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Extract from William Snelgrave's "A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave Trade", 1734

Over a century and a half, the West African trade in slaves became a sort of gold rush which provided the bulk of the Caribbean region’s population. Different accounts of the slavers’ activities established a tradition of moral conflict where the supporters of the trade described it in terms of its techniques and administration, as if they were simply transporting no more than some species of difficult animal.

William Snelgrave, for instance, writing about his experience as the captain of a slaver, begins by suggesting that since the slaves were criminals in their own society, taking them away had been doing a favour to Africa. He goes on to detail the measures that needed to be taken in order to ensure calm and avoid mutiny. In comparison the opponents of the trade spell out the inhumanity of its practices. Alexander Falconbridge, also captain of a slaver, describes the practice of selling slaves by “scramble”, where the buyers rush at the group of slaves and grab as many as they could at a time. He outlines some of the tricks used by the sellers: for example, the practice of passing off sick slaves as healthy, by dint of sealing up their anuses with a plug of oakum.

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