The African Slave Trade/Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III.

EFFECT OF THE SLAVE TRADE UPON AFRICA.

isaiah Xlii. 22. But This Is A People Robbed And Spoiled; They Are All Of Them Snared In Holes, And They Are Hid In Prison Houses, They Are For A Prey, And None Delivereth, For A Spoil, And None Saith, Restore.

In forming an estimate of the evils of the slave trade, its disastrous influence upon Africa itself has not been, in this country, duly considered.

While it has been the duty of Christian nations to give to the benighted inhabitants on that continent the gospel, and its blessed, civil, social, and domestic institutions, they have, instead, entailed upon them a series of the worst evils and calamities that can afflict mankind.

Besides the sufferings, and fearful waste of human life, to which we have referred, the slave trade has stood for centuries as a barrier to the moral and social improvement of the people. It has shut out the light of knowledge, the refining and elevating influences of civilization, and the precious truths and glorious hopes of Christianity. It has paralyzed industry, discouraged agriculture, prevented the establishment of commercial relations with other nations, rendered property and life insecure, kindled the spirit of war, and fostered the vilest passions. It has plunged millions of our fellow-men into the lowest depths of superstition and barbarism. It has added blackness to the darkness of heathenism, rent asunder natural ties, rendered savage life more savage, and perpetuated the reign of anguish and despair. Justly did John Wesley, in a moment of burning indignation, designate this trade as "the execrable sum of all villanies."

We have no means of accurately describing the condition of Africa previous to the traffic in slaves, as so little intercourse had existed between that country and the nations of Europe. But Sir T. F. Buxton has collected, in his work on the "Slave Trade and its Remedy," proofs that the people were in a more prosperous condition at that time than they have been since the commerce in slaves was opened. He says: "It is remarkable that the geographers, Nubiensis in the 12th century, and Leo Africanus in the 16th, state that in their time the people between the Senegal and Gambia never made war on each other, but employed themselves in keeping their herds, and in tilling the ground. When Sir I. Hawkins visited Africa, in 1562-7, with intent to seize the people, he found the land well cultivated^ bearing plenty of grain and fruit, and the towns prettily laid out."[1] "Bozman, about 1700, writes that it was the early European settlers who first sowed dissensions among the natives of Africa, for the sake of purchasing their prisoners of war. Benezet quotes William Smith who was sent by the African Company in 1726, to visit their settlement, and who stated, from the testimony of a factor who had lived ten years in the country, that the discerning natives accounted it their greatest unhappiness ever to have been visited by Europeans."

Dupries, in a journey to Coomassie, in 1819, thus describes the country then recently laid waste by the king of Ashantee:[2] "From the Praa, southward, the progress of the sword down to the margin of the sea, may be traced by moldering ruins, desolate plantations, and osseous relics; such are the traits of negro ferocity. The inhabitants, whether Assins or Fantees, whose youth and beauty exempted them from slaughter on the spot, were only reserved to grace a triumph in the metropolis of their conquerors, where they were again subject to a

scrutiny, which finally awarded the destiny of sacrifice or bondage; few or none being left behind to mourn over their slaughtered friends, or the catastrophe of their unhappy country."

The state of a district exempt from the terrors of the slave trade, and then again under their influence, is given by Mr. Randall, who was at St. Louis, on the Senegal, from 1813 to 1817: "At that time the place was in the possession of the English, and the surrounding population were led to believe that the slave trade was irrevocably abolished; they, in consequence, betook themselves to cultivating the land, and every available piece of ground was under tillage. The people passed from one village to another without arms, and without fear, and every thing wore an air of contentment."

Mr. Randall was there again when the place was in the possession of France, "and then," he says, "the slave trade had revived all its horrors. Vessels were lying in the river to receive cargoes of human flesh; the country was laid waste; not a vestige of cultivation was to be seen, and no one dared to leave the limits of his village without the most ample means of protection."

It is a significant fact, that while reading of the cruelties of the natives to shipwrecked seamen, we find the people of the same districts, described two hundred years before, as being "unwilling to do injury to any, especially to strangers," and as being "a gentle and loving people." But under the influence of the slave trade, kindness has given place to a deadly revenge, the spirit of hospitality has yielded to the spirit of war and bloodshed, peaceful neighborhoods have been converted into hostile armies, and there has grown up a fearful indifference to human sufferings and human life.

It is heart-sickening to read of hundreds of human beings offered in the sacrifices of idolatrous worship, and other hundreds put to death, in various ways, for the amusement of a chief or a king.

