbean, Brazil and the Americas would be forced to queue and march through these doors to, in most cases, file down a staircase to small boats that would ferry them to the larger ships.

What would these thousands of formerly free Africans feel? What would they think as they walked through these doors? Did they recognize that once through these doors they would never see their homes, their families, their villages, their countries or even their continent again? Could they ever fathom what the journey ahead and life across the ocean would be like?

Katharina Schramm, in a book on the role of history in African ideologies today, called the Door of No Return a symbol of "the cultural amnesia and sense of disconnection that slavery and the Middle Passage stand for." She writes that the door has become increasingly associated, not just with its largely fictional past, but with its very real present as a place of historical "healing and closure," sometimes now described as a "Door of Return" out of slavery's shadow.

It is no wonder that pilgrims today go to these doors to reconnect with the experience of their enslaved ancestors.
 

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Voyage

The log book of the Unity - Resistance onboard

“Why didn’t the enslaved Africans fight back?” is a common question people ask when learning about the Middle Passage, the awful journey from freedom in Africa to a life of enslavement in the Americas. 

The simple answer is, African peoples did fight back. 

Resistance was common and signals the refusal by Africans to passively accept dehumanisation. Individually or in groups, people would take every opportunity to fight for their lives. They soon learned aboard the ships rebellion would be met with real violence but they knew attempts to escape were their only chance. Some captives aboard ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean resisted by committing suicide, usually by jumping overboard.

Captains and crews were always fearful of revolt and this added to the atmosphere of violence and suspicion. Crews searched the holds each day for possible weapons and punished even minor acts of resistance. One wonders what they expected from people being trafficked far away from their homes? 

The Liverpool ship, ironically named The Unity, owned by the Earle family, had notes about how often enslaved peoples tried to free themselves. Captain Richard Norris’ logbook provides valuable detail on rebellions and the deaths of enslaved Africans as each death was logged as a financial loss.

Captain Norris, with 425 enslaved African people aboard, was sailing from Africa to the Americas in 1770, and kept detailed notes.  

6 June 1770: "The slaves made an insurrection which was soon quelled with the loss of two women."

23 June 1770: "Died a girl slave, No. 13. The slaves attempted an insurrection, lost a man of Capt Monypenny's purchase, who jumped over board and was drown'd. Employed securing the men in chains and gave the women concerned 24 lashes each."

26 June 1770: "The slaves this day proposed making an insurrection and a few of them got off their handcuffs but were detected in time."

27 June 1770: "The slaves attempted to force up the gratings in the Night with a design to murder the whites or drown themselves, but were prevented by the watch. In the morning they confessed their intention and the women as well as the men were determined, if disappointed of cutting off the whites, to jump overboard but in case of being prevented by their irons were resolved as their last resource to burn the ship. Their obstinacy put me under the Necessity of shooting the Ring Leader."

These entries - all within one month! - illustrate the people kidnapped and trafficked from Africa understood the value of their freedom and what was happening to them. They were not passive but persistent in attempting to reclaim freedom. 

 

National Museums Liverpool 

National Museums Liverpool 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Voyage

Thrown Overboard

Why did merchants throw so many Africans overboard during the dangerous journeys aboard slave ships?

Conditions aboard slave ships were not designed for wellness but for profit. This woodcut was published in The Liberator on 7th January 1832, an American abolitionist newspaper. It depicts a scenario aboard a Brazilian slave ship where the captain ordered sick Africans thrown overboard alive because he felt they could not be sold and he refused to have to pay import duties for them. Interestingly, this image has frequently been used to represent the similar case in 1781 of the British slaving vessel The Zong, whose crew threw Africans overboard in the Caribbean Sea and filed an insurance claim for losses. 

African life was valued as a source of labour for the New World plantations. The simultaneous disdain for African life and objectification of these people allowed for many crews to make the decision to wantonly discard lives without care - usually with an economic motive. 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Voyage

Enslaved Caregivers: Fufu on Ships

This is a rare sketching of a ship carrying enslaved Africans, but makes it different from others?

