Via The London News and The National Era
The Transport of the Africans to the French West Indies
The great irregularity of the West African mail steamers has of late interrupted the current of the history of the notorious Regis contract for supplying the French West Indies with purchased Africans. The last arrivals, however, put us in possession of some additional facts quite conclusive as to the character of this traffic.
Subsequently to the news that the Portuguese authorities had refused to allow the French purchase of negroes within the limits of the province of Angola, our readers may recollect that advices from the West Indies announced the arrival in the French Antilles of one of M. Regis’s ships with a cargo of 800 Africans, 100 of whom lost their lives in an attempt to land them. But hitherto there has been nothing positively known as to where this unhappy batch of negroes was obtained.
The African mail just arrived fills up this hiatus in the melancholy and miserable tale. It seems that the Stella, after being joined by another ship, the Okra, proceeded beyond the territorial limits of Angola, and there found barraccoons filled with slaves belonging to the Cuban charterers of various American vessels, which had been seized, (equipped for the traffic, but without national papers on board,) and sent to the Vice Admirality Court of Sierra Leone for adjudication.
A bargain was soon struck with the agents in charge of the barracoons. Eight hundred of these slaves, who had been captured in the regular course of the internal slave trade, and brought down to the coast for exportation, were bought for the Stella, and 400 for the Clara.
Of the 800 purchased for the Stella, 600 were shipped in one day; so hurried and unscrupulous were the French agents engaged in this disgusting and cruel transaction. The only thought or care they had was whether the negroes they drove from the barracoons on board the ship were in physical plight to bear a voyage across the Atlantic. That ascertained, into the hold and between decks they were thrust, with the expedition that defies all Spanish competition or rivalry. And from the slave barracoons southward of Angola, on the west coast of Africa, these 1,200 negroes were carried by the contractors of the Imperial Government of France to Martinique and Guadaloupe.
What may have been the mortality of the middle passage is not stated. But it is known from other sources that 100 of the Africans so bought were swamped, and perished on the coast of one of those islands. Let us, therefore, assume that of the 1,200 thus bought, only 1,000 safely reached the French colonies. On their arrival, the contractor would, by the terms of his arrangement with the Imperial Government, become entitled to £20,000.
How, in what one single particular, we ask, does this operation differ from an ordinary slave-trade adventure, punishable as felony by the laws of every civilized country, and denounced as a crime against God and man by the Congresses of Vienna and Verona?
Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: The National Era
Date: May 27, 1858
Title: The Transport of the Africans to the French West Indies
Location: Washington, D.C.
Only a few decades after the discovery of America by Europeans, demand for cheap labor to work huge new plantations made slave-trading a profitable business. The peak time of slave ships to the Atlantic passage was between the 17th and 18th century when large plantations developed in the British colonies of North America but the traffic in African slaves into the new colonies throughout the Western Hemisphere continued well into the 19th century.
In order to achieve profit, the owners of the ships divided their hulls into holds with little headroom, so they could transport as many slaves as possible. Unhygienic conditions, dehydration, dysentery and scurvy led to a high mortality rate, on average 15% and up to a third of captives. Only the most resilient survived the transport. Often the ships, also known as Guineamen, transported hundreds of slaves, who were chained tightly to plank beds. Wikipedia maintains a list of known slave ships.