The Slave Trade


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"Captives Awaiting Passage." This bustling trade port holds an enormous slave castle, or fort, that was typically built by European powers as a depot for the exchange of gold, ivory, and captured Africans. Within these castles a luxury apartment served as the living quarters for trade commanders and a large warehouse held human captives waiting for sale. As pictured here, slave castles were often painted white and built on prominent bluffs in picturesque coves along the coast. They operated as miniature cities and were usually armed with guns, soldiers, and a military and trade commander. This image depicts European traders doing business with an African trader, probably negotiating the price of slaves, fresh food, and water supplies for the voyage to America. Captive Africans in the slave pen continue to be inspected for sale while the already chosen ones wait to be shipped in a canoe to the anchored schooner. The white tents along the beach might serve as shelter for the ship's crew for a few days while in port. How many of these structures owned by European countries do you think existed along the coast of Africa? Do any of these slave castles or forts still exist today? Rob Evans, 2001. Mariners' Museum.
"Captives Loaded for Passage." Artist Rob Evans replicates a typical destination port for slave traders to unload their human cargo. The scene depicts the wealth and luxury afforded by this business. How do you think the enslaved Africans feel as they near their destination in this foreign land? What do their facial expressions tell you? What will happen to these slaves once they are transferred to slave traders in America? Rob Evans, 2001. Mariners’ Museum.
Inspection and sale of a captive; an African man is being inspected for sale to European or American slavers while a white man talks with African slave traders. The Arabs were the earliest non-Africans to buy African slaves. In the early 1500s, Portugal and Spain began to send African-born slaves to their colonies in the New World, and in the following century England, France, and the Netherlands entered the trade, as eventually did the United States. Rum and guns were among the items most frequently traded for slaves.

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Africans being sent into bondage: Tipo Tib (pictured here) was an African slave trader who sold captives to the European slavers whose ships carried men, women, and children to the New World. According to John Barbot, a slave trader who journeyed at least twice to the West Coast of Africa in the 1670s and 1680s, "Those sold by the Blacks are for the most part prisoners of war, taken either in fight, or pursuit, or in the incursions they make into their enemies' territories; others stolen away by their own countrymen..."
This scene depicts the branding of an enslaved woman by traders after her purchase in Africa. Other enslaved women sit behind her waiting to be branded. A wooden building is in the background, probably a holding pen wherein the newly purchased people were kept while awaiting transport to a slave ship for departure to the Americas. Most traders used iron-forged letters and symbols heated to red hot temperatures. Usually the brands were placed on a person's back or lower neck. The brands remained with the enslaved person for life. Picture was printed in W. O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade. Columbus, Ohio: J. H. Miller, 1858.
(detail) This slave barracoon in Sierra Leone in the 1840s was a barrack-like hut used to hold enslaved Africans under guard. The men were typically chained together at the neck or ankles. Notice the armed guards, who are Africans, and the person being whipped, probably in punishment for trying to escape or for resisting enslavement. The word "barracoon" is derived from a Spanish word for hut, as is the English word barrack. These holding pens and the various slave-trading forts and castles located along the African coast were the principal structures used by European and African slave traders. Some historicans think that the slang word "coon" used by whites to label blacks negatively in 19th-century America is rooted in the word barracoon.(Illustrated London News--The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia)

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