The boat depicted is the Fredensborg, a frigate ship which was transformed into a vessel for enslavement. It was built in Copenhagen in 1753 and originally named Cron Prindz Christian after the Crown Prince, the future King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway. 

Although the ship initially worked the Triangular trade route between West Africa, North America and Europe, its sailing was later limited solely in the Caribbean.

The Fredensborg was later purchased by another Danish-Norweigan company based in Ghana, where she remained under the command of Captain Espen Kiønigs.

One of the ship's records are as follows: 

'Arrived off the West African coast on 1 October. A cargo of enslaved collected at Fort Christiansborg and Fort Fredensborg, and the ship set sail for the Danish West Indies on 21 April 1768, having stayed so long on the coast for over 200 days due to inadequate number of slaves to fill the ship. She arrived at St Croix on 9 July, where the cargo of slaves were unloaded. She had embarked 265 slaves, and she disembarked 235, for a loss rate of 11%. Of the crew of 40, 12 had died en-route.'

On 1 December 1768, the Fredensborg sank in a storm off Tromøya island near Arendal, Norway. The wreck was discovered by three divers in September 1974 on the very same day it sank more than 200 years earlier.

What is different in this sketch is that, if you look closely, you can see two women pounding what would be fufu (dough-like dumplings) in an Asanka (a large mortar and pestle) .

This small detail reflects the role of enslaved women as the caregivers of their community, even while enslaved. Many African women were tasked with the role of feeding their fellow enslaved on the ships, leaving them open to be recipients of abuse from the ship’s crew members. 


 

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Voyage

Sable Venus and the Middle Passage

The transport of enslaved people across the Atlantic was a treacherous and torturous experience for the millions of Africans who made their way to the Americas.

In drastic contrast to the reality of the situation is The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies (1793), an etching plate by Thomas Stothard, a prolific artist and book illustrator.

The etching was inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s 15th-century masterpiece, The Birth of Venus. In it, Stothard presents an African woman - the “Sable Venus” - standing on a half-shell, attended by cherubs. She is being towed by dolphins to the Americas. To the left is Triton carrying the British flag and guiding the procession across the ocean whilst looking at the woman.

This depiction of the Middle Passage blantantly ignores the horrors endured by enslaved people transported across the Atlantic on board ships.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Voyage

Slave Ship Pursuit and Defiance: A Story Of Resistance

From the 16th to 19th century, millions of enslaved people were transported across the Atlantic from Africa to the Americas. Much is spoken about the trade of enslaved people itself and the American plantation system, but little about the ships that made it possible and the stories of the people on board these vessels. 

On one ship headed for the Caribbean in 1785, a group of Gambians took over after killing the captain and the crew. Once word got out that the ship had been captured, Captain James Charles was in hot pursuit of the self-liberated Africans.

When the Captain’s crew caught up to the ship, several hours of intense fighting ensued in a dramatic attempt to recapture it. During this fight for freedom, rather than give up the ship and be recaptured, the Gambians choose to kill themselves by blowing themselves up, and blowing up their pursuers with them too.

Every soul involved, including all the formerly enslaved, the enslavers and crew, perished in the sea that day.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Voyage

‘Black Magic’ on the Slave Ship

In 1696, a French slave ship left Gorée Island (just off the coast of Dakar, Senegal). Among its cargo were 'several negresses quite proficient in the diabolical sciences.' After seven weeks at sea and despite favourable winds, the ship remained unmoved close to the shore of Goree, 'as if it were nailed to the same spot several leagues from land.'

Provisions dwindled and many enslaved people died, forcing the crew to throw emaciated bodies overboard. Some of the dying accused one woman of orchestrating their murders. They claimed she threatened to 'eat their hearts'. The ship's surgeon performed autopsies on several of the dead and found that their internal organs were 'dry and empty.' To elicit a confession from the woman, the captain ordered for her to be tied to a cannon and whipped by one of the crewmen.

