Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie

Gallandat’s Guide to the Slave Traders

Anatomy, Surgery, et artis Obstetricandi Lector, at Vlissingen.


Necessary Instructions for the Slave Traders

“The prevention of diseases should depend as little as possible in the giving of medicine, instead depending on general lessons, which all can easily make use of.” LIND.

The heathen philosopher Pythagoras had, in my opinion, a fine view of that which is happening in this world, when he compared it to an annual fair to which a large number of people go; some out of curiosity, to see and to be seen; some to buy or sell; and all to their own benefit or entertainment.

Certainly, my purpose with this parable is not to clarify and prove it with many examples, since it contains one truth which cannot be unknown to any who have regularly reflected, allowing their thoughts to contemplate the peculiar endeavors of man. I will only remark here, that there are many endeavors which would appear to be impermissible, should they not be possessed of a particular profit. Witness here the Slave Trade, which one can only acquit of unlawfulness by the profit which it brings to the merchants. This remark, however, should certainly not be stretched to support the objections which some maintain against this trade; objections, which are almost all grounded in prejudices.

Many people think that, among the negroes, the parents sell their children, the men their wives, and brother sells brother; yet these are mere doggerel and tales, stripped of all truth (a).  One can of course easily understand that the cities, kingdoms or municipalities where a similar trade would take place, could simply not exist; yet rarely do people let their thoughts go that far; more often are they inclined to blindly accept these tales as truth, rather than taking the trouble of investigating their plausibility.

I must admit that I was not free of similar prejudices when I visited the African coasts for the first time; and that I was very much amazed to see that, among those uncivilized peoples of that continent, very good laws concerning slavery were in place.

With the Guinean negroes, the chief crimes are punished with fines; yet if they fail to pay, they are sold to the ships as slaves. The impecunious debtors, or those who are not willing to pay, are also declared slaves according to their laws: yet these are rarely sold to the Europeans. They keep them for their own use, or they are kept in their land in the hope that they will be redeemed by their friends. Most of the slaves which are sold to the ships were born as slaves, or captured in war in which all are subsequently made slaves. Before, they used to kill a considerable number of the latter; yet since the slave trade has come up, it has become a general custom to, as soon as possible, sell them all to their profit.

That prisoners in times of war were sold to slavery since time immemorial and with all peoples, is known to all who have read the sacred pages and wordly histories; and that this is not in opposition to the right of the nations, is witnessed by the Apostle PETER in his King James Version2. Letter, 2. Chapter, V.19. For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. That slavery can coexist with the freedom of the Gospel has been clearly proven by Capitein was an ex-slave famous for his theologically founded defense of the slave trade. See David Nii Anum Kpobi, Mission in Chains. The life, theology and ministry of the ex-slave Jacobus E.J. Capitein (1717-1747) with a translation of his major publications. Zoetermeer, 1993.JACOBUS ELISA JOHANNES CAPITEIN, in his Governance-Theology-thesis on slavery as not being contrary to the Christian freedom, defended under the supervision of Professor J. VAN DEN HONERT, T.H. ZOON.

If one remarks that a large number of useful people are kept alive through the slave trade; that the slaves have a much better life in our American lands than in their homeland; that it is of profit for the negro peoples that their criminals are carried off forever due to this trade; and furthermore that if one examines the advantages which sprout from them for our American plantations, where the negroes are much more skilled at agriculture than the whites or the Americans, one will have to admit that, for the negro people as well as the slaves, for the merchants in general, and for the plantations in particular, the advantages which arise from it far outstrip any insensitivities or other objections which one could raise.  From which I conclude that this trade can and may be continued without hurting the conscience. And why would one not approve it, as well other affaires, which appear no better [on the surface]?

Among all the sea ports of our Netherlands there is none where the merchants apply themselves more to outfit ships for the slave trade than in VLISSINGEN, and it is certain that it enjoys the most advantage there. I have been told in good faith that in these past two years (1767. and 1768.) 42 ships have sailed to the coasts of Africa, under the license of the W.I. Company of these lands: namely 4 from Amsterdam for slaves; 4 from Rotterdam for slaves; 10 from Middelburg for slaves and 2 for gold and ivory; and 18 from VLISSINGEN for slaves and 4 for gold and ivory, making 42 ships altogether. This list shows that from VLISSINGEN alone 22 ships have sailed to Africa, and only 20 from all the other cities put together. One can also see in this list how many slaves are carried out of Africa by the Dutch alone. If one assumes one voyage for slaves for these two years [per ship], and that each ship buys 350 slaves, one will find that the number of slaves bought runs to 6300, and 3100 by the Vlissingers alone.

