There has always been slavery and still is even today!

The "Argo", a greek Driere, is driven by rowing slaves.

  • 1700 b. c. Babylonians could sell their children into slavery
  • 600 b. c. slave markets were known in Greece.
  • Cesar sold Gauls as slaves; Gladiator slaves were forced to kill each other in gladitorial fights to the entertainment of Romans
  • Barbarescs of the Mediterranean Sea plundered merchant ships a Henry the Seafarer financed the Portuguese Expeditions by enslaving Africans.
  • An oriental slave trade from Africa into the Islamic- Arabian world is functioning for many Centuries until today.
  • The Atlantic slave trade from Africa into the "New World" about 10 Million human beings ("Moors") were affected.
  • In Mauretania and Sudan more than 100.000 slaves; prostitution of children, working children and children soldiers are facts world-wide and add another form of present-day slavery.
This page of Seemotive does not attempt to be an exhaustive essay on slavery, but focuses on the subject from the point of view of slavery and slave boats, as they have been put on stamps and other postal documents.

The "Felucke" was a kin to the gallay equipped with both, ors and sails common in the Mediterranean. This ship had its origin in the Barbary states Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli. There they were used as Corsair and Slave dealer boats. They were about 15m in length, about 4m wide, had two masts with Latin sails up to 100 m² sail area, and a crew of 30 men. The Feluckes were quick and handy.
From the century on and up into the 19. century merchant ships were held up in the Mediterranean by Barbaries, imprisoned and in best case released again for high ransom. In the 28 years between 1719 and 1747, Algerian pirates seized 50 boats and 633 men were captured from Hamburg alone.
The pirates had established real lists with their tariffs for the ransom payments. For a skipper they charged 1000 imperial dollars, for a mate- or carpenter 700, and for a sailor 60 dollars. If their shipowner did not pay, they were put into chains and used as gallay-slaves.

USS Constellation For to protect their own sailors, the Americans built six frigates from 1794 on. One of them was the USS "Constellation".
She had a length of 50m, a width of 12,5m, the depth of the storage lukes was 4m. She carried three masts with spars and had 36 cannons aboard.
She was put into service from 1802 on, was stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. Her duty was to roam the Mediterranean and keep the piratry on a low key.

Arabian slave hunters and their victims
an Arabian "Dromone"
From the 7. century until today, Africa sold slaves to the Islamic-Arabian world in the near-east, in effect an "oriental slave trade still exists".
Arabian slave dealers raged among African people, killed total villages and spared the fittest only, whom they then forced to carry the preyed ivory down to the coast. Such double dealing (ivory and slaves) has cost as much as 17 Million victims!
In fact, Africa explorers could reconstruct the trade routes from the human skeletons of died slaves.
Women were sold to harems, men were castrated or used as laborers.
In the middle of the century Sansibar was on of the biggest slave markets in the area.
The typical slave boat in those days was the Dhau. More accurately "Dhau" is a name for a whole class of about 50 Arabian-Indian boat types. These ships have a long bow, one or two masts, Latinsails and 10 to 200 tons displacement.

German slave ship

"Friedrich Wilhelm zu Pferde"
German slave ship

"Kurprinz" and "Morian" of the "churfürstlich afrikanisch-brandenburgischen Compagnie" take slaves on board in front of the west African coast.

The slave shipments to the "new world" were mainly run by the English, but Germans, Dutch, French, Danish and Portuguese were also involved.
Friedrich Wilhelm, the "Great Duke" of Germany's State of Brandenburg, wanted to build his own big fleet. Of course he needed money. So he sent several ships to West Africa to load slaves. On the left hand side the ship by the name "Friedrich Wilhelm zu Pferde" is shown.. The ship was built 1681, her length was 50m, the width 10m, displacement 1.150 tons, and armed with 60 cannons.
Leaving Africa with 738 slaves on board the boat arrived in 1692 at St. Thomas with 659 still living. 79 slaves had died during the crossing and had been thrown over board. But on her way back home the ship was captured by the French and burnt.

The European nations established fortified strong points along the west-african coast for their slave trade, they built real forts.
The Germans too built a fort in Ghana, named Groß-Friedrichsburg. It was armed with 30 cannons, had 20 - 30 Europeans in garrison. Between 300 and 400 Africans were hired as soldiers.
The stamp on the right hand side shows a fort in Sierra Leone. To make it better visible, the center of the stamp is enlarged.
african station

The so-called "trade triangle" started out in the 14th century. It involved the 3 continents Europe, Africa und America. Tools, weapons, textiles and strong liqueur were shipped from Europe to Africa, where they were traded against slaves.
The slaves in turn were brought to Brazil, the Caribbeans and the USA. The proceeds of the slave sales were then used to load sugar, tobacco, cotton and rum for Europe.
On both stamps the trade triangle is shown in red.

On the left hand stamp is the head of Viktor Schoelcher shown, a French politician and fighter for the freedom of slaves in the French colonies. Underneath Schoelcher's head is a group of slaves on their way into misery.
Actually African village heads and rulers were the suppliers of slaves, the Europeans "only" buying.
In the beginning slaves were taken from prisoners of war, wars among the African tribes. But with increasing demand villages in the vicinity were simply raided. In some rare cases the kings sold their people, parents sold their children, or men sold their wives.

The English physician had published a "how to" - book for slave sailors. Inside the book the slaves from the Golden Coast were considered the best.

Before buying slaves, they were examined. Their looks, facial expression, flexibility of their limbs, the teeth and their physical wellness were checked.
The salesmen of course used tricks, such as darkening the hair of older men with charcoal to make them look younger. They were given medication, to swell their bodies and again pass for a lower age: Their skin was treated with palm oil making it shiny.


Slaves boarding.

When boarding many slaves jumped out o the boats and into the sea, trying to stay under the surface as long s possible, in many cases too long, and they drowned.
When on board, they began to scream, and many women became hysterical.
All slaves were marked with the brand of their dealer. On English ships the "DY" of the Duke of York dominated. The place selected for the brand mark was first rubbed with grease , then a fatty paper was put on top and the glowing brand iron pressed on it.
The marks served to distinguish the slaves; when slaves for several different dealers were on board the same ship.

cancellation The dominating slave transport ship in the 18. und 19.century was the Brigg. The brigg was a sailboat with two masts, which were sailed with spars. The backward mast carried a large gaff-sail.
Around 1800 the briggs had sizes from 140 to 340 BRT and two decks. In the upper left is a picture of the English Brigg "Elizabeth", which carried slaves to Texas as late 1836.
In the upper right corner is seen a slender fast Baltimore clipper, who was also used for slave transport.
After such slave transports became illegal, the clippers changed sides and were run as slave boat hunters.

Very soon the ship owners of course were trying to transport ever more slaves on a voyage. They put mezzanine decks in between the regular ones. Male slaves were chained together in pairs, such that they could only move simultaneously (for instance to ease themselves on buckets). They were put down on their bellies closely, like spoons in a drawer. See the picture on the right.
Female slaves and children were not chained, but were locked up in the forecastle of the ship. Among captains there were spread two systems, the system of "Loose Packers", which allowed the slaves more room to move around, keeping their health up and the death rate low.

The other system was the one of the "Tight Packers", who sometimes even put slaves on top of each other following the motto: the bigger the load, the bigger the proceeds.

On each Atlantic crossing some slaves died: storms crushed their bodies in the load room, they suffocated, they caught the ships feaver. The loss rate varied, but its average was up at 12 %.
Nevertheless during the legal period of slave dealing, most captains took as many slaves on board of their ships, as they thought of being able to get them across the Atlantic ocean alive.

slavery As the losses on the slave ships became unbearably high, the English government issued legal rules for the sea transport of slaves in 1799.
Each slave deck had to be at least 5 feet high (152cm). A mathematical formula was released to calculate the maximum number of slaves on a boat: It was length times width of the slave decks given in feet divided by eight.
No ships whatever her size were allowed to take aboard more than 400 slaves. The horizontal area per slave was also specified. Each slave had a right for 5 feet and 4 inches in length and nine inches in width (1,64 m Length and 88 cm width).

An English captain, who had dysentery on his ship, had his people to throw over board 32 slaves, who were sill alive, but showed the signs of the sickness already. He had loaded 440 slaves, of whom only 248 survived, which is a loss rate of 44%.
ashore Arriving
Weather permitting , the slaves had to move on the deck. They were handed out their meal of rice- or millet and were forced to move around, such that they did not slacken completely.
The sailors played some music and the slaves had to jump up and down and bend their knees. Who tried to stay away from these children dances got to feel the whip and had to clean the deck with pumice stones.


Slave Market


Left: Slave Auction, right: slave capture raid on the coast of Benin.

At the end of the 17th century one would buy slaves on the right: Guinea coast for 3 Pounds per head and sell them in the West-Indies for 16 to 17 pounds.
Hundred years later one could buy for 20 to 25 pounds and sell for 40 to 50 pounds. In the 19. century American planters paid 250 to 450 Dollar for one slave.
After the prohibition of slave dealing prices went up; a healthy slave cost up to 1000 Dollar.


Schooner "Amistad"


Revolte aboard "Amistad"

On board of the ships several rebellions of mutineers occurred.
The crew of a Brigg was only 10 to 15 men und they had to defy about 400 slaves.
The mutiny of the Spanish schooner "Amistad" became the best known, since it was also subject of a movie.
The "Amistad" was built in Baltimore and named "Friendship". She was a freighter.
Nevertheless in 1839 they took 52 Africans on board atHavanna to cary them to Principe.
One night the Africans seized power through the leadership of the son of a chief named Singbe. They killed the captain and the cook.
Singbe commanded the navigators of the Spanish crew to sail to Africa. During the day they pretended sailing east, but back to the West again each night.
After 63 days of getting to nowhere the ship was stopped and brought into custody by the USS "Washington". The Africans were charged and taken to court. The question was, whether the Africans were slaves or illegal foreigners or what else? Anyway, in 1841 they were sentenced "not guilty" and returned to Africa.


