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Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship

Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship
Illustration from Carl Bernhard Wadstrom's An essay on colonization, partic­ularly applied to the western coast of Africa, with some free thoughts on cultivation and commerce; also brief descriptions of the colonies already formed, or attempted in Africa, including those of Sierra Leone and Bulama ... (London, 1794).
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Special Collections, Acc. No. SCRB10197.

Captives from Africa were transported in ships, such as the ones in the diagram. Anyone working or living at or around a seaport anywhere in the colonies was exposed to slavers coming into port with cargoes of enslaved Africans for sale. Enslaved people would be taken from the boats and sold for auction on public streets. For most of the eighteenth century, this took place in both the northern and southern colonies.

Those who bought the slaves profited directly from their labor, whether in the fields growing or processing crops, in their homes serving, cleaning, or cooking, or in their businesses, doing trades. However, others who had never owned a slave also profited from this steady stream of incoming captive Africans. Some of the ships that carried slaves were constructed in New England, using lumber grown there, and sails, rope, and tar made or purchased there. The trade goods brought to Africa and used to purchase the slaves originated from across the colonies, and the making of these goods employed thousands of people. The creditors funding the voyages spent the money they made from the voyages on goods that in turn enriched local merchants. Anyone involved in creating food, clothing, or tools for slaves to use benefited directly from the incoming stream of slaves.

On a more subtle level, anyone who baked with sugar or put sugar in their tea was using a product grown and processed almost entirely by slaves. Anyone who read a newspaper could thank runaway slave advertisements for helping fund the distribution of the news. And anyone who bought or used popular imported items like foodstuffs, cloth, and dishes were contributing to the profits of shippers who may also have ventures transporting slaves or goods that would be traded for slaves. With the institution of slavery so large and so entrenched in the American economy, everyone was a part.

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