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Making a sense of Africa’s today: from England’s indentured servitude of whites, to the ‘Middle Passage’ for the great dispersal of Africans

Indentured servants: England referred to indentured servants as “chattels” and as such became the property of their new owner/master.

In their book, “White Cargo,” Don Jordan and Michael Walsh deliver a deep historical dive into Colonial American slavery, indentured servants, for “His Majesty’s plantations.”

For 170 years, (1606 -1776), England meted out this new lucrative reality by ridding itself and neighboring countries of its drunkards, dregs, vagabonds, criminals, and urchins. It’s believed that 300,000 Europeans were kidnapped and/or sold as bill of goods, (becoming “free willers”). These “free willers” were contracted for oceanic passage to the New World by agreeing to indentured service for a promising future.

Approximately half would never survive their bondage. Indentured servants generally had a 7-14 year contract to toil away on the plantations. The multitudes that were “spirited away,” shanghaied, to America were routinely treated like animals with beatings, whippings, neck irons etc. Of course, the “free willers” had no clue of the horrors that awaited them. They believed that America was the land of opportunity and as such would enjoy a prosperous, comfortable life, once they paid for their passage via laboring in the fields.

Nothing was further from the truth. England referred to indentured servants as “chattels” and as such became the property of their new owner/master.

The first chattels, or slaves, in Colonial America were white Europeans. A majority initially consisted of convicts from England and then a surge of Irish Catholics were “spirited away” to make room in Ireland for the burgeoning British and Scottish Protestant populations.

Two days after the American Revolutionary War began, the trafficking of white human cargo ended. King George III eventually settled at sending his miscreants and convicts to Australia and New Zealand, circa 1820

This is the history of white indentured servitude, slavery by another name, which is not taught in schools. Great Britain used several colonies as offshore prison colonies. Colonial America was just one.

Given the hideous mortality rates, indentured contracts often amounted to a life sentence at hard labor―some convicts asked to be hanged rather than be sent to Virginia . . . their exposé of unfree labor in the British colonies paints an arresting portrait of early America as gulag

The indentured servitude of whites was comparable in most respects to the slavery endured by blacks. Given the hideous mortality rates, indentured contracts often amounted to a life sentence at hard labor―some convicts asked to be hanged rather than be sent to Virginia . . . their exposé of unfree labor in the British colonies paints an arresting portrait of early America as gulag.

Slavery had been widespread in the ancient Mediterranean world, and the practice was further advanced by the Portuguese in Prince Henry’s time, beginning with the enslavement of Berbers in 1442. Portugal populated Cape Verde.

The Byzantine–Ottoman wars (1265–1479) and the Ottoman wars in Europe (14th to 20th centuries) resulted in the capture of large numbers of Christian slaves. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British and a number of West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600.

The slave trade refers to the transatlantic trading patterns which were established as early as the mid-17th century. Trading ships would set sail from Europe with a cargo of manufactured goods to the west coast of Africa. There, these goods would be traded, over weeks and months, for captured people provided by African traders.

European traders found it easier to do business with African intermediaries who raided settlements far away from the African coast and brought those young and healthy enough to the coast to be sold into slavery.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, by the 1480s, Portuguese ships were already transporting Africans for use as slaves on the sugar plantations in the Cape Verde and Madeira islands in the eastern Atlantic. 

Spanish conquistadors took African slaves to the Caribbean after 1502, but Portuguese merchants continued to dominate the transatlantic slave trade for another century and a half, operating from their bases in the Congo-Angola area along the west coast of Africa. 

The Dutch became the foremost slave traders during parts of the 1600s, and in the following century, English and French merchants controlled about half of the transatlantic slave trade, taking a large percentage of their human cargo from the region of West Africa, between the Senegal and Niger rivers.

The Middle Passage Corridor in the Atlantic Ocean: The corridor described as the Middle Passage was the most dangerous and miserable for African slaves. The sexes were separated, kept naked, packed close together, and the men chained for long periods. About twelve percent of those who embarked did not survive the voyage

The Transatlantic slave trade, segment of the global slave trade,  was the second of three stages of the so-called triangular trade,  in which arms, textiles, and wine were shipped from Europe to Africa, slaves from Africa to the Americas, and sugar and coffee from the Americas back to Europe.

Once full, the European trader’s ship would depart for the Americas or the Caribbean on the notorious ‘Middle Passage.’ During this voyage, the slaves would be kept in the ship’s hold, crammed close together with little or no space to move. Conditions were squalid and many people did not survive the voyage. On the final leg of the transatlantic route, European ships returned home with cargoes of sugar, rum, tobacco and other ‘luxury’ items.

The majority of those sold into slavery were destined to work on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas, where huge areas of the American continent had been colonized by European countries. These plantations produced products such as sugar or tobacco, meant for consumption back in Europe.

In the period from around 1526 to 1921, millions of slaves were shipped from Africa. The first Africans forced to work in the New World, the United States of America, left from Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century, not from Africa.

Historical records show that by 1820, nearly four Africans for every one European had crossed the Atlantic. About four out of every five females that traversed the Atlantic were from Africa. The majority of enslaved Africans were brought to British North America between 1720 and 1780. Africans carried to Brazil came overwhelmingly from Angola. Africans carried to North America, including the Caribbean, left from mainly West Africa.

The corridor described as the Middle Passage was the most dangerous and miserable for African slaves. The sexes were separated, kept naked, packed close together, and the men chained for long periods. About twelve percent of those who embarked did not survive the voyage.

Slavery is America’s First Big Business..

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