Horror Taken For Granted


The captains seem to have felt sorry for themselves. They might take the utmost care to pack their slaves into the hold carefully, and the ship’s doctor (when the slaves could be brought up into the fresh air, where he could endure the labor of examining them) might be diligent; still, the ungrateful wretches did die, and one skipper who lost 320 Negroes on a trip, noted that this “was a great detriment to our voyage.” The Royal African Company, which had chartered his ship, lost ten pounds per head by these deaths, and the owners of the ship lost an equal sum because they were paid only for live slaves delivered in the Indies; the bloody flux had been malignant, and there had been a good deal of smallpox, and when the voyage ended the sorely tried skipper wrote an indignant lament:

“What the small-pox spar’d the flux swept off, to our great regret, after all our pains and care to give them their messes in due order and season, keeping their lodgings as clean and sweet as possible”—the possibilities may have been limited, what with passenger space measuring six feet by sixteen inches, with less than three feet of headroom—”and enduring so much misery and stench so long among a parcel of creatures nastier than swine; and after all our expectations to be defeated by their mortality. No gold-finders can endure so much noisome slavery as they do who carry negroes; for those have some respite and satisfaction, but we endure twice the misery; and yet by their mortality our voyages are ruin’d, and we pine and fret our selves to death, to think that we should undergo so much misery, and take so much pains to so little purpose.”