How enslaved people were sold

Once a slave ship made it to the Caribbean, the cargo of enslaved people would be sold at auction. Enslaved people would have to be prepared first. The healthier they appeared to be, the higher the price they would fetch.

Their skin was rubbed with oil to make them appear healthy. Enslaved people who had been punished with whipping or flogging had their scars disguised by filling them with tar. Older slaves often had their heads shaved to hide signs of grey hairs and make them appear younger.

Different factors affected the price:

  • The condition of the enslaved people after the voyage.
  • The island they had landed on.
  • How many other slave ships were in that particular port at the same time.

There were two methods of selling enslaved people:

Auction - An auctioneer sold enslaved people individually or in lots (as a group), with people being sold to the highest bidder.

Scramble - Here the enslaved people were kept together in an enclosure. Buyers paid the captain a fixed sum beforehand.

Once all the buyers had paid, the enclosure gate was thrown open and the buyers rushed in together and grabbed the enslaved people they wanted. This was a terrifying experience for the enslaved people.

Enslaved people left behind were called ‘refuse’. They were sold cheaply to anyone who would take them. This often lead to their quick death as their 'owners' did not see any value in treating them well enough to keep them alive.

Enslaved people who resisted or fought back were sent to ‘seasoning camps’. Some historians suggest that the death rate in the 'seasoning camps' was up to 50 per cent.

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