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Resistance on Board the Ships

It is important to remember that there was resistance throughout the Transatlantic Slave Trade system, not just resistance when Africans got to the Caribbean. There is a great deal of evidence of resistance when Africans were first kidnapped and of resistance on shore and on ships. In some cases ‘resistance' involved attacks from the shore, as well as ‘insurrections' aboard ships.

Some captive Africans refused to be enslaved and took their own lives by jumping from slave ships or refusing to eat or just ‘giving up' and dying in despair.

Captain Japhet Bird, described one incident in the Boston Weekly News Letter (April 1737) when 100 enslaved people jumped overboard, most were recovered, but three refused to save themselves choosing death rather than enslavement. Over 50 major mutinies occurred on slave ships in the Middle Passage between 1699 and 1865. 

David Richardson's research into ship resistance shows:

  • Evidence of 485 acts of violent resistance by Africans against slave ships and their crews. These include 93 cases of attacks from the shore, by apparently ‘free' Africans, against ships or longboats and 392 cases of shipboard revolt by the enslaved.
  • Of the 392 insurrections (shipboard revolt by enslaved Africans), 353 (90%) took place in the period from 1698 to 1807. The cases of ‘insurrection' involved more than 360 ships, some of which experienced more than one ‘insurrection'. They also include twenty-two instances of planned rather than actual rebellion. 
  • Perhaps as many as 10% of slave ships experienced an insurrection. (Given gaps in records and the lack of evidence about revolts for ships other than those of the French, Dutch, and British, it is difficult to determine the proportion of slave ships that experienced an insurrection.)

 

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