In 1836, Mr. Girard says that he was at the king's fete at Dahomey, when about five or six hundred of his subjects were sacrificed for his recreation. Some were decapitated, others were precipitated from a lofty fortress, and transfixed on bayonets prepared to receive them; — and all this merely for amusement."[3]

At the death of a king, immense numbers were sacrificed, and in the most frightful and barbarous manner. "On such an occasion," says Mr. Buxton, "the brothers, sons, and nephews of the king, affecting temporary insanity, burst forth with their muskets, and fire promiscuously among the crowd; even a man of rank, if they meet him, is their victim; nor is their murder of him, or any other, on such an occasion, visited or prevented; the scene can hardly be imagined. I was assured by several, that the custom for Sai Quammie was repeated weekly for three months, and that two hundred slaves were sacrificed, and twenty-five barrels of powder fired each time. But the custom for the king's mother, the regent of the kingdom during the invasion of Fantee, is the most celebrated. The king himself devoted three thousand victims, upwards of two thousand of whom were Fantee prisoners. Five of the largest places furnished one hundred victims, and twenty barrels of powder each; and most of the smaller towns, ten victims, and two barrels of powder each."

Mr. Dupries relates many instances of the most atrocious cruelty. As an instance of the bloody customs of Ashantee, he tells us that the king, previous to entering upon the campaign against Gaman, sacrificed "thirty-two males and eighteen females, as an expiatory offering to his gods;" but the answers from the priests being deemed by the council as still devoid of inspiration, the king was induced to "Make a custom" at the sepulchers of his ancestors, where many hundreds bled. On the conclusion of the war, 2000 prisoners were slaughtered, in honor of the shades of departed kings and heroes."

The existence of these bloody customs is confirmed by the Rev. Thomas B. Freeman,[4] Wesleyan missionary to Africa, who was an eyewitness to many scenes of horror. Visiting Ashantee in February, 1839, he writes: "Last night a sister of Komichi died, after a long sickness. Her death was announced by the firing of muskets, and the mourners going about the streets. As I walked out in the morning, I saw the mangled corpse of a poor female slave, who had been beheaded during the night, lying in the public street. . . . In the course of the day, I saw groups of the natives dancing around this victim of superstitious cruelty, with numerous frantic gestures, who seemed to be in the zenith of their happiness."

On arriving at Coomassie, Mr. Freeman again witnessed similar scenes of darkness. "Throughout the day," he writes, "I heard the horrid sound of the death drum, and was told in the evening that about twenty-five human beings had been sacrificed, some in the town, and some in the surrounding villages; the heads of those killed in the villages being brought into the town in baskets. I fear that there will be more of this awful work to-morrow."

Again visiting the capital of Ashantee in December, 1841, he says: "In the afternoon I heard that a chief had died, and that three human sacrifices had been made in the town. The mangled victims were left in the street as usual. O God, have mercy upon this benighted people! I saw a lad near my lodgings, who is one of the king's executioners. He had decapitated a poor victim that morning. He appeared to be from sixteen to eighteen years of age. I asked him how many persons he had executed. He answered, 'eighty.' Oh, awful fact! Eighty immortal spirits hurried into the eternal world, by the hands of a boy under eighteen years of age, and he only one of a large member engaged in the same dreadful employment!"

Similar instances of superstition and cruelty are related by the Rev. George Chapman, writing from Coomassie, under date of January 2d, 1844, the Rev. Henry Wharton, another Wesleyan missionary, stationed in Ashantee, in 1846-7, and by the missionaries sent out by other denominations of Christians.

But I need not add to this dark catalogue of revolting crimes. Enough has been said to give a faint idea of the degraded condition of millions of our fellow-men upon the continent of Africa. For more extended accounts, in addition to the works already alluded to, I would refer the reader to the writings of Mungo Park, Bosman, Bowdich, Gray, Landers, and to the letters and journals of our missionaries.

The facts that we have stated are but specimens of the multitudes on record, many of which are more revolting than those which we have adduced.

Gladly would we avoid even an allusion that would excite a painful emotion, but the evils of this accursed trade, and its blighting influence on Africa, ought to be considered, particularly at the present time, by every American citizen. And, notwithstanding all that has been written, the half of the horrors of the system has not been told. There is an unwritten history of the superstitions and cruelties of Africa, known only to the unfortunate sufferers, and to God, " whose justice can not always sleep."

But we need not be understood as arguing that all the evils existing in Africa are caused by the slave trade. Heathenism has done its work there, as well as in other benighted nations, and slavery existed among the people long before the slave trade was opened. In some parts of the continent it is in a mild form; in others it is as severe as in some of our Southern States. The privileges of the masters to abuse their slaves, without redress, are very similar in both countries.[5]

But it is the opinion of missionaries who have labored in Africa, that the misery of the people has been fearfully augmented by the slave trade, and in some localities, as we have shown, thriving settlements have been changed into a howling wilderness.

