Facts and Figures on Europe, Slavery and Indentured Labour

Life on the Plantations

What Rights Did Slaves Have?

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Banner_DPCF_Facts and Figures on Africa and Slavery

Facts and Figures on Africa and Slavery

  • Of the African slaves transported to the Americas, males outnumbered females by a ratio of 2:1.
  • Most enslaved African males were between the ages of 15 and 35.
  • Male children less than 15 years of age made up around 15-20% of the Africans transported to the Americas.
  • Very few elderly Africans were transported across the Atlantic.
  • Although it is estimated that between 9 and 12 million Africans were transported to Americas, there are no accurate figures for the myriad number smuggled across the Atlantic to avoid tax, duty and regulations.
  • It has been estimated that over a million Africans died between the times they were captured and forced onto ships.
  • Around 40% of African slaves were transported to Brazil. Around 40% were shipped to the Caribbean. The remainder were shipped to the USA and the Spanish speaking territories.
  • Prior to using Africans, Europeans enslaved indigenous peoples in the Americas.  On the larger Caribbean islands of Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica, Arawak and Carib ‘Indians’ were enslaved by Europeans to work in mines and enclosures.  However, overwork, disease and general brutality led to the rapid depletion of their population within several generations.

Slave Punishment - Brazil, 1834

Plantation overseer punishes a slave in Brazil, 1834.

Facts and Figures on Europe, Slavery and Indentured Labour

  • European indentured labour (a fixed time of service) was also used in the USA and islands such as Barbados.
  • Bristol, like Liverpool, became legally involved in the slave trade after the London controlled Royal Africa Company lost its charter in 1698.  It is estimated that between 1698 and 1807, nearly 2,100 slave-related ships set out from the port.
  • The voyage from Britain to Africa could take anything from four weeks to over two months depending on the weather, size of the ship and route taken.
  • In the 18th century slavers from Bristol ranged from 27 tons to 420 tons.
  • The triangular trip could take a year to complete. Many of the ship’s crew were paid in advance for the initial voyage to Africa.  (Most used this money to pay off debts, buy provisions or give to their families.)
  • As well as Liverpool, London and Bristol other British slave trading ports included Lancaster, Whitehaven, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Glasgow and Exeter.

Black Prince Log Page, 1763

A page from the log book of the Black Prince, a slave ship sailing out of Bristol in 1763. This page notes that there are 488 slaves on board.

Life on the Plantations

The average slave would work on the slave plantation from dawn until dusk, although they could be called upon at any time, especially during busy periods - such as the harvest.  Nearly all field slaves would have the weekend 'free' but they would have to use this time to catch up with their own work, such as looking after their plots of land and other domestic jobs.  Slaves were used throughout their lives for work, with only babies and young children being taken to the fields with their mothers to sleep or to be cared for by an older woman.

Each of the three main plantation types - rice, sugar and tobacco - required different ways of working and each had particular dangers for the slaves forced to work in them. In the South Carolina rice plantations, the hazards of the job included the unhealthy swamps that made up the rice fields and the poisonous snakes that lived there. The working day could be shorter as each worker had a set task to complete per day, but the mud and the swamps made the job exhausting.  Sugar cane fields were painfully hard work with dangers from the tools and the natural hazards. At harvest time the work was so hard and constant that many slaves fell ill through being overworked.

Most houses were simple wooden huts with basic furniture inside, sometimes this could be added to with more if the slave bartered goods or if their owners particularly favoured them.  Slave quarters could often be cramped and unpleasant and in poor economic times they could be awful.  For slaves working on the very smallest of farms or plantations, home would be where ever they could find a bed for the night, usually in outbuildings or barns. Their owners did not have the money or could not be bothered to provide a set home for them.

What Rights Did Slaves Have?

In the American colonies,

"A slave was chattel - an article of property that could be bought, punished, sold, loaned, used as collateral, or willed to another at an owner's whim.  Slaves could not legally marry, own property, vote, serve as witnesses, serve on juries, or make contracts.  The offspring of female slaves also belonged to their owners, regardless of whom their fathers were."

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