Lesson Plan 2 | Triangular Slave Trade (1660-1808)



Overview:

War and economic power are the roots of slavery. When American revisionist history is taught, America is portrayed as the villain on the world stage when it comes to the discussion of slavery.  Slavery is a universal institution - older than the first human records. It flourished throughout the world: Arab Muslims enslaved Christians; Europeans enslaved other Europeans; China was the greatest merchant of human beings; and long before the Europeans arrived, Africans enslaved other Africans.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade began in the late 17th century when sugar cane was discovered and was brought to the Caribbean by the English. Sugar cane and slavery went together. By 1700, Barbados was producing 8,000 tons of sugar a year to supply the sweet appetites back in England. This most viable cash crop needed a replaceable labor force, and economics, as well as racism, shifted the workforce, from indentured servitude and convicts to open slavery. Black slaves were now becoming the norm.  Also, the Chesapeake planters, in the American Colonies, took notice of how black slavery appeared to be a better long-term investment than indentured servitude. After 1680, the flow of indentured servants began to be diminished being replaced by African slavery.



Objectives:

  • To study the effects of the cash crop, sugar, in the West Indies on the development of African slavery
  • To understand how slavery in the West Indies affected the growth of African slavery in the American Colonies
  • To examine the Colonial labor shift from indentured servitude to African Slavery
  • How the Triangular Trade, or trading patterns, developed between American colonies, West Indies, the coast of Africa, and the British Isles.
  • To examine the Virginia Slave Laws 1662 – 1669, and how it expanded slavery in the American colonies.  
  • To examine how the slave trade came under attack in the principled belief that all people deserved equal rights and opportunities in the anti-British atmosphere of the American Revolution.



Time: Three class periods


Materials:

Illustrations of Africans enslaving Africans
Map of Trade Routes in Triangular Slave Trade
Drawings of sugar cane plantations
Maps of slave trade locations in Africa
Middle Passage ship loading diagrams
Description of middle passage by Olaudah Equiano



Background Information:

In 1493, Columbus stopped off in the Canary Islands and carried back to Hispaniola a gift of sugar cane.  Sugar cane was already a cash crop in Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Now, the British brought it to Barbados, which had near-perfect environmental conditions for it. The sugar colonies were Britain’s most valuable colonies, and Barbados was the most important, more important than the American Colonies.  At first, the British brought servants to grow this labor-intensive crop, then relied upon and lost the indigenous labor force to European diseases, so it became necessary to find another replaceable labor force. The first African slaves were bought and transported from West Africa to the West Indies to work in the sugar cane fields as well as cultivate other crops such as coffee, cocoa, indigo, tobacco.

“The triangular trade is a simplified term for the trading patterns that developed among the American Colonies, the West Indies, the coast of Africa, and the British Isles during the eighteenth century.   One triangle began with New England merchants transporting flour, meat, and other provisions to the West Indies, whose commitment to staple crops required them to import food. The West Indies exchanged food for sugar, which New Englanders' carried and exchanged for manufactured goods brought back to the colonies. Another triangle took the New Englanders first to the coast of Africa where simple manufactured goods from America exchanged products for slaves. The slaves were then transported over the terrible Middle Passage to the West Indies, where they were traded for rum and molasses to be sold at home…. In actuality, patterns of commerce were much more complicated than the term triangular trade suggests.”  (The Reader’s Companion to American History, by Eric Foner & John A. Garraty)

The Many Trading Patterns of Commerce in the Triangle Slave Trade
The Many Trading Patterns of Commerce in the Triangle Slave Trade

Guiding Questions:

What can you tell from this map about the trade patterns in the Atlantic?
How important do you think each destination was to the trade pattern?


