PLEASE NOTE THE NUMBERS - THERE WERE NOT 100 MILLION SLAVES TAKEN TO THE US - 12.5 Million total but most went to South America and the Islands. A total of 450,000 were brought to the US.
Cargo of the living dead: The unspeakable horror of life on a slave ship
By CHRISTOPHER HUDSON
Last updated at 09:07 13 December 2007
Raped at will, tortured with white-hot forks, they were thrown to the sharks if death ended their agony. A new book reveals the true horror of life on a slave ship...
Louis Asa-Asa was 13 when his happiness ended. One day, warriors converged on his home far from the sea. They set fire to the huts, killing and capturing villagers.
He escaped into the forest, the only child to survive.
A few days later the warriors found Louis.
They manacled him into a slave train which slowly made its way to the coast.
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"I was sold six times over, sometimes for money, sometimes for cloth, sometimes for a gun," he recalled.
"We were taken from place to place and sold at every place we stopped at."
It took Louis six months to reach the "white people" and their "very large ship".
Ukawsaw, about the same age, lived in northern Nigeria, up near Lake Chad.
The grandson of the local king, he was mesmerised by the magical tales told by a visiting merchant.
Vividly, the man described white people who lived in houses on the water which had wings upon them.
His family let Ukawsaw go with the merchant, who told no more tales but dragged the boy to the Gold Coast where Ukawsaw was enslaved.
A Dutch captain sold him in Barbados for 50 dollars.
Olaudah, also Nigerian, was only 11 when slave traders carried him aboard a slave ship.
He was grabbed by members of the crew, "white men with horrible looks, red faces and long hair", who tossed him about to see if his limbs were sound.
He thought they were bad spirits, not human beings.
As he recorded 35 years later, when they put him down on the deck the first thing he saw was a huge copper boiling pot, and nearby a crowd of black people, "chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow".
Struck by the thought that he had fallen into the hands of cannibals, Olaudah fainted.
These are just three slaves among the 12.4 million Africans who were captured by raiders and kidnappers and transported across the Atlantic in slave ships between the late 15th and the late 19th centuries.
As Marcus Rediker recalls in a new book on the slave trade, 1.8 million slaves died during that journey known as the Middle Passage, their bodies thrown to the sharks.
Most of the ten million who survived the journey were condemned to a plantation system so brutal, many more perished.
Two-thirds of the total were transported between 1700 and 1808, a period which includes the Age of Enlightenment and manuscripts by Jane Austen.
Olaudah was born in 1745.
He came from a pastoral background in which villagers worked collectively to build homes and cultivate the fields, raising foodstuffs, mostly yams and fruit, but also tobacco, and cotton which they wove into clothes.
Blacksmiths made weapons; other craftsmen made jewellery.
His Igbo people believed that the spirits of the dead would wander aimlessly unless given proper burial.
As in last century's death camps, perhaps only the very young, like him, could survive the journey without lifelong mental damage.
The humiliation of the slave train - men, women and children strapped in a neck yolk as they stumbled towards the coast - was usually followed by imprisonment for as much as eight months until a slave ship arrived and collected a full cargo - whereupon they were marched out, stripped, examined, haggled over and finally given a number by which they would be known throughout the voyage.
When Olaudah came round on the ship after fainting and was offered food, he refused it.
He was tied to the windlass and flogged.
In his despair, Olaudah went to throw himself over the side, even though he couldn't swim.
Then he saw that the slave-ship was equipped with netting on the sides to prevent its valuable commodities from committing suicide.
He was told that he was being carried to white people's country to work for them.
Many of the slaves believed until the end of the voyage that they were being shipped away to be eaten.
Olaudah was taken down into the darkness of the lower deck, where the slaves were manacled and shackled.
He was made to lie wedged in such close quarters that he "had scarcely room to turn himself".
His living space was about three square feet, hardly more than that of a corpse in its coffin.
The air was noxious; the constant rubbing of his chains raised sores on his wrists and ankles.
As the ship set sail, the full enormity of what was happening to him struck home, as it must have done to millions of other Africans.
Because of bad weather, the slaves stayed locked below in their chains for days at a time.
The heat was suffocating, the stench unbearable.
Covered in sweat, vomit, and blood, the packed slaves created a miasma which rose through the gratings of the upper deck in a loathsome mist.
The "necessary tubs" full of excrement "almost suffocated us", recalled Olaudah.
The shrieks of terrified slaves, conscious of the troubled spirits of the dead, mingled with the groans of the dying.
It was rare for a slave transport across the Atlantic not to give plenty of sustenance to the sharks swimming nearby.
Olaudah became sick and "hoped to put an end to my miseries".
He envied the dead who were thrown overboard, believing that their spirits lived on, liberated from their shackles.
His own spirits improved with the weather.
The slaves were usually allowed on deck twice a day, in chains.
Olaudah, being a child, went unfettered, and because he was sickly he spent more time on deck, where women slaves washed him and looked after him.
He saw three slaves elude the netting and jump overboard.
A boat was lowered, and to the anger of the captain, two of them succeeded in drowning.
The third was brought back on deck and flogged viciously.
When at last they sighted landfall the crew were overjoyed.
The captives were sullen and silent.
Like Ukawsaw, they had docked in Barbados which, as they would shortly find out, was one of the most brutal slave societies to be found anywhere in the world.
Olaudah was luckier than some.
His forcible separation from his beloved sister had occurred on the quay before he was taken to the slave ship.
But many families were now separated in the Barbados dockyard, and the air was filled with their shrieks and bitter lamentations.
They were lined up in rows, and at the sound of a drum-roll, buyers scrambled to pick out the slaves they wanted to purchase, throwing cords around them which tightened as they were pulled away.