They say (b) that in some years, at least 70,000 slaves are carried out of Africa, which number might seem somewhat too high; yet this does not appear unusual, if one remarks that the Guinean coast from Cape Verde to Angola stretches for about approx. 7500 km; 4660 miles1000 German miles in length, and that polygamy is permissible at all places (c).

Convinced that the success of the slave trade depends very much on the good procedures and skill of the surgeons, I have serviceably decided to provide some short, yet necessary instructions in this treatise concerning this subject for the inexperienced surgeons, so that they, in observing it, might be better equipped to occupy the post of Master Surgeon on a slave ship, to their own advantage, and the advantage of the shipping company.

When a ship’s commander has arrived at the coasts of Africa with his ship to trade in slaves, he should take special care that he buys young, strong, unmarred and healthy slaves, namely for the following reasons: I. Because these are the most skilled to cultivate the lands in our American plantations. 2. Because it is very difficult to heal sick slaves on board a ship. 3. Because it is dangerous to bring even the smallest trace of a contagion on board such a small place as a slave ship. 4 And finally, because there is much less profit to be made from the sale of old, sick or deficient slaves in West India.

Since the ship’s commander very rarely possesses the necessary ability to find out whether a slave has hidden ailments or any other bodily defects, the Master Surgeon is ordered to carefully examine all the slaves which are brought by the negro merchants, and to report to the commander before they are bought, so that he is not cheated in the purchase. If then the surgeon has never sailed for slaves, he will at first be at a loss to perform this examination properly, since this is an examination which he cannot have learned at a surgeon’s shop or a hospital; neither can he have read anything by the medical and surgical authors and so procured the required ability.

Nothing but practice can give him the required knowledge and skills; so he runs the danger of being cheated by the stratagems of the negro merchants, while these, as shrewd and cunning merchants, employ all possible artifice to disguise and conceal the defects of the slaves. Nothing, I would imagine, could be more disagreeable for the surgeon than to discover later that he has let himself be cheated by the negro merchants due to his own negligence; and what makes this unpleasantness even worse is that not seldom he will have to listen to the heart grieving reproaches of the ship’s officers, who then often conceive suspicions of his other abilities.

It is therefore highly necessary that the ship’s surgeons (not excluding the other ship’s officers, who are sometimes required do this work in the absence of the surgeon), in order to perform the examination of the slaves with all possible attentiveness, and to be able to report on it; so that the buyer may not be cheated, (d) should to this end take special note of all of the following:

I. On the age of the slave. One can easily understand that old slaves are worth much less in America than young ones, so that these are not bought by the ship’s commanders, especially when there is a surplus; should it for some reason occur sometimes, it is usually for a reduced price. No coquette at home is so concerned with her hairdressing as the negro merchants are with the old slaves they want to sell, to smarten them up and make them look good. They are washed, rubbed, oiled and shaved; the grey hairs are painted or pulled out, both from the beard and from the head; they receive a lot of food and drink, and, in one word, all possible means are used to reduce the appearance of old age, and to, if possible, hide it completely, if only once. It does not seldom happen that an inexperienced surgeon might take a slave of 50. or 60. years to have only reached 30. or 40. years, which he only finds out after a few days.  Therefore, at examination he needs to carefully check for the aforementioned artificial means employed by the negro merchants; he should, with all possible attention, check whether the hair is painted, he should wash it in some places to find the deceit, and should suspect something amiss when bald places are found on the head. For the rest he should also pay attention to the slackness of the breasts of the women, to wrinkles of the skin, whether the slave is missing teeth, etc., in order to find out the true age as nearly as possible. These precautions are unnecessary for the examination of a boy, or immature slave, which can be seen at first glance.

