A Slave Trader Describes the Atlantic Passage

 

During 1693 and 1694, Captain Thomas Phillips carried slaves from Africa to Barbados on the ship Hannibal. The financial backer of the voyage was the Royal African Company of London, which held an English crown monopoly on slave trading. Phillips sailed to the west coast of Africa, where he purchased the Africans who were sold into slavery by an African king. Then he set sail west­ward.

  Who are the various people described in this document who in one way or another were involved in or profited from the slave trade? What dangers did the Africans face on the voyage? What contemporary attitudes could have led this ship captain to treat and think of .his human cargo simply as goods to be trans­ported? What are the grounds of his self-pity for the difficulties he met?

 

Having bought my complement of 700 slaves, 480 men and 220 women, and fin­ish'd all my business at Whidaw [on the Gold Coast of Africa], I took my leave of the old king and his cappasheirs [attendants], and parted, with many affectionate expressions on both sides, being forced to promise him that I would return again the next year, with several things he desired me to bring from I England. . . . I set sail the 27th of July in the I morning, accompany'd with the East-India I Merchant, who had bought 650 slaves, for the Island of St. Thomas. . . from which we took our departure on August 25th and set sail for Barbadoes.

We spent in our passage from St. Thomas II to Barbadoes two months eleven days, from the 25th of August to the 4th of November following: in which time there happened such I: sickness and mortality among my poor men and Negroes. Of the first we buried 14, and of the last 320, which was a great detriment to our voyage, the Royal African Company los­ing ten pounds by every slave that died, and the owners of the ship ten pounds ten shillings, being the freight agreed on to be paid by the charter-party for every Negro delivered alive ashore to the African Company's agents at Barbadoes. . . . The loss in all amounted to near 6500 pounds sterling.

The distemper which my men as well as the blacks mostly died of was the white flux, which was so violent and inveterate that no medicine would in the least check it, so that when any of our men were seized with it, we esteemed him a dead man, as he generally proved. . . .

The Negroes are so incident to the small­pox that few ships that carry them escape without it, and sometimes it makes vast hav­ock and destruction among them. But tho' we had 100 at a time sick of it, and that it went thro' the ship, yet we lost not above a dozen by it. All the assistance we gave the diseased was only as much water as they desir’d to drink, and some palm-oil to anoint their sores, and they would generally recover without any other helps but what kind nature gave them…

But 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, 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; I 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 ourselves to death, and take so much pains to so little purpose.

 

 

Thomas Phillips, ';Journal, " A Collection of Voyages an_ Travels, Vol, VI, ed. by Awnsham and John Churchill

(London, 1746), as quoted in Thomas Howard, ed., Black Voyage: Eyewitness Accounts of the Atlantic Slave Trade

(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971), pp. 85-87.