The Geography of Oppression:

It is essential to understand that the slave trade is not only a product of evil Europeans but also corrupt Africans. Africans became victimizers and victims as tribes like the Aja of West Africa became the victims of other tribes like the Dahomey and Oyo who captured and sold them to the European slave traders. The Aja people, located on the slave coast, were either a prisoner of war or captured in the fields, and marched to the coast to be traded for money and guns. Families would even sell their family members to pay a debt or to survive financially.  (Tyranny of Experts by William Easterly)

Other tribes were equally ruthless as the slave trade developed between 1650 and 1860, bringing slaves from Senegal, Sierra Leone, the Slave Coast, the Congo, and Angola. The voyage from West Africa to Brazil was just a mere 1800 miles to the bulge of Brazil, and with the favorable trade winds and currents, made this journey one of the fastest in the Atlantic.


These African dealers kidnapped people from villages up to hundreds of miles inland and marched them to the coast with hands tied and their necks connected by wooden yokes.
These African dealers kidnapped people from villages up to hundreds of miles inland and marched them to the coast with hands tied and their necks connected by wooden yokes. 



Comparing Maps:



              Map 1.
Slave Trade Transportation from Western Africa to the Americas
Slave Trade Transportation from Western Africa to the Americas

            Map 2.
Slave Trade from All African to All American Regions
Slave Trade from All African to All American Regions

           Map 3.

Guiding Questions:

What differences do you see in each of these maps?
Why is it important to compare several resources for critical thinking?
According to these maps, where were most of the slaves sent?



Middle Passage of the Slave Trade:

The Middle Passage was brutal, approximately 10 -15 million slaves were transported from West Africa to the Americas.  They were packed into appalling conditions for the Atlantic crossing, crammed below deck, shackled, poorly fed, and surrounded by a stench that brought on sickness.  One in six slaves died before reaching the West Indies.


Equiano Capture:

http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/asset79017_1374-abolition.html
Olaudah Equiano describes being captured and enslaved and put on an Atlantic slave ship.
         “One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both. My sister and I were separated, and I ended up in the hands of a slave dealer who supplied the Atlantic slave ships. Six months later I found myself on board a slave ship.” The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (From the Abolition Project, East of England Broadband Network)

Quobna Ottabah Cugoano – Capture:

http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/asset79014_1374-abolition.html
Taken – Ottobah Cugoano, Wicked Traffic of Slavery (1787)
          “With some of the children of my uncle’s relations, I was too bold in going into the woods to gather fruit and catch birds…One day several ruffians came upon us suddenly, we had wronged their lord, and we must go and answer it before him…Some of us tried in vain to run away, but pistols and cutlasses were soon introduced, threatening, that if we tried to move, we should all lie dead on the spot. One of them pretended to be more friendly than the rest and said that he would speak to their lord to get us clear, and desired that we should follow him; we were then immediately divided into different parties and driven after him. We were soon led out of the way which we knew…into slavery.”

Guiding Questions:

Who do you think captured Olaudah Equiano and Quobna Ottabah Cugoano?
To whom were the slaves sold?
How were their experiences similar?



Olaudah Equiano – Middle Passage Extract 1:

http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/audio77080-abolition.html
Above is audio and below is the written description from Olaudah Equiano autobiography describing the Middle Passage.
           “At last, when the ship we were in, had got in all her cargo, they made ready with many fearful noises, and were all put under deck, so that we could not see how they managed the vessel…The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome…The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspiration, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought a sickness among the slave, of which many died – thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers.” The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (From the Abolition Project, East of England Broadband Network)


Olaudah Equiano – Middle Passage Extract 2:

http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/asset79020_1374-abolition.html
Description from Olaudah Equiano autobiography describing the Middle Passage.
           “The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. The air so unfit for breathing, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. This wretched situation was made worse by the chains. The shrieks of women, and the groaning of the dying, created a scene of horror almost unbelievable. Three desperate slaves tried to kill themselves by jumping overboard. Two drowned, the other was captured and beaten unmercifully. When I refused to eat, I too was beaten.” The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (From the Abolition project, East of England Broadband Network)


