October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our third blog we look at the selling of slaves once they reached the Americas.
Having crossed the Atlantic via the ‘Middle Passage’ in atrocious and inhumane conditions, the ‘cargo’ of captives would be sold at auction as slaves. Different factors affected the price they would fetch, the most important being how healthy they appeared to be. Other factors included the island they’d landed on, how many other slave ships were in that particular port at the same time and the method in which the slaves were sold.
The slave traders used many methods in an attempt to make their slaves look healthier. For example, their skin was rubbed with oil to make them appear healthy. Flogging scars on the backs of slaves were who had resisted were filled with tar to hide the signs of an ‘undisciplined’ slave. Older slaves often had their heads shaved to hide signs of grey hairs and make them appear younger.
The two main methods of selling the slaves were by Auction or Scramble. At an auction an auctioneer sold the slaves individually or in lots (as a group), with the slaves being sold to the highest bidder. At a Scramble the slaves were kept together in an enclosure and buyers paid the captain a fixed sum beforehand. Once all the buyers had paid, the enclosure gate was thrown open and the buyers rushed in together and grabbed the slaves they wanted. This was often a terrifying experience for the slaves.
Slaves left that were not sold in this way were called ‘refuse’. They were sold cheaply to anyone who would take them, often leading to their quick death.
Slaves who resisted or fought back were sent to ‘seasoning camps’. Some historians suggest that the death rate in the 'seasoning camps' was up to 50% with malaria and dysentery being the leading causes of death. Around 5 million Africans died in Seasoning Camps, reducing the number of survivors to about 10 million.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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