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Excerpt from Voyages of the Slaver St. John (1659)

EXCERPT FROM VOYAGES OF THE SLAVER ST. JOHN (1659)


The accidental discovery of the New World during the fifteenth century brought with it an enormous and rapidly expanding demand for human labor. Indentured whites, transported convicts, and conquered Native Americans temporarily filled the need. But indentured servants and convicts eventually satisfied their contracts and had to be set free, and the natives were too susceptible to foreign ailments and too prone to escape or to mounting organized revolts to be reliable. Eager to find a solution to the problem and to increase their profits, European merchants turned their eyes toward the western shores of Africa with a vengeance. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, some nine to fifteen million Africans were kidnapped and brought against their wills to the Americas. During the deadly "Middle Passage" across the Atlantic Ocean to either the plantations of the West Indies or the English colonies, conditions on slave ships were barbarously cruel. In order to maintain high profit margins, slavers crammed their human cargo into tiny, poorly ventilated spaces between decks and fed them only the poorest foods. Among the countless malicious indignities visited upon captured slaves was the practice called "bed warming," wherein women dragged from the hold were raped and beaten by officers eager to keep the night chill from their sheets. The mortality rate of such crossings sometimes exceeded twenty percent.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Slave Ships ; Slave Trade .

[March 4, 1659] We Weighed anchor, by order of the Honorable Director, Fohan Valcken-borch, and the Honorable Director Fasper van Heussen, to proceed on our Voyage from Elmina to Rio Reael, to trade for Slaves for the Honorable Company.

[March 8] Saturday. Arrived with our ship before Arda, to take on board the Surgeon's mate and a Supply of Tamarinds for the Slaves; sailed again next day on our Voyage to Rio Reael.

[March 17] Arrived at Rio Reael in front of a village called Bany where we found the Company's Yacht, named the Peace, which was sent out to assist us to trade for Slaves.

[April] Nothing was done except to trade for Slaves.

[May 6] One of our seamen died; his name was Claes van Diemen, of Durgerdam.

[May 22] Again weighed Anchor and ran out of Rio Reael accompanied by the Yacht Peace; purchased there two hundred and nineteen head of Slaves, men, women, boys and girls, and proceeded on our course for the High land of Ambosius, for the purpose of procuring food there for the Slaves, as nothing was to be had at Rio Reael.

[May 26] Monday. Arrived under the High land of Ambosius to look there for Victuals for the Slaves, and spent seven days there, but with difficulty obtained enough for the daily consumption of the Slaves, so that we resolved to run to Rio Cammerones to see if any food could be had there for the Slaves.

[June 5] Thursday. Arrived at the Rio Commerones and the Yacht Peace went up to look for provisions for the Slaves. This day died our cooper, named Peter Claessen, of Amsterdam.

[June 29] Sunday. Again resolved to proceed on our Voyage, as but little food was to be had for the Slaves in consequence of the great Rains which fell every day, and because many of the Slaves were suffering from the Bloody Flux in consequence of the bad provisions we were supplied with at El Mina, amongst which were several barrels of Groats, wholly unfit for use.

We then turned over to Adriaen Blaes, the Skipper, One hundred and ninety five Slaves, consisting of Eighty oneMen , One hundred and fiveWomen , six boys and three girls for which Bills of lading were signed and sent, one by the Yacht Peace to El Mina with an account of, and receipts for, remaining Merchandize.

[July 25] Arrived at Cabo de Loop de Consalvo for wood and water.

[July 27] Our Surgeon, named Martin de Lanoy, died of the Bloody Flux.

[August 10] Arrived the Company's Ship Raven from Castle St. George d'el Mina, homeward bound.

[August 11] Again resolved to pursue our Voyage towards the Island of Annebo, in order to purchase there Supplies for the Slaves. We have lain Sixty days at Cabo de Loop hauling wood and water. Among the Water barrels, forty were taken to pieces to be refitted, as our Cooper died at Rio Cammerones, and we had no other person capable of repairing them.

[August 15] Arrived at the Island Annebo where we purchased One hundred half tierces of little Beans, twelve Hogs, five thousand Cocoa nuts, five thousand Oranges, besides some other stores.

[August 17] Again hoisted Sail to prosecute our Voyage to the Island of Curacao.

[September 21] The Skipper called the Ships officers aft, and resolved to run for the Island of Tobago and to procure Water there; otherwise we should have perished for want of water, as many of our Water casks had leaked dry.

[September 24] Friday. Arrived at the Island of Tobago and shipped Water there, also purchased some Bread, as our hands had had no ration for three weeks.

[September 27] Again set sail on our Voyage to the Island of Curacao, as before.

[November 2] Lost our ship on the Rifts of Rocus, and all hands immediately took to the Boat, as there was no prospect of saving the Slaves, for we must abandon the Ship in consequence of the heavy Surf.

[November 4] Arrived with the Boat at the Island of Curacao; the Honorable Governor Beck ordered two sloops to take the Slaves off the wreck, one of which sloops with eighty four slaves on board, was captured by a Privateer.


SOURCE: O'Callaghan, E. B., trans. Voyages of the Slavers St. John and Arms of Amsterdam, 1659, 1663: Together with Additional Papers Illustrative of the Slave Trade under the Dutch. Albany, N. Y.: J. Munsell, 1867.

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