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The Slave Trade

Conditions on Slave Ships
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How the slaves were "packed":
There are two ways for the captains to load their boats with slaves. One system is called loose packing to deliver slaves. Under that system, captains transported fewer slaves than their ships could carry in order to reduce the disease and deaths among   them. The other system is the cruellest one and is called tight packing. This system was based on the fact that the more slaves they had, the more profit they could make. They carried as many slaves as their ship could carry, and often more. In the ship's hold, the slaves were chained ankle to wrist, with barely any place to move.   

In the worse case, the captains did not provide any kinds of hygiene. In other boats, the captains placed buckets for the slaves' excrements, but there was never one bucket per slave. Slaves who were close to the buckets used it but those who were farther away often tumbled and fell on others while trying to reach it. Severely hindered by the shackles that were tightly secured around their ankles, most slaves preferred to ease themselves where they were rather than to bruise themselves in the process of trying to reach it. Also, some sailors would be   ordered to go below deck to wash the slaves briefly.  Although the crew avoided the slaves, they often would call a woman on deck to satisfy their desires. When weather conditions were bad, the conditions of the quarters dramatically worsened. The slaves' holding quarters were so hot and humid that the floor of their rooms was covered with layers of filth during most of the voyage.   

Suicide attempts occurred daily and in painfully cruel ways.  Slaves tried jumping overboard and even asked others to strangle   them. One of the most common ways to avoid further punishment on   the journey was to avoid eating. Starvation suicide attempts   became so common that a device was introduced to forcefully open   the mouths of slaves who refused to eat. Slaves believed that   their death would return them to their homeland and to their   friends and relatives. To prevent slaves from killing themselves, sailors began chopping the heads off of corpses, implying that   when they died, they would return to their homes headless. Even  with precautions taken to avoid suicide attempts like drowning and starvation, many healthy and well-fed slaves died from what was known as "fixed melancholy."  

 Food and water:
Food was a very big problem for the slaves and the captains. The captains often thought that food was too expensive, and tried to buy as little food as they could. Some captains chose to take a sufficient amount of food, believing that healthy slaves would be   worth the cost of the food. Many captains simply decided to buy   as less food as possible, even if much of their "cargo" died of starvation. The feeding of the slaves was on deck. The slaves were taken out cautiously, with sailors to feed them and many to guard them with loaded guns in order to prevent a slave rebellion. On other boats, the slaves were fed in the hold, by   sailors. 

- The Dutch fed their slaves three times a day and the food was somewhat decent. 
- On French boats the slaves were fed from a stew of oats that were cooked daily and to which sometimes dried turtle meat or dried vegetables were added. 
- The English fed the slaves twice a day and gave the slaves’ meals in small fat tubes.

There was a rule about the amount of food to be bought on a slave ship, but many captains ignored this rule. A rule about the water needed on a boat also was imposed later on. After the sailors finished cleaning the quarters and the slaves were given their first meal of the day, the slaves were not allowed to leave the   quarters until their second and last meal of the day. As soon as they finished eating, they were sent them bask into their barracks. The tallest men were put amidships, the widest part of   the vessel, while the shorter men were placed in the stern. After   properly placing them in their quarters, the sailors closed and barred the hatchway. When sailors tried to sleep on the deck,  they often heard howling and screams of distress. The noises heard more often, however, were those of quarreling slaves. Water was another problem, but captains were more careful about the amount of water they took. In hot weather, dehydration occurred very often, but most of the year, slaves had sufficient water. Slaves often drank more water than a normal person would, simply because bellow decks, it was very hot and humid.   

Diseases were very common in boats, they were transmitted easily   because of the poor hygiene and the way slaves were packed together. Deaths numbers could very important, as in a Portuguese ship, a hundred out of five hundred slaves died during the night because of an unrecorded disease. The flux, smallpox and scurvy were the most spread diseases on the boats. To prevent both despondency and scurvy, sailors forced the slaves to be more active and participate in what they called a dance. In this ritual, sailors snapped large whips at the naked bodies of the slaves who jumped screamed from the pain. The shackles were left on during the whippings and often tore away at their bruised flesh. The poor conditions, brutal treatment of slaves, and continual suicides resulted in a high mortality during the Middle Passage.

The journey:
During the 17th century, on portuguese ships, it took: 
- 35 days from Angola to Pernambuca 
- 40 days from Angola to Bahia 
- 50 days from Angola to Rio 

During the 18th century, the ships were bigger and the journeys took around 30 days.  The more days at sea, the more deaths among the cargo, and so the captain tried to cut the Middle Passage voyage as short as possible.  An example of a ship that was delayed for weeks due to unreachable trade winds was the Young Hero, led by Dr. Claxton.  He stated,

 "We were so straightened for provisions that if we  had been ten more days at sea, we must either have eaten the   slaves that died, or have made the living slaves walk the plank."  

No accurate records of men as cannibals were founds concerning   the Middle Passage but several accounts were found about slaves killed for various other reasons. In some cases, slaves were   poisoned to death because they were unable to keep them on board. Often a slave ship was hurt the most in the last few days of the   long journey along the Middle Passage. Sometimes the ship would be taken by a French privateer out of Martinique, or by an unexpected hurricane. On a few ships, the slaves chose suicide as their last option before reaching shore. These horrors, although, were not frequent. Normally, the last few days were a happy time for the slaves and the crew. Sometimes, the slaves were released from the shackles and given bigger meals of provisions were left over. Fattening them for market would help the captain. In extreme occasions, if the ship was conducted by an easygoing captain, there was a costume party on deck with women slaves dancing in the sailors clothing. Afterwards the captain went ashore to arrange the selling of his cargo.     

The abolition of the slave trade:
In 1807 the British Parliament passed a bill prohibiting the slave trade. In January the following year the United States followed suit by outlawing the importation of slaves. The acts did nothing to stop the trade of slaves within the nation's   borders, but did end the overseas commerce in slaves. To enforce these laws, Britain and the United States both patrolled the seas off the coast of Africa, stopping suspected slave traders and confiscating the ship when slaves where found. The human cargo was then transported back to Africa 


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