She received the lashings in stoic silence. The blows seemed to not affect her. Angered by her defiant resolve, the ship's surgeon seized a cord and 'applied some lashes with all his might.' Still unmoved by the blows, the 'defiant negresse' told the surgeon that since he had mistreated her without cause, she would eat away his heart.

Within two days the surgeon was dead. Angry and terrified, the captain contemplated having the 'negresse' strangled or thrown into the sea. However, he feared this might cause the other enslaved to revolt against the ship. In desperation, he negotiated with her. If she agreed to stop her curses and allow the ship to progress, the captain would free her and some of her co-conspirators, delivering them back to the African coast.

The woman agreed to this arrangement and was returned to her homeland along with several others. The ship replenished its provisions and the voyage continued to the French islands without further incident.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Voyage

Slave Ship Horrors

The notorious case of Captain John Kimber took place aboard his ship, Recovery, bound for Granada, on 22 September 1791. William Wilberforce brought the incident before the House of Commons on 2 April 1792, accusing Kimber of brutally assaulting and murdering a teenage African girl. She had refused to dance on deck. The girl died five days after the assault following convulsions. 

Wilberforce’s statement in Parliament inspired this powerful print by George Cruikshank eight days later. This image was used in the abolitionist fight, showing the cruelty African captives endured during the Atlantic crossing. 

The Admiralty Court tried Kimber in June 1792. Wilberforce persisted that Kimber was guilty, but the case was poorly handled. Kimber was honourably acquitted. Once released, he demanded compensation and a public apology.

The original caption to this print read: ‘The abolition of the slave trade. Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Capt’n Kimber’s treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virgin modesty.’ The print was later revised, with Kimber’s name erased. This was presumably undertaken after the trial to prevent any legal action by Kimber. Cruikshank’s overtly sexualised version of events was at odds with official evidence.

Still, Cruikshank’s piece brought to light just how disposable African lives were to traders. The Middle Passage accounted for the loss of millions. Traders could claim insurance for “loss of property” for those who died or were killed.

Slavery Voyages is a large online database which provides incredible insight into the realities of death rates during these voyages.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Life Enslaved

Slave Villages - The Quality of Life that Killed

There was no single formula for living arrangements, however let's focus on the enslaved villages that existed on some of the islands. 

Slave villages represent an important but little-known part of the Caribbean landscape. Since abandonment, their locations have been forgotten and in many cases, no traces remain above ground. As they are virtually invisible on the overgrown landscape today, village locations are particularly liable to destruction or development, unlike the more substantial stone-constructed houses of the European plantation owners. However, the villages are integral in creating a direct link between past and present because they represent the homes of the ancestors of many people living on the islands today. St Kitts is probably the only island in the West Indies that has a map showing the location of all the slave villages. William McMahon's map, drawn in 1828, shows the landscape of plantation estates after nearly three centuries of development and shortly before emancipation in 1834. 

A team of British archaeologists studied the villages of the enslaved in two areas of St Kitts in 2004 and 2005 and found that the locations of the villages shared some common features. They were usually close enough to the main house and plantation works that they could be seen from the house. This allowed the owner or manager to keep an eye on his enslaved workforce, while also reinforcing the inferior social status of the enslaved.

On the St Kitts’ plantations, the villages of the enslaved were usually located downwind of the main house from the prevailing north-easterly wind. In the mid-18th century, Reverend William Smith described a similar scene when characterising the location of the villages on the smaller sister island of Nevis:

"They live in Huts, on the Western Side of our Dwelling-Houses, so that every Plantation resembles a small Town". The location meant that "we breathe the pure Eastern Air, without being offended with the least nauseous smell: Our Kitchens and Boyling-houses are on the same side, and for the same reason". Smith 1745, 225-6; cited in Mason 1993, 126.

