Christians Organized Slave-Trade
Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi
Now that we have seen the attitude of Islam towards slavery, let us have a look at Christianity and its followers, and see what they did in this respect.
It is surprising to see that Christians, who for the reasons of their own, now-a-days pose themselves as champions of human freedom, were the most outspoken advocates of the system of slavery. They invented philosophical and moral justifications for enslaving the "uncivilised" people. One of their arguments was they were saving them from their cannibal neighbours in this world, and from eternal disgrace in the life hereafter.
Islam and its followers never thought on these lines. The vast multitude of Islamic literature is empty from this kind of pathetic effort at moralisation. But the Christian writers always mention slave-trade as though they had nothing to do with it and that it was Islam which "encouraged and legalised slavery" while they, the Christians, had always tried to abolish this nefarious system!
It is interesting to note that when speaking about the West African totally Christian slave-trade, the Christian writers and historians call it "West African slave-trade" or "Atlantic slave-trade"; but when they turn to Eastern Africa, the term changes to "Arab slave-trade".
Christianity, by such false propaganda, has succeeded to a great extent in extending its influence among those Africans whom its propaganda machinery has kept blissfully unaware of the fact that all Christian churches were active participants in African slave-trade. The following chapters will present the true picture for the readers.
"When in 1492 Columbus, representing the Spanish monarchy, discovered the New World, he sent in train the long and bitter international rivalry over colonial possessions for which, after four and a half centuries, no solution has yet been found. Portugal, which had initiated the movement of international expansion, claimed the new territories on the ground that they fell within the scope of a papal bull of 1455 authorising her to reduce to servitude all infidel people. The two powers, to avoid controversy, sought arbitration and, as Catholics, turned to the Pope - a natural and logical step in an age when the universal claims of the Papacy were still unchallenged by individuals and governments. After carefully sifting the rival claims, the Pope issued in 1493, a series of papal bulls which established a line of demarcation between the colonial possessions of the two states: the East went to Portugal and the West to Spain. The partitions, however; failed to satisfy the Portuguese aspirations and in the subsequent year the contending parties reached a more satisfactory compromise in the Treaty of Tordesillas, which rectified the papal judgement to permit Portuguese ownership of Brazil."
But this arbitration could not bind other powers aspiring to grab as many countries as possible; England, France and even Holland began to claim their places in the sun. The Negro, too, "was to have his place, though he did not ask for it: it was the broiling sun of the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations of the New World.
"According to Adam Smith, the prosperity of a new colony depends upon one simple economic factor - 'plenty of good land.' The British colonial possession up to 1776, however, can broadly be divided into two types. The first is the self-sufficient and diversified economy of small farmers... The second type is the colony which has facilities for the production of staple articles on a large scale for an export market. In the first category fell the Northern colonies of the American mainland; in the second, the tobacco colonies and sugar islands of the Caribbean. In colonies of the latter type, as Merivale pointed out land and capital were both useless unless labour could be commanded. Labour, that is, must be constant and must work, or be made to work, in co-operation.. Without this compulsion, the labourer would otherwise exercise his natural inclination to work his own land and toil on his own account. The story is frequently told of the great English capitalist, Mr. Pell, who took 50,000 pounds and three hundred labourers with him to the Swan River colony in Australia. His plan was that his labourers would work for him, as in the old country. Arrived in Australia, however, where land was plentiful - too plentiful - the labourers preferred to work for themselves as small proprietors, rather than under the capitalist for wages. Australia was not England, and the capitalist was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water."
Thus the ideal solution was slavery.
"'Odious resource', though it might be, as Merivalle called it, slavery was an economic institution of the first importance. It had been the basis of Greek economy and had built up the Roman Empire. In modem times it provided the sugar for the tea and the coffee cups of the Western world. It produced the cotton to serve as base for modern capitalism. It made the American South and the Caribbean islands."
"With the limited population of Europe in the sixteenth century, the free labourers necessary to cultivate the staple cops of sugar, tobacco and cotton in the New World could not have been supplied in quantities adequate to permit large-scale production. Slavery was necessary for this and to get slaves the Europeans turned first to the aborigines."
"But Indian slavery never was extensive in the British dominions... In the case of the Indian ... slavery was viewed as of an occasional nature, a preventive penalty and not as normal and permanent condition. In the New England colonies Indian slavery was unprofitable, for slavery of any kind was unprofitable because it was unsuited to the diversified agriculture of these colonies. In addition the Indian slave was inefficient. The Spaniards discovered that one Negro was worth four Indians. A prominent official in Hispanolia insisted in 1581 that 'permission be given to bring Negroes, a race robust for labour instead of natives so weak that they can only be employed in tasks requiring little endurance such as taking care of maize fields or farms.... The future staples of the New World, sugar and cotton, required strength which the Indians lacked, and demanded the robust 'cotton nigger' as sugar's need of strong mules produced in Louisiana the epithet 'sugar mules.' According to Lauber, 'when compared with sums paid for Negroes at the same time and place the prices of Indian slaves are found to have been considerably lower.'