2. On the face of the slave. A negro who is deficient in one or both eyes, reducing his sight, is worth very little; a ship’s commander would never buy a blind slave, thinking that he would never be able to sell it in America. External discomforts such as fistula of the eye, festering of the eyeball, pearls on the same, cataracts and other eye ailments can be easily found from observation alone; the blindness which arises from an illness called gutta serena, or blockage of the facial nerve, is most difficult to recognize, because this ailment can be present without any visible deficiency showing in the eyes, which are affected. Therefore the surgeon must needs be careful in his examination; he should ensure, through tests and trials, that the slave can see from both his eyes; and this is easiest to do, if one covers one eye with a hand, and then pretends to poke the other eye with a finger. The slave will immediately close his eye, which is a sure sign that he can see from it. This test needs to be done to both eyes. Failing such careful attention, one runs the danger of buying a slave who can only see through one eye (e); and this will only be discovered when the slave is sold in America, where he will again be examined by a surgeon, who, through daily practice in this examination, has obtained more vigilance and skill.

3. On the speech and hearing of the slave.  One can easily understand that a deaf or dumb slave is worth little to no money, and that it would be very unpleasant and damaging, for both the surgeon and the commander, if they had the ill fortune to buy a slave who was both deaf and dumb: yet this is not without example. The surgeon should therefore pay careful attention to these defects. It is essential that he should hear the slave speak, as well as observe whether the merchant is required to shout loudly to make the slave speak. I had a case once where I was examining a dumb slave, brought by the merchant, and I would certainly have approved him since he looked uncommonly good, if he didn’t have this flaw. When I ordered the merchant to make the negro speak, he shouted as much as he could to force him to it, but all in vain, for the slave did not speak, at which the merchant was very much surprised, arguing that it was only stubbornness since he did not want to be sold to the white men. I however did not let myself be fooled by this pretense. I later learned that the slave was indeed dumb, and that he had been sold to a Portuguese ship, which sailed by shortly after. By chance I afterwards came aboard aforementioned ship, where the captain told me that he had bought a dumb slave, with which he was at a loss as what to do. I cite this example only to show how careful one has to be in this trade.

4. On all external defects of the slave.  One should never approve a slave who has any defects that could hinder him in working, since one would not be able to sell him in America, where they are only bought according to that understanding. It is therefore necessary that the surgeon pay attention to this. He should not only carefully examine the entire body of the negro, to find the defects which are exposed to the eye, but he should also touch him, make him jump, move the arms and fingers, in order to be fully sure that he is not crippled, and has no wounds, fractions, stiff limbs, hidden ailments, or any other injuries. The jumping is essential for the women, to find out whether they don’t have a prolapsed uterus, of which they sometimes suffer. One should especially pay attention to the number of fingers and toes; since the negroes always go bare foot, they are exposed to many injuries, to which they often lose one or more toes. I know of several examples where a surgeon had approved a slave, and that it was later found that that the slave had lost a finger or toe, and I am not ashamed to say that this happened to me. I hope that my example and candid confession will serve to inspire others with more attentiveness. When one examines a fresh young slave, who looks very good on first sight, one is only too often inclined to give a positive verdict. This is a truth which will not even be denied by the most experienced slave traders, since it is almost impossible that they would have acquired much experience in examining slaves without having been deceived in one way or another.

5. On all internal ailments of the slave.  One should, as much as possible, find out whether the slave has no internal ailments, such as fevers, chest maladies, jaundice, scurvy, constipation of the liver or the spleen, etc. My purpose is in no way to give the symptoms of these diseases here, since anyone who is ignorant of them, is unworthy to fill the position of ship’s surgeon; but my purpose is to warn the same to be always guarded, since the negro merchants will never fail to cover-up the illnesses of the slaves they want to sell. For example, when a slave is brought on board to be sold, and he has fever or any other internal ailment, the negro merchant will certainly attribute the indisposition to seasickness, to which people who have never been at sea are subject. On the other hand, it also happens that a slave, without truly being ill, will suffer severe anxiety, fear and have a haggard face, as though he just had a heavy fever, arising from the imagination that he will be killed and eaten by the white men, as he has been told by his fellow countrymen. Above all it is certain that the inland slaves fear the alien slavery above all things; and it is therefore not surprising that such a slave, when he finds himself on board to be sold, and to say his last farewell to his land, that he is sometimes seized with violent emotion. This however is more common among the women than with the men, due to reasons known to all physicians and surgeons, and therefore unnecessary to report here.