Ouobna Ottabah Cugoano – On the Capture Ship:

http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/asset79015_1374-abolition.html
Description from Ouobna Ottabah Cugoano, in his autobiography, describes a time on the slave ship and his thoughts on this:
                “There was nothing to be heard but the rattling of chains, smacking of whips, and the groans and cries of our fellow-men…Death was preferable to life, and a plan was made to blow up the ship and perish altogether in the flames; but we were betrayed…” Ottabah Cugoano, Wicked Traffic of Slavery (1787)



This diagram shows how slaves were packed into cargo holds for the notorious Middle Passage to the Americas. The plan was a model of efficiency, for the slave traders sought to maximize profits.
This diagram shows how slaves were packed into cargo holds for the notorious Middle Passage to the Americas. The plan was a model of efficiency, for the slave traders sought to maximize profits.

Guiding Questions:

  • What did you learn about the accounts of these two men?
  • Describe the conditions that these two men, Olaudah Equiano & Quobna Ottabah Cugoano, faced aboard their ships.
  • Look at the diagrams of how slaves were packed in the ships, does this help you understand the appalling conditions that these two men experience? Why?





Conditions on the West Indies Plantations:

Sugar cane was expensive to grow, it needed a vast land area, investment in large equipment, and a replaceable labor force to work the long growing season of 14 – 18 months. Plantation owners had to build sugar works on their plantations so that they could process the sugar quickly, or the freshly cut cane would ferment and spoil. The sugar works included the mill, boiling house, curing house, and buildings for storing processed sugar and rum.

It would take thirty slaves to plant two acres a day in back-breaking work with long grueling hours in the heat and humidity of the islands. The cut cane was brought to the mill and slaves fed the cane through wooden rollers to crush and extract the juice. The slow work to process the sugar cane in the mills and the boiling house was treacherous and disagreeable.  A mill-feeder could be caught by a finger and his whole body could be drawn in, so a slave would stand near the mill feeder with a machete ready to cut off the arm if it were trapped in the mill. After the mill, the raw cane juice was directed to the boiling house and clarified and heated five or six times to remove impurities until the cane juice was successfully reduced and thickened. The boiling houses were hot and labor intensive, always in use day and night during the height of the six-month growing season.

The result -  the death rate of slaves was high from overwork, poor nutrition, poor working conditions, brutality, and disease.



Olaudah Equiano, Arrival:

http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/asset79018_1374-abolition.html
Olaudah Equiano, describes his arrival in the West Indies in his autobiography.
            “When we arrived in Barbados many merchants and planters came on board and examined us. We were then taken to the merchant’s yard, where we were all pent up together like sheep in a fold. On a signal, the buyers rushed forward and chose those slaves they liked best.” The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (From the Abolition Project, East of England Broadband Network)



Olaudah Equiano – Life on the Plantations:

http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/asset79019_1374-abolition.html
Olaudah Equiano, describes life on the plantations in his autobiography.
           “I have seen a slave beaten till some of his bones were broken, for letting a pot boil over. I have seen slaves put into scales and weighed, and then sold three pence to nine pence a pound.” The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (From the Abolition Project, East of England Broadband Network)


Guiding Questions:

What conditions made the sugar cane plantations so dangerous?
How do the two primary accounts of Olaudah Equiano corroborate the conditions of African slaves in the West Indies?


Examining Primary Resource Illustrations:

Illustration 1.
Sugar plantations slaves 1858, engraving of slaves in the British West Indies working in the British West Indies working the sugar cane fields.
Sugar plantations slaves 1858, engraving of slaves in the British West Indies working in the British West Indies working the sugar cane fields.


Illustration 2.
Work in the Sugar Cane Fields
Work in the Sugar Cane Fields



Illustration 3.
Carting canes to the Mill, Trinidad, 1830s

Image reference BRID-01, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Courtesy of authors Jerome S Handler and Michael L Tuite

Illustration 4.
Sugar Works Production in the West Indies
Sugar Works Production in the West Indies

Illustration 5.
Interior of a sugar boiling house at Wetherall's Antigua, by William Clark, London 1823 (source: British Library)
Interior of a sugar boiling house at Wetherall's Antigua, by William Clark, London 1823 (source: British Library)

Illustration 6.
Interior of a slave hut on Barbados, published in 1820 by John Augustine Waller.
Interior of a slave hut on Barbados, published in 1820 by John Augustine Waller.