Husbands were separated from wives, brothers from sisters, parents from children.
Olaudah, too young and small for the slave-masters, was transferred to another ship.
"I now totally lost the small remains of comfort I had enjoyed in conversing with my countrymen," he wrote (or dictated) many years later.
"The women who used to wash and take care of me were all gone different ways, and I never saw one of them again."
Nothing more would have been heard of Olaudah, had not the ship's crew, attracted by the boy's bright curiosity, taught him a lot about sailors' work.
He was eventually bought by a ship's captain as a gift for someone in England.
During the 13-week voyage he learned enough English to become a sailor himself and, by the age of 24, had earned enough money to purchase his freedom.
Slave ships could be of almost any size, from great galleons such as the 566-ton Parr, built in 1797, which carried 100 crew and could stow 700 slaves, to the Hesketh, a 10-ton vessel which sailed to Sierra Leone and took 30 slaves on to St Kitts in 1761, thus demonstrating that anybody with a bit of money could become a slave trader.
A typical medium-sized slaver would carry about 140 slaves, 70 male and 70 female, shackled two-by-two at the wrists and ankles.
The beams above the lower deck left only about four-and-a-half feet, so most slaves would spend 16 hours a day without being able to stand.
Many traders lowered the height still further by building out 6ft platforms in the lower deck from the edge of the ship to pack more bodies in.
A grating provided ventilation.
Male slaves were stowed forward and women aft - the women generally not in irons, giving them more freedom of movement.
So packed were the vessels that some captains slept in a hammock over a huddle of little African girls, while the first mate and surgeon slept over the boys.
In the middle of the main deck a "barricado" or barricade, ten feet high and extending two feet over the water either side, separated the men from the women.
If there was a slave revolt on board - and the crews accepted that these desperate men might try to kill them at the cost of their own lives - the barricado served as a defensive wall, allowing the crew to retreat to the women's side.
When the male slaves were on deck, the crew had them covered with blunderbusses and cannons loaded with small shot.
The slave ship towed a lifeboat behind it in which sick slaves were isolated.
According to Louis Asa-Asa, many sick slaves on his ship got no medical attention.
Even on a comparatively healthy voyage the mortality rate would be five to seven per cent, and each death enraged and terrified the slaves, especially the ones who woke in the morning to find themselves shackled to a corpse.
Seamen took away the dead, along with tubs of excrement and urine.
They also scrubbed the deck and the beams, using sand and other scourers to remove dried filth, vomit and mucus.
Once or twice a fortnight, the crew would fumigate the lower deck with vinegar and tobacco smoke.
During the afternoon, bread and perhaps a pipe of tobacco and a dram of brandy would be offered to the slaves.
Around 4pm the slaves would be fed the afternoon meal: horse beans and peas with salt meat or fish, before being taken down for the long night.
Dysentery, known as the bloody flux, was the biggest killer, followed by malignant fevers, including malaria, and dehydration, especially in the tropics.
The slave ship crews were almost as liable to disease, and many of them were not treated much better than the slaves themselves.
Although slave trade merchants always insisted that "good order" aboard their ships meant no abuse of the female slaves by the crew, it all depended on the attitude of the captain, who had the power to protect the women if he chose to do so.
Alexander Falconbridge, a doctor who campaigned against the slave trade, wrote that "on board some ships, the common sailors are allowed to have intercourse with such of the black women whose consent they can procure".
The officers on the other hand, "are permitted to indulge their passions among them at pleasure, and sometimes are guilty of such brutal excesses as disgrace human nature".
The crew were always more dispensable than the slaves: officers knocked to the deck any sailor who was disrespectful to them.
The smallest error saw the crewman bound to the rigging and flogged.
Literally adding salt to the wounds, the officers applied a briny solution called pickle to the deep red and purple furrows made by the cat o'nine tails, its knotted tails - sometimes interwoven with wire - serving to maximise the pain.
The cat ruled.
It was used to make people move on or to obey orders more quickly, even to make the slaves dance and sing, since exercise was good for them.
Mostly, the cat was used to make slaves eat the food they often refused.
If that did not work, a long, thin mechanical contraption called a speculum oris was used to force open their mouths and throats.
Slaves who rebelled were tortured, often by turning thumbscrews or by applying a white-hot cook's fork to their flesh.
Both caused excruciating pain.
However, most captains knew that his mission was to deliver slaves in good condition.
About ten days before the end of the journey and estimated landfall, the fetters were taken off the male slaves so that marks of chafing disappeared.
Their beards and sometimes their hair were shaved, and a silver nitrate caustic applied to hide sores.
Grey hairs were picked out or dyed black.
Finally sailors would rub down the naked Africans with palm oil to make their skin smooth and gleaming.
We know all this because the slave trade, at least in Britain, accumulated logs and diaries as assiduously as any Nazi book-keeper in the early 1940s.
This precision would be of great help when it came to educating the British public on what was being done in their name.
Men like Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce spoke with blazing moral conviction, and their single most powerful propaganda weapon was the reproduction of an image of a slave ship.
First published in 1788 and redrawn and republished many times throughout the Western world, it illustrated a coffin-shaped cross-section of a 297-tonner with 294 tiny, meticulously drawn Africans wearing loincloths and chained at the ankles, packed like herrings in a barrel.
Beneath the image were eight paragraphs of explanatory text, together with a picture of a supplicant slave in chains, hands raised and asking, "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?"
Olaudah was a brother.
Louis and Ukawsaw were brothers.
They were bound together by a common experience of Hell.
• The Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker, £30, John Murray Publishing.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-501577/Cargo-living-dead-The-unspeakable-horror-life-slave-ship.html#ixzz3HG1cRxAy
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