The Collection of Slaves: Kidnapping in Africa

The debate on slavery emerged during the 18th century. In the Parliamentary elections of 1761, however, the debate was minimal. The speeches made by both parties were unanimously in favor of free trade to Africa, and no restrictions in slavery. (81) As the abolitionist movement increased, however, the element of tension increased. The abolitionists used evidence of the horrible conditions of the removal of slaves from Africa as part of their evidence against the inhumane nature of the trade. The African chiefs, in many situations, helped the British to collect their cargo. As a description of Captain Roberts of Liverpool's expedition stated, "Down the river, as fast as they can go, with their living cargo...[chief] Accra would receive in exchange for the slaves he had made, the pistols and gunpowder which had been brought for his special favour." (82) Circumstances like these were not uncommon. The British paid a very small price for lives.

map of Guinea
Map of Gulf of Guinea (102 )
The methods used by the captains of slave ships for gathering their cargo varied. While they often dealt with local chiefs, they also gathered their slaves in an independent effort. For example, in the year 1769, Captain Paterson, of a Liverpool slaver, while lying off Bristol Town, induced his men and natives to set fire to two villages. (83) This allowed the men to gather the Africans as they fled from their burning homes.
This level of attack, nonetheless, was not the most deceitful employed. Another way of obtaining slaves was by inviting African slave traders to come on board the slave ship to dine with the captain. The ship would then sail away, holding the visitors captive. This deceitful practice involved minimal financial losses to the captain other than a small amount of provisions. The result was a large net profit at the end of such voyages.
The captains obtained enormous profits at the end of their routes. The profits, however, usually returned to a larger owner and did not belong to the captain himself. Captain Roberts of Liverpool, for example, collected 630 slaves on one voyage and 100 died along the middle passage. The result was that he sold 530 slaves at an average of £60 per head. The net profit from the voyage, including the sugar and rum sold and all expenses deducted, was £24,000 for the 12 month voyage. (84)

Usually cargo was already owned when collected. If a contract was not already established, slaves were commonly sold at either a scramble or a public auction. In a scramble, a gun was fired, the gang ways thrown open, they buyers madly rushed the ship, and seized as many slaves as they wanted, fastening them by means of handkerchiefs tied together. (85)This method was popular and reveals the baseness of the whole frantic process in which one man dominates another just because of the color of his skin.

The least popular, though most famous method, of selling slaves was at a public auction. Only the ill and weak slaves made it from the ship to the auction. A lucky dealer had the good fortune to buy up some sickly slaves only to resell them at a good profit after proper care. (86) The dealer took a risk in doing so because the slaves were likely to die soon after leaving the auction.

The collection and sale of slaves reveals the barbarity of the entire process. The slaves' suffering and degradation, however, was just beginning upon departure from the ship or auction block. After that point, a life of servitude and abuse was all that he could expect.

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