Can you imagine lying in bed with your spouse and your children are in the next room? All of a sudden, you feel a hand grab you and drag you out of bed. You are terrified and scared for your life and your family. But you know what is going on and what is about to happen. You have been praying for this not to happen. Now you are standing in front of a large crowd of white men and women on a large wooden stage. You feel like a piece of beef with people poking and gawking at you. You know and feel in your heart that you are about to be separated from your family. You really don’t know where your destiny is. These are some of the fears that went through slaves minds.
What is a slave? A slave is a person being owned by another person for long, hard labor. A slave can work long hours as long as the master desired. Even some Africans had slaves for themselves. In some areas, people lived in terror of becoming victims of raids and kidnappings.
What is slave trade? Slave trade was the capturing, selling, and buying of blacks. The countries that were involved in the slave trade were: Portugal, Ghana, Britain, Spain, and America. When the slaves were captured, they were fastened together by the necks with strong rope. Some of slaves were shackled at the ankles. The slaves had to march in line down long, dirty roads and rivers to the ships. The slaves faced dangerous obstacles: crocodiles in the rivers, raiders, and epidemics. About two million slaves lost their lives crossing what was called, “Middle Passage.” It was called the Middle Passage because the legs of the triangle were the voyages from Europe to Africa, from Africa to the Western Hemisphere, and back to Europe. When the wanted number of African slaves was met for shipping, the voyage of the Middle Passage was continued from Africa to the European countries.
Can you image smelling the scent of people dying and the smell of foul perspiration coming from being packed in a small area with a large group of people? The men were packed like sardines below the ship’s deck. The women and children were placed in a separate area of the ship.
The New World and the expanding European empires were missing a very important thing, a work force. The black slaves were magnificent workers. They had experience in agriculture and herding. They were use to the warm climate, and the masters knew that the slaves could be, “worked very hard” on plantations and in mines. The Africans of Ghana were well known for smeltering iron ore. Africa tribal wars which became a bartering resource produced captives in the European slave market. The sources of bartering used to secure Africans slaves were: glass beads, whiskey, ivory, and guns. The demand for sugar, coffee, and other agricultural needs created a greater output of slaves. There was competition for cheap labor in Spain, France, and other countries. They needed the cheap labor to work the plantation to produce goods. The earliest times of the African slave trade in America dated back to the beginning of the 17th century, when racial slavery was a punishment for servants who broke the law. In the 18th century, slaves were mostly used in the South to work in the plantations or on the farms, especially by rich landowners who can afford extra expenses in order to maximize their profits. The primary cause of the growth of the slave trade was due to a large increase in cotton. Farmers in the newer regions of the South and West turned for their labor to the older, less prosperous states like Maryland and Virginia.
Transferring of slaves within states was not unusual. When the economic or demographic conditions changed, different sections of the states became net slave exporters. Other sections of the states became net buyers.
Two groups of people emerged from what was called the golden age of trading to dominate the interstate trade, professional traders and the Southern planters. Most traders advertised in the local newspaper. The articles usually contained information like: ages and genders of the slaves desired, the buyer’s name, and a place where business can be done. From these advertisements, the slaves that were most in demand was the young and very young. The preference for males and women of reproductive age was very much in demand.
Maintenance and shipment were features of the slave trade. Slaves that were waiting for shipment were kept in built pens until sufficient numbers were available to move. The water route was safer and very much convenient. Thousands marched overland in coffles. This was the most gruesome form of traveling. The distances were often great and dangerous.
Slaves were sold by auctions to the person who bided the most money for them. It was here that family members would find themselves split up. The bidder may not want to buy the whole family, only the strongest, healthiest member. Posters were put up as advertisement about the slave auctions when it was known a slave ship was due to arrive. When a slave ship docked, the slaves were taken off the ship and placed in a pen. In this pen, they would be washed and their skins covered with grease or sometimes tar to make them look healthier.
The auction prices of slaves depended on the slave’s value. For example, skilled craftsmen sold for twice as much money as normal field hands.
There was two ways slaves were sold. The first way is when people who wanted to buy a slave on the day of the auction would pay the trader an agreed amount of money. The trader would then give them a ticket for each slave that they had bought. At the sound of a drum roll, the door to the slave pen would be opened and the buyers would rush in and grab the slave or slaves that they wanted. The buyers then checked their slaves out by returning their ticket or tickets to the slave trader. The second way was the slave auction. It was a terrible ordeal for the slaves, they did not understand the language and had no idea what was happening. The slaves would be brought from the pen, in turn, to stand on a raised platform so that they could be seen by the buyers. Before the bidding began, those that wished to could come up onto the platform to inspect the slaves closely. The slaves had to endure being poked, prodded and forced to open their mouths for the buyers. The auctioneer would decide a price to start the bidding. This would be higher for fit, young slaves and lower for older, very young or sickly slaves. Potential buyers would then bid against each other. The person who bid the most would then own that slave.
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