Historic illustrations of plantations in the Caribbean occasionally show enslaved villages as part of a wider landscape setting, though they are often romanticised views, rather than realistic depictions.

In addition to being kidnapped, trafficked across the Atlantic and enslaved in the Caribbean, living conditions in the slave villages were key in contributing to poor quality of life. Short life spans of less than 20 years after arrival in the Americas were common.

 

Life Enslaved

The need to be green-fingered

Why did Sunday Farmers' Markets become part of Caribbean tradition?

From the 17th century onwards, it became customary for plantation owners to give enslaved Africans Sundays off, even though many were not Christian. Enslaved Africans used some of this free time to cultivate garden plots close to their houses, as well as in nearby 'provision grounds'.

Provision grounds were areas of land, often of poor quality, mountainous or stony, and usually at some distance from the villages. They were grounds which plantation owners set aside for enslaved Africans to grow their own food, such as sweet potatoes, yams and plantains - foods which are commonplace among African Caribbean dishes to this day. Working on plantations in cotton, tobacco or sugar cane was back-breaking, difficult work. Enslaved Africans needed to supplement the poor food the plantation enforcers provided. 

In addition to using the produce to supplement their own diet, enslaved people sold or exchanged it, as well as livestock such as chickens or pigs, in local markets. These realities gave way to traditions that are a part of Caribbean life today - the market.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Life Enslaved

Enslaved and Suicide

Many enslaved committed suicide as part of the belief that it would send them back home.

A letter from Cuba to King Charles IV of Spain read: ‘They are barbarous, daring, ungrateful of benefits … Good treatment makes them insolent; their temperament is hard and rude … That is why they show little fear of committing homicide upon themselves.' 

An enslaver commented that the enslaved usually hanged themselves from trees or in their huts. 'When they do that, they wear all their clothes, put in their hats the food that they did not eat, and sometimes even bring their animals to the place where they will die, in order to return well supplied to their native countries, where they believe their bodies and souls go.'

Several cases seem to confirm this explanation of why some enslaved Africans provisioned themselves before committing suicide.

In 1825, Joaquín, an enslaved man in Guane, committed suicide by hanging. Authorities noted that Joaquín was dressed 'with new trousers and new shirt, and with pig leather shoes; he had a handkerchief tied to his head and in one of the pockets of his trousers a small bag with stuff to make fire; he also had a machete, a knife, and a hat made of palm leaves.'

In 1844, Dionisio Lucumí decided to hang himself from a guava tree. He wore his best clothes, and authorities found tobacco inside the hat he was wearing. 

It's important to note that many of the enslaved who believed that through suicide they could return home were Lucumi, a faith, culture and language originating from Nigeria and developed in Cuba. In contrast, for those from the Dahomey culture (from present-day Benin), suicide was socially unacceptable.

There have been many accounts of enslaved who resorted to suicide without hesitation, throwing themselves off cliffs in Cuba, as a form of rebellion against enslavement.


 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Life Enslaved

Happiness and Horror: Dancing of the Enslaved

What do you feel when you dance? Do you feel freedom? Pleasure? Excitement? Happiness? A connection to your own identity and ancestral rhythms? 

There are many accounts of enslaved people all over the colonies sharing a love for dance, song and drums. These leisure practices of the enslaved were often described in disparaging and derogatory ways in the diaries of the Europeans who observed them. Their preconceived notions of what dance was led them to conclude that African dance, spirituality and recreation was “heathenish”, “crude” and “vile”. 

Although these accounts betray their authors’ racist views and prejudices, they are one of the only gateways we have for understanding how enslaved people were able to find joy within the brutalities of enslaved life.