6. Finally, on the place of birth of the slave.  Experience has taught the American planters that the slaves born and raised in certain regions of Africa, become more skilled than others at the work for which they have been bought, namely farming; and this is why the Guinean slaves (all other things being equal) are always much more expensive than the Angolan slaves. Among the Guinean slaves the Cormantine was located on the Gold Coast. The other two names remain unknown, though they were probably in the same area.Cormantine, de Santynsche en Sidasche are the best ones; the windward coast slaves are esteemed less, and those of the bend, such as Benin, Gabon and Cammaronas, are generally deemed worst. It is certain that these last ones are lazy and cowardly in nature, and that they never become as skilled at work as the coastal slaves, who are generally more courageous in nature; they are not only stronger and more lively, but also more hardworking, cleverer and more adept, possessing in general a lively comprehension and quick mind. They are therefore more skilled for farming and all kinds of crafts than all other slaves, which are carried to our American plantations, and are therefore worth more money.

It is not enough that one takes all the aforementioned affairs into account, and that one has traded in a fit cargo of slaves; the most important is then to use all possible precautions and means to convey them safely and in a healthy condition to America. One has to acknowledge that it is very difficult to achieve this, while one meets daily with unexpected and unavoidable difficulties; which brings the shipping company’s capital in grave danger. To give an idea of this, it will be necessary to give a short sketch, of both the state of the ship and the condition and treatment of the slaves.

Most of the slave ships barely have a length of 80. feet across from the prow; such a ship is always divided into two encampments. I. The tween deck, suitable for putting the male slaves, is a place which has the width and length of 24.3 and the depth of 5 feet. In this square space, beds are made from pine boards, to serve as sleeping berths, without which it would be completely impossible to store 200. slaves in such a tight place. The slaves get air, from the front through the fore hatch, and in the back through the main hatch, both of which are always covered by grates at night. 2. The aft tween deck, suitable for putting the women, is a place which has the common width and length of 18. and the depth of 7 feet. Using the beds, this space is capable of storing 150. women and children, which get air, partly through 4 air portals (which are usually so small that little air comes through,  in addition to which they are often forced to close them at the slightest wind); and partly through the aft hatch, which is always covered by a grate at night. The air is largely blocked by a fixed wooden tent, which is put above the aft tween deck, though there is also a hatch in the middle of the this tent, lying right above the one of the aft tween deck.

If one considers additionally, that the male slaves are attached to each other with irons or shackles; that the slaves are generally only fed twice a day, in the forenoon with groats, and the afternoon with horse beans, or the one day with horse beans and the other day with groats, and that they receive nothing but water to drink, one can easily understand that it is very difficult to carry a cargo of slaves in good physical shape to America.

Daily experience teaches that one often has the good fortune to convey the slaves in a fit state, when one takes the necessary care to treat them well; and it also teaches that through the lack of good precautions often many of them come to die. It is therefore of the utmost necessity that not just the surgeons but also the other ship’s officers apply themselves especially to observing those measures which are conducive to the welfare of the negroes. Charity and self-interest should motivate each slave trader, especially if one also considers that the measures which are put in place to prevent diseases, have a more certain result than those which are used to heal the sick, especially on a ship. Therefore it could be of some use if I briefly note down the most important aspects concerning the treatment of slaves which should be taken into account.

I. The first aspect which should be taken into account is to provide the slaves with often refreshed, clean and healthy air, if possible. We know through many real observations that there is nothing more detrimental to the health than bad air, and we have seen that the berths of the slaves must be infected with it, especially when one considers the large number of adult people which are forced to house in an airless space of 24. square feet.  The clamminess, breathing and fumes of so many healthy people would alone be capable of ruining the purest air. So what must it be like, when a sure number of sick are found there?

