The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker

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Historical evidence provides that the radicalized chattel slavery played an important role in the rise of capitalism. Several theories in support of capitalism disregard slavery and set it apart to have contributed towards the goals of the market economy. The theories hold that workers are not paid any wages for the labor they provide. Historical research has found that for many centuries an economic system was constituted of both the factory and plantation (Rediker14). This paper intends to outline the operations of the slave ship, racism, as well as its impact to the capitalist economy.

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At the inception of the industrial age,most commentators could not believe that capital, an important economic asset cannot be consumed. It is because capital was only perceived to be useful in production of goods and services to increase production and boost economic growth(8). Based on the principles, population of 1798 was coiling its way from the economic trapand widening its sources of economic production. There were varieties of foods such as coffee, sugar, tea, chocolate, and tobacco and exposed the same to the world markets. These commodities became rituals among people in the eighteenth century. The commodities, however, became caloric in the nineteenth century and demanded a shift to a new world in which fiber was yielded for factories and food for proletarians at fair prices.

The industrious revolution which began in the sixteenth century opened the way for the industrial revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There was, however, a different story on the side of demand. There was the realization of a new form of capital, the racialized chattel slaves that turned out to be an integral part of the industrious through to industrial revolution. The systematic use of African slaves began in sugar production in Brazil in the sixteenth century in which they used in staple export in crop production (28). These slaves would come to hold the status of chattel, alienable and movable property. The owners of the slaves gained property rights of the salves.  They would also naturally own the offspring of the slaves. The chattel was thus a self-augmented capital in the industrial era.

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The slave ship became central in the rise of capitalism. People of African descent were captured and transported overseas to the Americas where they provided free labor. In the 16th century through the 19th century, many colonial economies of the European countries largely depended on the African slaves for the production of free labor for them to survive. The European colonial officials had discovered an abundant land in the Americas for which they would not provide adequate labor and so would be used without sufficient labor that could be used in its exploitation. Slaver was the preferred way of labor exploitation at the time. Unfortunately, neither the Native Americans and Europeans sources of labor were inadequate to the task. Operation of the slave ship used to capture slaves from Africa thus became instrumental as they were essential capital for the production of free labor.

The slave ship operation thus emancipated itself in the trans-Saharan trade for the supply of enslaved Africans to provide free labor working in the Mediterranean. White slaves were also shipped from Russia and some Balkans (40). They mainly used in sugar plantations in the Mediterranean. The slave ship operation also led to the transportation of more than ten thousand slaves to the Middle East, Iberian Peninsula and to the North Africa where they worked in the farms and factories providing free labor for the slave owners.

The shipped slaved proved themselves in Europe when they became competent workers where they toiled in the nascent sugar plantations not only in the Madeira but also in the Canary islands of the African coast. The shipped slaves became the main labor force and the preferred choice all through the Western Hemisphere. They thus became the majority with an overwhelming population among the colonial populations in the Americas. The slave ship operation met its target and supported the goals of capitalism since a good number managed to go through the Atlantic Ocean. Over 6 million immigrants managed to cross the ocean from 1492 to 1776 to be settled in the Western Hemisphere, only a third were Europeans and the rest about 5 million were Africans (18). 80% of the Africans were enslaved constituting of men, women, and children working in different capacities. They were mostly employed as field workers in plantations. Those exempted from the daily work routines include children under the age of six, the elderly and the sick. The employed slaves thus became the leading commodity production in the Americas, therefore, expanding the market economy.

In the 16th and 17th centuries production of sugarcane was largely dominant in Brazil. This led to the establishment of some of the earliest large-scale manufacturing factories which capacitated conversion of sugar from the juice from sugarcane. It also capacitated production of molasses and rum which was the popular choice alcoholic drink. In the 18th century production of sugarcane in Haiti, Saint Dominque surpassed Brazil and became the largest colony in sugar production. Slave ships took several months on the voyage across the different coasts ferrying the human cargo. It was a devastating experience for the captives arising from the mental and physical abuse they received from their transporters. These people were taken on board, ripped off the clothing and examined from the toes to the head by the captains or some surgeon. The conditions on board were tantalizing. They were packed and rammed together below the deck with iron chains on the legs to secure them. They would be forced to lie down or crouch. Women and children would be kept in different quarters where they were granted limited to freedom and sometimes violated and sexually assaulted by the crew.

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The air in the holding area was foul and putrid, and the oppression often leads to seasickness. There was a constant disease prevalence emanating from poor sanitation and the overwhelming suffocation. Diseases such as fever smallpox and dysentery were prevalent, and the captives would endure the conditions for more than two months (32). The slaves who grossly devastated by the conditions and got the opportunity jumped into the sea as some of the ways to resist the captors. Others slaves resisted the captors by literally running away into hiding. By 1830s a system of Underground Railroad assisted the slaves to escape their captors. It was a network of sympathetic people who aided the salves to move to the North.

Slave ships were constructed in that they posed a lot of restrictions on the human cargo. They were termed as Gunmen because they were largely meant for human trafficking. The hulls of the slave ship were divided into holds with miniature headroom so that they would accommodate as many slaves as possible. They were also divided into different decks for men women and children. These ships would ferry more than one hundred slaves in confined cargo holds. They would be chained to the plank beds with very limited space to move. The slaves were underfed and brutally treated, and some ended up dying before arrival. Those who ended up in America and Europe became an economic powerhouse and the driving force of capitalism through the provision of free labor.

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  1. Rediker, Marcus. The slave ship: A human history. Penguin, 2007.
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