"The Indian reservoir, too, was limited, the African inexhaustible. Negroes therefore were stolen in Africa to work the lands stolen from the Indians in America. The voyages of Prince Henry the Navigator complemented those of Columbus, West African history became the complement of West Indians."
. Williams, Dr. Eric, Capitalism and Slavery (London, 1964) p. 4.
. Ibid, pp. 4-5.
. Ibid, p. 5.
. Ibid, p. 6.
. Ibid, pp. 8-9.
Slaves were taken from Africa even during the Roman Empire, but the real "slave-trade" started in 16th century with the advent of the Christian European countries.
Edward A. Alpers of the University College of Dar-es-salaam, writes that "as we draw a distinction between the incidental trade in slaves which trickled across the Sahara from West to North Africa as long as the days of the Roman Empire, on the one hand, and the phenomenon which we call the West African slave-trade, on the other hand, so we must draw a similar distinction for East Africa."
Walter Rodney also of University College, Dar-es-salaam, begins his booklet West Africa and the Atlantic Slave-Trade with the following words: "It must always be remembered that the Atlantic slave-trade was an event in world history, involving three continents - Europe, Africa and America. The people who set out to seek slaves were Europeans coming from every country between Sweden in the north and Portugal in the south. The Portuguese arrived in West Africa shortly before the middle of the fifteenth century. Immediately, they started seizing the Africans and taking them to work as slaves in Europe, particularly in Portugal and Spain. But the most important developments took place in the sixteenth century, when Europeans capitalists realised that they could make enormous profits by using the labour of Africans to exploit the wealth of the Americas. As a result, Africans were taken to North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean to provide slave-labour in gold and silver mines and on agricultural plantations growing crops of sugar, cotton and tobacco. This notorious commerce in human beings lasted altogether for more than four hundred years, since the Atlantic slave-trade did not come to end until the late 1870's.
"Much can be said about the way that the Atlantic slave-trade was organised in Europe, and about the vast profits made by countries such as England and France. A lot can also be said about the terrible journey from Africa to America across the Atlantic ocean. Africans were packed like sardines on the slave-ships, and consequently died in great numbers."
And what a sardine! For details of these packing, read the following: One of the most chilling of all the appalling documents is 'The Plan of the Brookes', a notorious eighteenth-century scheme for stacking slaves into the slave-ship 'Brookes'...By a precise mathematical calculation, the technology of horror is laid out - feet and inches, standing room and breathing space assigned with lethal concern for maximum profit. A Mr. Jones recommends that 'five females be reckoned as four males, and three boys or girls as equal to two grown persons. ..every man slave is to he allowed six feet by one foot four inches for room, every woman five feet ten by one foot four...', and so it continues until every scrap of flesh is accommodated - 451 in number. But an Act of Parliament allows for 454. So the document concludes that, 'if three more could be wedged among the number represented in the plan, this plan would contain precisely the number which the act directs.'
Once the Africans landed on the other side of the Atlantic, they were really in a "New World", full of oppression and brutality. The following revelations may be helpful in understanding the situation prevailing at that time. Rodney writes: "From the time of the arrival of the [Christian] Europeans until 1600, about one million Africans were carried away in slave-ships. During that period, the Portuguese were the chief slave-traders in West Africa. They either took Africans to Brazil, which they owned, or else they sold them to the Spanish settlers in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean Islands. In the seventeenth century, some seven to eight million West Africans found their way across the Atlantic. The Dutch joined the Portuguese as the leading slave-traders in the seventeenth century, and in the following century the British were the biggest slave-traders. By the time that the Atlantic slave-trade was at its height in the eighteenth century, British ships were carrying more than half of the total of slaves, leaving the rest to be divided up between the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese and the Danes.
"By the nineteenth century, there was another change of the people who took the leading role in exploiting Africa. The European countries themselves were not as active in the slave-trade, but instead Europeans who had settled in Brazil, Cuba and North America were the ones who organised a large part of the trade. The Americans had recently gained their independence from Britain, and it was the new nation of the United States of America which played the biggest part in the last fifty years of the Atlantic slave-trade, taking away slaves at a greater rate than ever before.
