Introduction

Abolition of slavery and abolition of the slave trade, though often linked, followed rather different paths. Typically, the slave trade was abolished thirty to sixty years before slavery itself because of the understandable fact that the public objected to the conditions of slave ships, to premature death, and to the separation of families, before it became hostile to the rather more abstract issue of property in persons.

A second and more important distinction: the clear interaction between abolitionist activity and slave rebellions that helped bring about the end of slavery had no parallel in the ending of the slave trade. Slave traders continued to bring Africans into Saint-Domingue two years after the beginning of the only successful slave revolution in history. As for the captives on board slave vessels, resistance was a constant, always increasing the costs of slave traders (and thus reducing the numbers carried off from Africa), but there was no Middle Passage counterpart to the Haitian revolt, no on-board counterpart to the Jamaica rebellion of 1831, which hastened the 1833 legislation ending slavery in British territories.

For three centuries, Africans rebelled against the crews who confined them, but no increased incidence of rebellion can be observed during the long struggle to suppress the transatlantic traffic. Indeed, because of the increased, and as yet unexplained, incidence of children among captives after 1810, there were actually fewer shipboard revolts. 

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