Friday, July 5, 2013
Scene Of The Crime
The Jamestown colony, England’s first permanent settlement in North America was a marshy wasteland, poor for agriculture and a breeding ground for malaria carrying mosquitoes. The settlement was such a harsh environment that only thirty-two of the estimated one hundred original settlers survived the first seven months. His-Story describes this as the “starving times” but all would change.
On August 20, 1619, the first African “settlers” reached North America as cargo onboard a Dutch man-of-war ship that rode the tide into Jamestown, Virginia carrying Captain Jope and a cargo of twenty Africans. It seems strange to me, but history cannot tell us why this mysterious ship anchored off Jamestown. It is believed the captain needed food and in exchange for food he offered his cargo of Africans as payment.
When the deal was consummated, Antoney, Isabella, and eighteen other Africans disembarked. Although they were not the first Africans to arrive in North America, they were the first African “settlers”. Regarded as indentured servants rather than slaves, fifteen were purchased to serve their redemption time working for Sir George Yardley, the Governor of Virginia and proprietor of the thousand-acre Flowerdew Hundred plantation.
In ten years, by the 1630’s, the colony had established a successful economy based on tobacco through the use of the Africans. Slavery was born and slave trading became big business. These human souls were acquired in Africa for an average price of about twenty-five dollars each, paid primarily in merchandise. They were sold in the Americas for about one hundred fifty dollars each. As the price of slaves increased, so did the inhumane overcrowding of the ships.
This was the beginning of the worst crime every inflicted upon a people and the most morally reprehensible agenda the world has ever known. Adding to this in justice and more horrifying was that the perpetrators believed their actions were sectioned by God with a religious manifestation that justified Slavery. The next two-hundred years was a designed systematic effort to destroy millions of lives through in documentation, brutality, savagery, and terror. I am always struck by the use of the word civilization in this matter because the root word is “civil” and there is/was NOTHING civil about the institution of slavery, which means chattel making human beings property and servants for life.
The business of slave trading had one purpose – PROFIT. The process would begin with the African being paid to venture into the interior of the continent, capture other Africans, put them on a death march to the coast and sell their captives to Europeans. Now, if capturing and stealing the victims was not misery enough what was to follow surely was in every sense of the word.
A typical slave ship traveling from Gambia, the Gold Coast, Guinea, or Senegal would take four to eight weeks to reach New England, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, or the West Indies. Africans from Senegal were the most prized because many were skilled artisans. Ibos from Calabar were considered the most undesirable because of their, high suicide rate. Women, men, and children were crammed so tightly in the ships that out of a load of seven hundred, three or four slaves would be found dead each morning.
Most ships had three decks with the lower two used for transporting slaves. The lowest deck extended the full length of the ship and was no more than five feet high. The captives were packed into tomb like compartments side by side to utilize all available space. In the next deck, wooden planks like shelves, extended from the sides of the ship where the slaves were chained in pairs at the wrists and ankles crammed side by side. Men occupied middle shelves and were most often chained in pairs and bound to the ship’s gunwales or to ringbolts set into the deck. Women and children were sometimes allowed to move about certain areas of the ship.
There was no sanitation, although buckets were provided for use as toilets, which were not emptied regularly. The ships smelled of excrement, disease, and death. It is estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of the slaves died in route to the colonies, mostly from diseases associated with overcrowding, spoiled or poisoned food, contaminated water, starvation, thirst, and suicide. Others were thrown overboard; shot, or beaten to death for various reasons.
A typical slave ship coming directly to the American mainland from Africa weighed about one to two hundred tons, although some were slightly larger. Slave ships were eventually built especially for human cargo. These slave ships could carry as many as four hundred slaves and a crew of forty-seven, as well as thirteen thousand pounds of food. They were long, narrow, fast, and designed to direct air below decks. Shackling irons, nets, and ropes were standard equipment.
The competition at slave markets on the African coast grew so exceptionally that historians estimate that as many as 60 million human souls were captured and taken from the continent of Africa to be sold in to bondage. It is estimated that as many as one-third of that number did not survive the trip called the “Middle Passage” to reach the shores of a place like Jamestown in the name of God.
Did you know the first registered slave ship was named “The Good Ship Jesus” and in the name of God the greatest crime the world has known began in this place called “Jamestown”.
I am reminded of the powerful words of Sojourner Truth who was asked shortly before her death, if she knew how many slaves she freed while conducting the Underground Railroad. She did not think about it – replying quickly, “I could have freed a lot more, if they had only known they were slaves.”
My hope is that one day the devastating effect of bondage will be removed and we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…