Here are examples from four different observers in Barbados:

‘The slaves perform their idolatrous ceremonies and customs in honour of their God. These ceremonies consist of particular dances.’ (Godwyn. Barbados, 1661)

‘With their various instruments of horrid music, howling and dancing about the graves of the dead.’ (Holt, 1729)

‘They exert themselves until their naked skins pour off copious streams. The band seem quite insensible to fatigue for they increase their efforts, raising their voices, and beating the drum and the rattle with additional violence.’ (Pickard, 1806)

'After labour was over for the day, they would assemble together in groups on plantations or about the town and spend hours, well into the night into midnight singing and dancing to the music of their rude instruments.’ (Browne, 1814)

Many popular styles of music and dance across the globe today have been heavily influenced by African rhythms and music. The next time you dance, consider the power that it contains and how it would feel if you were denied the opportunity to dance as you want.


 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Life Enslaved

Eating Dirt

The trend of the enslaved eating dirt across the colonies is puzzling. Was it medicinal? Attempted suicide? Lack of nutrition? Or a response to depression. Defiance, disease, or medicine?

There are countless accounts of the enslaved participating in the act of eating dirt, from the USA, across the Caribbean, all the way down to Brazil. Often described as a sickness, a type of mental hysteria, that plagued the mind of the enslaved who resorted to eating soil. 

Others suggested that this was an act of defiance, where the enslaved, who did not have autonomy over their lives, had power over what they chose to ingest – and used this as a means of ending their unhappy lives on the plantations. Theories about the practice being connected to mass suicide posed the possibility that the enslaved collectively consumed the soil that consumed them, in a ritual that would result in them being able to go back their own African soil. 

Another theory is that the dirt was used as a treatment for hookworm or other stomach maladies - common ailments amongst the enslaved. Dirt was also associated with pregnancy cravings. 

The reason for each person doing this may be highly personal but the issue of eating dirt known as ‘pica’ or geophagia became so well-known across the colonies, that punishments were developed over time to deter the practice, such as the metal mask illustrated here. 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Life Enslaved

Reuniting with Ancestors: the Burial Practices of Enslaved People

“Death was only a removal from their present to their former home - a mere change of state from slavery to freedom. They bade Jenny goodbye while asking her to ‘remember me to all friends t’other side of the sea’.”
- Pickards, 1806

When the enslaved people of the Caribbean laid the dead to rest, the bodies were buried facing Africa.

Looking at burial grounds in Barbados, 95% of the bodies found in an enslaved burial ground were buried on a east to west axis; Africa being to the east of Barbados.

“When a Negro dies a natural death, or especially when they destroy themselves, they believe they return to their own country.”
- Fountain Hughes, 1730

Despite being hundreds of miles away across the ocean, almost all bodies ensured they faced in that direction. This is in line with the West African belief of reuniting a person with their ancestors across the water when they pass on.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Life Enslaved

The Enslaved Midwives of St Croix

In the late 18th and early 19th century, the rate of infant mortality in the Danish West Indies was very high. From early on, the Health Care System realised it needed to put a focus on midwives in order to try to resolve this problem. 

Midwifery was one of the only professions accessible to women at the time, and it therefore held a special status. From 1768, there were three royal midwives allocated to the island of St. Croix. These women were employed by the Danish government and educated at The Royal Maternity and Caring Institution in Copenhagen. Until the 1800s, all the midwives were Danish.

However, there were many children being born in the Danish colony and three royal midwives simply could not take care of the hundreds of pregnant enslaved women and their newborns. Their primary task was to take care of the Euro-Caribbean women. Therefore, when an enslaved woman was to give birth, the so-called plantation midwives stepped in, who were also enslaved.

Midwifery became increasingly competitive as both enslaved and free women of colour practised, much to the disdain of white midwives. One midwife A.C. Lindefield wrote in a complaint to the government in 1786 about how she felt she was losing out to the enslaved plantation midwives:

‘It will therefore most graciously be permitted for me to present how I daily find that the bread is taken from my mouth not only by whites but also by a number of Negresses and mulattoes [person of mixed heritage] here in town who deliver and assist during labour whites as well as enslaved laborers (sic), even though I am always and have been helpful to both rich and poor when they have called me.’