Guiding Questions:

  • Examine illustrations 1 and 2. What can you tell about working conditions in the sugar cane fields?
  • Examine illustrations 3 and 4. What observations can you make about transporting sugar cane to the mills?
  • Examine illustration 5. What conditions can you observe in the boiling house?
  • Examine illustration 6. What can you tell about living conditions in this interior of a slave hut?



Virginia Slave Laws 1662-1669: 

Background Information:

In the early 17th Century, Africans arrived in the American colonies as indentured servants with the same rights as white indentured servants, but that would soon change.
The colonist’s failure to develop a labor force among Native Americans and white immigrants dictated importation of African slaves. The expansion of a staple agriculture in the colonies, of tobacco, rice, and indigo, created that labor demand. A few slaves were brought from the West Indies, but soon the colonies were directly trading for slaves in an area from Senegal River through the Congo in Western Africa.

The American colonists paid attention to the transformation of the labor force in the West Indies. By the middle of the 1600s, the European bonded slave began to play a diminishing role in West Indies agriculture as African labor was found to be less costly and less troublesome - American colonies followed. The colonists rationalized slavery on grounds that blacks were racially inferior, and the process of demeaning blacks was fast-tracked, and in the next twenty years, blacks would lose their judicial rights, property, electoral rights, and family rights. In the Virginia Colony, the status of blacks was changed to “servant for life,” and laws such as the Virginia Slave Laws of 1662-1669 were enacted.


  • December 1662 – Blacks face the possibility of life servitude. The General assembly of Virginia decides that any child born to an enslaved woman will also be a slave.
  • September 1667 – Virginia lawmakers say baptism does not bring freedom to blacks. The statute is passed because some slaves used their status as a Christian in the 1640s and 1650s to argue for their freedom or the freedom for a child. Legislators also encourage slave owners to Christianize their enslaved men, women and children.
  • September 1668 – Whereas it has been questioned whether servants running away may be punished with corporal punishment by their master or magistrate, since the act already made gives the master satisfaction by prolonging their time by service, it is declared and enacted by this Assembly that moderate corporal punishment inflicted by master of magistrate upon a runaway servant shall not deprive the master of the satisfaction allowed by the law, the one being as necessary to reclaim them from persisting in the idly course as the other is just to repair the damages sustained by the master.
  • October 1669 – An act about the “casual killing of slaves” says that if a slave dies while resisting his master, the act will not be presumed to have occurred with “prepensed malice.”  http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=71



Anti-British Atmosphere of the American Revolution:

The colonies were always divided concerning the issue of slavery, and it was so divisive that white churches split, white families split, and eventually our country went to civil war over it. By 1711, the anti-British sentiment of the American Revolution passed colonial legislation to outlaw slavery, but their law was overturned by the British Crown. Drafters of the Declaration of Independence dropped the proposed condemnation of the practice of slavery in deference to the southern colonies who wished to continue the policy, for to lose the southern colonies to this issue, would make the fight for independence from Britain an impossibility.

A compromise was reached and agreed that the importation of slaves would be banned by 1808 -  the covenant was met with a minimum of disagreement. The Constitution did not take into consideration the interstate slave trading and left the issue to the states. The growth of the cotton industry and the suppression of the international slave trade encouraged domestic trading up until the Civil War. Domestic markets for slaves quadrupled between 1800 and 1860 and led to the breakup of families, and other atrocities that became the target of antislavery writers like Harriet Beecher Stow.

Guiding Questions:

  • What were the reasons for the divisions between the North and South?
  • Why did the framers of the Constitution drop the proposed condemnation of the practice of slavery?
  • How did dropping the slavery issue help the colonies in their quest for independence?


Notes: