The Slavery Project Part 3: In the Eye of the Beholder

La_Rochelle_slave_ship_Le_Saphir_1741As we discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of In the Eye of the Beholder, The Slavery Project (TSP) is an ongoing, interactive series of modules that incorporates lesson plans along select historical plot lines detailing slavery in a particular society during a specific period.  TSP is designed to provide students an immersive experience where a culture is explored according to the social, cultural, political and economic conditions of the time.

A featured component of The Slavery Project is that of the Triangular Trade prior to the Civil War in the United States. Working with AntiquityNOW are Peter Albert, an instructor at the Hun School in Princeton, NJ, who has developed a curriculum for this period, and Bernard Means, PhD., director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has created specifications for 3D copies of artifacts from this time. A series of images constructed by students using Minecraft, a popular online game, will provide visuals of structures such as a slave ship and a plantation.

AntiquityNOW was selected to present The Slavery Project at the November 2015 annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies in New Orleans.

In Part 3 of In the Eye of the Beholder, we take a view of the Triangular Trade through the eyes of a slave ship captain. What are the moral parameters of a world where human bondage is justified and accepted? In this narrative by Captain William Snelgrave, we enter the mind of a man of absolute certainty of his moral ground, and indeed, one who distinguishes himself, who prides himself, on his behavior in being an agent of the Triangular Trade. There is no ambiguity, no culpability, no empathy, no remorse. And here the question arises: What enables a person who considers himself of high moral caliber to become part of such an enterprise? That is a question that has no boundaries of time or geography. It is the eternal conundrum of our species—how benevolence and violence can co-exist with nary a moral tremor. Captain William Snelgrave is a man reflecting his times. But he is also emblematic of those people and cultures who for thousands of years have cleaved to the same inhumane certitude.


This illustration, taken from the abolitionist pamphlet “Description of a slave ship,” famously shows the inhuman conditions in which slaves made the voyage across the Atlantic.

This illustration, taken from the abolitionist pamphlet “Description of a slave ship,” famously shows the inhuman conditions in which slaves made the voyage across the Atlantic.

A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave Trade, William Snelgrave (1734)

I come now to give an Account of the Mutinies that have happened on board the Ships where I have been. These Mutinies are generally occasioned by the Sailors ill usage of these poor People, when on board the Ship wherein they are transported to our Plantations. Wherever therefore I have commanded, it has been my principal Care, to have the Negroes on board my Ship kindly used; and I have always strictly charged my white People to treat them with Humanity and Tenderness; In which I have usually found my Account, both in keeping them from mutinying, and preserving them in health.

And whereas it may seem strange to those that are unacquainted with the method of managing them, how we can carry so many hundreds together in a small Ship, and keep them in order, I shall just mention what is generally practiced. When we purchase grown People, I acquaint them by the Interpreter, “That, now they are become my Property, I think fit to let them know what they are bought for, that they may be easy in their Minds: (For these poor People are generally under terrible Apprehensions upon their being bought by white Men, many being afraid that we design to eat them; which, I have been told, is a story much credited by the inland Negroes;) So after informing them, That they are bought to till the Ground in our Country, with several other Matters; I then acquaint them, how they are to behave themselves on board towards the white Men; that if any one abuses them, they are to complain to the Linguist, who is to inform me of it, and I will do them Justice; But if they make a Disturbance, or offer to strike a white Man, they must expect to be severely punished.”

When we purchase the Negroes, we couple the sturdy Men together with Irons; but we suffer the Women and Children to go freely about: And soon after we have sail’d from the Coast, we undo all the Mens Irons.

They are fed twice a day, and are allowed in fair Weather to come on Deck at seven a Clock in the Morning, and to remain there, if they think proper, till Sun setting. Every Monday Morning they are served with Pipes and Tobacco, which they are very fond of. The Men Negroes lodge separate from the Women and Children: and the places where they all lye are cleaned every day, some white Men being appointed to see them do it.

I have been several Voyages, when there has been no Attempt made by our Negroes to mutiny; which, I believe, was owing chiefly, to their being kindly used, and to my Officers Care in keeping a good Watch. But sometimes we meet with stout stubborn People amongst them, who are never to be made easy; and these are generally some of the Cormantines, a Nation of the Gold Coast. I went in the year 1721, in the Henry of London, a Voyage to that part of the Coast, and bought a good many of these People

…”What had induced them to mutiny?” They answered, “I was a great Rogue to buy them, in order to carry them away from their own Country, and that they were resolved to regain their Liberty if possible.” I replied, “That they had forfeited their Freedom before I bought them, either by Crimes or by being taken in War, according to the Custom of their Country; and they being now my Property, I was resolved to let them feel my Resentment, if they abused my Kindness: Asking at the same time, Whether they had been ill used by the white Men, or had wanted for any thing the Ship afforded?” To this they replied, “They had nothing to complain of.” Then I observed to them, “That if they should gain their Point and escape to the Shore, it would be no Advantage to them, because their Countrymen would catch them, and sell them to other Ships.” This served my purpose, and they seemed to be convinced of their Fault, begging, “I would forgive them, and promising for the future to be obedient, and never mutiny again, if I would not punish them this time.” This I readily granted, and so they went to sleep.

2 responses to “The Slavery Project Part 3: In the Eye of the Beholder

  1. Pingback: The Slavery Project Presented at the National Council for the Social Studies in New Orleans | AntiquityNOW

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s