It is therefore of the utmost importance that one, to prevent all contagion, provides as much fresh and healthy air as is possible, not just in the berths of the slaves, but also in the entire ship. It is a pity that tools such as bellows, fire equipment, wind radars and ventilators, which were thought out with this wholesome aim, have no place on board a slave ship. But even if it was possible, would the company ever consider such expenses? It is not unlikely, since they do not want the expense of outfitting larger and more spacious ships, which would be more suited to this trade. One will not be surprised at this, considering merely that the sole aim of the shipping company is to make money; and that is not easily possible if one burdens the ship’s outfit too much (g). Therefore one needs to settle for those measures which can be implemented according to that insight, namely: to keep the hatches open as much as circumstances allow; by making air holes through which rotten air can find a way out; by using wind sails; by burning gun powder, by burning incense, gin berries, etc., and by spraying with vinegar or lime juice. All these methods need to be employed with good judgment and care, especially when the weather and circumstances allow the slaves to remain on deck for a while, so that they can return to their sleeping berths again to enjoy the refreshment of clean air and a pleasing smell.

2. The second aspect which should be taken into account, is to keep the ship and the slaves clean and pure. Since dirtiness produces various ailments, it is of the utmost necessity on board a slave ship, since the tax is calculated according to the number of bought or sold slaves, and not according to the size of the ship. This arrangement would not be damaging for the company, and it would be much to the advantage of the shipping company, anywhere where a large number of dirty people are gathered in very small space, and keep clean.

The upper decks must necessarily be scrubbed and rinsed every day; the berths of the slaves must also be cleaned every day. In addition, the tween deck and aft tween deck need to be scoured and clean twice a week. For this work the slaves can be used to great advantage, who have some disposition to the scurvy, generally called malingers, since the exercise is very useful for these to prevent the advancement of their aliment. One begins the cleaning at ten ‘o clock in the morning, to finish it in the afternoon, so that the dampness can evaporate before night. It is also very useful that they burn gunpowder, create smoke, and sprinkle with vinegar or lime juice, and then to provide as much fresh air as is possible, to make the dampness disappear even faster. One needs to take care that the slaves are the least filthy as is possible; one should allow them to clean themselves at noon, and to force the unwilling ones to do this; make sure their head hair is shorn off, that they take no filth with them below decks (h), and that the sick have a separate berth.

3. The third  aspect which should be taken into account, are the provisions. It is of the utmost necessity that a ship’s commander provides himself, for both slaves and crew, with fresh and fit provisions, and then to employ all care to preserve it as much as possible. It is desirable that, at embarkation, one uses the invention of sir HALES, to preserve the ship’s food wares, which are generally, and especially on long voyages eaten away by various insects, from decay. He wants to smoke the barrels in which the ship’s provisions are kept with sulfur, when they are already filled, so that the food wares are permeated with su Sulfites were (and are still) often used as food preservativeslfur fumes, keeping away the insects, such as Small winged weevil, who
nests inside wheat and rice grains.
, beetles, scarabaeus’, caddisflies and In Dutch, the caddisfly is known as ‘schietmot’- which was derived from ‘schietworm’ – shooting wormother worms.  This smoking cannot harm or give a bad taste to the food, if one only makes sure that they are aired a little bit before they are used. One can repeat this smoking a second time on board if the voyage is long. It is of the utmost importance that the ship’s officers take care that the slave kettles are kept very clean by the cook. The foods must never be thrown in the kettles to cook without having been carefully checked, to see whether they were scrubbed and dried properly; the food must also never, after having been cooked, remain in the copper kettles. The danger of neglecting these precautions is too well-known for me to deem it necessary to expound further on this. It is also very useful that a commander, when he is on the coasts of Africa with his slave ship, buys  refreshments for the slaves, such as mealie-meal, yams, potatoes, bananas and especially limes, in order to habituate them to slowly to the horse beans and ship’s groat, so as to prevent scurvy and other ailments; this must especially not be neglected when one is forced to keep the slaves on board for a long period of time, before one begins the crossing to America.