"When the Atlantic slave-trade began on the West African coast, it took the form of directed attacks by Europeans on Africans living near the shore. When the first Portuguese sailors reached the coast of what is Mauritania, they left their ships and hunted the Moors who lived in that region. In reality, this was not trade at all - it was violent aggression. However, after being surprised on a few occasions, the Africans on the coast naturally kept watch for their European attackers and defended themselves vigorously. Within a very short while, the Portuguese came to realise that raiding was a very unsafe manner of trying to obtain slaves. Besides, they also wanted gold and other African commodities, which they could acquire only by trading peacefully. So instead of raiding, the Portuguese considered offering the manufactured goods in order to encourage the Africans to exchange local products and to bring African captive to the European ships. Not only the Portuguese, but all other Europeans found that from their point of view this was the best way to obtain goods in Africa; and it was in this way that they laid their hands on so many million Africans."
Commenting on this aspect of the slave-trade the writer says that, "One of the most important things is to recognise the very painful and unpleasant fact that there were Africans who aided and partnered the Europeans in enslaving other Africans. It means that we cannot take the simple attitude that the whites were the villains and blacks were the victims. A useful parallel which would help in the understanding of what took place in West Africa during the centuries of slave-trading can be found in Africa today, where many leaders join with the European and American imperialists to exploit the great majority of the African people.
"In the long run, West Africans were reduced to the state of 'sell or be sold'. Here the question of firearms was particularly important. To be strong, a state needed firearms, but to get firearms from the Europeans, the Africans had to offer slaves. African rulers found themselves selling slaves to get guns to catch slaves to buy more guns. This can be described as a 'vicious circle'. It does not entirely excuse the African rulers who helped the Europeans, but it explains how in the end they were not so much the partners of the Europeans but rather their servants or lackeys."
And what was the church doing all that time? Hear the same author commenting: "Because there was so much profit to be made by taking slaves from Africa, Europeans refused to listen to their consciences. They knew about the suffering that was inflicted upon people in Africa, on the slave-ships and on the slave-plantations of the Americas, and they were aware that to sell their fellow human beings could not be morally justified. Yet the Christian church came forward with excuses for the slave-trade. Many priests themselves carried on slave-trading, especially in Angola, and many others owned slaves in the Americas. The only reason the Catholic Church could give for its actions was that it was trying to save African souls by baptising the slaves. The Protestants were worse, for they did not even make it clear that they accepted that the Africans had a soul. Instead, they supported the view that African slave was a piece of property like furniture or a domestic animal. There is no part of the history of the Christian church which was more disgraceful than its support of the Atlantic slave-trade. "
According to the Lloyd's List, slaves were most decidedly considered to be a cargo, and very precious. Policies taken out at Lloyd's insured slaves for as much as 45 pounds each - a considerable sum in early 18th century England.
To prevent them escaping, or to punish them, extraordinary devices such as shown here were used both in West Africa and the West Indies.
There were always a few individuals who protested against the Atlantic slave-trade right from the beginning; but governments and traders paid no attention to them during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was not until the late eighteenth century that serious attempts were made to put a stop to this trade.
James Boswell, trying to refute the arguments of abolitionists, writes in his Life of Johnson that, "The wild and dangerous attempt which has for some time been persisted in order to obtain an act of our legislature, to abolish so very important and necessary branch of commercial interest, must have been crused at once, had not the insignificance of the zealots who vainly took the lead in it, made the vast body of Planters, Merchants, and others, whose immense properties are involved in that trade, reasonably enough suppose that there could be no danger. The encouragement which the attempt has received excites my wonder and indignation; and though some men of superior abilities have supported it, whether from a love of temporary popularity, when prosperous; or a love of general mischief, when desperate, my opinion is unshaken. To abolish a status which in all ages GOD has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the African Savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life; especially now when their passage to the West Indies and their treatment there is humanely regulated. To abolish that trade would be to shut the gates of mercy on mankind." The humanely regulated treatment and mercy shows itself in the details and diagrams given above!
. Alpers, Edward A., East African Slave-Trade (Dar-es-salaam: The Historical Association of Tanzania, 1967), p. (?)
. Rodney, Walter., West African and the Atlantic Slave-Trade (Dar-es-salaam: The Historical Association of Tanzania, 1967) p. (?)
. Newsweek (March 15, 1965) p. 106.
. Rodney, op. cit., pp. 4-5.
. Ibid, p. 7f.
. Ibid, p. 22.
. Lloyd's List, 250th Anniversary Special (1734-1984), April 17, 1984, London, p.149.
. Boswell, J., Life of Johnson (N.Y.: Modern Library Edition, 1965) p. 365.
