Transatlantic Slave Trade & Chattel Slavery


 “Chattel slavery, a peculiar system of domination and exploitation was unique in the sense that, though the subjugation of one person by another has been in existence since the advent of time, it was the first time that a person would be denied human status and declared another person’s personal property. This opened the floodgates to one of the most extreme cases of human exploitation and cruelty that its perpetrators to this day are struggling to trivialize, hide, or deny outright.”   

 History of African slavery by Europeans as we know it today, written essentially from an Eurocentric perspective by Europeans of course, has committed the crime of muffling the horrors of arguably the greatest crime committed by one group of humans against another. Euro‐American scholars and commentators essentially continue to gloss over the transatlantic chattel slavery of Africans, notwithstanding overwhelming evidence that it was a man‐made tragedy that effectively destroyed Africa in nearly every conceivable way. 

The physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain and the degradation inflicted on millions of Africans through a system that could have been hatched only in the perverted mind of a demon defy every sense of logic in the human faculty. The transatlantic slavery was the result of Europe’s voluptuous appetite for African labor and other resources, for which it had no intention to pay. The plan was quite simple but devastating: go to Africa, capture, or help to capture Africans, and use them to meet labor needs. 

Africans who escaped capture and remained on the continent suffered the triple‐headed monster plague of scramble, partition, and colonization—which is nothing more but pillaging of natural resources. Those captured and sold first had to contend with the hellish trip from their homeland to an unknown fate in the so-called New World. The Middle Passage, as the trip is known, was one in which the African victims encountered horrors that make similar horrific events in human history, such as the train rides of European Jews to death camps, pale in comparison.

It is estimated conservatively that only a third of the estimated 20 million captives who started the trip survived. Robin Blackburn1 (1997) estimates that “nearly one million—15%—Africans perished during the middle passage in this century.” Either way, the estimates did not factor lost lives from hundreds of miles trekked from the hinterlands to coastal areas. The largest slave population (40%) was from the west‐central parts of Africa, specifically near the mouth of the Congo River, and Luanda and Benguela in modern‐day Angola. About 22% originated from the Slave Coast; the Bight of Biafra, 15%; the Gold Coast, 11%; and the Senegambia area, 9% (Finkelman and Miller, eds, 1998). 

For the victims, the Middle Passage began with kidnapping and selling to any of the slave‐dealing intermediaries, as long as the price was supposedly right. These runners shackled the slaves in chains and force‐marched them for hundreds of miles to the nearest collection point, usually a castle‐dungeon at a seaport.  The slaves were warehoused for weeks at these locations, sometimes months or even a year. This was probably the first time a slave would see an unending stretch of wavering blue water upon which sat a mighty iron‐and‐wood beast of a ship. This beast on water held hundreds of hapless Africans stuffed in its belly. Packed like sardines in a can, with little or nothing to eat, and no room for body movement,

millions would perish thus on a six‐to‐eight week‐long, harrowing trip across the Atlantic Ocean to a new world of new horrors and sheer sufferings. 

 At the sight of land, the surviving captives, soon to‐be chattel slaves, would be sorted and separated for auction according to the state of their physical fitness. They would be cleaned and oiled to a glow intended to make them appear healthier and physically fit. Unsold sick and weakly captives were sold at discounted rates, killed, or left to die. Auctions took the form of a mad scramble whereby, upon the firing of a gun, slave merchants and farmers rushed forward, pushing, jostling, and probing the terrified Africans in an attempt to land the best buy. In 1790, the average price of a healthy‐looking slave in Antigua was $300. By 1830, it had jumped to $1,200.00. 

Auction thus marked the end of Middle Passage and transition into the final phase of subjugation and dehumanization of the African captive. Chattel slavery takes over where the Middle Passage left off. Simply put, chattel slavery is the legal absolute ownership of a person by another. The slave becomes the personal property of the owner; to be worked, used, and disposed of in any manner as it pleases the owner. 

Transatlantic crossing was busting at the seams during the slave trade. Between September 22, 1752 and September 25, 1754, over 15,500 slaves arrived in Jamaica alone from the Guinea Coast of Africa, according to Parish Transcripts of the Royal African Company and

South Sea Company records at the New York Historical Society. On May 2, 1754, a vessel named “Gold Coast” under Captain Walker Stroud with 250 slaves from the coast of West Africa, arrived in Jamaica. The ‘cargo’ was consigned to Peter Furnell. Slave ships christened with African names mostly depict their main ports of anchor.

The ship “Africa” would ply any port of call while “Angola’s” main port of call would be Angola and its surrounding ports.  

That several facets of ordinary American life were built by slaves is an understatement. Institutions such as churches and schools benefited from slavery. Slaves were auctioned off for church pews and renovations. From “History of Hillside, NJ and Vicinity,”2 we read that “at a regular meeting of the Board of Officers of the Newark Academy in 1794 it was resolved that the Rev. Mr. Ogden3 be empowered to sell the negro James, given by Mr. Watts as a donation to the academy, for as much money as he will sell it for.” This donation was “the most unusual windfall” to the school, according to Suzanne Geissler’s “A Widening of Sphere of Usefulness: Newark Academy 1774‐1993.” 

