Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Little Known History of Slavery, Part One

I received the following from an e-mail forward (having begun this post over a year ago)...


Rare Photos Of African Slaves On A Slave Ship, HEADED TOWARDS THE STATES





Indian Ocean: East African slaves taken aboard the Dutch HMS
Daphne from a Arab dhow, 1 November 1868.

These photographs dated 1868 reveals a very little of the terrible suffering caused to millions of people by the slave trade. This group of severely emaciated boys and young men on the lower deck of a Royal Naval ship apparently have been taken from what was a slave vessel trading illegally off the African coast headed to the Americas. The captain of the Royal Naval ship had instructions not to return the rescued slaves to the place on the coast where they had been put on the slave ship (presumably because they were in danger of being recaptured by traders) but it is not clear from the available documentation what happened to them afterwards

The Indian Ocean Slave trade evolved around the Indian Ocean basin. Slaves were taken from mainland East Africa and sold in markets in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. In contrast to the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the Indian Ocean Slave Trade was much older dating back from at least the second century C.E. until the early twentieth century. For example, the oldest written document from the East Africa Coast, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, describes a small trade in slaves around the second century C.E. Notice the physical features of the Arabs.
A year ago, I posted on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, a book review by Thomas Sowell. In the review, Sowell warns about the dangers of judging the events of the past through the prism of our present.
Since the 1960s, it has been fashionable in some quarters to take cheap shots at Lincoln, asking such questions as "Why didn't he free all the slaves?" "Why did he wait so long?" "How come the Emancipation Proclamation didn't just come right out and say that slavery was wrong?"


People who indulge themselves in this kind of self-righteous carping act as if Lincoln was someone who could do whatever he damn well pleased, without regard to the law, the Congress, or the Supreme Court. They might as well criticize him for not discovering a cure for cancer.


Fortunately, there is an excellent new book, titled "Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation" by Professor Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College, that sets Lincoln in the context of the world in which he lived. Once you understand the constraints of that world, and how little room for maneuver Lincoln had, you realize what courage and brilliance it took for him to free the slaves.
Lincoln worked actively behind the scenes and on many fronts to end slavery. So it pains me to hear him maligned by cynics and Howard Zinn blame-America-first folk, who suffer from white guilt disease. Please read the rest of Sowell's piece.


Aboard a Slave Ship, 1829
In 1807 the British Parliament passed a bill prohibiting the slave trade. In January the following year the United States followed suit by outlawing the importation of slaves. The acts did nothing to curtail the trade of slaves within the nation's borders, but did end the overseas commerce in slaves. To enforce these laws, Britain and the United States jointly patrolled the seas off the coast of Africa, stopping suspected slave traders and confiscating the ship when slaves where found. The human cargo was then transported back to Africa.
Thomas Sowell had written another fine book review, the year before the one on the Lincoln book: Bury the Chains: How the West Ended Slavery, by Adam Hochschild.

Most people probably only know about slavery through the study of American slavery. Since childhood, many of us have been taught in American schools to romanticize the Native-American Indians and disparage western imperialism and Christopher Columbus as the "the White Devil". White men, evil; primitive ethnic tribes, "noble savages", living in harmony with nature.

The fact is, in every culture in the world for as long as we've had recorded history (and probably before that), slavery has been an institution of the human condition, and not exclusive to just white Europeans in the West; but it was in the West where the first anti-slavery movement began; more specifically, it started within the British empire, among 12 "deeply religious" Christians in 1789, London.

Not only did the British Empire have nothing to gain financially from the abolition of slavery, but they did so at enormous cost and risk. Not only did they end slavery in Britain, but they pressured foreign governments to also ban slavery; and they used their naval power to police trade routes and capture slave ships to free those on board. They did this not out of selfish financial interests, but simply because they came to see that this was the right thing to do.

Thomas Sowell ends his article on "Bury the Chains" by lamenting that Hollywood will never make a movie about this. 2 years later, it would appear that evangelicals have taken it upon themselves to produce just such a movie: Amazing Grace. Opening this Friday. The movie focuses on William Wilberforce, who spearheaded the movement, culminating in 1833, when slavery was finally voted in Parliament to be eradicated throughout the British Empire (I believe in 1807, the slave trade was ended; in 1833, it was freeing all the slaves- correct me if I'm mistaken). Wilberforce died 3 days later.