East African Slave-Trade
Like West Africa, the slave-trade in East Africa became prominent and was firmly established with the advance and endeavour of the Christian Europe.
Mr. E.A. Alpers writes in African Slave-Trade: "Further evidence that the slave trade was by no means prominent in East Africa before the eighteenth century comes from the Portuguese. Surely the Portuguese, as the pioneers of the Atlantic slave-trade, would have tried to exploit the slave-trade in East Africa had they found it to be already flourishing. But the early Portuguese chroniclers only mention the slave-trade in passing. Much more important were the gold and ivory traders to Arabia and India. It is to these products that the Portuguese invaders turned their attention throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not only along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, but also Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Even wax and ambergris seem to have been more important than slaves during most of this period. For unlike the colonialist in the Americas, the Portuguese never developed any sort of plantation economy in India. The Portuguese slave-trade from Mozambique to India rarely reached as many as one thousand individuals in any one year, and was usually less than half that number. That to Brazil was illegal until 1645 and was never seriously pursued until the beginning of the nineteenth century. As late as 1753, when the foundations of the new slave-trade in East Africa were being laid, there was grand total of only 4,399 African slaves in the whole of Portuguese India.
"What were these foundations? Despite the long Arab contact with East Africa, and their [page 123 in original publication missing]
could to encourage the slave-trade with the French. According to official figures, more than 1,000 slaves were being exported each year. French, smuggling to avoid the taxes which were levied at Mozambique, probably raised the annual figure to at least 1,500. A similar figure was probably taken away from Ibo during this decade. Henceforth the Portuguese at Mozambique and Ibo (and later at Quelimane, near the mouth of the Zambezi River) were committed to a policy of slaving from which there was no turning back until abolition.
"The trade became much brisker in the eighties, especially after the conclusion of the American war of independence. During the seventies a few adventurous French slavers had taken cargoes from Mozambique to the West Indies, because they were finding it increasingly unprofitable to seek their chattels along the Guinea coast. Now, in peacetime, with greater competition for slaves in West Africa, the way was opened for a massive expansion of the American slave trade from East Africa. At the same time Portuguese vessels also began to take an active, though still secondary, part in the trade to the Mascarene Island. Official figures from Mozambique alone show that from 1781 through 1794 a total of 46,461 slaves were embarked on Portuguese and foreign ships, nearly all of which were French. Allowing for a minimum amount of smuggling, at least 4,000 slaves annually must have been leaving the Mozambique area during this period."
It was this juncture that Arabs extended a helping hand to these Christian Slave-traders. The same author says, "After the Omani Arabs had responded to the call of some of the Swahili rulers of the coastal towns and with their help had in 1698 evicted the Portuguese from Mombassa and other outposts, they were themselves too weak to do more than disturb and rob the very people who had sought their aid. ..But after the Busaid family overthrew the Yorubi and established their rule in Oman in about 1744, they were able to begin effective economic exploitation of the people of East Africa. Like all previous merchants on the coast they were primarily interested in ivory, but from this point we can also detect a steady increase in the slave-trade.
"There are not, however, any accurate statistics on the volume of the Arab slave trade in the eighteenth century. The first indication which exists come from a French slaver named Jean-Vincent Morice, who traded at both Zanzibar and Kilwa, which was the most important slave port on the coast, in the 1770's. On the 14th September, 1776, Morice made a treaty with Sultan of Kilwa for the annual purchase of at the least 1,000 slaves. In three trips to Zanzibar and Kilwa before signing this treaty, he had bought 2,325 slaves for export. Morice does not tell us how many slaves the Arabs were taking away from the coast each year, but he clearly considered it to be a big business by French standards. It seems reasonable to suggest that at least 2,000 slaves a year were involved in the Arab trade at this time. So although the French did not dominate the slave-trade here as they did at Mozambique, they acted as an important stimulus to the demand of slaves at a period when the Arab trade was still out-growing its infancy. French efforts continued through the 1780's, but by the end of the century these probably had become much less important than the Arab trade.
"Several new factors gave rise to the increased demand for slaves from East Africa during the nineteenth century. In the Portuguese coastal sphere of influence there was a sharp upswing in the slave-trade to Brazil. This was caused by the removal of the Portuguese royal family from Lisbon to Brazil during the Napoleonic Wars. Special concessions were granted to the Brazilians and soon a flourishing trade in slaves was being carried on around the Cape of Good Hope at Mozambique."
