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2 “Provided they arrive in health” On January 21, 1805, Simon Taylor, one of the wealthiest planters in Jamaica, wrote to his cousin Robert Taylor giving recommendations on how the latter should proceed with his slave-trading ventures as he supplied African captives to Jamaica. With reference to the slave ship Trusty, Simon Taylor cautioned his cousin that the success of the voyage “will depend upon what sort of Negroes she brings.” He further advised that if the captain of the Trusty hoped to meet with good sales in Jamaica then it would be impossible for him to be “too chosie [sic]” when he selected Africans for purchase on the other side of the Atlantic. Simon Taylor also wrote that he and two other potential purchasers would be interested in taking “a great part of the cargo” if the Trusty brought the “proper assortment” of captives.1 It was known for merchants and planters, throughout the British Caribbean , to make requests for “slave cargoes” of a particular sex and age composition that were transported from a specific area on the African coast. But what exactly did they consider a “proper assortment”? Although current scholarship suggests that there was a widespread preference for “fit young men,” there is some evidence showing that, at least in the late eighteenth century, planters and merchants were putting in requests specifically for African women and young people of both sexes.2 In fact, during this period, there was actually some concern about having too many adult males on the island, and there were even financial disincentives , by way of import taxes, for bringing in adults in general. Adult males were always taxed higher than adult females. There is also evidence to suggest that in Jamaica, there was some interest in purchasing captive adolescents and children. This is not to say that there was a widespread reluctance to purchase African men, but it does suggest that Jamaican preferences for captives of a particular age and sex were more complicated than has been generally assumed. 26 · From Africa to Jamaica In reality, the Jamaican plantocracy’s strongest preference for captives was not organized around age or sex: the preference was not simply for captive men; nor was it, for that matter, for captive women or captive children . The strongest preference was for African captives who were believed to be in good condition and “tolerable” health. Age and sex were secondary concerns. The priority was to buy enslaved men, women, and children who could labor for long hours under harsh conditions and who seemed likely to live long enough to make their individual purchases worthwhile. Hence, although planters and merchants routinely made requests for properly assorted “cargoes” of a particular age, sex, and even ethnic composition, there was always an understanding, sometimes implicit and other times very clearly stated, that the captives should be in a “tolerable” condition. This, of course, served to complicate slave-trading activities on the African coast. The Atlantic slave trade—a trade in human beings—had unique and “peculiar” characteristics. Or to use the words of historian Philip Curtin , it had an “economic character different from other commodities.”3 Put another way, even if British slave traders chose not to acknowledge the humanity of the African captives they bought and sold, they certainly could not afford to ignore it. In fact, the very humanity of the enslaved dictated the terms of trade. The African men, women, and children held captive needed to be fed, could potentially plot a revolt, and could die or become very ill. All of these factors affected the profitability of a slave-trading voyage , and British slave traders believed the remedy to all these challenges was, quite simply, a speedy voyage. They aimed to keep the time spent on the African coast as brief as possible. In so doing, food costs would be kept down, opportunities for revolt and resistance would be reduced, and the financial losses caused by mortality and poor health among the captives would be lower. Minimizing the time spent buying captives in Africa was the primary factor to influence purchasing decisions on the African coast, although (as later chapters will make clear) they did so with only limited success. Nonetheless, as British slave traders saw it, a speedy voyage was the most affordable and most likely way to transport captives so that they would maintain a “tolerable” state and thereby meet Jamaican planters’ unwavering demand for captives perceived as being in a reasonable physical condition...


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