The title of the movie comes from that most sublime of songs, written by John Newton who captained a slave ship for many years. Praying to God during a storm while out at sea, his survival brought along with it, a religious transformation; and he repented the misery and suffering he had inflicted on some 20,000 human beings through the slave trade. Listen to the hymn as you watch the story (Click where it says "story of Amazing Grace").

One of the most beautiful versions I've ever heard is Paul Schwartz's "Amazing Grace", sung angelically by Lisbeth Scott.

Movie trailer:



Slavery has ended in the West and in much of the world....but while the Noam Chomskys, Ward Churchills, and Howard Zinns likes to make a point of the history of slavery in the United States, as if somehow it was strictly an American institution, slavery is still alive, in the world, today.

Subsequent post(s):
The Little Known History of Slavery, Part Three

Also blogged:
Hugh Hewitt
Matt Lewis
Michael Medved interviews Producer Ken Wales
Slavery: Then and Now

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7 Comments:

Blogger J_G said...

No matter what is said or done there will always be those that do nothing but complain. My great great Grandfather served in the 116th Pennsylvania, a unit of the "Irish Brigade". Those men like my grand father saw their brethren get mowed down in some of brutal battles of the civil war. They get no respect or mention from the so called civil rights organizations for their efforst to keep the United States united and to free the slave. It's always some canned speech that they did not fight to free the slaves. My response is always, those brave men died and where horribly maimed and the slaves were freed. Say thank you for once!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 5:15:00 AM  
Blogger airforcewife said...

Beautifully written, wordsmith.

Of course, it is easier to lament and whine about "our" collective past and evils than it is to actually do something to end those evils present in the world today.

After all, there are no Starbucks in the Sudan.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 5:30:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

jennifer, Thanks for sharing that. On my sidebar, I have a blog listed called "Lilly Perry is Right". Unfortunately, it seems her blog is now gone. She is a school teacher here in California who is of deep Christian faith. I remember her writing once on how her slave ancestor who was freed, a great great grandmother, I think, saw Lincoln coming down the street, and had such gratitude as to kiss his hand. I wish Lilly Perry's blog was still there.

afw, thank you. I've procrastinated this post for a year, because I didn't know how to organize it all (I still didn't say everything I have to say on the matter); but in light of the movie being released this weekend, I "raced" the post out to "the press room".

I think it is wrong to judge the past with today's standards. It is easy to criticize, without trying to know and understand the context of the times.

Same criticism for Jefferson and Washington, and the rest of our Founding Fathers. I'd like to write a bit about them too, in regards to the slavery issue. I should have done this for President's Day and Washington and Lincoln's birthdays.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 7:46:00 AM  
Blogger Malott said...

Some argue that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one. This was simply Lincoln being shrewd, making slavery the central issue in the Civil War - effectively keeping anti-slavery European countries from siding or aiding the Southern States.

Saying "Lincoln freed the slaves" may be a bit misleading. Anyway, it makes an interesting argument.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Little Miss Chatterbox said...

Awesome, awesome post!! I have heard wonderful things about that movie, it is definitely a must see for me.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

Interesting you should post on this. From a flyer in my church bulletin from last week:

"Two hundred years ago, British parliamentarian Wilberforce and his group of friends profoundly changed the political and social climate of their time by taking on the slave trade. Wilberforce was a convert of the religious revivals that transformed 18th-century England. He became a force for moral politics." It goes on to tell about the new film "Amazing Grace" which I plan on seeing, and ends up with the statement that "Many of us believe that slavery ended with the Civil War, but a look at reality in the 21st century quickly reveals otherwise."

I thought it very coincidental that I was reading through this flyer just before clicking onto your post.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 3:47:00 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch Two said...

Wordsmith,
Many of my homeschool students (history students, mostly) are going to see this film.

Here's hoping that the movie draws more than a Christian audience.

IMO, those who see this film will have a new association every time they hear the hymn "Amazing Grace."

Friday, February 23, 2007 11:25:00 AM  

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