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The African Slave Trade.

A writer who is apparently fully conversant with the subject, is describing the secret history of the slave trade in the New York Post. An organized company, having a capital of $1,000,000 exists in Havana, whose sole business it is to import negroes into the island of Cuba. This company, by means of an agent, buy its vessels in New York, where captains for them are also obtained. By a judicious use of money they are easily cleared at the Custom House, the agent and captain having previously sworn to ownership in order to obtain a register, and the vessel, with a slave outfit, starts direct for Africa. In this way seventy vessels are said to have sailed from the port of New York, after cargoes of slaves, since 1st of January last. But latterly, owing to a pressure of public opinion, the United States officials have been rather more rigid in their scrutiny of suspected vessels, and, consequently, the manner of proceedure has been changed. The vessel now takes a legal cargo for Havana, whence she is easily cleared for Africa by soothing the "itching palms" of she Spanish officials. This escape from unpleasant scrutiny is facilitated by a recent decision of Attorney General Black, declaring that the clearance of any American vessel from the Custom House is prima facie evidence of the legality of the voyage, and, consequently, the consul need take no further steps than the ordinary one of exacting an oath from the captain that he is bound on a legal voyage, and with a cargo in accordance with his clearance. The outfit and mode of manning a slaver is thus described:

"In the first place she takes in a new cargo, which consists of articles used in the purchase of slaves and their subsistence on the homeward trip, viz.; Barrels of Bread, tierces of rice, puncheons of rum, beans, jerked beef, tobacco, vinegar, powder, &c., together with lumber for the slave decks. (Specie is seldom sent out.) Next the crew is shipped, consisting usually of men of every nation; these men agree to go the voyage upon terms that are well understood--so much advance (say 50 dollars), and one and a half dollars per man for every negro landed in Cuba.

In addition to the captain, mate and second mate, there comes on board a sallow-faced, gloomy Spaniard, who is generally Don Jose, or Don Somebody else, whose frequent voyages to 'the Coast' are written in every line of his face. He is the 'sobrecargo,' the great factotum and transactor of all the business of the ship, and in case of need--as when boarded by an American man-of-war--he hoists the Spanish flag and is the Spanish captain.

After this important character comes another man, called the 'contra maestro,' or boatswain. He is the 'nigger driver,' the brute who manages and beats into submission the human cargo on the homeward trip; none but a Spaniard could look or be so cruel as he is."

The outward voyage occupies about forty-five days. Arriving on the coast, the slaver proceeds thirty miles up the Congo river, to the "factory" of the Havana Company. If a war steamer makes her appearance in the river, the captain cheerfully shows his regular manifest and clearance, certified, by the American Consul at Havana, and hoists his American flag, and sends back to the steamer a box of very good Havana cigars and a case of good brandy. Then the steamer sails away--perhaps to watch him at sea--for there is no prize money of any account in a vessel unless the negroes are on board!

Having completed his arrangements with the resident agent, the captain speedily discharges the cargo into the warehouse, takes on board a lot of water casks, which are filled from the river, and beside them in the hold he stows his barrels of provisions and over all he lays his "slave deck."

Spies are sent to the mouth of the river, and when they report the coast clear from cruisers, seven or eight hundred slaves, costing only fifty dollars apiece in bad rum, are driven on board pell mell, naked as the day they were born, the lines are cast off, and away the vessel speeds, under the American flag. One-third of her living freight will die on the passage, while a life-long bondage awaits the remainder. Of the treatment of the negroes on the passage the writer says:

"Our ship is one hundred feet long, and thirty wide, and on her deck and under her deck, and on her cabin and in her cabin, are stowed seven hundred and fifty human beings, so cramped and crowded that they can scarcely sit down when standing or stand up when sitting.

Early in the morning the crew lead a hose from the pump, and without regard to sex or condition, give each one a thorough bath, and then proceed to wash from the decks the accumulated filth and excrement of the previous day and night. Each negro then is compelled to wash his mouth out with vinegar--this is done to prevent scurvy. Now comes the morning meal, which consists of a pint of water and a quantity of boiled rice and beans. After breakfast the doctor makes his rounds, pitches overboard the dead and the dying, and administers medicine to such as are not beyond the hope of recovery. The principal diseases with which they have to contend are dysentery and opthalmia, both of which are generally fatal, and both owing to confined space and foul atmosphere.

During the day the 'contra maestro' goes about among them with his whip; cows down the boldest, and silences the noisiest with this merciless lash, and sometimes selects the weakest, takes them to the least crowded space, and makes them dance to the tune of his cowhide--to restore circulation!

Dinner consists of the same, with the occasional addition of scraps of jerked beef. There is no change from this food during the voyage; at times, when the negroes appear despondent or weak, they are given a little rum. At night they are compelled to lie down, 'spoon fashion,' (as a housekeeper places her spoons in a basket); a canvas covering is hauled over them, and it is impossible for them to change their position until the following morning."

The passage to Cuba is generally performed in thirty-five days. Running into one of the many secluded rendezvous on the coast, the anchor is dropped, a private signal is raised, the launches, which have been awaiting the vessels arrival, put off, and the negroes are quickly transferred to the shore, where they are sent off to some place where they are exercised, washed, and fattened for the market. The ship's anchor is then raised, sail is made, holes are bored in the bottom, and she is started forth upon the sea to sink. The captain goes to Havana with one-half of his ship's register and a false bill of sale, which he forwards to the New York Custom House according to law, and in the meanwhile presents himself to his principal with the following balance sheet:

To first cost of ship $7,000
Advanced wages. 1,050
Captain's wages and venture 10,000
Supercargo and boatswain 5,000
Cost of negroes at $50 (750) 37,500
Crew, $750 per man 7,500
Bribes, &c 100,000
500 negroes at $800 a head $400,000
Net profit $231,500

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: To the horror of antislavery advocates the slave trade from Africa, banned in the United States since 1808, continued well into the 1860s. Slaves were still being captured along the western and southeastern coasts of that continent and despite international agreements to halt the trade. They were still being landed in Cuba, the last place in the Western Hemisphere where it was legal to land African slaves. In an effort to publicize and document the trade and thereby force the U.S. Congress to join with Great Britain in ending this traffic, reports such as this were sent to newspapers across the United States. However, such reports most often appeared in newspapers sympathetic to the ending of the trade, such as this one from Greenfield, Massachusetts.


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"The African Slave Trade"

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   Feb 25, 1861
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
height   19.0"
width   2.5"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L02.117

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See Also...

"Sacrifice of Life"

"The Slave Trade"

"The Slave Trade - The Administration"

"Ellis, Field hand"

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