Beginning in the 1820s, or possibly earlier, some planters began to pay to have their enslaved plantation midwives trained by the royal midwives in order to become licensed midwives.

The demand was still high, and in 1885 the authorities introduced a midwife system, where local women were sent on educational stays at the Maternity Institution in Copenhagen. Here, they were taught together with midwives from Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark.

Following this strong emphasis and investment in midwives, infant mortality fell significantly in the rural districts on St. Croix.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Life Enslaved

"Crime" and Punishment on The Whitney Plantation

Acts of resistance by enslaved people were more common than is generally believed. Be it through pretending illness in order to disrupt their owner’s harvest schedule, outright refusal, quietly ending pregnancies, assisting others to escape, or full on revolts, enslaved resistance was a daily occurrence. 

Probably the most harsh punishments for resistance were on the Louisiana plantation, The Whitney.

In a state that enslaved 107,000 people in its history, Louisiana is at the heart of the American south and renowned for being one of the deadliest environments for the enslaved. 

Enslaved people on The Whitney lived in meagre wooden cabins, sweltering hot during the summer, and cold in the winter. They were only a few feet from the ornate, and beautifully furnished plantation house, where white slave owners and their families lived comfortably in what was seen as one of the most beautiful houses in the South. 

No form of resistance was tolerated, a Fleur de Lys branding iron marking any enslaved man, woman or child who dared to resist.

First time offenders were branded on the shoulder, those who resisted a second time were branded either the other shoulder or on the forehead. This time around, hamstrings were also cut to debilitate movement as a final warning. A third offence meant execution, with their body parts put on spikes and placed on display in front of the modest quarters of the enslaved on the plantation.

Every morning, the first thing the enslaved workers would see as they made their way to work on the fields and to clean the pristine plantation house, was the body parts of their loved ones rotting on spikes. A brutal reminder and a warning to conform or to meet the same fate. 

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Systematic Terror

The Barbados Slave Code

In 1661, the Parliament of Barbados passed An Act for Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes, also known as the Barbados Slave Code. It established an all-encompassing system of oppression and government sanctioned violence that set a precedent for slave-owning territories across the globe.

The Barbados Slave Code established that enslaved Africans be treated as chattel and therefore were denied basic human rights. It did not set standards for housing or working conditions for enslaved people, but rather, provided protection for slaveowners. It gave slave owners the legal right to torture and murder enslaved Africans without punishment or legal consequences.

The Code also ensured that an enslaved person would remain so for their entire lives and that their descendants would automatically be enslaved too.

Prior to the Barbados Slave Code, slavery had little legal basis. As the first comprehensive slave act, the Code marked the beginning of the legal codification of slavery. It was adapted in Jamaica, Antigua and formed the basis of codes in American states such as Carolina and Georgia.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Systematic Terror

The Hook, the Horror and the Humour

In the face of horrific forms of punishment and torture, enslaved people showed defiance and tragic humour before succumbing to their painful deaths. 


 

The Dutch-born Scottish soldier John Stedman kept a diary of his time in Suriname. In this diary, there are many descriptive accounts of executions and punishments that the enslaved had to endure. He recounts how the enslaved would not cry, groan or make a sound. Some requested tobacco, a drink, some made jokes, even after having body parts cut off, and left to die. Some whilst being consumed by flames would sing songs, or remain completely silent. 


 

One of the most famous depictions of punishments comes from William Blake’s accompaniment to Stedman’s book, illustrating an enslaved man hung from the ribs by a hook. The victim of this particular horror showed no pain to his oppressors, and even chastised another enslaved person for crying out when he was whipped. 


 

Even in the height of brutal indignity, countless enslaved people remained defiant to the end, never allowing their executioners to have the last laugh.


