Even though Western slave traders operated the slave ships, the duty of capturing victims from their homes was assigned to select Africans, including chiefs, warheads, and traditional leaders, due to their power and prominence. African slave traders would organize groups of people to roam the countryside and forcefully kidnap villagers. Other times, men would be captured after being defeated in war and sold into slavery. According to information by the Library of Congress, the plan to transport captives to the coast for shipping into the United States sometimes took several months. Therefore, it was common practice to sell slaves along the way to the highest bidder. Slaves who reached the slave compounds or forts along the coast would be handed over to American captors who would initiate the journey to the Americas.
Individuals who boarded the ships went through unimaginable horror as their captors considered them mere cargo. Firstly, the slave ships were engineered to carry as many people as possible, with little or no consideration for their physical or mental health. The slaves were tied together head to foot, lying down. Deaths arising from untreated diseases, malnutrition, and suffocation were standard practices. In other times, slaves considered disobedient or unfit for hard labor were beaten to death by their captors. The slave captors often left the dead and the living shackled together for extended periods (Library of Congress). The ships were often filled with the groans of the dying, the crying of hungry children, and the shrieks of women, which added to the inconceivable horror of slavery. After weeks of travel, the surviving captive set foot on the North American coast. At this time, the majority of them were frail, diseased, and permanently disabled from constant abuse and beating (Ponti). The slaves were moved in, holding pens, and put up for auction. They were not allowed to make personal decisions as they were considered personal property that could be killed, tortured, and resold at their owners’ will.
How Enslaved Black People Fought Back Or Resisted Slavery
Enslaved Africans applied several strategies to demonstrate their resistance. Vox categorized resistance strategies into rebellion, escape, and work slowdown. Examples of revolutions that African slaves organized include the 1831 Nat Turner rebellion and the 1739 Stono rebellion (Vox). While these are the only rebellions that succeeded, numerous others ended in defeat and the death of perpetrators. The main reason for fleeing was to escape hard labor and the inhumane conditions that laborers were exposed to. In addition, most slaves feared that their children would be exposed to these horrendous circumstances.
Slaves also ran away from their captures. In most instances, these escapes only earned them short-term freedom as plantation owners could collaborate to ensure no slaves passed across their lands. There are instances where slaves managed to escape permanently and form communities in swamps and forests. While most slaves desired freedom, they were often confronted by the fear that their children and spouses who remained behind or were caught would pay dearly for the attempted escapes. During the 19th century, a group of sympathetic individuals known as the Underground Railroad emerged, intending to help slaves escape their owners.
Library of Congress. “A Journey in Chains | African | Immigration, and Relocation in U.S. History | Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress, 2000, www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/immigration/african/journey-in-chains/.
Ponti, Crystal. “America’s History of Slavery Began Long Before Jamestown.” HISTORY, 14 Aug. 2019, www.history.com/news/american-slavery-before-Jamestown-1619.
Vox, Lisa. “There Were 3 Major Ways Enslaved People Resisted a Life in Bondage.” ThoughtCo, 2020, www.thoughtco.com/ways-slaves-showed-resistance-to-slavery-45401. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.