4. The fourth aspect which should be taken into account, is the water. Daily experience teaches that the water, which one brings from the homeland, is spoiled after a couple of weeks, and acquires a very unpleasant smell. This bad quality, which is brought about by the corruption of insects, is not forever; the water becomes better again, but only for a while; it begins to smell again due to the corruption of little worms, and then it becomes better again. This change, named the sickness of the water by some, sometimes occurs about three or four times during the voyage, though at the end it always stays so good that one cannot acquire better on the coasts of Africa. But if it is absolutely impossible to take such a quantity of water from the homeland is as needed for the entire voyage, one will have to use that which can be found on the coast, and it is often very difficult to get good water there, especially in the dry season.  Not seldom is one forced to fetch water from open wells, where it is stagnant during dry season, and exposed to the sun and air. Since the air, in those regions, is permeated with thousands of pests, they fall in these open wells, begin to rot, and do not fail to very quickly start rotting the water, which can not but be damaging to the health. Experience has shown that the bad quality of this water is usually the cause of diarrhea and dysentery, to which illnesses we have so often had the misfortune to lose many slaves.

If one has the chance to choose water on the African coasts, one should always give priority to the clearest, which has the palest color, the least smell and taste, leaves the least dirt, and which is most easily mixed with soap. The boat people should also, when they are moving the water barrels to the boat, take care they are well plugged and closed, so that no salt water can get in; for often one is forced, due to the heavy surf, to throw the barrels in sea in order to get them into the boat.

It is desirable that all the drinking water be boiled, so that all the insects in it, will die and sink to the ground, but on board a slave ship this is not very doable; it is often hard enough to boil it only for the sick.

One can prevent the decay of the water by adding a little of something or other of a sour nature, such as a few drops of vitriol oil, sulfur oil; three drops of sulfur oil to a pint of water is enough according to sir Hales, and it not only becomes more healthy that way, but also, according to some, becomes more wholesome and tastier: though it would not be advisable to mix so much of this oil with the daily drink; experience will have to show how many drops should be added to a barrel to that aim. Vitriol oil can serve to this end too; but one drop to one whole pint of water is more than enough, and does as much as three drops of vitriol, or sulfur oil. The Sir DES LANDES, Histoire d’Alac. R. des Sciences, 1722. Pg. 14. witnesses that he has kept the water good for six months, only by washing the barrels with warm water, and airing them with sulfur before the water was put in; yet he also praises vitriol, which remedy is not wholly unknown to us Dutch either (i). Since these methods require little trouble and expense, they should be tried and used on our slave ships. It is not unknown that water can be improved, by mixing it with vinegar: half a pound of vinegar to three jugs of water, without it becoming unpleasant to drink. The same goal is achieved is one puts a few pieces of Acorus calamus (Sweet Flag; Calamus) is a monocot which has a strong scent – traditionally used for medicine and as perfume. calamus root  in the water.

5. The fifth aspect which should be taken into account, is to make sure that there are cats on board. Though it seems to be of little importance, it is my opinion that this observance is an important affair, and that therefore it deserves the consideration of both surgeons and commanders. If one notes that other slave ships and ships are often infested with rats and mice, and that cats are the best prevention to this, one will not deem it trifling. Indeed, how often does it not occur that rats and mice endanger the crew by gnawing through the provision and water barrels? Yes, it even occurs sometimes that crew members are attacked by these pests, of which we find a very remarkable example in the descriptions of commander ANSON’S voyage to the South sea , in which (j) it is noted that what mostly increased the unhappy plight of the ship’s folk, was the large crowd of rats, which plagued them so much that they could rest neither during the day nor at night; for as soon as the mates were lying in their berths, they were stormed by a whole swarm of those pests, which were walking over them, and often biting them painfully; yes from some mates, who through sickness had no strength to defend themselves anymore, the toes were bitten off the feet; though nothing was more gruesome to see than how those animals violated the corpses which were lying on deck, eating out the eyes from head, and whole pieces from the cheeks, arms and legs. I could add similar examples of the maleficence of these pests, though this case is enough to convince all sea goers, who are going on long voyages, of the need for cats on board, and to encourage him to do so.

6. The sixth aspect which should be taken into account, is to treat the slaves well. This admonition should perhaps be unnecessary, if all slave traders were men of good conduct, modest, compassionate, and in possession of only the chief Christian virtues. Experience teaches that when a ship’s a commander is suitable, and provides the officers and sailors with a good example, the slaves can be easily controlled on board. I am of the opinion that the mutinies, which so often take place among the slaves, should be attributed to the wicked conduct of the crew folk, rather than to the fear of being eaten by the whites, or their natural inclination to recover their freedom.

