Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles The year is 1694 and the British slave ship “The Hannibal” is sailing in the Atlantic Ocean with 692 slaves on board. They've been purchased from African slave owners and are heading to the New World where they will be forced to work in brutal conditions. Part way through this treacherous voyage, scores of slaves die from dysentery; others willfully starve themselves to death rather than bow to the demands of their so-called owners. Some others will just jump overboard. Because this loss of life is a loss of money for the British who intend to sell the slaves in the Americas, some men are beaten and forcefully restrained. When the ship reaches the New World only 372 of the enslaved men, women and children are still alive. 18 of the 70 crew members also died on the journey. That was just one voyage in what's called the Atlantic slave trade, a trade that involved European countries sailing to Africa and taking slaves to the New World, i.e. the Americas. The main offenders in this trade in terms of buyers were England, The Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal. Today we are certainly not going to attempt to explain to you the long history of the African slave trade, firstly because it would be absurd to think we could do so, and secondly because a short video would be an injustice to those who suffered. Our intention is to attempt to describe to you what the conditions were like on a slave ship during the era of the Atlantic Slave trade. It was during the 15th and 16th centuries when European ships were better capable of travelling greater distances. This was a time that is now called, “The Age of Discovery.” It was also the age of trade and colonialism, and it was the time when the Europeans surpassed the Arab World in terms of the export of African slaves – usually slaves from West Africa... in part because this was the most convenient part of Africa to buy slaves. Many of the slaves that were bought or traded for were already enslaved by their African owners. From 1300 to 1900 about one third of the population living between the Senegal River and the Gambia River in West Africa were enslaved. In fact, a great number of people living in certain parts of the African continent during those centuries were living in various capacities as slaves. Some were born slaves and some became slaves, and how they were treated as one historian noted was with kindness or with cruelty. This is a long and difficult story, as we said, so we won't go that deep into the entire history. . When the Europeans arrived in Africa looking for people to buy they sometimes met with Africans now referred to as “middlemen”. Sometimes these middlemen would conduct raids on certain African settlements, often ethnic minorities, and enslave the people they captured. Buildings called 'Slave Castles”, were actually built on the coast by the European traders with the purpose to hold captured slaves for when they arrived in Africa. The Europeans in the early days of sailing to Africa didn't explore much of the interior. They were literally afraid to do so, but mostly because of diseases. Those explorations came much later with the likes of two British men named Henry Morton Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone, intrepid explorers who became household names for their journeys through the heart of the relatively unknown continent. This was after the British abolished slavery, with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Let's now get back to that voyage we discussed in the introduction. The ship named the Hannibal was owned by the Royal African Company. It set off from London and made its first purchase of slaves in Ouidah, which is a city in southern Benin, West Africa. It made several more stops to purchase more slaves along the Gold Coast and later delivered those who'd survived the perilous journey to the British agricultural export colony of Barbados. The ship then returned to London. The ship set sail again to Africa, picked up more slaves, returned to Barbados, and then sailed back to London. In all the two round-trips took 375 days. The captain was named Thomas PhillipsHe had a crew of 70 men, and as you know, 18 of them died on the voyage. You can only imagine how dangerous the journey was for shackled and maltreated slaves when such a large percentage of the crew died. 47 percent of the African slaves died on the journey. Around 66 percent of the slaves were men, 26 percent were women, and the rest were children. The ship was a 450-ton vessel, and down in the hold specially-made shelves had been constructed to keep the slaves. These shelves were so small that the slaves could not even sit up on their long journey. Their living quarters you could say were a torture, and you can only imagine what it would be like seeing men die so often in such a confined space. They were given food and water, which consisted of servings of cornmeal and beans and a liter of water a day. They were actually allowed to leave their shelf for one hour or more a day for exercise, but this was certainly not out of humanitarian concerns. It was merely because the slaves had to be kept alive. A dead slave was worthless to those who had procured him or her. In fact, documents show the exercise sometimes consisted of jumping and dancing for an hour or two to a “bagpipe, harp, or fiddle.” That is one very sinister image, because as you will see, those slaves were gripped by the worst kind of physical and psychological torments. If the slave was delivered to Barbados the ship's owners would receive around ten pounds, but since so many people died, the operation was a failure for the British businessman who'd invested in the voyage. The price of slaves fluctuated a lot, but here are a few examples. Not long before the Hannibal set sail the Dutch were paying 2,000 pounds of sugar per slave. In the year 1750 a slave sold in Virginia might go for forty pounds, but if that slave was bought in Gambia he or she might cost £12.80. We found some notes from the captain of the Hannibal and he described why so many people died. He wrote that some of the slaves, “are so willful and loth to leave their own country, that they have often leap'd out of the canoos, boat and ship, into the sea, and kept under water till they were drowned, to avoid being taken up and saved by our boats. We have likewise seen divers of them eaten by the sharks.” He said the sharks circled the ship often, not only because some people threw themselves overboard rather than go to their destination, but when people died on board they were thrown into the ocean. The captain wrote that 12 slaves refused to eat and died of starvation, believing that they would return to their homeland in death. It was literally a fate worse than death for some slaves to go to their new destination. Just imagine if someone stormed into your room right now and took you from your family. They shackled you and beat you and told you that you're going to a place on the other side of the world. You later find yourself shackled to another man, among many men whose languages you don't understand. Subsequently you're forced into a dark, stinky hold where you might perish. If you live, all you know is that you're going to be enslaved. You'll never see your loved ones again. You'll never