The Disgrace of the Slave Trade Seen in the Accounts of the Slave Ships
There are a number of stories and accounts that indicates that the slave trade is something that is not only inhumane, but also something that breeds an abhorrent culture based upon deceit and villainy. There are many examples of this being the case in the stories captured by Marcus Rediker.
This is a culmination of some of the accounts offered to you, the abolitionist movement. One such story is that experienced on one of the ships on arrival at the shores to make trade. It depicts the re-union between mother and child. However, it is a slave mother and slave child.This means that it is set amidst the back drop of a cruel separation that in a civilised society would not have occurred. However, in the slave ships, this is common.
The intentions of the men who found the child were to use the women as a surrogate mother so as to provide milk for the young child that the slave traders had come across. As they were reunited it occurred to the slave traders that the woman was the child’s mother. This seemingly pleased everyone. The slave traders were happy and joyous and recounted this tale to the rest of the crew, inspiring them of the goodness and nobility that can be found in the trade.What seemed as an act of compassion gave some kind of bond between the white and black folk and the story became a tale of humanity.
Once this was heard by the notable slave trader William Snelgrave, he took it upon himself to think of himself as righteous, fair and above all human. As Rediker explains, ‘’William Snelgrave could thus think of Africans as “fierce brutish Cannibals” and think of himself as an ethical, civilized redeemer, a good Christian with qualities that even savages would have to recognize and applaud. He could think of himself as the saviour of families as he destroyed them.He could imagine a humane outcome for two as he delivered hundreds to a plantation fate of endless toil and premature death. His justifications in place, he could even invoke the Golden Rule, which would soon become a central saying of the anti-slavery movement.
’’ (Rediker, 2007, p. 29) Stories of compassion and such like appeared common throughout the slave trade on the ships. However, what seems at once to be human compassion is in itself the cause of the condition of inhumanity that constitutes the slave trade. There would not have been the separation had it not been for the trade itself.
Although the traders may have done some accidental good, this was by no means the intended result, nor was it the fault of anyone but themselves that the mother and child had become separated. It would appear then that conceit exists in this barbaric trade. Such ironies are common. However, the inhumanity is not left only to the cruel separation of slave families. There are also the examples of inhumanity to foil with these instances of compassion. Within the ship workers and deck hands themselves are conflicts that bring forth brutality and death.
Mutiny is common place, which often leads to punishment and death. One such instance that saw mutineers made an example of was the case of the Pirate Bartholomew Roberts. This former trader revolted against the trade ships. Eventually, his ship was brought down and he was killed in a violent rebellious exchange.
The outcome of this mutiny was given by Rediker as, ‘’The naval vessel defeated the pirates, captured the survivors, and took them to the slave-trading fortress at Cape Coast Castle, where they were tried and hanged en masse. ’’ (Rediker, 2007, p. 37)This bloody conflict was common place. However, it was not only the will of former slave captains that had become sickened by the trade, but also by the slaves themselves.
This was displayed by the story of Captain William Watkins and his ship. In this instance, justice, honour, and righteousness were abandoned in place of a malign order. After a plot for revolt was halted on the ship, Watkins rounded up the culprits to distribute justice. He seemed to be intent on finding out all about the conspirators and possible links between the conspirators and their potential plots.In his seemingly obsessive desire to rid the ship of any potential threat to the order he had enforced, he accused one of the slaves.
There was no evidence and no form of trial. However, regardless of having no evidence of guilt on the part of the accused, Watkins made an example of one slave anyway. After torturing him with some crude utensils that he had on board, Rediker details that he, ‘’Then had him “chained to the main mast-head,” where he would remain night and day, indefinitely. He was to be given “only one plantain and one pint of water per day.His only clothes were a pair of long trousers, which were little “to shield him from the inclemency of the night.
” The shackled seaman remained in the foretop of the ship for three weeks, slowing starving to death. ’’ (Rediker, 2007, p. 47) This sickening and barbaric culture on the slave ships passed off as the norm not only exists between the white and black man; slave trader and mutineer, but also between the slave captains and the women of the trade. This could be seen in the particular whim of one captain, which saw the subversion and prostitution of many of the women.
On one ship, Captain Jenkin Evans was happy to give ‘’Other sailors joined Butterworth in admiration, and indeed so did Captain Jenkin Evans, who selected this young woman and one other as his “favourites,” to whom he therefore “showed greater favours than the rest,” likely as small recompense for coerced sexual services. ’’ (Rediker, 2007, p62) Essentially, it is clear from the slave ships and the culture that has emerged from the constant struggle between slave and trader that humanity has been abandoned.With evidence of female subjugation and prostitution, the maltreatment of slaves, the constant threat of uprising, favouritism and the justification and conceit of the supposedly good and honourable captains there can be nothing said to redeem this trade. It is therefore with these accounts and the many more stories that these accounts represent that the movement to abolish slavery finds itself as a representative of the missing voice of humanity.