It is necessary that one tells the slaves, as soon as they are bought, that no wickedness awaits them; that the whites are no cannibals; that they buy the negroes to carry them to a good land, where they will find many of their countrymen, and will only be used for farming.

One should tell the slaves discreetly that they should subject themselves to their fate in good faith, be obedient to the whites, do no evil, or it will be punished most severely; but that, if they are insulted by the whites, they should complain to the officers or the Bomba, and that they will obtain justice.

It is necessary to give the slaves the freedom to dance, or (as the ship folk call it) bailliaaren, as much as the circumstances permits; to that end it is very useful to have drums and other instruments on board, to incite them and excite them to it, since exercise, which they are fond of, not only provides them with entertainment, but also contributes much to their well-being and health.

In organizing these dancing parties and rejoicing, one needs to make sure to put the negroes born in one country with the others, since slaves from another country seldom want anything to do with other strangers, both because they cannot understand one another and also because their music and dance differs much from each other, and because sometimes they are enemies. Failure to take this into account often leads to disagreements, disturbing these very necessary entertainments.

7. Finally, the seventh and most important aspect which the surgeons should take into account, is to treat the sick slaves well, and to employ everything within the ship which could lead to its healing. My aim is far from describing the illnesses of the crew members or slaves, nor of providing the required medicines. Various skilled and experienced physicians and surgeons have applied themselves to this specific topic since a few years. The most prominent among them, who treat this subject and have been very successful at it, are, the sirs TITZING, in his medicinal skill in service of seamen; LIND, in his treatise on the methods of health on the king’s ships, which treatise has been enriched with many judicious and useful remarks by the in medicine and surgery very experienced sir P. DE WIND; ROUPPE, in his treatise on the diseases of seamen; and S. DE MONCHY, in his treatise of the causes, healing and prevention of the common diseases of our ship folk, who sail to the West-Indies, which has received the prize of the Dutch Society of SciencesZeeuwsche Genootschap der Wetenschappen, and which is placed in the sixth part of its treatises. It is a pity that this well-written treatise is so little read by sea-going surgeons, in whose hands the works of the aforementioned Society are seldom found. It should, in my opinion, be very useful, that that treatise be printed and available separately, in the service of sea-going surgeons, for whose use it most suitable.

In the aforementioned works on the diseases of seamen (k) the surgeons will find everything which I could say here concerning the diseases of slaves; therefore I deem it unnecessary to provide an extract of it here. I would rather still add a few general remarks.

The surgeons should examine all the slaves daily, and have a special care and attentiveness for the sick ones; they should in some ways be their fathers; they should provide them with as much comfort as is possible; they should make sure that they are released from their shackles, not just when they are sick, but also when they have any disposition towards illness or the scurvy, and when they are sad, which usually predicts an upcoming illness.

They should let their thoughts reach to everything which can lead to their preservation, and in a word should employ all possible measures which can alleviate their sad fate: to this end the commanders should also, as much as possible, buy refreshments, which are judged as necessary for the slaves by the surgeons, and especially make sure there is no shortage of water. It is sometimes highly necessary that ships, which leave the coast, stop at the island of St. Thome of Annebon, for fresh water; this is the best method to prevent sickness and deaths of slaves and the crew. One knows that limes and oranges, which can be obtained at said islands at all times, and for a very low price, are the strongest medicine for the prevention and healing of scurvy, the scourge of seamen.

Finally I will still add that a surgeon, intending to sail for slaves, should not only provide himself with the best books on surgery and medicine, but also with such books that can provide a decent knowledge of the land where trade is conducted, of its peoples, air quality, its natural history, its unique diseases and medicines, etc.  He should not be ashamed to research and test their own methods of healing, and should continually think that each land brings forth the medicines needed to heal its unique diseases; he should remind himself that we owe the knowledge of a variety of excellent medicines to unlettered and savage peoples.

“The green herbs, says BOSMAN  (o), the chief means by which the negroes work with their sick, are of such wondrous strength that it is an immense shame that so far, no European surgeon has applied himself to study the nature and properties of it: for I do not only imagine, but strongly belief that it would be easier to work with the sick and ailments with this than with European medicines, since those, when they arrive here, have already lost most of their power, and are largely spoiled. And also because our bodies have been found to have a different condition, so that, considering all that, it would be better to conform to the native medicines than to the European ones.”