Have we not, as a people, a Christian duty to dismarge to that unfortunate and suffering people? Is it not time that we arouse ourselves to the great work of Christianizing them, and saving coming genrations from the awful calamities that have been suffered in the past?

Let the earnest, stirring words of the devoted missionary, William Fox, that come to us from that benighted land, be sounded through the length and breadth of America.

"Surely, 'the voice of our brother's blood crieth' against us 'from the ground.' Yes, the sands of Africa, saturated with the life's blood of tens of thousands who have been slain in the seizure, cry against us from the ground; the deserts, and the trackless forests, strewed with the skulls and bones of thousands who have sickened and died in the march to the coast, cry against us from the ground; the prison-houses and the slave-barracoons, planted along the skirts of the coast, on the borders of the Atlantic, crammed with hundreds of negroes who have survived the deadly march, promiscuously thrown together, with shackles on their legs, half perished with hunger, — these cry against us from the ground. And now that the black hull of the rakish vessel is approaching the coast, and these prisoners are liberated, — liberated only to be more closely packed on board the slaver, — Oh, what bitter lamentations, what multitude of voices cry out against us! The winds and the waves, the mighty surge on the beach, join in the melancholy chorus; and the scores of negroes, who are often swamped and drowned in their passage to the slave ships, and whose bodies are washed ashore by the swelling tide, once more cry against us. But the bitter cries that are heard on boar( those floating tombs of gasping humanity on the mighty deep, by the hundreds who are starved below the decks, anc the sum total of misery endured by those who live to reach the opposite continent, are known only to God himself!"

Formed with the same capacity of pain,
The same desire of pleasure and of ease.
Why feels not man for man? When nature shrinks
From the slight puncture of an insect's sting.
Faints, if not screened from sultry suns, and pines
Beneath the hardship of an hour's delay
Of needful nutriment; — when Liberty
Is prized so dearly, that the slightest breath
That ruffles but her mantle, can awake
To arm unwarlike nations, and can rouse
Confed'rate states to vindicate her claims: —
How shall the suff'rer man his fellow doom
To ills he mourns or spurns at; tear with stripes
His quiv'ring flesh; with hunger and with thirst
Waste his emaciate frame; in ceaseless toils
Exhaust his vital powers; and bind his limbs
In galling chains! Shall he, whose fragile form
Demands continual blessings to support
Its complicated texture, air, and food,
Raiment, alternate rest, and kindly skies,
And healthful seasons, dare with impious voice
To ask those mercies, whilst his selfish aim
Arrests the general freedom of their course,
And, gratified beyond his utmost wish.
Debars another from the bounteous store!

Roscoe*s Wrongs of Africa.

  1. Archbishop Sharp, the grandfather of Granville Sharp, in a sermon preached before the British House of Commons, one hundred and fifty-six years ago, used the following-remarkable language: " That Africa, which is not now more fruitful of monsters, than it was once for excellently wise and learned men, — that Africa, which formerly afforded us our Clemens our Origen, our Tertullian, our Cyprian, our Augustine, and many other extraordinary lights in the Church of God, — that famous Africa, in whose soil Christianity did thrive so prodigiously, and could boast of so many flourishing churches, — alas! is now a wilderness. 'The wild boars have broken into the vineyard, and ate it up, and it brings forth nothing but briers and thorns,' to use the words of the prophet."
  2. Quoted by Buxton, p. 228.
  3. Colonization Herald, July, 1837.
  4. For an interesting account of the condition of the Africans, see "A History of the Wesleyan Missions on the Western Coast of Africa," hy William Fox, upwards of ten years a missionary on the Gambia. London, 1851.
  5. "The master may, at his discretion, inflict any species of punishment upon the person of his slave." — Stroud., p. 35.

    Even for the murder of a slave, the murderer, in several States, is subject only to a fine; and if the slave die under moderate correction, the master is fully acquitted! A law was passed to this effect, in North Carolina, in 1798. It closes thus: "Provided always, this act shall not extend to a person killing a slave outlawed, &c., or to any slave in the act of resistance to his lawful owner, or to any slave dying under moderate correction." "A slave is one who is in the power of his master to whom he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, and his labor. He can do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire any thing but what belongs to his master." — Civil Code of Louisiana "The condition of slaves in this country is analogous to that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and not that of the feudal times. They are generally considered not as persons but as things. They can be sold or transferred, as goods or personal estate; they are held to be pro nullis, pro mortuis. By the civil law, slaves could not take property by descent or purchase; and I apprehend this to be the law of this country." — Dess. Rep. IV. 266. South Carolina.