Diligent%2034 - 304 I THE DILIGENT By all appearances...

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Unformatted text preview: 304 I THE DILIGENT By all appearances, Captain Mary was certainly sane, at least in compar— ison to his fellow captain Jean Bonneau, whose mad follies he would en— counter in Martinique. None of Mary’s crew——not even those who would later testify against him at his trial in Vannes—ever accused him of cruel or sadistic behavior toward them. Mary was corrupt, but in a calculating sort of way that sought to maximize his personal profits. He could be hard or he could be kind, but he was unlikely to engage in any kind of behavior that would undermine the order of the ship or the profits of the voyage. Each African captive was worth up to a thousand livres if delivered to Martinique in healthy condition. Pierre Mary was well aware of that figure because twenty—six of the captives onboard the Diligent were his own per— sonal property. Given these considerations, we can speculate that his ship probably ran pretty much according to its owners’ instructions. JéHE EVENING DANCE PERIOD over, the Africans were ordered to return to the slave deck for the night. First carpenter Joseph Colinbert and first surgeon Devigne had just finished inspecting the slave- quarters to make sure that nobody had hidden a potential tool or weapon, and they gave the signal that all was in order. After the captives had de— scended to the lower deck amid shouts, shoves, and blows fiom the crew, they twisted and maneuvered as well as they could (given the confines of their irons) to slip into the tiny spaces on or below the platforms where they were to spend the night. Sometimes fights broke out as captives strug— gled for the best spots.1 Sleeping in such a space was difficult. The captives had to lie on their side on the hard planks because there wasn’t even enough space to lie on their back or stomach. The British called such packing “spooning” because it resembled the stacking of spoons.The rock— ing and pitching of the ship made people periodically slide or tumble into one another. , The discomfort of lying in awkward positions on the rough boards of the horribly overcrowded lower deck was matched or exceeded by the problems from the heat and lack of air. The only air in the lower deck went through hatches in the main deck. Because the Diligent had been built as a grain ship, its hatches were smaller than those on ships built for carrying slaves, and its lower deck was stifling. The heat that built up under the equatorial sun was oppressive, and the deck was so tightly packed that the captives sucked the oxygen out of the air at night. The French slave 305 5 , l 306 I THE DILIGENT The Middle Passage I 307' Figure 3+2 Slaves on the deck during the day. some captives just gave up and relieved themselves where they lay, bring— ing shouts of protest from their near neighbors.3 Given the diarrhea and vomiting that afflicted many of the captives, it was impossible to avoid a buildup of filth during the night. Silence was supposed to be the order of the night, but it was never total. There were the groans of the sick, the shouts of the angry, the weeping of the depressed, and the hysterical laughter of those who were losing their emotional equilibrium. When disputes arose, there were slave “quarter— masters” who were supposed to order everybody to be quiet and report the dispute to the captain the next morning. Crew members were afraid to enter the slave deck at night lest they be taken hostage. Even the ship itself added to the noise by its constant creaking as the individual timbers that made up the hull slid back and forth against one another.4 Because the Diligent was an aging ship, the creaking of the timbers was increasing, as was the leaking of the hull. The pumps were Worked regularly to keep the held relatively dry. When the slaves were locked below, the crew washed down the main deck, quarterdeck, and, forecastle. After the cleaning, they inspected the decks to make sure that nobody had left a tool or utensil of any kind lying around that a slave might use as a weapon. 308 I THE DILIGENT or six barrels of lard to flavor the beams.6 Even if the food supply was adequate, getting it was a daily struggle. With drink of water came at noon, and a third came with the evening meal A rule of thumb on French slave ships was to load one barrt’que (sixty gallons) eighty—day voyage. If one quart of water went into the soup each day, that left nearly two quarts for drinking.8 We don’t know how much water the TheMiddle Passage I 309‘ Figure 34.. 3 Cutaway View of a slave ship showing food and water storage. Diligent actually loaded in Principe and $50 Tomé, but we do know that another French ship, the jeannette, loaded 268 barriques of water for 24.6 captives and a crew of nineteen. That came to slightly more than one bar- riqye of water per person? sary in the tropical heat.“ Portuguese ships were required by law to carry three pints per person per day, which was only half the amount that had been required prior to 1684.12 If the Diligent actually loaded one bawiéue of 312 I THE DILIGEN'I' t Domingue for only 800 livres instead of worth.”23 In this case the incident was re— fitability of the voyage. We will never issue. He noted that on board some English sh" intercourse with “such of the 1313 n 314 I THE DILIGENT TheMiddle Passage 1 315 were only feeble attempts to deodorize it by passing through with sponges that had been dipped in vinegar. The smell must have been unimaginable. The Diligent was lucky to have only four days of rain and encounter only seven squalls during the entire sixty~six—day middle passage. On most days, the hatches were uncovered and the captives were allowed on deck. Even with good weather, the standard routines of food, exercise, and cleaning were not followed by all slaving captains. jean Barbot noted that “some commanders, of a morose peevish temper are perpetually beating and curbing the slaves even without the least offense, and will not suffer any upon deck but when unavoidable necessity to ease themselves does re— quire.”26 Barbot urged such captains to consider the humanity of the cap— tives; if that argument didn’t move them, he said, they should consider the profits of their ship’s owners. Another witness of the period, Father Laurent de Lucques, traveled on a Portuguese slave ship with 742. slaves who were apparently kept below deck for the entire voyage. “The blacks Were lying like animals amid dirt and filth,” he wrote. “Someone cried on one side; someone on the other. There were some who cried and lamented, others laughed. In sum, all was confusionThe space was so restricted for the mul— titude of blacks that it was almost impossible for them to change places. The stench was intolerable. Sleep was brief because they could barely close their eyes. Because of the multitude of people, it was almost impossible for them to bring food to their mouths, and What little food there was proved to be badly prepared. I don’t know if we should characterize that ship as hell or purgatory.” Father de Lucques decided to characterize the middle passage as “purgatory” because it was a temporary condition. Hell, apparently, would begin for the slaves after the ship reached Brazil.27 Now that they were on the high seas, the crew of the Diligent became less strict about shackling the men. Many slaving captains believed that the captives were unlikely to rebel on high sea because they would be unable to sail the ship back to land if the rebellion succeeded. Even if the rebel— lions slaves kept some crew members alive to sail the ship, they could not trust them to actually sail to their desired destination. Although there were many revolts on high sea, the captains believed that they usually took place on ships whose crews had been decimated by disease, were negligent, or were drunk. In reference to slave ships on high sea,Thomas Phillips wrote, “I have never heard that they mutinied in any ships of consequence that 316 | THE DILIGENT and when to wash or bathe, when to dance, and which tasks to carry out when cleaning the ship. ‘ Below the decks at night there reigned a hidden and less formal social organization that had been created by the leaders who tried to organize rebellions. Now, however, the hope that such an action could be accom- plished had faded. If the crew had been decimated by illness or if the sen— tinels had gotten sloppy, perhaps hopes of rebellion might have revived. As neither of these circumstances had come about, there was most likely a gradual shift in the nature and structure of the informal networks. The firebrands of rebellion gradually lost their followings, and a more moderate leadership emerged that focused on such issues as helping the sick, encour— aging the depressed, mediating disputes, and performing nighttime funeral ceremonies. Mary’s toll wa 35 N FEBRUARY 28 A slave died. Robert Durand did not record the cause, but five days later, when another slave died, he did: scurvy. The scurvy frightened Captain Mary because it was a major killer of both slaves and crew on the middle passage. The previous year the Dutch ship Beekesteyn had lost 150 slaves to the disease. What made it so frightening was that nobody knew What caused it or how to cure it. Doc— tor Aubrey’s 1729 manual for surgeons on English slave ships did not con— tain any discussion of the causes and cures for scurvy. In the absence of au- thoritative medical opinion, all kinds of theories abounded. Des Marchais believed that it was caused by bad water. Father Labat believed that it could be prevented by rubbing palm oil on the skin of the captives. Other captains believed that dancing prevented the disease. ‘ es: pr ‘11 , g curvy Captain Mary had been lucky. Since the ship left 550 Tomé on January IO, only two slaves had died. The total number of deaths among captives since leaving Jakin was now nine, which came to less than 4 percent of the human cargo. By the standards of slave ships, they were doing remarkably well. The judge and consuls of Nantes estimated in January 1732 that the death rate on slaving voyages from Nantes was 20 percent, and so Captain , ' " ' 2:: tical datashowl ' , E eighteenth c ...
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