Selling slaves

Once a slave ship made it to the Caribbean, the cargo of slaves would be sold at auction. Slaves 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. Flogging scars on the backs of unruly slaves were filled with tar to hide the signs of an ‘undisciplined’ slave. 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 slaves after the voyage.
  • The island they'd landed on.
  • How many other slave ships were in that particular port at the same time.

There were two methods of selling the slaves.

In the auction, an auctioneer sold the slaves individually or in lots (as a group), with the slaves being sold to the highest bidder.

The other method was the scramble. Here the slaves 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 slaves they wanted. This was often a terrifying experience for the slaves.

Slaves left behind were called ‘refuse’. They were sold cheaply to anyone who would take them, often leading to their quick death.

Slaves 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.

The video below looks at the process of the slave auctions.

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