 

An excerpt from John Stedman’s diary reads:


 

‘I heard a crowd pass under my window. Curiosity made me start up, dress in a hurry, and follow them: when I discovered three negroes in chains, surrounded by a guard, going to be executed in the savannah. Their undaunted look, however averse I may be to the sight of cruelties, so attracted my attention, as to determine me to see the result (…) The sentence being read in Low Dutch (which they did not understand) one was condemned to be flogged below the gallows, and his accomplice to have his head struck off with an axe. He laid his head upon the block with great indifference, stretching out his neck; when, with one blow of the axe, it was severed from his body'.


 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Systematic Terror

Punishments for Running Away

Many drastic and painful methods were used by enslavers to deter enslaved people from running away. Punishments included attaching a short chain between the neck and the foot so that the enslaved person would have to keep the attached leg bent back in awful discomfort.


 

Europeans found increasingly creative and horrific means to scare the enslaved from running away or “disobeying orders”. 


 

The enslaved did not just run away in hopes of freedom, sometimes it was a desperate attempt to reconnect with family or loved ones; brothers ran to sisters, daughters to mothers, husbands to wives, and vice versa.


 

The hope not only for freedom but to be reunited with a loved one was incentive enough to take the risk. 


 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Systematic Terror

Poison and Paranoia: the Stripping Away of African Spiritual Practices

In 1760, the largest slave revolt in 18th Century British Colonies, an enslaved Ghanian freedom fighter named Tacky used African spirituality as a means to empower others in the fight against slavery. This had such an impact in the minds of the British Government that they swiftly banned all African-based spiritual practices across the colonies.

The spiritual practise used in this uprising was Obeah which, first documented in Barbados in 1710, incorporates the use of plants and other natural elements as forms of medicine, spiritual connection and honouring ancestral spirits. With foundations rooted in West Africa, Obeah was used to spiritually uplift those gearing up for a battle. 

Enslaver Edward Long, described the use of Obeah:

‘These priests administered a powder, which, being rubbed on their bodies, was to make them invulnerable: they persuaded them into a belief, that Tacky, their generalissimo in the woods, could not possibly be hurt by the white men, for that he caught all the bullets fired at him in his hand, and hurled them back with destruction to his foes.’

Punishments for practising Obeah were merciless. Enslaved men and women were subject to extreme whippings, executions, torture, beatings. Facial features or ears were cut off, some were left to die a slow death in dark unventilated rooms, while others were burnt alive, beheaded or hung. 

In Trinidad in 1801, the Trinidad Poisoning commission saw enslaved men and women put up for swift trails. One enslaved man named Bouqui was hauled into a church and force-baptised before his execution for “sorcery”. He was then beheaded, his head placed on a spike in a village for weeks. 

Thisbe and Felix, a husband and wife accused of practising, were tortured in front of each other. Thisbe refused to incriminate her husband and was hanged in his presence, and Felix’s ears subsequently cut off. Another enslaved man named Pierre Francois was dressed in a shirt dipped in sulphur and burned alive; the pungent smell, a reminder to others of the fate given to those who practised Obeah or any form of African religion.

Today, the Jamaica Government is now in discussions about decriminalising Obeah, whilst also having the most Christian churches in the world per square kilometer. Practising Obeah will send you to jail in The Bahamas, is illegal in Antigua, Dominica. 

Elsewhere, Obeah has been decriminalised; in Anguilla in 1980, Barbados in 1998, Trinidad and Tobago in 2000, St.Lucia in 2004, and Guyana as recently as 2018. However, in many of these countries' customs laws ban the import of ‘occult, black magic, or Obeah’ literature etc and Obeah is still widely stigmatised.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Systematic Terror

Resistance and Suppression: A Bloody Message To The Enslaved

Across the colonies, executions of enslaved men, women and children were a common occurrence, with the heads and bodies often gibbeted (left on display) as a message to those who came across them. The mutilated, strung up or spiked bodies were used as a warning that resistance against the colonial heads was futile or would result in a long and painful death. 

