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Capture & Enslavement

Narratives from the Collection on Capture & Enslavement
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"Previous to my being in this employ, I entertained a belief that the kings and principal men [in Africa] breed Negroes for sale as we do cattle. All the information I could procure confirms me in the belief that to kidnapping, the trade owes its key support. "

Alexander Falconbridge


In the 18th century, the majority of Africans sold into the Transatlantic Slave Trade had been kidnapped; the remainder were prisoners of war or victims of political or judicial punishment. The trade in humans caused great political instability and social chaos; people witnessed the kidnapping process and learned it, and then they too kidnapped people and sold them as enslaved persons. It was a vicious cycle that increased the size of the trade.

Captured Villagers
Captured Africans being force marched to the coast for sale to Europeans
© Anti-Slavery International

Thomas Clarkson went to Africa to see for himself how this process was facilitated, and its effects –
"October 19th 1797: inquiring today of a negro lad, how he came into the situation of a slave, he informed me that he had been stolen from his parents in the interior country of Cape Rouge [Liberia] that the inhabitants of the shore usually came up in bodies for this purpose and that they unfortunately met with him and brought him to Goree in company with others whom they had taken in the same manner."

Door of no return (Elmina Castle)
Door of no return (Elmina Castle)
©Pete Pattisson

Raids and attacks on villages were instigated for the same purpose. "I was told by the natives", Clarkson also wrote, "that they intended to attack a village on the third night. I asked them if the inhabitants had done them any injury. They replied no, but that there were a considerable number of fine stout men belonging to it who were good for trade. This was their only reason."

View of the Coast and El Mina Castle
View of the Coast and Elmina Castle
©British Library

Narratives from the Collection

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An Account of Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa
"A man and his son, according to their own information were seized by professed kidnappers while they were planting yams, and sold for slaves’ "

From Clarkson’s journal during his tour to Africa
"inquiring today of a negro lad, how he came into the situation of a slave, he informed me, that he had been stolen from his parents in the interior country of Cape Rouge"

Sailors’ Accounts
"Among the hardships endured by the seamen in the slave trade is a want of shelter. They are never permitted to sleep between decks till the slaves are sold, ..."

An abstract of the evidence delivered before a select committee of the House of Commons in the years 1790 and 1791, on the part of the petitioners for the abolition of the slave trade
"Dr Trotter asking a black trader, what they made of their slaves when the English and French were at war, was answered, when ships ceased to come, slaves ceased to be taken’"
"Example of how the Europeans would force the nature of the trade by threatening the inhabitants of the villages"

Substance of the report delivered by the court of directors of the Sierra Leone company to the general court of proprietors on Thursday 24th March 1794
"the black sailors found on board, amounting to nineteen in number, though they were free men and receiving wages, have all been sold for slaves"

Test Your Knowledge

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1•Which of the following views of the enslavement and trafficking of Africans do you think is the opinion of Alexander Falconbridge, a doctor who travelled on board slave ships?

“It would be as vain to enforce a code of laws on the inhabitants of the moon as to civilise Africans, and render them sensible of the blessings which Europeans enjoy from their industry, and superior civil and religious institutions; the climate they inhabit is wholly opposed to it.”

“We ought to consider whether the negroes in a well regulated plantation, under the protection of a kind master, do not enjoy as great, nay, even greater advantages than when under their own despotic governments…”

“This barbarous usage of those unfortunate wretches, makes it appear, that the fate of such as are bought and transported from the coast to America, or other parts of the world, by Europeans, is less deplorable, than that of those who end their days in their native country.”

“Negroes are not, in the first instance, bought for the increase of the species, but for their work; and if a certain quantity of work be not done, their owners must be ruined.”

“The African slave was sometimes a criminal, but, more often than not, he was captured in battle. As the slave trade grew and with it the need for more slaves, the number of these battles increased. Clearly, many battles were being fought solely for the purpose of acquiring slaves who could then be sold to the European traders. Sometimes, too, the slave might have been the political enemy of the ruler or of some other powerful person.”

“It frequently happens that those who kidnap others are themselves, in their turns, seized and sold. A Negro in the West Indies informed me that after having been employed in kidnapping others, he had experienced this reverse. And he assured me, that it was a common incident among his countrymen. Continual enmity is [thus] fostered among the negroes of Africa, and all social intercourse between them destroyed.”