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  • The year is 1694 and the British slave shipThe Hannibalis 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 slavesusually 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 asmiddlemen”.

  • 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 painbecause 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 calledwhite

  • 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 ofmisery and stenchmade

  • them intocreatures 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 hewrestled

  • 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 theMiddle 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, howsuicide preventioncan 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 waswhere 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.