Description of a Slave Ship

June 25, 2017

By Nancy Kuhl

Images of slave ships packed with human cargo played an important role in abolitionist efforts to eradicate the international slave trade and end the practice of slavery in the United States. These images circulated in various publications, calling attention to aspects of the horrific Middle Passage of Africans forcibly removed from their native lands and enslaved in the American south. Examples of these disturbing images found in pamphlets and broadsides in the Beinecke Library’s collections can be accessed via the following links to the Beinecke’s Digital Library.

Additional resources in the Yale Library collections provide useful context for understanding these unsettling representations of enslaved individuals and can be found by consulting online guides: Abolition, Political Activism, and Civil Rights; Slavery, Freedom and Abolition in Latin America: Slavery & the Slave Trade; African American Studies Primary Sources: 19th Century.

Additional resources at Yale University may be available through campus research institutions: The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition; Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.

Links to Beinecke Library holdings:

“Plan of an African Ship’s Lower Deck…” The American Museum or Universal Magazine, May 1789 issue (p. [429] - [524] digitized), 21-23 cm. Call Number: A89 30 vol 5-6

1 sheet: illustration; 64 x 51 cm. Call Number: Folio BrSides By6 1789
From Carl Bernhard Wadström’s, An Essay on Colonization Particularly Applied to the Western Coast of Africa (London: Darton and Harvey, 1794-95). Image is on left side of sheet; on right is text with caption title, Description of a slave ship. A variant of the 1789 representation of the slave ship Brookes but with an extra, inset vignette with title, Representation of an insurrection on board a slave ship. Image 49 x 37 cm., on sheet 57 x 69 cm. Call Number: BrSides Double Folio 2012 39
Carl Bernhard Wadström’s, An Essay on Colonization, Particularly Applied to the Western Coast of Africa, with Some Free Thoughts on Cultivation and Commerce; also Brief Descriptions of the Colonies already Formed, or Attempted, in Africa, including those of Sierra Leona and Bulama. (London: Printed for the author by Darton and Harvey, 1794-95). In two parts; illustrated with a nautical map (from lat. 5⁰ 30’ to lat. 14⁰ N.) and other plates. Imperfect: Plate “Plan and section of a slave ship” mutilated with right portion missing. Call Number: Oyb25 +794w
William Hemsley, engraver. Detached from: History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament by Thomas Clarkson (“To face p. III”). Engraving; 46 x 41 cm.  Call Number: BrSides Folio 2012 21
The Cries of Africa to the Inhabitants of Europe, or, A Survey of that Bloody Commerce Called the Slave-trade / by Thomas Clarkson. London: Sold by Harvey and Darton, Gracechurch-Street ; and W. Phillips, George-Yard, Lombard-Street, [1821?] Call Number: Slavery Pamphlets 42
Histoire du commerce homicide appelé traite des noirs, ou, Cri des Africains contre les Européens, leurs oppresseurs / par Thomas Clarkson ; avec des observations préliminaires, par M. Grégoire, ancien évêque de Blois. Paris : Chez les Marchands de Nouveautés, 1822. [Cries of Africa to the inhabitants of Europe. French] Call Number: 2014 475
Affaire de la Vigilante : bâtiment négrier de Nantes, Paris: De L’imprimerie de Crapelet, 1823.
Grito de los africanos contra los europeos, sus opresores, ó sea, Rápida ojeada sobre el comercio homicida llamado tráfico de negros / por Tomas Clarkson.  Barcelona : José Torner, 1825