"It is now an accepted fact among serious historians of East Africa that long distance trade routes between the interior and the coast were established exclusively through African initiative. In other words trade routes were forged by Africans from the interior going to the coast, not by the Arabs, or the Swahili, setting off from the coast into the unknown, hostile interior. Swahili traders only began to forsake the security of the coast in the second half of the eighteenth century, and travelled along well-established routes which had been developed decades before. Only after the nineteenth century was underway did Arab traders dare follow this lead."'
"The Yao who were to become the most dedicated African slave-traders in East Africa, thus had a long tradition of carrying ivory and other legitimate goods to the coast decades before the combined French and Arab demand for slaves began to come into play."
"In West Africa these routes were driven inland from the coast by Africans who were primarily seeking slaves. Slaves dominated the West African trade from the first. In East Africa neither of these conditions was matched. The slave-trade must be seen in the context of earlier, well-established, and profitable long distance trade which was based overwhelmingly on ivory. This is particularly important to remember for the southern region which was always the main reservoir for the East African slave-trade."
Mr. Alpers concludes, "It should be clear by now that the old stereotyped idea that most slaves were seized by marauding bands of Arabs and Swahili traders is just another one of the myths which have grown up around the East African slave-trade. But we must not make a mistake by underestimating the role which these individuals played in this business."
Once again, I should emphasise that my aim is not to ridicule the efforts of a handful of moralists who were engaged in the propaganda against slavery. What I want to show is that their efforts did not (and could not) succeed until the economic pressure forced Britain first to restrict slave-trade and then abolish slavery.
Of course, when Britain set out to abolish slavery it could not proclaim from the roof-tops that it was abolishing it to compete against French industrialists. It had to turn it into a moral and ethical issue before it could hope to pressure other governments to follow suit. And so it did. We know how Britain waged wars not to protect its economic and political empire, but "to protect the Freedom of People." The same was the case with its war against slavery. Morality and ethics was an issue for a handful of impotent moralists only. The real issue, so far as the governments and the settlers and colonialists were concerned, was economy.
. Alpers, op. cit., pp. 5-6.
. Ibid, pp. 7-8.
. Ibid, p. 13.
. Ibid, p. 14.
. Ibid, p. 15.
. Ibid, p. 24.
Sufferings of Slaves
We have already seen what Islam did achieve in alleviating the plight of the slaves and how, for the first and last time in the history, slaves were regarded as human beings having rights upon their masters. Now let us see how the Christians treated their slaves.
Before giving the description, I must make one point clear. These accounts are of the plight of the slaves during the last five centuries when, as mentioned earlier, the Christians started slave-trade on a previously unimaginable scale. As I have shown in the last chapter, the Arabs also gave them a willing helping hand in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.
As most of the European accounts of the slave-trade in Africa date from this period, so there are many vivid descriptions of what men saw there. Thus, the Christians must bear the responsibility of these horrors in a far greater degree. They were inflicting these injuries for four centuries compared with one century in which the Arabs joined hands with them on their instigation though quite willingly.
The victims were the poor and defenceless Africans, the Negroes of the west and east coast of Africa and also of the interior of that continent. They were treated as mere chattels and tools or even worse. They had to work or rather they were forced to work in inhuman conditions on the newly acquired plantations of their masters, the Christian Western powers, who had taken possessions of the islands across the Atlantic and in the New World and also at home in Portugal and Spain and the countries of central Europe of the Holy Roman Empire under the spiritual domain of the Roman Catholic Popes.
The horrors of the slave trade were most pronounced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Wherever a raid on a village took place, death and destruction followed. Many more people died defending their homes and families, or as a result of the starvation and disease which usually followed such violence, than were ever actually enslaved, let alone sold at the coast.
One shudders to think of the most diabolical ways in which the poor natives of Africa were captured, separated from their kith and kin, carried away and treated as worse than animals. We shall now give a short account from the books of Western authors themselves on how the slaves were treated and what cruel methods were employed by the slave hunters. Their methods were at once crude and wasteful, because they were robbers, not warriors. "Their practice was to surround some villages which they have marked down for their prey, and approach it silently at night. The village was usually a collection of primitive mud huts thatched with bamboo's and palm leaves, all highly inflammable, which they set alight without compunction, generally at dawn. As the inhabitants woke to the cracking of flames and struggled into the open, they were rounded up and made prisoners. Any of them who resisted were cut down, as the slave hunters had no mercy for them. They had no use for the old or infirm or for babes who were all killed on the spot, and only men and women in their prime, and young boys and girls, were spared, to be carried off into slavery, leaving behind the dead bodies and dying ashes, where once there had been happy homes and flourishing settlements. The waste was out of all proportion to the prize. But waste, wanton waste, was the hall-mark of the negro slavery, from its first moments to the last. Wherever it reared its head, death, disease and destruction were its invariable concomitants...
