Treatment of the Slaves, on board the Ship.
OF one hundred and fifty Af|ricans we rejected seventeen, as not mer|chantable. While I was doubting which to lament most, those, who were about being precipitated into all the miseries of an American slavery, or those, whom we had rejected, as too wretched for slaves; Captain Russell was congratulating the slave contractors, upon the immense good luck they had, in not suffering more by this lot of human creatures. I under|stood Page 196 that, what from wounds received by some of these miserable creatures, at their capture, or in their violent struggles for liberty, or attempts at suicide; with the fatigue of a long journey, partly over the burning sands of a sultry climate, it was usual to estimate the loss, in the passage to the sea shore, at twenty five per cent.
No sooner was the purchase complet|ed, than these wretched Africans were transported in herds aboard the ship, and immediately precipitated between decks, where a strong chain, attached to a staple in the lower deck, was rivetted to the bar, before described; and then the men were chained in pairs, and also hand cuffed, and two sailors with cutlasses guarded ev|ery twenty: while the women and chil|dren were tied together in pairs with ropes, and obliged to supply the men with provisions, and the flush bucket; or, if the young women were released, it was only to gratify the brutal lust of the sail|ors; Page 197 for though I cannot say I ever was witness to an actual rape, yet the frequent shrieks of these forlorn females in the births of the seamen, left me little charity to doubt of the repeated commission of that degrading crime. The eve after we had received the slaves on board, all hands were piped on deck, and ordered to assist in manufacturing and knotting cat o'nine tails, the application of which, I was in|formed, was always necessary to bring the slaves to their appetite. The night after they came on board was spent by these wretched people, in sobbings, groans, tears, and the most heart rending bursts of sor|row and despair. The next morning all was still. Surprised by this unexpected silence, I almost hoped that providence, in pity to these her miserable children, had permitted some kindly suffocation to put a period to their anguish. It was neither novel nor unexpected to the ship's crew. It is only the dumb fit come on, cried Page 198 every one. We will cure them. After breakfast, the whole ship's crew went be|tween decks, and carried with them the provisions for the slaves, which they one and all refused to eat. A more affecting group of misery was never seen. These injured Africans, prefering death to slave|ry, or perhaps buoyed above the fear of dissolution, by their religion, which taught them to look with an eye of faith to a country beyond the grave; where they should again meet those friends and relatives, from whose endearments they had been torn; and where no fiend should torment, or christian thirst for gold, had, wanting other means, resolved to starve themselves, and every eye low|ered the fixed resolve of this deadly in|tent. In vain were the men beaten. They refused to taste one mouthful; and, I believe, would have died under the op|eration, if the ingenious cruelty of the clerk, Randolph, had not suggested the Page 199 plan of whipping the women and chil|dren in sight of the men; assuring the men they should be tormented until all had eaten. What the torments, exercis|ed on the bodies of these brave Africans, failed to produce, the feelings of nature effected. The Negro, who could un|dauntedly expire under the anguish of the lash, could not view the agonies of his wife, child, or his mother; and, though repeatedly encouraged by these female sufferers, unmoved by their torments, to persevere unto death; yet, though the man dared to die, the father relented, and in a few hours they all eat their provisions, mingled with their tears.
Our slave dealers being unable to ful|fil their contract, unless we tarried three weeks longer, our captain concluded to remove to some other market. We ac|cordingly weighed anchor, and steered for Benin, and anchored in the river Formosa, where we took in one hundred and fifteen Page 200 more slaves. The same process in the purchase was pursued here; and, though I frequently assured the captain, as a physi|cian, that it was impracticable to stow fif|ty more persons between decks, without endangering health and life, the whole hundred and fifteen were thrust, with the rest, between decks. The stagnant con|fined air of this infernal hole, rendered more deleterious by the stench of the fae|ces, and violent perspiration of such a crowd, occasioned putrid diseases; and, e|ven while in the mouth of the Formosa, it was usual to throw one or two Negro corpses over every day. It was in vain I remonstrated to the captain. In vain I enforced the necessity of more commodi|ous births, and a more free influx of air for the slaves. In vain I represented, that these miserable people had been used to the vegetable diet, and pure air of a country life. That at home they were remarka|ble for cleanliness of person, the very rites Page 201 of their religion consisting, almost entire|ly, in frequent ablutions. The captain was, by this time, prejudiced against me. He observed that he did not doubt my skill, and would be bound by my advice, as to the health of those on board his ship, when he found I was actuated by the in|terest of the owners; but, he feared, that I was now moved by some yankee non|sense about humanity.
Randolph, the clerk, blamed me in plain terms. He said he had made seven African voyages, and with as good sur|geons as I was; and that it was their common practice, when an infectious dis|order prevailed, among the slaves, to make critical search for all those, who had the slightest symptoms of it, or whose habits of body inclined them to it; to tie them up and cast them over the ship side together, and thus, at one dash, to purify the ship. What signifies, added he, the lives of the black devils; they love to die. You Page 202 cannot please them better, than by chucking them into the water.
When we stood out to sea, the rolling of the vessel brought on the sea sickness, which encreased the filth; the weath|er being rough, we were obliged to close some of the ports, which ventilated the space between decks; and death raged dreadfully among the slaves. Above two thirds were diseased. It was affecting to observe the ghastly smile on the counte|nance of the dying African, as if rejoic|ing to escape the cruelty of his oppressors. I noticed one man, who gathered all his strength, and, in one last effort, spoke with great emphasis, and expired. I un|derstood, by the linguist, that, with his dying breath, he invited his wife, and a boy and girl to follow him quickly, and slaken their thirst with him at the cool streams of the fountain of their Great Father, be|yond the reach of the wild white beasts. The captain was now alarmed for the Page 203 success of his voyage; and, upon my urg|ing the necessity of landing the slaves, he ordered the ship about, and we anchored near an uninhabited part of the gold coast. I conjecture not far from Cape St. Paul.
Tents were erected on the shore, and the sick landed. Under my direction, they recovered surprisingly. It was af|fecting to see the effect gentle usage had upon these hitherto sullen, obstinate peo|ple. As I had the sole direction of the hospital, they looked on me as the source of this sudden transition from the filth and rigour of the ship, to the cleanliness and kindness of the shore. Their gratitude was excessive. When they recovered so far as to walk out, happy was he, who could, by picking a few berries, gathering the wild fruits of the country, or doing any menial services, manifest his affection for me. Our linguist has told me, he has often heard them, behind the Page 204 bushes, praying to their God for my pros|perity, and asking him with earnestness, why he put my good black soul into a white body. In twelve days all the convales|cents were returned to the ship, except five, who staid with me on shore, and were to be taken on board the next day.