(continued from last week) A Five Hundred Year-Old Shared History

Slaves
(Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) has launched a global news feature series on the history, contemporary realities and implications of the transatlantic slave trade. This is the third report in the series.

“Initially, the Dutch were against slavery which was considered to be a catholic heresy. This antislavery point of view can be easily explained,” den Heijer said.

“Dutch seafarers first ventured across the Atlantic without the intention of enslaving anyone. They were mainly interested in the trade in Atlantic products like salt, sugar, wax and dye wood. At the beginning of the 17th century, however, the Dutch established small plantation colonies on the coast of Guyana, the area between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers,” he said.

“Most of the early settlements were populated with Dutch colonists and a few indigenous slaves. The Dutch embraced the slave trade and slavery on a large scale for the first time in Brazil.”

The slave trade also brought a great deal of wealth to the British ports that were involved.

Researchers noted the count of slaves and slave ships that came through the main British ports in 1771, when the average working person earned $35 in British currency per year and a single slave in good condition could be sold in the Caribbean for $25.

Liverpool had 107 ships and transported 29,250 slaves, historians noted.

London had 58 ships carrying 8,136 slaves while Bristol had 23 ships that transported 8,810 slaves.

Additionally, researchers said Lancaster had 4 ships that transported 950 slaves.

From 1791 to 1807, British ships carried 52 percent of all slaves taken from Africa while, from 1791 to 1800, British ships delivered 398,719 slaves to the Americas.

While it was the British who stood as the most progressive couriers of whatever was transported through the sea, many other countries chartered ships and descended upon African nations to capture slaves.

Ships sailed to Africa loaded with guns, tools, textiles and other manufactured goods and crews with guns went ashore to capture slaves and purchase slaves from tribal leaders.

Slave ships spent months travelling to different parts of the coast, according to historians who described the devastation on a webpage titled The Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Captives were often in poor health from the physical and mental abuse they suffered.

The air in the hold was foul and putrid, according to historians.

From the lack of sanitation, there was a constant threat of disease. Epidemics of fever, dysentery and smallpox were frequent. Captives endured these conditions for months. In good weather the captives were brought on deck in midmorning and forced to exercise.

They were fed twice a day and those refusing to eat were force-fed.

Those who died were thrown overboard. The combination of disease, inadequate food, rebellion and punishment took a heavy toll on captives and crew.

Surviving records suggest that until the 1750s, one in five Africans on board ship died.

At least two million Africans – 10 to 15 percent – died during the infamous “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic.

Some European governments, such as the British and French, introduced laws to control conditions on board. They reduced the numbers of people allowed on board and required a surgeon to be carried.

The principal reason for taking action was concern for the crew, not the captives, historians said.

The surgeons, often unqualified, were paid head-money to keep captives alive. By about 1800 records show that the number of Africans who died had declined to about one in 18.

When enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas, they were often alone, separated from their family and community, unable to communicate with those around them.

“When we arrived, many merchants and planters came on board and examined us. We were then taken to the merchant’s yard, where we were all pent up together like sheep in a fold,” according to a published description from “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.”

“On a signal the buyers rushed forward and chose those slaves they liked best.”

Sold, branded and issued with a new name, the enslaved Africans were separated and stripped of their identity.

In a deliberate process, meant to break their will power and make them totally passive and subservient, the enslaved Africans were “seasoned,” which meant that, for a period of two to three years, they were trained to endure their work and conditions – obey or receive the lash.

It was mental and physical torture.

“The anniversary of the Transatlantic Slave Trade needs to be marked in some way, not celebrated, but recognized and memorialized because of the effects this decision had then that still affects the world today,” said Dr. Jannette Dates, dean emerita at the School of Communications at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“The Black Press continues to play its historic role in keeping issues of significance to African Americans in the forefront for black people’s awareness, knowledge and better understanding of our history,” Dr. Dates said.

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