Abolition of the Slave Trade

Stolen in Africa

Old illustration of a slave ship

Slaving along the Guinea coast

It took many weeks sailing from Europe to reach the Guinea Coast - a very long stretch of the West African shoreline - where trade goods could be exchanged for slaves.

Once there, it often took many months to buy enough slaves to fill the ship. There were no cities or harbours along the Guinea Coast. In some places there were forts manned by European soldiers. It was a very dangerous place.

Old illustration of african men and woman walking

Ignatius Sancho in a letter to a friend in 1778

'The grand object of all Christian navigators is - money, money, money! In Africa, the poor wretched natives, blessed with the most fertile and luxuriant soil, are rendered so much the more miserable by the Christians' abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the petty [African] Kings.

Encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them strong liquors to enflame their madness and powder and bad fire-arms to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping. But enough - it is a subject that sours my blood.'

Slaves tell their story

Only a few Africans wrote about their enslavement and being carried across the Atlantic. Very few masters gave their slaves the chance to learn to read and write. 

Olaudah Equiano is the most famous ex-slave to write about his experiences. 

Olaudah was only 11 years old when he and his sister were kidnapped from their parents' house far from the coast. The African men who snatched him spoke his own language. They carried the two children far away and sold them separately as slaves. He never saw his sister again. He was owned by several African masters before he was finally taken to the coast and sold to a European slaver. Olaudah eventually bought his freedom and settled in London. There he met other ex-slaves.

His memories of his homeland tell us something about African life, as well as the cruelty on board the ship that took him to America.

Image of the book Olaudah wrote telling about his experiences as a slave

Olaudah Equiano's story

 

'... one of them held me fast by the hands ... and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. I had never experienced anything of this kind before.

I naturally feared the water the first time I saw it, yet nevertheless, could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not. The crew used to watch us very closely who were not chained down below the decks, lest we should leap into the water.

I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut for attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. This indeed was often the case with myself.'

Olaudah helped spread the Abolitionist message by touring Britain telling his story. He visited Edinburgh and Glasgow during the 1792 petition campaign.


Picture credits

The Life of Olaudah Equiano book image. Copyright British Library, all rights reserved.