Transatlantic slave trade

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
19 March 2007

“Cape Coast Castle”, Michael Tuite, August 1999. From the Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas collection. Image ref. D024. Interior courtyard, where captive Africans were assembled, and "Gate of No Return," the passageway through which they were led to the beach and from there to slaving vessels waiting offshore.


“Ship's Bell Recovered from Slave Ship Henrietta Marie, 1700,” from the Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas collection. Image ref. F016. Source: photo of archaeologically-recovered ship's bell; although partially encrusted, the name of the ship is clearly shown. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica. For details, see David Moore, Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the Shipwreck Henrietta Marie (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, 1997). (slide of photo, courtesy of David Moore, North Carolina Maritime Museum)

“Metal Branding Irons with Owners' Initials”, from the Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas collection. Image ref. H019. Source: Isabelle Aguet, A Pictorial History of the Slave Trade (Geneva: Editions Minerva, 1971), plate 33, p. 45. The location of these items is not given in the source, although they may be in the Wilberforce Museum, Hull, England. "A few days before the embarkation takes place, the head of every male and female are shaven. They are then marked . . . with a hot pipe sufficiently heated to blister the skin. Some [purchasers] use their initials made of silver wire. . . . . this disagreeable operation is done only when several persons ship slaves in one vessel . . . . [The branding] is done as lightly as possible, and just enough for the mark to remain only six months; when and if well done, it leaves the skin as smooth as ever. This scorching sign is generally made on the fleshy part of the arm to adults, to children on the posterior" – Theophilus Conneau, A Slaver's Logbook or 20 Years' Residence in Africa, 1827, [Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1976), pp. 81-82 Another account of branding: From, Henry Howe (ed.), Life and Death on the Ocean [Cincinnati, 1856], p.526 The British military officer, John Duncan, describes branding of enslaved captives in Dahomey in the mid-1840s. The people were led onto the beach, before being placed aboard canoes that would take them to the waiting slave ships: "the gang on each [coffle] chain is in succession marched close to a fire previously kindled on the beach. Here marking-irons are heated, and when an iron is sufficiently hot, it is quickly dipped in palm-oil, in order to prevent its sticking to the flesh. It is then applied to the ribs or hip, and sometimes even to the breast. Each slave-dealer uses his own mark, so that when the vessel arrives at her destination, it is easily ascertained to whom those who died belonged" (Travels in Western Africa in 1845 & 1846 [London, 1847; reprinted London, 1968], vol. I, p. 143).


Photograph by unidentified photographer; the individuals are not identified, but the place is the town of New Market, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Published in Ellen Dugan, ed., Picturing the South, 1860 to the Present (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1996), p. 32; the photograph is held by a private collector. From the Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas collection. Image ref. Dugan-1.

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