How did slave-trading captains - and their crews - deal with the reality of life as they transported human cargo to distant shores? John Newton - a slave trader turned abolitionist - kept a journal of his activities between 1750-1754. Let's look at life onboard ship as he sailed toward the Caribbean island of Antigua:
26th MAY. ... In the evening, by the favour of Providence, discovered a conspiracy among the men slaves to rise upon us ... I've found near 20 of them had broke their irons. Are at work securing them.
The next day he encountered bad weather:
27th MAY. ... A hard tornado came on so quick that had hardly time to take in a small sail; blew extream hard for 3 hours with heavy rain...At noon little wind....In the afternoon secured all the men's irons again and punished 6 of the ringleaders of the insurrection.
Two days after the attempted revolt, Newton wrote about what might have been:
28th MAY. ...Their plot was exceedingly well laid, and had they been let alone an hour longer, must have occasioned us a good deal of trouble and damage ... They still look very gloomy and sullen and have doubtless mischief in their heads if they could find every opportunity to vent it ...
Several slaves - which Newton identifies by numbers, not names - took ill and died:
29th MAY. ... Buryed a boy slave (No.86) of a flux. Had 3 girls taken with fevers this morning ...
12th JUNE. ... Buryed a man slave (No.84) of a flux, which he has been struggling with near 7 weeks ...
13th JUNE. ...This morning buryed a woman slave (No. 47) Know not what to say she died of for she has not been properly alive since she first came on board.
22nd JUNE. ... I am much afraid of another ravage from the flux, for we have had 8 taken within these few days.
24th JUNE. ... Buryed a girl slave (No. 92).
27th JUNE. ... When we were putting the slaves down in the evening, one that was sick jumped overboard. Got him in again but he dyed immediately between his weakness and the salt water he had swallowed ...
As they neared Antigua, Newton and his crew discovered another insurrection plot:
28th JUNE. ... Put the boys in irons and slightly in the thumbscrews to urge them to a full confession.
29th JUNE. ... In the morning examined the men slaves and punished 6 of the principal, put 4 of them in collars.
Within days of reaching Antigua, Newton had sold all of his captives:
8th JULY. ... Landed the slaves. Sold all to about 20.
What was the transatlantic crossing like from the captive's perspective? Olaudah Equiano, the kidnapped son of a chief, answers that question.