feel human again. For some slaves, death was a better option. On the Hannibal, when slaves boarded they were shackled together by the hands and the legs. Because the owners of the ship wanted them to be known as Hannibal occupants, the slaves were all branded with an “H”. This has been described in documents you can find today, with the captain saying slaves were branded on the shoulder or the breast. Men, women and children. This, said the captain in his own words, “caus'd but little pain” because palm oil had been rubbed on the body part prior to the branding. Perhaps that captain should've branded himself and experienced first-hand how little the pain was... After that disastrous voyage Captain Phillips wrote a book called, “A Journal of a Voyage Made in the Hannibal of London.” We found excerpts from the book online, and it helped us to understand more what conditions on the ship were like. You might have earlier wondered how men jumped overboard when they were shackled, but the book explains that when the ship was out at sea the slaves were let out of their iron chains. Phillips said that they didn't rebel due to the fact they wouldn't have known how to sail the ship. The slaves vastly outnumbered the crew, but the crew were armed with guns and other weapons. Even if a slave mutiny could have been successful, their lack of sailing and navigation skills would have made it almost impossible to get back home, a place where African slave traders were no doubt waiting. The hopelessness the slaves felt has been documented in many books. Captain Phillips wrote in his book that most of the slaves died of something called “white flux”, which we had to look up because we'd never heard of it. It's actually just an old term for dysentery, which is an infectious diarrhea that can cause severe dehydration. He said others died of smallpox. Phillips seems to take a sympathetic view as to what happened to the enslaved men and women and children, and says their experience on that ship of “misery and stench” made them into “creatures nastier than swine.” It is in Phillips' book where we learn something more gruesome than you can imagine. He writes about other slave ships and how captains sometimes punished slaves who had disobeyed commands or tried to jump overboard. He wrote, “I have been inform'd that some commanders have cut off the legs or arms of the most willful, to terrify the rest.” Philips wrote that he himself would not, “put in practice such barbarity and cruelty to poor creatures, who, excepting their want of christianity and true religion, (their misfortune more than fault) are as much the works of God's hands, and no doubt as dear to him as our selves”. If that's a mouthful for you, he's saying even Christian non-believers should be protected under the grace of God. In what was no doubt unusual for the times, or at the very least a minority opinion, Phillips also said he couldn't understand someone being despised for the color of their skin. In his own words, he wrote, “I can't think there is any intrinsic value in one colour more than another, nor that white is better than black, only we think it so because we are so.” This is why he is a controversial figure today, since historians have written he “wrestled with his conscience”... although we are quite sure he was happy to collect the 10 percent of the profits he was promised from the voyages he captained. He might not have sawn off the legs of alleged offenders, but he certainly wanted to claim his bit from the bounty of slavery. Ok, let's move on. There were a hell of a lot of slave ships floating around the Atlantic. The full route from Europe to Africa and to the new world was known as a triangular voyage , and it was the “Middle Passage”, a journey taking six to eight weeks, which is what we are discussing today. That's the journey from Africa to the Americas. We have few first hand accounts of the voyages from actual slaves since most of them couldn't read or write, but one great man named Olaudah Equiano wrote down his experiences. He was kidnapped along with his sister when he was just 11. They were taken by raiders from a village in what is present day Nigeria, and then sold into slavery. This is how he described the scene when he first boarded his slave ship: “When I looked round the ship too, and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow.” He said the stench where the men were chained in the hold was unbearable, and soon he could not eat. Like other men and women we've mentioned, his only desire was to die, but the crew would not allow him to starve himself. After refusing food he was tied up and flogged mercilessly. If you don't watch our punishment shows, that means being tied up and hit across the back with a device that has lots of separate tails. Equiano echoed some things we have already mentioned, such as men wanting to leap from the ship to their deaths. In his own words Equiano wrote, “Not being used to the water, I naturally feared that element the first time I saw it; yet, nevertheless, could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side.” He said the crew watched them all the time, making sure they couldn't jump. His words tell a story that describe the very nadir of human depravity, how men profit from others' pain, how “suicide prevention” can ultimately become something incredibly selfish. He said those men who tried to jump and failed were cut deep with knives or whipped until their blood stained the wooden deck. Most slaves did not speak Equiano's language, but when he finally found someone who he could communicate with his first question was “where are we going.” He was told he was going to the white man's country to work. Equiano later wrote that the white men looked so fierce and acted so savagely he wondered if they might just work him to death or kill him. He didn't know it then, but that's what happened to a lot of slaves. In his own words, Equiano said, “I had never seen among any people such instances of brutal cruelty.” He even described how officers would act savagely towards their own crew. Equiano wrote, “One white man in particular I saw, when we were permitted to be on deck, flogged so unmercifully with a large rope near the foremast, that he died in consequence of it; and they tossed him over the side as they would have done a brute.” He said this made him fear his captors even more, seeing that they could do this to one of their own crew members. The psychological impact of this was devastating for the enslaved men. On one particular ship carrying 602 slaves,155, or 25.7 percent of them, died. A doctor who was aboard that ship said about two-thirds of those deaths were the result of melancholy. If there can possibly be anything positive to say now it is that Equiano gained his freedom and became an outspoken abolitionist in London. Later in life he spent much of his time helping former slaves in that city, people who'd been freed by the British during the American Revolution. Not all the men working on those ships were heartless savages. The trade itself was the devil, and the evil in the end was all down to business and power. Some people, albeit few at the time, detested the savagery of this business. At the age of 17 a young Englishman named Edward Rushton was sent to work on a slave ship, and what he saw disgusted him. The year was 1773.