Armed slave revolte.

Not only on the sea, but also on land slaves had a mournful life. The Romans had to fight real slave wars, among others the uprising of Spartacus. In Egypt too a slave army took over, in 1250 a.c.
And in all centuries the slaves always tried to run away.
When they were captured again (quite often using hunting dogs) they were beaten almost to death, hung up head down on their feet, chained with rods in mean sadistic ways, had the soles off their feet burnt and on and on.

The pirate Bartholomew Roberts (the man on the stamp on the right hand), specialized his crew in confronting slave ships and taking away their load of slaves.
He then sold them on the American market " on his own account. He also attacked the fortified station Wydah in the gulf of Benin. There 11 slave ships anchored, and they surrendered to the attacking 3 pirate boats.
When the pirates had too heavy losses in their fights, captured slaves got the opportunity to join the pirates.
They became free men and even could become rich participating in the bounty the pirates made.


Englishmen, who had fought for the abolishment of slavery, starting from the left:
William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano, Hannah More, Ignatius Sancho, Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson.
In 1787 the British Abolition Committee was founded, to speed up the end of slavery.

On the left you can see Louis Delgres, the leader of a resistance movement, who worked against the slavery on the island Guadeloupe.
When he and his men stepped into a trap of the French, he and his faithful friends blew themselves up.
Although it can be seen in a way as giving up in his resistance against the French, his deed nevertheless became a symbol of determination and courage for the abolition movements world wide.

The drive to prohibit slavery is called abolitionism.

The stamp on the left is an illustration of the text of the "Golden Law" for the abolition of slavery in Brazil, on the right is shown a map of the West African coast of 1773, a slave ship and underneath (white) the route of the slave ships between Africa and Brazil.

  • 1688 Germantown Protest of the Quäker in Pennsylvania
  • 1775 Foundation of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Association
  • 1808 slave dealing is prohibited in all of the British Empire
  • 1809 The USA prohibit die import of slaves
  • 1834 Slavery becomes illegal in the English colonies
  • 1848 Slavery becomes illegal in the French colonies
  • 1852 In the USA the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is published. The book, which is turning against the excesses of keeping slaves, becomes a political issue.
  • 1865 prohibition of slavery in the USA, see below
  • 1883 prohibition of slavery in the Spanish Colonies
  • 1888 prohibition of slavery in Brazil

slaver shackles
captain caught
On the left the slave schooner "Shackles", in the middle HMS "Britannia" in front of Port Royal, and on the right the captain of a slave ship is taken into custody.
English ship owners earned exceptionally well with slave dealing. But after the inhibition English warships were hunting slave transports.
When a slave ship was in danger, to get stopped and searched, the captains cold-bloodedly got rid of their cargo. It is told, that on an Arabian dhau the crew cut the throats of all 240 slaves and threw the bodies over board.
And there is another rumour, that in one case all slaves were chained together and - by the weight of the chains - pulled into the depth.

The "Wanderer" was the last boat, which landed slaves on a US coast.
The "Wanderer" was built in 1857 and equipped for slave transports in 1858. When the ship left New York she was inspected, but not discovered as a slave transporter.
In front of West Africa, 490-600 slaves were taken on board. Many slaves died on the 6 week long voyage across the Atlantic.
Die "Wanderer" reached Jekyll Island, Georgia am 28. November 1858 und discharged 4 60-49 slaves. On the stamp is seen the HMS "St. Helena". The "Wanderer" looked almost identical , the rigging in fact is identical.

With its Emancipation-Proclamation declared the Abraham Lincolns government in September 1862 the abolition of slavery in those southern states of the USA, which would still be at war on the 1. of January 1863 with the Northern states.
The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. With this proclamation a decisive step towards the total abolition of slavery on the whole territory of the USA was done.

The American Civil War was a military conflict between southern states , who had left the united states, the confederation, and the Northern states, which had remained in then Union.
The cause was a deep economical, social and political split between north and south, which had particularly shown up in the slavery discussion. The conflicts eventually escalated into a war, when most southern states left the union as reaction to the election of Abraham Lincolns to President of the United States.
When the Northern states had won the war in 1865, slavery was abolished in the 13. amendment. The next 2 amendments provided the rights of citizenship and voting

According to historians about 10 million people were shipped as slaves from Africa to America.
Most of them were taken to the southern states of north America, to Jamaica , Cuba und Haiti , and about 700.000 to Brazil.
As for the oriental slave dealing from East Africa into the Islamic -Aabian world figures range between 6 and 17 million victims.

Many stamps have been issued commemorating the abolition of slavery.


Wikipedia Internet Enzyklopädie
Journal Geschichte mit Pfiff, September 1999, Ware Mensch, Sailer Verlag, Nürnberg
Eigel Wiese, Sklavenschiffe, 2000, Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft


© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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