"Those captured far inland were less fortunate, for they had to march to the coast on their feet - a dreary trudge over many miles of thick forest and rough desert. They walked almost naked, with no protection against sharp thorns, and jagged stones. To prevent escape, they had heavy forked poles fastened round their necks; their hands, if they were troublesome, might be secured through holes in a rough wooden board, and they were fettered with chains on their ankles. Linked together by ropes, the long lines known as coffles, they trudged miserably on towards their terrifying fate; for all Africans knew that the white were fed on the negroes bought from the barracoons. Their captors drove them relentlessly forward, ignoring wounds and lacerations, and physicking their energy by plentiful flicks of the whips. If any succumbed, he was thrown on one side; if any of them became too ill, they were left to die or more mercifully knocked on the head."
"...In fair weather or foul, in spite of diseases and deaths, and for all the insurrections and suicides, every year the ships brought thousands of slaves to America and the West Indies.. They came in ships of many nations - French, Dutch, Portuguese and Danish - but more than half were brought in English ships that sailed from Bristol, London, or Liverpool. Year in and year out, they were set ashore diseased or whole, resigned or despairing and were lost for ever to the land of their birth... The uses of servitude, like its abuses, never change; they were the same all the world over and from one age to another. In America and the West Indies, as in ancient Rome, or in Greece or the dim beginnings of history, slavery was divided into two broad types - domestic slavery and the slavery of the works and plantations."
Let us now give some more extracts from the same book Freedom from Fear or the Slave and his Emancipation by O. A. Sherrard, to show how and to what degree the foremost Christian nations of the West meted out the most inhuman treatment to the defenceless Negroes. The reader would also see their debased beliefs and notions about human beings who differed from them in colour and race.
"From the broad historical outlook, they had passed through two stages: in the first bearing on their shoulders, like a patient Atlas, the glories of many long dead civilizations; and in the second, more wretched than the first, losing even that vicarious honour, and failing to an abject state in which they contributed solely to private greed. Their condition, specially in their second phase, should have scared the conscience of a nominally Christian world, but left it peculiarly unmoved. The idea of slavery was so deeply ingrained that no one questioned its propriety. All nations either endured or enjoyed it."
"The lot of plantation slave was really very hard. The job assigned to him was, from his point of view, skilled; he was to cultivate a crop unknown to him - for the most part sugar in the West Indies, cotton or tobacco in America - and, in that his work was novel, he endured a heavier burden than his counterpart in Greece or Rome or among the serfs of Europe.. All was new and strange to him; he had, therefore, to be broken in; he had to be taught his new duties; he had to be seasoned' as the saying was. 'Seasoning' was a euphemism for a harsh discipline, which was reckoned by the opponents of slavery to carry off not less than twenty per cent of those who underwent it. May be that was over the mark, but it must nonetheless be admitted that large numbers died. The discipline was painful, and there was little to ameliorate and much to embitter its seventy.
The slaves had to pass through terrible stages of suffering. The cumulative effect of all the hardships was disastrous. To quote Sherrard again, "this was particularly true of the 'seasoning', for beyond doubt a large proportion of those who died under its discipline would have died in any event from the effects of the middle passage. Experience showed that the greater number of those who were weak or emaciated on arrival, died soon afterwards whatever they did. The medical authorities put this down to 'long confinement in slave-houses previous to embarkation, want of cleanliness and ventilation while on hoard the slave-ships, alterations in dress, food and habits, and, not the least, change of climate' (Buxton, p. 188). But they agreed that there was something more - a psychological or spiritual malaise, which they described, perhaps a little portentously, as 'the sad recollection of kindred and friendship, the rude violation of all the sacred and social endearments of country and relationship, and the degrading anticipation of endless unmitigated bondage.' This when add to the physical hardships too often dissolved the will to live, and the slave seized the first chance to do away with himself, or more simply, pined away and died." There were at least five types of owners and five forms of negro slavery - Spanish, French, Dutch, Danish and British - without counting America, which at the outset was British. The Americans, in the U.S.A, are even now, in the twentieth century, flouting their own laws and the Negro has not yet succeeded in securing full rights of citizenship, and there are problems for the Negro in his own home-land as the world knows too well.
The terrible fate of plantation slave is notorious - how he was branded with hot irons, how he was forced to work heavy chains, his back was torn and scarred with the lash, how at night he was locked in a prison, the ergastulum, often underground and always filthy. "The Portuguese built a series of forts or barracoons as they came to be called, on the Guinea coast, where wretched Africans could be rounded up and kept safe till the numbers were sufficient to justify transhipment to Spain, to slavery...and eventually to America and the New World...their souls were doomed to eternal perdition; their bodies were the property of the Christian nation who should occupy their soil."
