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Slave Ships

SLAVE SHIPS

SLAVE SHIPS. The earliest ships used to transport human beings from Africa to enslavement in North America were converted merchantmen; later, special vessels were built, equipped with air scuttles, ports, and open gratings. The first American ship to carry enslaved Africans was the seventy-nine-foot long Desire, sailing out of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1638. The Hannibal, an English slaver of 1693, was 450 tons and mounted thirty-six guns, which it was frequently forced to use; seven hundred human beings could be forced into its hold. Many slavers rigged shelves in the middle called a "slave deck," leaving only twenty inches of headroom, so that individuals were unable even to sit upright during the entire voyage.

When the slave trade was made illegal in 1808, traders turned to fast ships, largely topsail schooners or brigs, to outrun the British frigates guarding the African coast. With such vessels every consideration was sacrificed for speed, and the accommodations for the enslaved people were even worse than on earlier vessels. The last American slaver was probably the Huntress of New York, which landed a cargo of enslaved men and women in Cuba in 1864.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cottman, Michael H. The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie: An African-American's Spiritual Journey to Uncover a Sunken Slave Ship's Past. New York: Harmony Books, 1999.

Dow, George Francis. Slave Ships and Slaving. New York: Dover Publications, 1970.

Daniel Mannix / a. r.

See also Middle Passage ; Schooner ; and vol. 9: Voyages of the Slaver St. John .

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slave ship

slave ship • n. hist. a ship transporting slaves, esp. one carrying slaves from Africa.

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