by lyle e davis
The Slave Trade
An estimated 15 million Africans were transported to the Americas between 1540 and 1850. To maximize their profits slave merchants carried as many slaves as was physically possible on their ships. A House of Commons committee in 1788 discovered that one slave-ship, The Brookes, was originally built to carry a maximum of 451 people, but was carrying over 600 slaves from Africa to the Americas.
It’s hard to imagine today what life must have been like for those who were destined to become slaves. Yet literature is replete with terrible accounts of what it was like for men, women and children to be forced from their native lands and then packed like sardines, into a sailing ship. Accounts try to describe what it was like, but the human imagination would be hard pressed to really feel the pain, smell the horrible smells, see the pain and death, and experience all this as an individual, as a family.
We are told the ship captain might have paid $25 for each prisoner and received $200 in America. One out of every four prisoners died on the journey across the Atlantic Ocean. After the slave-trade was declared illegal, prices went much higher. Even with a death-rate of 50 percent, merchants could expect to make tremendous profits from the trade.
The prisoners were so crammed they didn't have as much room as a coffin had. For example, prisoners were jammed onto narrow shelves with only 3 foot space in which to try and sit up.
Dead or sickly were thrown overboard by the crew. The sharks would follow slave ships in great gray schools under the water. Slaves coming ashore to be sold at auction were often greased and oiled to give them a glowing appearance and sores would be covered with tar to hide infection. Prisoners were unloaded dockside into slave pens where they were cleaned up and fattened for a few weeks like cattle. The prisoners were given water and sometimes slopped like hogs with cornmeal from a barrel.