Personally, I can assure I have seen various medicines used with success by the negro surgeons and physicians. I have seen them use the bark of the Goeyave roots, the Cortex simarouba, and other simplicia which grow in various place in Guinea, with no less injury than advantage, for Diarrhea and Dysentery; I have seen remarkable cures performed with Emphysema artisiciale, or  Lit. ‘fatty membrane’ - web of fatty tissue covering the intestinesepiploic  (m); and I have seen sick saved from death by rubbing; by salves of elephants marrow, natural balms of palm oil and other remedies, as well as through bathing, and to lay the sufferers down in warm sand for a while.


(a) If these ever even took place, it is only through the cunning and arts of the negroes; and that such, having been caught, are always heavily punished according to the nation’s laws.
(b) Historische Beschryvinge der Reizen [Historical Descriptions of the Voyages]. 5th Volume.
(c) One has reason to believe that polygamy has positively influenced the procreation of the human race, where there are more women than men: And this takes place on Guinea, partly due to the large number of men who died in the war, and partly because the number of women carried out of Africa is much smaller than the number of men. But in countries where more men than women can be found, polygamy will always be disadvantageous.
(d) The only thing I have been able to find among the others concerning this subject, is with BOSMAN, in his descriptions of the slave coast, pg 45.  “They are, he says, most carefully touched and examined, to the least scar they have on their bodies, and all that utterly naked, both men and women, without distinction or the appearance of the least shame. Those who have been approved, one puts on one side; And the other, on whom one has found some kind of flaw or defect, are excluded and counted to the cripples, or makrons, as we call them here; namely those who are above five and thirty years old, or whose arms, legs, hands or feet are maimed; those who have lost a tooth, who have grey hair, or filmy eyes, all those who have caught the venereal disease, and many more ailments.” This description is sufficient for a merchant, but provides little illumination to the surgeon.
(e) I could add some examples here, from which it would be clear that this has happened multiple times, yet I deemed it unnecessary.
(f) A detailed report of these ingenious inventions can be found in the work of sir DU HAMEL, Baak der gezondheid voor zeevarenden [Beacon of health for seamen].
(g) The only reason why a large number of slaves should be transported in a small ship, is that the tax of the WIC is calculated according to the size and length of the ship, so that the shipping company pays the same amount, regardless of the number of slaves being traded. In my opinion it would be better […]
(h) Some ship’s commanders have tubs placed between decks, where the slaves can defecate. This custom deserves little praise, since the stink which it creates in the ship, cannot be but very detrimental to the health.
(i) Introduction of Sir LULOSS to the work of Sir DU HAMEL, titled Beacon of health for seamenBaak der gezondheid voor de zeevarenden . Being a treatise which should not only be read by all ship’s commanders, but which also deserves the attentive reading of all surgeons.
(j) Pg. M. 105
(k) One could still add the short descriptions and means of healing the sick which often appear in the Probably the Kurze Beschreibung und Heilungsart der Krankheiten, welche am öftesten in dem Feldlager beobachtet werden (1758) by the Dutch-Austrian physician Gerard van Swieten, personal physician of Maria Theresa, the Austrian Empress.Heirleges, by Baron VAN SWIETEN, which is also of much use to seagoing surgeons.
(l) Acc. to BOSMAN, descriptions of Guinea; the fifth volume of the historical descriptions of the voyages, etc.
(o) 2.vol, pg. 7.
(m) See the 6. Vol. 2nd part of the treatise of the Dutch Society of Science; as well as the report of the success of this surgery in 8. Vol 2. Part.

Note of the translator: The entire lay-out of Gallandat’s original publication has been preserved as much as possible (including italicized and capitalized words). The grammatical style has also been preserved as much as possible, resulting in the often long-running sentences common to 18th century Dutch. The footnotes added at the end were Gallandat’s own addition to his text, while the extra information added to some words and phrases within the text were added by the translator. As far as known, all geographical locations have been translated to their modern, English equivalents.
Click here for the original Dutch text.
Translation by Lieneke Timpers.