The author describes how slavery was introduced into England's colonies in America: "A Dutch ship was entering the James River in Virginia and landing twenty Negroes for sale. The colonists promptly bought them and thus Negro slavery was introduced into England's American colonies." In a short time, "England acquired the first place in the coveted traffic in slaves, a position which she held for over ninety years."
"The slaves were sold at auctions, being bought in stark naked, men and women, alike, and mounted on a chair, where the bidders handled and prodded them and felt their muscles and examined their teeth and made them jump and flex their arms, to satisfy themselves that they were not bidding for a diseased or disabled lot. As the slaves were bought single, it followed that often husband and wife, children and parents went to different owners; and the loss of kith and kin and all that the slaves held dear was added to the loss of liberty. So the slave left the auction room, bereaved of everything, to begin a new life of 'abject, hopeless and crushing servitude'."
. Sherrard, B.A., Freedom from Fear (London, 1959) pp. 61-62.
. Ibid, pp. 67f.
. Ibid, p.11.
. Ibid, p. 69.
. Ibid, p. 26.
 Ibid, p. 67.
Churches Participate in Slave-Trade
What was the attitude of the Christian church towards the Negro slave trade? From its inception, Christianity kept its eyes closed to the plight of the slaves. As mentioned earlier, the only reference to the slavery is found in the epistle of St. Paul returning a slave to Philemon to his master. That is all. Ameer Ali rightly comments that Christianity "found slavery a recognised institution of the empire; it adopted the system without any endeavour to mitigate its baneful character, or promote its gradual abolition, or to improve the status of slaves."
To recognise the part played by the Christian churches in the slave trade one should read again the words of Mr. Alpers who writes, inter alia, that the Christians "were aware that to sell their fellow human beings could not be morally justified. Yet the Christian church came forward with excuses for the slave-trade. Many priests themselves carried on slave-trading, especially in Angola, and many others owned slaves in the Americas. The only reason the Catholic church give for its action was that it was trying to save African souls by baptising the slaves. The Protestants were worse, for they did not even make it clear that they accepted that the Africans had a soul. Instead, they supported the view that the African slave was a piece of property like a furniture or a domestic animal. There is no part of the history of Christian church which was more disgraceful than its support of the Atlantic slave-trade."
The arguments of James Boswell have already been quoted where he emphasises that slavery was an institution sanctioned in all ages by God and that to abolish slavery would be to shut the gate of mercy on mankind!
Now I quote from Capitalism and Slavery of Dr. Eric Williams, who was a recognised historian and was also the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. He writes, "The Church also supported the slave trade. The Spaniards saw in it an opportunity of converting the heathen, and the Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans were heavily involved in sugar cultivation which meant slave-holding. The story is told of an elder of the Church in Newport who would invariably, the Sunday following the arrival of slaves from the coast, thank God that 'another cargo of benighted beings had been brought to land where they could have the benefit of a gospel dispensation.' But in general the British planters opposed Christianity for their slaves. It made them more perverse and intractable and therefore less valuable. It meant also instruction in the English language, which allowed diverse tribes to get together and plot sedition.. .The governor of Barbados in 1695 attributed it to the planters' refusal to give the slave Sundays and feast days off, and as late as 1832 British public opinion was shocked by the planters' rejection of a proposal to give the Negroes one day in the week in order to permit the abolition of the Negro Sunday market. The Church obediently toed the line. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel prohibited Christian instruction to its slaves in Barbados, and branded 'Society' on its new slaves to distinguish them from those of the laity; the original slaves were the legacy of the Christopher Codrington. Sherlock, later Bishop of London, assured the planters that 'Christianity and the embracing of the Gospel does not make the least difference in civil property.' Neither did it impose any barriers to clerical activity. For his labours with regards to the Asiento which he helped to draw up as a British plenipotentiary at Utrecht, Bishop Robinson of Bristol was promoted to see of London. The bell of the Bristol churches pealed merrily on the news of the rejection of Parliament of Wilberforce's bill for the abolition of the slave-trade. The slave trader, John Newton, gave thanks to the Liverpool churches for the success of this last venture before his conversion and implored God's blessing on his. He established public worship twice every day on his slaver, officiating himself, and kept a day of fasting and praying, not for the slaves but for crew. 'I never knew', he confessed, 'sweeter or more frequent hours of divine communion than in the last two voyages to Guinea.' The famous Cardinal Manning of the nineteenth century was the son of a rich West Indian merchant dealing in slave-grown produce. Many missionaries found it profitable to drive out Beelzebub by Beelzebub. According to the most recent English writer on the slave trade, they 'considered that the best way in which to remedy abuse of Negro slaves was to set the plantation owner a good example by keeping slaves and estates themselves, accomplishing in this practical manner the salvation of the planters and the advancement of their foundations'. The Moravian missionaries on the island held slaves without hesitation; the Baptists, one historian writes with charming delicacy, would not allow their earlier missionaries to deprecate ownership of slaves. To the very end the Bishop of Exeter retained his 655 slaves, for whom he received over 12,700 pounds compensation in 1833.
