Dimensions: 21 x 30 cm
A Scouse Press reprint of the 1884 account by Dicky Sam
The inhumanity of the African Slave Trade can never be excused, merely put into historical perspective. Since the beginning of time, those with absolute power have always enslaved other human beings – and are still doing so. Arabs were the pioneers of organised slavery, turning it from a trade into a fine art, first enslaving Nubians and then members of any African tribes within their reach – at the same time inveting hostage-taking as a ‘legitimate’ weapon of warfare.
The ancient Greeks and Romans constantly used slaves, but set them to work in often highly skilled trades. If – as has been suggested (not entirely accurately) – that the prosperity of the 18th-century Britain was based on the African slave trade, then the world can thank ancient Greek slavery for the resulting glorious architecture and sculpture.
England’s maritime supremacy in the 18th Century, and the need to find manpower for her colonies, led quite logically (by the logic of the time, that is) to the transportation of Africans to the New World to work on cotton and sugar plantations. Yet long before such plantations even existed, the Spanish and Portuguese were already taking people from Africa to help them populate their South American possessions. Of all the slaving nations of the past, Belgium seems to have been the most cruel, especially in its administration of the Congo.
The white man looked on his African brother at best as a ‘noble savage’, to be converted into a Christian as quickly as possible, while the unthinking masses took them to be just one step removed from the animals of toil. Children were taken away from their mothers, and parents separated. Yet it is wrong to say that transported slaves were routinely tortured or physically harmed, in the sadistic way the Nazi Germans tortured Jews before killing them. Slaves were looked upon as a valuable commodity, and any sailor found maltreating (that is, damaging!) them, would be flogged.
Equally it is wrong to suggest that all white men of the past were cruel. While slave captains worked the ‘Africa Trade’ for the ship-owners, many ordinary English people protested that commerce in human beings was against Christ’s teaching. Abolitionists made such a good case that eventually the ghastly trade was abolished in Britain – much to the merchants’ disgust; though curiously enough it was not the mainstream Churches which first fought for justice for the African but the Quakers. Before it was abolished, many thousands had been transported, often under appalling conditions – conditions even more inhumane than the British tar endured (and remember that he, too, napped on the streets and impressed – ‘shanghaied’ – into the services). In spite of the British abolitionists’ example, slavery continued to operate in many countries, mostly on the African continent itself, where it has still not been eradicated.
This book was dedicated by its author to the memory of some of the most prominent Liverpool abolitionists led by William Roscoe, also the Rathbone family (which continues its humanitarian work to this day through the Rathbone Trust). It was first published at a time when the British trade had been dead for more than half a century, but many of the slave traders and captains who had commanded the slave ships would stil have been alive. As stated, slavery continues into the 20th and 21st centuries. Indeed it took an international convention to forbid the use of war prisoners for forced labour, though the Germans in World War 2 largely ignored it, augmenting captive prisoner workers with slave labour using manpower from the nations they over-ran and the races they oppressed.
Like most crimes against humanity, the slave trade, too had a positive result – in that many American descendents of slaves went on to high office in politics, to great achievements in science, medicine and the arts, became pre-eminent in sports, and transformed the face of American music.