Slave trade

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Gustave Boulanger's painting The Slave Market.
Slave auction in Rome, a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme

During the history of slavery there were many different forms of human exploitation across many cultures. Slavery means the systematic exploitation of labor for work and services without payment and the possession of other persons as property. Slavery has existed at many different times in history, in many different places.

Slaves were often sold at markets and auctions. Slave auctions show that slaves were not thought of as human beings with human rights. Instead, they were thought of as property, which could be bought or sold. Slaves did not have any say in what happened to them. Many times, families were split up and sold to different owners for different amounts of money. Millions of families became separated this way and never saw each other again.

Atlantic slave trade[change | edit source]

In America, slave auctions were used until the end of the Atlantic slave trade. Slave traders would capture or buy slaves in Africa,and would then take them on slave ships across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. When a slave ship arrived at a port, the slaves would be taken to a pen. There, they would be washed. Their skin would be covered in grease, animal fat, or even tar. This would make their skin look shinier and healthier, so they would be worth more money. Tar and oil were also used to cover wounds on the slaves' bodies.

The slaves were not treated with respect. They were called and thought of as "cargo". Men were also called "bucks" and women were called "does" or "wenches". They were branded (a letter or symbol would be burned into their skin) to mark them as slaves. Slave traders and buyers would examine them, or look them over closely, forcing open their mouths and checking their hair and bodies. Usually, the largest, strongest-looking slaves were bought first because they were thought to be able to do more work. Many women were sold away from their children and husbands, to buyers looking for good cooks and housekeepers.

There were two types of auctions: Grab and go and May the highest bidder win.

In a "grab and go" auction, a buyer would give the slave trader a certain amount of money and would get a ticket. When a drum roll sounded, the pen holding the slaves would open. The buyer would rush in and grab the slave or slaves that he wanted. He would then show his ticket to the slave trader before he left.

In a "may the highest bidder win" auction, slaves would be shown to the buyers one at a time. If more than one buyer wanted a particular slave, all of the buyers would have to bid on the slave (making offers for what they were willing to pay). The buyer who bid the highest would be able to buy that slave for the amount of money he bid.

Sometimes other things such as tea, coffee and ribbons, were also sold at slave auctions. Many auctions were social places where white people would gather and talk about the war or other things that were happening.

Other websites[change | edit source]