Atlantic slave trade
Only a few decades after the arrival of Europeans to America, demand for unpaid labor to work plantations made slave-trading a profitable business. The peak time of slave ships to the Atlantic passage was between the 18th and 19th centuries, when large plantations developed in the colonies of America.
In order to achieve profit, the owners of the ships divided their hulls into holds with little headroom, so they could transport as many slaves as possible. Unhygienic conditions, dehydration, dysentery and scurvy led to a high mortality rate, on average 15% and up to a third of captives. Often the ships, also known as Guineamen, transported hundreds of slaves, who were chained tightly to plank beds. For example, the slave ship Henrietta Marie carried about 200 slaves on the long Middle Passage. They were confined to cargo holds with each slave chained with little room to move.
The most significant routes of the slave ships led from the north-western and western coasts of Africa to South America and the south-east coast of what is today the United States, and the Caribbean. As many as 20 million Africans were transported by ship. The transportation of slaves from Africa to America was known as the Middle Passage.
Conditions on slave ships
Owners of slave ships did their best to hold as many enslaved people as possible, cramming, chaining, and selective grouping techniques were used to maximize space and make travel more profitable.Those that were on the ships were underfed and treated with brutality which caused some to die before even boarding the ships. These people also were not treated as human as the enslaved were naked and shackled together with several different types of animalistic chains. Not only were they treated in an inhumane fashion, they lived like animals throughout their long voyage to the New World. Most of the captives were on the floor beneath bunks with little to no room at all to move, most spent their entire time not being able to move due to the crammed conditions. Accounts from the enslaved discuss the fact that they spent a large portion of time pinned to floorboards which would wear skin on their elbows down to the bone. Firsthand accounts from former slaves such as Olaudah Equiano describe the horrific conditions that enslaved people were forced to endure.
Abolition of the slave trade
The African slave trade was outlawed by the United States of America and the United Kingdom in 1807. The applicable UK act was the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act and outlawed the slave trade throughout the British Empire. The US law took effect on January 1, 1808. After that date all US and British slave ships leaving Africa were legally pirate vessels subject to capture by the United States Navy or Royal Navy. In 1815, at the Council of Vienna, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands also agreed to abolish their slave trade.
After abolition, slave ships adopted quicker, more maneuverable forms to evade capture by naval warships, one favorite form being the Baltimore Clipper. Some had hulls fitted with Copper sheathing. This was very expensive work that at this time was only commonly done to Royal Navy vessels. However it increased speed by preventing the growth of marine weed on the hull, which would otherwise cause drag. The speed of slave ships made them attractive ships to repurpose for piracy, and also made them attractive for naval use after capture; the USS Nightingale (1851) and HMS Black Joke (1827) were examples of such vessels. HMS Black Joke had a notable career in Royal Navy service and was responsible for capturing a number of slave ships and freeing many hundreds of slaves.
List of slave ships
- Adelaide, French slave ship, sank 1714 near Cuba.
- Antelope, Spanish slave ship captured near Florida in 1820 with 283 slaves aboard, leading to The Antelope case.
- Aurore, along with the Duc du Maine, the first French slave ships that brought the first slaves to Louisiana.
- La Amistad, cargo ship that sometimes carried slaves (see note below).
- Braunfisch, a Brandenburgian slave ship lost in 1688 in a revolt.
- Brookes, sailing in the 1780s.
- City of Norfolk, fitted out in New York City by Albert Horn.
- Clotilde, burned and sunk at Mobile, in autumn 1859.
- Cora, captured by the USS Constellation in 1860.
- Creole, involved in the United States coastwise slave trade and the scene of a slave rebellion in 1841, leading to the Creole case.
- Desire, first American slave ship.
- Elisabeth, sailing from Jamaica for West Africa.
- Duc du Maine, along with the Aurore, the first French slave ships that brought the first slaves to Louisiana.
- Fredensborg, Danish slave ship, sank in 1768 off Tromøy in Norway, after a journey in the triangular trade. Leif Svalesen has written a book about the journey.
- Guerrero, Spanish slave ship wrecked in the Florida Keys in 1827 carrying 561 Africans.
- Hannibal. An English slaver of the Atlantic slave trade.
- Henrietta Marie. Sank 1700 near Marquesas Keys, Florida, excavated in 1980s.
- Hope, American brig that brought slaves to Rhode Island
- Jesus of Lübeck 700-ton ship used on the second voyage of John Hawkins to transport 400 captured Africans in 1564. Queen Elizabeth I was his partner and rented him the vessel.
- Kron-Printzen, Danish slave ship, sank in 1706 with 820 slaves on board.
- Le Concord. Slave ship turned pirate ship aka Queen Anne's Revenge. Sank 1717.
- Lord Ligonier. See Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley.
- Don Francisco. Slave ship captured in 1837. Sold as a colonial trader renamed James Matthews. Excavated by Western Australian Museum in 1974
- Madre de Deus (Mother of God), 1567. John Hawkins captured this ship and transported 400 Africans.
- Manuela, built as clipper ship Sunny South, captured by HMS Brisk in Mozambique Channel with over 800 slaves aboard.
- Margaret Scott confiscated and sunk as part of the Stone fleet in 1862
- Meermin, a Dutch East India Company ship active between southern Africa and Madagascar, whose final voyage in 1766 ended in mutiny by the slaves: around half the crew and nearly 30 Malagasy died, and the ship was destroyed.
- Nightingale, clipper ship captured by Saratoga near Cabinda, Angola in 1861 with 961 slaves aboard.
- Pons, American-built barque captured by the USS Yorktown 1 December 1845 with 850–900 slaves.
- Salamander, Brandenburgian slave ship.
- São José Paquete Africa, Portuguese slave ship which sank off the coast of South Africa in 1794 killing over 200 of the enslaved men and women.
- Sally, of Newport, Rhode Island – reviewed in the Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.
- Tecora, Portuguese slave ship that transported the slaves who would later revolt aboard La Amistad.
- Triton captured by the USS Constellation 1861.
- Trouvadore, wrecked in Turks and Caicos 1841. 193 slaves survived. Project commenced in 2004 to locate the ship.
- Wanderer, formerly last slave ship to the U.S. (November 1858) until Clotilde reported in 1859 or 1860.
- Wildfire, a barque, arrested off the Florida coast by the US Navy in 1860; carrying 450 slaves.
- Whydah Gally, slave ship turned into pirate ship, sank 1717.
- Zong, a British slave ship infamous for the 1781 massacre of 132 sick and dying slaves who were thrown overboard in an attempt to guarantee that the ship's owners could collect on their cargo insurance.
Note: While La Amistad is often called a slave ship, it was in fact a general-purpose cargo ship that occasionally carried slaves. See the article about the ship, and the resulting court case, for more information.
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