The Slave Ship: a Machine, a Factory, a Prison

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Date Submitted: 11/13/2012 09:50 PM

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The invention of the ship in the middle ages was supposed to be a revolutionary development for the benefit of all human beings. Countries were supposed to become more connected, international markets were supposed to form, trade was supposed to be made easy. These economic developments did occur. The greatest capitalistic system the world had ever witnessed did characterize the 18th Century…at the worst possible cost. The ship provided the evil white man with the capacity, the invaluable opportunity, to begin the slave trade, which was the reason the above-mentioned economic developments were even possible. The slave ship itself was a method through which the white man was able to accomplish his malicious financial ends. In the process, the ship became not just a means of transportation. The white man’s influence on and requirements for the ship turned it into a machine, a factory, and a prison.

Though essentially a boat, it is appropriate, as Rediker asserts, to call the slave ship a “machine”. Through a series of technological innovations, the slave ship in the 18th Century was practically transformed into a mechanical monolith. More importantly, the newfound strength and awesome power these ships exerted allowed them to not only seize African lands and capture slaves, but also, start plantations on both sides of the Atlantic. “Huge, cast-iron, muzzle loaded cannons designed for naval ships were placed on slave ships,” (42) providing them with the means necessary to physically threaten African slave traders or defend themselves from pirates. Sails and guns were also added to the ship’s repertoire, lessening the need for human labor but turning the ship more into a craft reliant on mechanical energy. After this addition, the slave ship was able to harness more speed, more mobility, more acceleration, shortening the trip across the Atlantic significantly. Now, well-armed, formidable, and dangerous, the slave ship operated like a machine. It even...