Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery: Middle Passage
Born in present-day Ghana, young Ottobah Cugoano was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the young age of 13. Cugoano worked in the sugar fields of a Grenadan plantation until 1773. That year, Cugoano traveled to England with his owner where he obtained his freedom, inspired in part by the Somerset Case, an English legal case that declared slavery illegal in England. Cugoano then joined the Abolitionist movement and published one of the most critical accounts of slavery to date. In this excerpt, Cugoano only briefly described his experience during the Middle Passage while he provided a fuller account of the slave coffle. Given his age at the time of capture, it could be that these are his only memories of the experience. However, it could also be that the trauma of the Middle Passage caused him to block out all but the most horrible of his memories.
This source is a part of the Children in the Slave Trade teaching module.
But when a vessel arrived to conduct us away to the ship, it was a most horrible scene; there was nothing to be heard but rattling of chains, smacking of whips, and the groans and cries of our fellow- men. Some would not stir from the ground, when they were lashed and beat in the most horrible manner. I have forgot the name of this infernal fort; but we were taken in the ship that came for us, to another that was ready to sail from Cape Coast. When we were put into the ship, we saw several black merchants coming on board, but we were all drove into our holes, and not suffered to speak to any of them. In this situation we continued several days in sight of our native land; but I could find no good person to give any information of my situation to Accasa at Agimaque. And when we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable than life, and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames; but we were betrayed by one of our own countrywomen, who slept with some of the head men of the ship, for it was common for the dirty filthy sailors to take the African women and lie upon their bodies; but the men were chained and pent up in holes. It was the women and boys which were to burn the ship, with the approbation and groans of the rest; though that was prevented, the discovery was likewise a cruel bloody scene.
But it would be needless to give a description of all the horrible scenes which we saw, and the base treatment which we met with in this dreadful captive situation, as the similar cases of thousands, which suffer by this infernal traffic, are well known. Let it suffice to say, that I was thus lost to my dear indulgent parents and relations, and they to me. All my help was cries and tears, and these could not avail; nor suffered long, till one succeeding woe, and dread, swelled up another. Brought from a state of innocence and freedom, and, in a barbarous and cruel manner, conveyed to a state of horror and slavery: This abandoned situation may be easier conceived than described. From the time that I was kid-napped and conducted to a factory, and from thence in the brutish, base, but fashionable way of traffic, consigned to Grenada, the grievous thoughts which I then felt, still pant in my heart; though my fears and tears have long since subsided. And yet it is still grievous to think that thousands more have suffered in similar and greater distress, under the hands of barbarous robbers, and merciless task- masters; and that many even flow are suffering in all the extreme bitterness of grief and woe, that no language can describe. The cries of some, and the sight of their misery, may be seen and heard afar; but the deep sounding groans of thousands, and the great sadness of their misery and woe, under the heavy load of oppressions and calamities inflicted upon them, are such as can only be distinctly known to the ears of Jehovah Sabaoth.
Cugoano, Ottobah. Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery. London: s.n., 1787. Reprint, London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1969. Annotated by Colleen A. Vasconcellos.