"Church historians make awkward apologies, that conscience awoke very slowly to the appreciation of the wrongs inflicted by slavery and that the defence of slavery by churchmen 'simply arose from want of delicacy of moral perception'. There is no need to make such apologies. The attitude of the churchmen was the attitude of the layman. The eighteenth century, like any other century, could not rise above its economic limitations. As Whitefield argued in advocating the repeal of that article of the Georgia charter which forbade slavery, 'It is plain to demonstration that hot countries cannot be cultivated without Negroes.'.
"Quaker nonconformity did not extend to the slave trade. In 1756 there were eighty-four Quakers listed as members of the Company trading to Africa, among them the Barclay and the Baring families. Slave dealing was one of the most lucrative investments of English as of American Quakers, and the name of slaver, The Willing Quaker, reported from Boston at Sierra Leone in 1793, symbolizes the approval with which the slave trade was regarded in Quaker circles. The Quaker opposition to the slave trade came first and largely not from England but from America, and there from the small rural communities of the North, independent of slave labour. 'It is difficult', writes Dr. Gray, 'to avoid the assumption that opposition to the slave system was at the first confined to a group who gained no direct advantage from it, and consequently possessed an objective attitude.'...
"Slavery existed under the very eyes of eighteenth century Englishmen. And English coin, the guinea, rare though it was and is, had its origin in the trade of Africa. A Westminster goldsmith made silver padlocks for blacks and dogs. Busts of blackamoors and elephants, emblematical of the slave trade adorned the Liverpool Town Hall. The insignia and equipment of the slave traders were boldly exhibited for sale in the shops and advertised in the press. Slaves were sold openly at auction. Slaves being invaluable property, with title recognised by law, the postmaster was the agent employed on occasions to recapture runaway slaves and advertisements were published in the official organ of the government. Negro servants were common. Little black boys were the appendages of slave captains, fashionable ladies or women of the easy virtue. Hogarth's heroine, 'The Harlots Progress' is attended by a Negro boy, and Marguerito Steen's Orabella Burmester typifies eighteenth century English opinion in her desire for little black boy whom she could love as her long-haired kitten. Freed Negroes were conspicuous among London beggars and were known as St. Giles blackbirds. So numerous were they that a parliamentary committee was set up in 1786 for relieving the black poor.
"'Slaves cannot breath in England,' wrote the poet Cowper. This was licence of the poet. It was held in 1677 that 'Negroes being usually bought and sold among merchants, so merchandise, and also being infidels, there might be a property in them'. In 1729 the Attorney General ruled that baptism did not bestow freedom or make any alteration in the temporal condition of slave; in addition the slave did not become free by being brought to England, and once in England the owner could legally compel his return to the plantations. So eminent an authority as Sir William Blackstone held that 'with respect to any right the master may have lawfully acquired to the perpetual service of John or Thomas, will remain exactly in the same state of subjection for the life,' in England or elsewhere."
When ships loaded with human cargo sailed from Christian countries to Western hemisphere, Christian priests used to bless the ship in the name of Almighty and admonish the slaves to be obedient. It never entered into their minds to admonish the masters to be kind to the slaves.
It is hard to believe but it seems that the Roman Catholics think it quite in keeping with the teachings of their church to obtain slaves even in this era of 1970s. In August 1970 the world was shocked to hear that the Roman Catholics had purchased, at the price ranging from 250 pounds to 300 pounds each, about 1500 Indian girls to shut them into convents because European girls do not like to live as nuns. There was so much outcry in the world press that the Vatican had to establish a commission to enquire into this affair. But even before the commission started its enquire, a Vatican spokesman had to admit that there was an "element of truth" in the reports, though he dutifully condemned the Sunday Times for its sensation-mongering.
. Ameer 'Ali, Spirit of Islam (London: University Paper-backs, 1965) p. 260.
. Alpers, op. cit., p. 22.
. Williams, op. cit., pp. 42-5.
. Sunday Times (London) as quoted in East African Standard (Nairobi), August 25, 1970.