by Staff writer
1. When did slavery start in America?
The first 19 or so Africans to reach the English colonies arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, brought by Dutch traders who had seized them from a captured Spanish slave ship.
The Spanish usually baptized slaves in Africa before embarking them.
2. When did slavery end?
Slavery officially ended on Dec. 6, 1865, the day the 13th Amendment was ratified. It was on this day in 1865 that America’s period of black enslavement, which lasted a whole 246 years, officially came to an end.
3. How many people were taken from Africa during slavery?
Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World (America).
10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.
4. What happened during the Middle Passage?
During the Middle Passage, millions of Africans were shipped to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade.
Ships departed Europe for African markets with manufactured goods, which were traded for purchased or kidnapped Africans. These Africans were transported across the Atlantic to America as slaves, where they are again sold or traded for raw materials, which would be transported back to Europe, completing the triangular trade.
A classic example is the colonial sugar trade.
Sugar (often in its liquid form called molasses) from the Caribbean was traded to Europe or New England, where it was distilled into rum.
The profits from the sale of sugar were used to purchase manufactured goods, which were then shipped to West Africa, where they were bartered for slaves.
The slaves were then brought back to the Caribbean to be sold to sugar planters. The profits from the sale of the slaves were then used to buy more sugar, which was shipped to Europe, restarting the cycle.
The trip itself took five to twelve weeks.
Voyages on the Middle Passage were large financial undertakings, generally organized by companies or groups of investors rather than individuals.
Many slaves died of disease in the crowded holds of the slave ships. The total number of African deaths directly attributable to the Middle Passage voyage is estimated at up to two million.
Once the ship reached the New World, enslaved survivors were sold in the Caribbean or the American colonies.
The ships were then prepared to get them thoroughly cleaned, drained, and loaded with export goods for a return voyage.
5. What about slavery was the most horrific?
Slaves’ treatment was horrific because the captured African men and women were considered less than human; they were “cargo”, or “goods”, and treated as such; they were transported for marketing. Women with children were not as desirable for they took up too much space and toddlers were not wanted because of everyday maintenance.
The Zong, a British slaver, took too many slaves on a voyage to the New World in 1781. Overcrowding combined with malnutrition and disease killed several crew members and around 60 slaves.
Bad weather made the Zong’s voyage slow and lack of drinking water became a concern. The crew then decided to drown some slaves at sea, to conserve water and allow the owners to collect insurance for lost cargo.
About 130 slaves were killed and a number chose to kill themselves in defiance, by jumping into the water willingly.
The Zong incident became fuel for the abolitionist movement and a major court case, as the insurance company refused to compensate for the loss.
While slaves were generally kept fed and supplied with drink as healthy slaves were more valuable and fetched good money, if resources ran low on the long, unpredictable voyages, the crew received preferential treatment.
Slave punishment and torture was very common, as on the voyage the crew had to turn independent people into obedient slaves.
Whipping and use of the cat o’ nine tails (a type of multi-tailed whip that originated as an implement for severe physical punishment) were a common occurrence; sometimes slaves were beaten for “looking sad”.
Pregnant women on the ships who delivered their babies aboard risked the chance of their children being killed in order for the mothers to be sold.
The worst punishments were for rebelling; in one instance a captain punished a failed rebellion by killing one involved slave immediately, and forcing two other slaves to eat his heart and liver!
6. Were there any resistance?
Slaves resisted in a variety of ways.
The two most common types of resistance were refusal to eat and suicide.
Suicide was a frequent occurrence, often by refusal of food or medicine or jumping overboard, as well as by a variety of other opportunistic means.
Over the centuries, some African peoples, such as the Kru, came to be understood as holding substandard value as slaves, because they developed a reputation for being too proud for slavery, and for attempting suicide immediately upon losing their freedom.
Both suicide and self-starving were prevented as much as possible by slaver crews; slaves were often force-fed or tortured until they ate, though some still managed to starve themselves to death.
Slaves were kept away from means of suicide, and the sides of the ship deck were often netted.
Slaves were still successful, especially at jumping overboard. Often when an uprising failed, the mutineers would jump en masse into the sea.
Slaves generally believed that if they jumped overboard, they would be returned to their family and friends in their village or to their ancestors in the afterlife.
Suicide by jumping overboard was such a problem that captains had to address it directly in many cases. They used the sharks that followed the ships as a terror weapon. One captain, who had a rash of suicides on his ship, took a woman and lowered her into the water on a rope, and pulled her out as fast as possible.
When she came in view, the sharks had already killed her—and bitten off the lower half of her body.
7 What’s so special about La Amistad?
La Amistad was a 19th-century two-masted schooner (sailing vessel), owned by a Spaniard living in Cuba.
It became renowned in July 1839 for a slave revolt by Mende captives, who had been enslaved in Sierra Leone, and were being transported from Havana, Cuba to their purchasers’ plantations.
The African captives took control of the ship, killing some of the crew and ordering the survivors to sail the ship to Africa.
The Spanish survivors secretly maneuvered the ship north, and La Amistad was captured off the coast of Long Island by the brig USS Washington.
The Mende and La Amistad were interned in Connecticut while federal court proceedings were undertaken for their disposition.
The owners of the ship and Spanish government claimed the slaves as property; but the US had banned the African trade and argued that the Mende were legally free.
Because of issues of ownership and jurisdiction, the case gained international attention. Known as United States v. The Amistad (1841), the case was finally decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of the Mende, restoring their freedom.
It became a symbol in the United States in the movement to abolish slavery.
8. What is the story of Igbo Landing?
Here is the story of the Igbo slaves who chose death over a life of slavery.
Igbo Landing is a historic site at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Georgia. It was the setting of a mass suicide in 1803 by captive Igbo people who had taken control of their slave ship and refused to submit to slavery in the United States.
In May 1803 a shipload of captive West Africans, upon surviving the middle passage, were landed by U.S.-paid captors in Savannah by slave ship, to be auctioned off at one of the local slave markets.
The ship’s enslaved passengers included a number of Igbo people from what is now Nigeria.
The Igbo were known by planters and slavers of the American South for being fiercely independent and resistant to chattel slavery.
The group of 75 Igbo slaves were bought by agents of John Couper and Thomas Spalding for forced labor on their plantations in St. Simons Island for $100 each.
The chained slaves were packed under the deck of a small vessel named Morovia to be shipped to the island.
During this voyage, the Igbo slaves rose up in rebellion, taking control of the ship and drowning their captors in the process causing the grounding of the Morovia in Dunbar Creek at the site now locally known as Igbo Landing.
Under the direction of a high Igbo chief among them, the slaves walked in unison into the creek singing in the Igbo language “The Water Spirit brought us, the Water Spirit will take us home”.
Chained to one another, they kept chanting together and that way followed their chief into the depths of Dunbar Creek and drowned.