James was later sold for forty pounds to Moses Ogden, payable in two months with interest. Schools and colleges mostly built on the back of slaves would deny them (slaves) education. In northern New Jersey, the first free Negro girl to be admitted in the Newark High School4 system was around 1870. Irene, the Negro girl, was the daughter of Leticia Pattaquam.  Irene’s daughter May Mulford later became a school principal. 

Elsewhere in North Carolina, the country’s oldest public university (the University of North Carolina, chartered in 1789) has unearthed records indicating that slaves and free blacks basically built the institution. Brown University in Rhode Island and the University of Alabama have also opened up their past ties to slavery. Financial institutions such as Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) and JP Morgan Chase have divulged their slave ties as well. In 1768, of the 97,000 slaves from Africa to the Americas and West Indies, British ships carried 60,000; French, 23,000; and the remaining among other nations of Europe. Slaves were usually arranged in two parallel lines, with their backs against the vessel’s sides and an empty space was left between their feet for ship workers (slavers) to move about. Lang recounts how French slaver Ledoux would put slaves in between the little space left for movement, obviously to maximize human cargo and consequently higher returns on investment. 

Inasmuch as the so‐called Kormantin slaves of the Gold Coast were fearless and troublesome, they were the most demanded in Barbados, followed by the Whydah (or papa Negroes), and then the Angola and the Alampo. In 1721, Kormantin slaves twice almost overpowered Captain Snelgrave’s ship. Snelgrave described the Kormantins as “desperate fellows who despised punishment and even death itself.” 

Slave trade continued even after it had been abolished in most European and American countries. Because of its illegality, slave ships became more overcrowded than ever before. Fearing ship inspection in 1814, the Spanish brig, Carlos, was observed to have jettisoned not less than eighty people before it was captured. In 1783, a ship from São Tomé and Príncipe to Jamaica threw 132 slaves overboard. Three ships held the infamous record of Middle Passage deaths. Out of 800 slaves the ship “Adamastor” carried, 304 died. By the time “Aguila Vengadora” docked in Havana in June 1838, she had lost 560 slaves. In 1734, of the 716 slaves on board the “Rusthof” en route to Suriman, only 374 arrived alive, according to Van Dantzig’s translation of “The Dutch and the Guinea Coast 1674‐1742”

The minimum yearly intake of West African slaves to Brazil, after strong opposition to the trade, was 78,331, excluding those that landed offshore to escape sanctions. Captain McLean in 1838 noted, “In the year 1834, I have every reason to believe that the number of slaves carried off… amounted to 140,000.” 

 Slavery among the Akan in the Gold Coast

In Jack Cudjo’s ancestral home, slavery had several components. The first was that of a servant or subject who would perform any duties (from house help to farm hand, load carrier, and trading). This was the Akoa type of slavery. Close and extended family members could not become Akoa. There were also the ‘collateral’ or ‘surety’ slave, called Awowa: those who pawned or are pawned in lieu of a private or family loan/debt. For unpaid debt, a person becomes the human collateral and works for the creditor for a determined number of years before regaining freedom. Reverse Awowa is when a man expresses interest in a teenage girl and labors for her and her family before she comes of age for marriage. If she refuses the marriage, the family had to cough up the investment or go into proper awowa mode. 

Akyere means ‘seize/detain’ and referred to condemned people living in a particular location to be used as human sacrifices when the need arose. Dadiesoaba6 (iron bears fruit) and Konongo7 both in the Ashanti Region of Ghana are two modern towns that at one time hosted Akyere. 

Human war captives were called Domum and could be enslaved as such. A person could also be seized into slavery if a debt was not settled. Those who committed heinous crimes or taboo such as rape in the bush were ordered caught (dedua) and could end up as slaves or exiled. Donko is a person bought as a slave and usually refers to non‐citizens of a given area.

In its entire form, slavery in Africa was more of indentured servitude than institutionalized slavery. It was not carried out under any guise or disguise of any religion; in fact, there was no justification for chattel slavery by any African religious body. African slaves had inalienable rights and were considered an integral part of a master’s household. They were accepted and assimilated into a master’s family with equal rights without losing their identity.

By their deeds, slaves could become war generals, regents to family’s property, and even ascend royal thrones, just like the biblical Joseph in Egypt. Because they were considered family members, slaves could not be starved or abandoned indiscriminately. By virtue of this, their allegiance and obedience are to the immediate master only. They could also regain their freedom on grounds of cruelty through royal or civil arbitration. 

Slaves in Africa, if we could call them ‘slaves’ in the strictest sense of the term, enjoyed virtually all the rights of any human person, including the right to life, have a distinct socio‐cultural identity, procreate, and prosper. It must be understood that in Akan traditional laws of ancient times, only a king or queen had the power to take another life or give permission to do so. In essence, no slave master could take a slave’s life without losing his or her own. 

It is hoped that the missing links in the ancestry and descendants of Jack Cudjo could be an exciting subject for historians, researchers, and students to take up the challenge. 

The author, Kofi Ayim, is the editor of Amandla.

The book is available @

Posted by on Jan 16 2021. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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