In the 1823 insurrection of Demerara (modern day Guyana), a largely peaceful revolt by the enslaved plantation workers, with no European deaths, was met with fierce retribution from the British Government. Initially, 72 people were sentenced to death, but the final death toll of enslaved people rose to as many as 250. 

In 1755, on a plantation in Charleston, North Carolina, an enslaved man called Mark was accused of poisoning his master. Although never proven, he was hanged, and another enslaved woman named Phyliss was burned alive. As a message to the enslaved people of North Carolina and beyond, Mark’s body was placed on display in Charleston for 20 years.

These are two of the many examples of how fear was instilled into the minds of the enslaved. This practice of leaving the bodies to linger, shows the mental and emotional abuse that enslaved people were subject to, along with the physical abuse and enforced captivity.

 

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Systematic Terror

How to maintain control on a plantation

The enslavement of formerly free people provided a perfect format for the concept of divide and rule. Violence was just one of the means of gaining control in the plantation system. Through the setting up of various roles on plantations, hierarchies were created in which unique advantages were attained at varying levels. 

Many overseers (a brutal role given to men whose job was to work the enslaved as hard as possible) were Black, and this role was advantageous for them and more comfortable than doing field work. Once given this role, losing it would mean relegation into harder work and harsher punishments. The enslaved and apprenticed at times did what they could to keep their improved roles which benefited them and their families. Unfortunately, this included applying the brutal European ideologies of control and violence over other Africans. This helped to keep the system of absolute control running as smoothly as possible. 

Protests were often thwarted by other higher ranking enslaved, or by the contracted Black Militia. Distaste towards their fellow countrymen and women’s own battle for equal rights was documented by Magistrate Robert Pitman who noted that slave drivers on estates and plantations strongly condemning ‘the conduct pursued by Negroes, but more in particularly that of the women.’

Due to the fact that in the Caribbean, Black people outnumbered Whites from 10-1 to as much as 100-1, extreme violence would not have been enough to maintain control. The clever use of perks and comforts for those Blacks who would collaborate with enslavers helped to keep order on plantations and encouraged division among the Black and enslaved majority. 

Incentives were given to those who exposed plots, flogged those deemed as insolent, reported theft or defiance, and those who sexually gratified European men (and in some cases women). Without these incentivised alliances, it would have been impossible for slavery to have lasted as long as it did, on the sheer basis of numbers. European violence paired with privileges accounts for one of the most significant ways that European owners and administrators successfully manipulated the enslaved into centuries of subservience.
 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Systematic Terror

Inhumanity as an Economic Decision

Trafficking and enslaving Africans was an economic decision. Alongside the demand for addictive sugar, the demand for enslaved Africans grew.

In 1650 an enslaved African could be bought for £7. This meant life-long ownership. In comparison, a European indentured labourer would cost an enslaver £10. After a few years, their debt would be paid, and they would no longer have to work. There were also additional costs for the labourer's food, shelter and clothing. 

Due to demand, the price of enslaved people did begin to rise. By 1690 an enslaved person cost £17-22. A century later this could be between £40 and £50. Still, the costs of keeping enslaved Africans were kept low by treating them harshly. Space was saved by cramming people together. On the voyage from West Africa, known as the Middle Passage, many died through disease or ill-treatment. Others, driven to despair, committed suicide by jumping into the sea. 

As a result of overwork, poor nutrition, substandard conditions, brutality and disease, the death rate on plantations was high. Still, plantation owners who used enslaved people found it more economical to import new African people than to provide decent conditions for their existing workforce. Until the Amelioration Act of 1798, owners simply replaced casualties by importing more people from West Africa.

The astounding profits of those that chose to use enslaved people as a workforce were increased by that decision. The cost, however, was the human rights of millions.