The end of the voyage was just the start of the slaves’ new life…
After many weeks at sea, the captains and crews of slave ships were usually heartened to see the coast of America. Indeed, some histories of the âmiddle passage’ reveal that, in some cases, conditions on the slave ships improved markedly during the final stage of the journey, with the slaves treated better for their last few days on board.
But, of course, if slave ship captains did order their crews to treat the slaves better, it was not out of compassion or remorse for the harsh treatment they were forced to endure earlier in the journey. Rather, the captains were businessmen and under pressure to deliver slaves who looked strong and healthy. After all, some would be sold at auction and others would be put to work on the plantations almost right away. So, in the final few days of the voyage, food rations would be increased significantly. The shackles might even be loosened or taken off completely – again, with the slave markets in mind, with the captains wanting their âcargo’ to look as fresh and injury-free as possible.
While there are some accounts of âparties’ aboard slave ships as they got close to their final destination, this would have been yet another act of humiliation for the slaves. Men, and especially women, would be forced to dress up in costumes and dance on the deck for the amusement of the captain and his crew, with a sailor armed with a whip watching over them to ensure they danced with sufficient enthusiasm.
Once they landed, the horrors were often only just beginning for the slaves. Many had no idea what fate awaited them – indeed, according to Equiano, some feared they were to be eaten. He recalls: “They told us we were not to be eaten, but to work, and were soon to go on land, where we should see many of our country people. This report eased us much; and sure enough, soon after we were landed, there came to us Africans of all languages. We were conducted immediately to the merchant’s yard, where we were all pent up together like so many sheep in a fold.” From there, men, women and children were purchased just like cattle and sent off to a life in servitude.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: