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Slave Trading

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“African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South; and whatever wars against it, wars against her very existence. Strike down the institution of African slavery and you reduce the South to depopulation and barbarism.”

вЂ"Lawerence Keitt, South Carolina Congressman, 1860

Slave trading dates back to ancient times, but it did not become popular until the fifteenth century when the Portugese began engaging in slave trading for profit. The colonization of the Americas brought about a new wave of slave importation in the late seventeenth century. A large percentage of the indentured servants and Native Americans were dying from diseases bought to the land by Europeans, and the American colonists were forced to look elsewhere for laborers. They discovered that African Americans were virtually immune to tropical diseases, cheap to import, and were experienced agrarians, so they championed slavery under the premise that African Americans were inferior to their own race. Because slaves were cheap, it was much easier for a planter to work a slave to his death and replace him with another than to treat him well. By the end of the seventeenth century, African American were being imported to the Americas and sold to planters by the thousands. Slavery, indeed, became the “cornerstone” of America’s economic success. Without the grueling labor of the slaves, the booming sugar, rice, cotton, and tobacco industries would have ceased to exist in the New World. As the Americas evolved from a simple farming society into an agricultural stronghold, settlers became more and more dependent on slavery. By the mid-eighteenth century, slaves vastly outnumbered colonists. During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, African Americans were not seen as members of the human race in the eyes of the white American land owners, but as possessions only fit for enslavement and exploitation in a new and ever-expanding economic society.

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, many Europeans found their careers in the slave trading market. Approximately twelve million African Americans were captured from their native land of Africa and forced to board ships bound for the New World by way of the “Middle Passage.” In order to maximize profits, slave traders would load a ship well over its capacity. African Americans were shackled and then ordered to lay in rows below the decks of the slave ships. The captives had no room to move around, and therefore laid in their own filth and that of others for several months. Since the slaves were packed into such tight, unsanitary quarters, diseases such as typhoid, measles, and small pox claimed the lives of thousands before the ships ever reached the shores of America. Many slaves escaped a life of bondage by throwing themselves overboard. On average, twenty percent of Africans died before arriving at their destination.

Olaudah Equiano, a child of only eleven years old, was kidnapped from his native land of Africa in the 1780s and sold into slavery. He was one of millions that traveled the infamous Middle Passage to the Barbados Islands and one of few who was later able to purchase his freedom. His voyage to the New World was, indeed, brutal, evidenced by the horrific stories included in his autobiography.

But now that the whole ships cargo were confined together, it became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many diedвЂ"thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.

Slaves were constantly treated as though they were livestock, herded into a confined area and beaten for trying to escape. Such treatment did not end once the slaves reached the mainlandвЂ" in fact, it only worsened.

When slaves arrived in the New World, auctioneers prepared them for sale by ordering all of them to bathe throughly and forcing men to shave their beards. The slaves were then dressed and put on display to be bought by eager settlers. Oftentimes, auctions were the most heart-wrenching of all for Africans; mothers were separated from their children and husbands from their wives, without much hope of ever being reunited. Slaves would weep violently when separated from their loved ones and remind colonists that they were called by their God to treat all men as equals, but with no avail. Usually, Africans only received whippings for causing such a disruption during the auction. Such separations forged irreversible damage to the African American family structure and forever altered their original family traditions.

Once an African American was in the hands of a master, his or her identity became virtually obsolete. Slave owners cared little about their slave’s native customs, traditions, family ties, or lifestyles, and so such elements were never recorded. Oftentimes, slave owners Americanized their slave’s names, so their original names were unknown to future generations. African Americans from the same native tribe were usually separated to reduce the slave’s ability to communicate and plan a revolt against their masters. Consequently, Africans working on the same plantation were unable to tell stories of their past lives, and their native traditions died with them.

In 1837, a slaveholder published an article titled “Managing of Slaves, &c” instructing farmers on how to control their slaves. The slaveholder stated that the most important part of the management of slaves was “always to keep them under proper subjection.” The slaveholder ascertained that when a certain amount of authority is kept over the slaves, they “make dupes of the master and overseer.” This, of course, is a huge victory for a slave owner because it indicates complete control over his slaves. Unfortunately, it largely hindered the development of a slave’s identity. Slaves were oftentimes severely punished for expressing discourse toward their master. If a master felt threatened by his slave, then he would punish him in a way that the slave would never attempt to object to his master’s



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